RAY BROOK — The Adirondack Park Agency approved the state Department of Environmental Conversation’s unit management plan amendments for both the High Peaks Wilderness Complex and the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest on Friday.
These plans have come under fire in recent weeks for a number of reasons. Green groups from around the Blue Line have panned the short public comment period for the plans, which affect hundreds of thousands of acres. They expand the High Peaks Wilderness Area alone to about 260,000 acres, absorbing the Dix Mountain Wilderness, much of the Boreas Ponds tract and other areas.
Environmental groups have begun to call for various hiking, camping and parking permit systems, and some have opposed the recreational plans put forth in the unit management plan amendments.
The Adirondack Council called on the APA to reject the plans and send them back to the DEC due to issues such as changes being made after the public comment period and a lack of analysis on carrying capacity for Boreas Ponds.
DEC staff members who presented the plans Thursday said more than 2,000 public comments were received during the 45-day comment period.
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Despite some initial pushback, attendees who represent green groups had relatively positive thoughts on the approvals.
“For the first time in 20 years we have a new plan from the state for the High Peaks Complex, and that is a good thing,” said Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council. “The plans are short from what is needed, and we’re not sure where the resources and the additional staffing for forest rangers are going to come from to really make sure the plans can be implemented, but there’s a lot of good in them. The state staff who worked on these really deserve accolades for their hard efforts. And we are moving forward to improve the preservation of the Adirondacks.”
Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve said his group trusts the APA but also keeps a close eye on it.
“They did include discussions of potential permitting at the Boreas [Ponds tract] where we feel it’s absolutely essential,” he said. “That’s a perfect location and a very vulnerable tract that would well warrant wildland monitoring and a permit system for all users. We feel if it’s done correctly it wouldn’t be onerous. It will not limit access to anyone. If we do it right at the Boreas, that can be a model extended through other areas of the High Peaks Wilderness Area where we know overuse has had serious detrimental impacts on both the resource and wilderness character.”
Plumley said he doesn’t anticipate the Adirondack Wild taking legal action against the APA at this time.
“We always maintain our full right to do so,” he said. “The process going forward, as I understand it — I’ve been in touch with DEC staff — looks to create a focus group dealing with creating a wildland monitoring plan for the Boreas tract beginning this fall. If we see that moving at pace, and we see infrastructure actions being undertaken carefully and accordingly and the resource being protected, then we won’t have any reason to consider a lawsuit.”
There were some aspects Plumley was less enthusiastic about, though.
“There is no question that these UMP amendments were not fully in conformance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act,” he said. “Also, we do not feel that they were fully in conformance with the State Land Master Plan. So they’re moving forward on what we think is somewhat shaky ground. Again, we’re extending our trust, but we’re going to watchdog it very carefully.”