- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The newest addition to the Adirondack Forest Preserve would be open to cars, bicycles, motorboats and snowmobiles if local leaders have their way, but environmental groups say the region would suffer ecological harm unless motorized access is strictly limited.

The state purchased the 20,758-acre Boreas Ponds tract from The Nature Conservancy for $14.5 million last month, completing a 69,000-acre acquisition that was initiated in 2012 by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Adirondack Park Agency will release a proposed classification plan in coming months that will determine how the public can explore it.

The Adirondack Council and other environmental groups have proposed classifying most of the tract as motor-free wilderness connecting the adjacent High Peaks and Dix Mountain Wilderness areas, creating more than 280,000 acres of contiguous wilderness accessible only on foot or by canoe.

The five towns surrounding the tract - Minerva, Newcomb, North Hudson, Indian Lake and Long Lake - proposed Thursday that the ponds and 7-mile road leading to them be open to motor vehicles.

“The 5 towns strongly oppose any land use and classification that does not allow for reasonable access to all, young and old, the physically fit and the disabled,” the town supervisors said in a prepared statement.

The towns’ proposal calls for electric motorboats on the Boreas Ponds, a trio of small ponds reflecting a stunning view of the highest Adirondack peaks. It also calls for multiple parking areas, including one on the shore, new huts or yurts, and opening logging roads ringing the ponds to snowmobiles and bicycles. It suggests logging roads in the tract could be used for bicycle and dogsledding races that would continue through the five towns.

“Their proposal essentially guts the wilderness proposal that’s being advanced,” Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said Friday. He said some aspects of the town plan, such as privately managed huts or yurts, would violate state law protecting the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

A plan put forward by environmental groups including the Adirondack Mountain Club would allow people to drive to a dam on the Boreas River, the outlet of the ponds, and hike or paddle about a mile to the ponds, which would be classified as wilderness.

“Science tells us the Boreas Ponds property is among the most sensitive landscapes in the Northeast,” said William Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council. “It would suffer significant harm from motorized access and mechanized recreation.”

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