By Gary L. Karl
Since 1895, the New York State Constitution has mandated that the State’s forest preserve in the Adirondacks “be forever kept as wild forest lands.” The “forever wild” clause means the State can’t sell or lease the forest preserve. It also means the State can’t log or destroy the forest preserve’s timber, or let anyone else do that.
That much is clear. What isn’t so clear is what recreational activities the State can permit on “forever wild” lands. Camping and hiking are traditionally part of the “forever wild” experience. But what about newer recreational activities like ATVing and snowmobiling? To what extent can the State allow or promote them in constitutionally-protected forest preserve?
The State has been grappling with those questions since purchasing more than 20,000 acres of unspoiled forest known as the Boreas Ponds tract from the Nature Conservancy in 2016.
Earlier this month the Adirondack Park Agency announced its proposed classification for the Boreas Ponds tract, which Governor Cuomo immediately blessed. The Boreas Ponds classification includes:
- 11,412 acres of “Wilderness.” This designation allows the least recreational access and thus the strongest protections to ecologically sensitive areas. It also means that the surrounding communities get the most financial support from the State.
- 9,118 acres of “Wild Forest.” This allows motorized and mechanized recreational activities in areas considered more ecologically resilient.
- 11 acres designated “Primitive.” This allows the State to maintain an existing dam on the south end of Boreas Ponds built years ago by the Finch Pruyn Company, the owner before the Nature Conservancy. The dam isn’t wild, but it has become part of the ecosystem.
- 2 acres designated “State Administrative.”
The APA classification also adds the Wilderness acres to the existing High Peaks Wilderness Area. This results in a nearly 280,000-acre wilderness area in the Adirondack High Peaks, the third largest wilderness in the eastern U.S.
Photo of Boreas Ponds by Brendan Wiltse Photography