Photograph by Carl Heilman II
How to enjoy this new public playground
The first time I visited the Boreas Ponds, we explored the chain of lakes with Governor Andrew Cuomo paddling a canoe a short distance ahead. He seemed awed by the shimmering, densely forested shoreline and distant views of the High Peaks. “It’s magnificent,” Cuomo said. This was in 2012, when the parcel was still in private hands. “You can’t really paint this picture. Mother Nature has a better brush. It’s just exquisite.”
The hope is that this new expanse of wilderness and wild forest, purchased for $13 million two years ago as part of the Finch, Pruyn deal orchestrated by The Nature Conservancy, will now come to serve as a major access point to some of the Adirondack Park’s wildest backcountry, gaining popularity as a recreation area to rival iconic destinations like the eastern High Peaks and the St. Regis Canoe Area.
“We want to spread out the use,” said Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) commissioner Basil Seggos during a recent visit to North Hudson, the town that encompasses Boreas Ponds. “There’s incredible intensive use on a small number of areas in the Adirondacks and that’s unfortunate. Part of this is creating a new hub. This is a real gateway for us.”
He was talking about Boreas Ponds and the nearby Frontier Town campground and equestrian center now under development at Exit 29 of the Northway, where the state is investing another $13 million. Under a vision detailed by state and local officials, the area will soon be linked by a complex of bike, hiking, horseback and snowmobile trails, offering access to different user groups in different seasons.
A key feature of the new lands—and a controversial one—was the decision to leave most of Gulf Brook Road open to motor vehicles. The gravel road stretches from Blue Ridge Road almost to the water’s edge at the Boreas Ponds. Allowing cars and trucks on the route means hikers, paddlers and other recreationists won’t have to trek long distances, but some green groups say New York missed an opportunity to create a deeper wilderness experience.
In addition to its summer uses, the road will serve as part of a “community connector” snowmobile trail, a kind of recreation highway for sledders linking North Hudson to towns in the park’s interior. Town supervisor Ron Moore says his tiny community, population 240, can finally fight its way back from the economic collapse that followed closure of the old Frontier Town in 1998. “Am I excited? Am I hopeful? Do I see a great future? You bet,” Moore said.
At press time, a lot of details are still being hashed out for how Boreas Ponds and the nearby trail systems will be used by the public. The Department of Environmental Conservation is developing a recreation blueprint known as a unit management plan, a process that will include months of public comment and deliberations. But many of the big ideas are already in place after the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and Governor Cuomo finalized land classifications for the parcel last winter.
That broad outline, approved by the APA on an eight-to-one vote, designated 11,412 acres around the lakes themselves as wilderness, adding it officially to the High Peaks complex. Paddlers and campers on the Boreas Ponds themselves will experience a quiet, motor-free world, like the one Cuomo saw six years ago. Meanwhile, another 9,118 acres were designated wild forest, a land-use category that will allow more kinds of activities, including miles of old logging roads for bicyclists to explore.
Here’s what we know so far about how to play on the new public lands.
IF YOU GO
Be aware that the Boreas tract was, until recently, a commercial forest. You’ll see log-sorting yards, dirt roads, dams and old buildings scattered over the parcel. As in other parts of the Adirondacks added to the Forest Preserve, “re-wilding” of the park will take years, even decades. There are still private hunting camps and lease holders in the area. Respect all no-trespassing signs and boundary markers and stay more than 200 feet from any buildings. Also, road access will likely make this tract a popular destination for hunters, so wear blaze colors when appropriate.
So far, New York hasn’t opened any official hiking trails. What you’ll find are miles of logging roads winding through the tract. That kind of trekking can be tedious, but the views are often gorgeous, and routes built by Finch, Pruyn & Co. often skirt beautiful valleys with winding brooks. In all there are more than 25 miles of roads. Bring a map and a compass. There’s so much new terrain that it can be confusing. One big new trek for those comfortable with off-trail navigation will be crossing from the lowlands around Boreas Ponds into the Great Range. For the first time in a century, a through-hike is possible to the Adirondak Loj near Lake Placid.
For a lot of paddlers, exploring the 320-acre Boreas Ponds will be the experience of a lifetime. This is now one of the largest lake-complexes in the Adirondack Park completely surrounded by wilderness. Closed to the public for generations, the chain offers truly astonishing vistas toward Gothics and Mount Marcy. Making the trip more enjoyable is the fact that you transit a series of graceful bottlenecks, where islands and the densely forested shore seem to close in. These passages give way to more stunning views beyond. At press time, paddlers are permitted to drive to within 2.5 miles of the first put-in. (Once the unit management plan is finalized, it’s expected that a small number of people, particularly those with disabilities, will be allowed to park closer, possibly within .10 of a mile of the water.) Then they can cross LaBier Flow before making a second, roughly half-mile, portage to a put-in on the shore of Boreas Ponds. Remember to clean and check your boat before making the trip to avoid spreading invasive species.
There are still no designated campsites on the Boreas Ponds tract. General rules for the Adirondack Park require visitors to pitch tents at least 150 feet away from any shoreline or riverbank and the same distance from any roadway. As of press time, campfires are allowed, but transporting firewood is banned because of the threat of invasive species. If you want to camp in a spot with more amenities while making day-trips to the Boreas area, the state recommends public campgrounds in nearby Newcomb or North Hudson.
If you’ve made the scenic bicycle trip to Santanoni Great Camp, in Newcomb, the new Boreas lands promise a similar opportunity. New York has work to do expanding and developing biking opportunities in the area, but there are already 6.7 miles of road open from Blue Ridge Road to the Boreas Ponds Dam. You can also park your car closer along Gulf Brook Road and pedal shorter distances. Bikes are banned in the wilderness area east of the Boreas Ponds Dam.
In addition to the main body of the Boreas Ponds and LaBier Flow, the new public lands include wild stretches of the Boreas River, Le Claire Brook, Casey Brook, Slide Brook and White Lily Brook. According to state biologists, all of these waterways offer habitat for cold-water fish, including brook trout. I’ve yet to explore these channels to determine how far they’re navigable. It’s another opportunity for folks looking to plumb new territory. Be sure to check your gear and use proper tackle to avoid the introduction of invasive species.
New York State hopes equestrians will be one of the new user groups in this corner of the High Peaks, with groups staging trips from the Frontier Town horseback riding center. Seven roadways are already open to explore on horseback or with horse-drawn wagons under the interim management plan. These likely won’t be maintained as official horse trails, which means culverts and bridges may be removed, but they will be open for riders comfortable in backcountry settings. As in other areas of the park, health certificates for horses are required. The DEC also warns that private lease holders still have the right to drive motor vehicles and ATVs on Gulf Brook Road, Trout Pond Road, White Lily Pond Road and Ragged Mountain Road.
Brian Mann is Adirondack bureau chief for North Country Public Radio and a frequent contributor to Adirondack Life magazine.