ALBANY — The State Department of Environmental Conservation announced the creation of a task force to develop comprehensive plans to protect the greater High Peaks Wilderness and address the ecological, public safety, and community issues associated with overuse.
“We applaud the Governor and DEC for recognizing that New York’s successful investment in tourism promotion has led to significant recreational pressure on some areas of the Adirondack Park, threatening natural resources and the wild character of the landscape,” said William C. Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council. “We are eager to work with and support this effort, bringing to the discussion current data and information on the latest techniques and best practices for user management and public education that can sustain our precious and fragile wilderness areas for generations to come.”
Adirondack Council Conservation Director Raull “Rocci” Aquirre was appointed to the advisory group and said he “looks forward to engaging with the other expert stakeholders and the public and proposing solutions to challenges to preservation of legacy Wilderness areas.
“Governor Cuomo invested in the promotion of the Adirondacks as a destination, funded economic development in communities, and purchased the Boreas Ponds,” Janeway explained. “And now the Governor recognizes that the success of tourism in the Adirondacks, which is a very good thing, has actually created very real issues. As the Governor has said, ‘there’s a real question of what’s the maximum use of the resources without damaging the resources’ and a balance between tourism, economic development and preservation is needed.”
“The Governor, Commissioner Seggos and their team are to be commended for having the vision to understand that the Adirondacks need a fully funded and staffed comprehensive plan to address overuse, and sustain the success of the largest Wilderness Park in the contiguous United States” said Janeway. “Such a plan can detail how previous plans will be implemented and should be developed through an open and public process. It can identify, detail and coordinate the management goals, education efforts, front and backcountry infrastructure, and identify fair user-friendly options to limit use at some locations on peak dates, such as with permits or reservations.
“With a public process starting this fall, the plan could be finished by April 1, 2020, when the state budget should be done, so necessary funding for additional rangers, other staff, and partnerships can be in place to start implementation in time for the first peak weekends in May,” Janeway said. “Ultimately, a comprehensive set of actions to address overuse and sustain the success of the Adirondacks for future generations needs to be extended across the whole Park.”
Janeway said the Adirondack Council appreciates the Governor’s reverence for the Adirondacks. We agree with the Native American proverb he frequently cites: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors — we borrow it from our children.”
Given the Trump administration’s attempts to destroy important standards for clean air, clean water, public lands, wildlife and climate change, New York has an opportunity to show the country the right way to protect public health and preserve our natural heritage.
The DEC and the State’s Adirondack Park Agency (APA) share responsibility for planning and preservation of the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondacks. Since hiker use levels jumped significantly higher, double or more what they had been in some locations just a few years earlier, the agencies have hosted a variety of invitation only outreach meetings to gather input on addressing overuse. A meeting in July at the Town of Keene School included almost sixty people. Most participants agreed on the need for a trial permit system, more resources for stewardship, and comprehensive planning as three immediate priorities.
“The state has much of the foundation for and data needed to develop and start implementation of a comprehensive plan to address overuse,” Janeway said. “At the same time, it’s recognized that a good plan will include continuous data collection and revisions based on observations and needed corrections.”
The recently expanded High Peaks Wilderness Area is the third largest wilderness east of the Mississippi River. It consists of 275,460 acres of forest, lakes and rivers situated among the state’s tallest mountain summits. It is surrounded by other wilderness areas, as well as other public and private lands and communities, all if which could be incorporated into a comprehensive plan.
In public meetings, DEC officials agree that the six basic best practices for wilderness management include:
Comprehensive planning; Public education; Front Country Infrastructure (correctly-sized parking lots, bathrooms, information centers); Back Country Infrastructure (trails, campsites, etc.); Limits on use at some locations at some times; Resources (rangers, staffing and funds).
The state’s Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan provides guidance to state officials regarding management: “The primary goal of wilderness management is to protect intact ecosystems and to encourage natural processes and conditions to operate free from human influence. An ecosystem management approach that recognizes the dynamic and interconnected nature of all components of these wilderness ecosystems is what is needed.”
What is Wilderness? The master plan defines it as: “a wilderness area, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled (unrestrained) by man – where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.
“A wilderness area is further defined to mean an area of state land or water having a primeval character, without significant improvement or permanent human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve, enhance and restore, where necessary, its natural conditions, and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least ten thousand acres of contiguous land and water or is of sufficient size and character as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and 4) may also contain ecological, geological or other features of scientific, educational, scenic or historical value.”
“The Adirondack Park contains nearly all of the deciduous forest wilderness remaining east of the Mississippi River,” Janeway said. “As stewards of this shining example of wild lands preservation, it is up to us to set the standard for how it should be protected. That means good, comprehensive planning.”
The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, and vibrant communities.
The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action to ensure the legacy of the Adirondack Park is safeguarded for future generations. Adirondack Council advocates live in all 50 United States, and the District of Columbia.