Whose Adirondacks Is It Anyway?

Leo Maloney

Throughout history the Adirondack region has been the setting for conflict.  In early times Native American tribes such as the Algonquin and Mohawks fought bloody battles over the hunting and trapping territory.  European colonial powers focused their rivalries on the fur trade across the area.  The nineteenth century saw battles waged in the state legislature and courts between big logging companies and conservationists.

Today the struggle is no less intense.  It often pits the local residents, visitors, and sportsmen against the so-called preservationists.  The preservationists are usually represented by large, well-financed organizations that claim to be protecting the Adirondacks for everyone.  But in reality, their lawsuits, intimidation, and well-organized lobbying efforts have the effect of restricting reasonable use of the resources.  They have effectively blocked many measures that would benefit fish and wildlife management, reasonable access for the average outdoorsman, and sustainable economic development.  Their strict adherence to the State Land Master Plan (SLMP), their insistence on classifying lands as Wilderness Areas, and their rhetoric makes some people believe that they would be happiest if they kept most of the people out.

We realize that there can be a lot of divergent views about the Adirondacks and protecting the natural resources.  However, we must often pause a moment and ask ourselves – whose Adirondacks is it anyway?

Sportsmen, residents, and visitors all appreciate the natural wonder of the Adirondacks and do not want to see it turned into a Disneyland-type theme park.  Wild Forest classification and its management rules, common sense administration, and adequate patrol and enforcement could protect the flora and fauna in most cases.  This would permit limited access roads, parking, trail maintenance, fish and wildlife management, and other reasonable uses.

Current controversy over the Essex Chain of lakes area illustrates this division of viewpoints.  The state purchased this land from The Nature Conservancy who had previously bought the tract from Finch Pruyn Lumber Company.  It was opened to the public with rules that attempted to compromise many points of view.  Hunters, fishermen, and paddlers have been using the area.

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has recently submitted proposals to the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) for their approval.  These proposals would allow easier canoe access to Fifth Lake, allow biking on nine miles of old logging roads, construct a new bridge over the Cedar River for hikers and snowmobiles, and permit snowmobiles to use an old iron bridge over the Hudson River.  Several of the preservationist groups protested these proposals and two of them – Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild – have filed lawsuits to block them.  Peter Bauer, spokesman for Protect the Adirondacks, stated that he was “speaking for those that have no voice – the rocks and the trees.”

Previously some preservationist groups praised the greater restrictions on the area saying that these would preserve the area for hunters and fishermen and help the economy by creating a need for guide services.  However, because of the distance involved in hauling canoes, most fishermen are not going to use this area.  The number of hunters will be small because of the difficulty of getting a deer out when they do bag one five miles from the nearest road.  Very few hunters are going to lug enough gear to set up a camp five miles back in the forest.  There is not enough demand for guides to make this feasible to set up guide services in nearby communities.

Wilderness Classification means there should be virtually no traces of human impact and a prohibition of any motorized vehicles, mechanical devices like bicycles, or power items like chainsaws.  The preservationists or “greenies” think that forest rangers should clear all trails with only an axe while performing their regular patrols.  In reality the only way most trails are maintained now is by volunteer crews laboring under DEC supervision.  A large number of the trails throughout the Adirondacks are blocked or in bad shape due to blowdowns, erosion, or similar natural forces and a lack of manpower to maintain them.

Lows Lake is a body of water created by a dam on the Bog River that raised the level of water in the Bog River Flow.  It has long been popular with campers, canoeists, and fishermen.  When the state classified it as Wilderness several years ago, they intended to allow seaplanes to land in one section of the lake to transport fishermen and their gear.  Preservationist groups, led by the Adirondack Mountain Club (AMC) protested and initiated lawsuits against this DEC plan.

As one spokesman for the AMC said, “he didn’t want the sound of an airplane ruining his solitude.”  Evidently he doesn’t mind the sound of motorboats that are still permitted there for use by the Boy Scouts, or the noise created by parties of a dozen or more canoeists.  Meanwhile most fishermen have given up on fishing there because of the time and effort required to paddle a canoe several miles into the wind up the Bog River, which is very difficult for many.

Since seaplanes are virtually banned from most lakes in the Adirondacks these days, the remote hunting and fishing camps where sportsmen spent a week have nearly disappeared.  Many of the “greenies” have been claiming that banning planes would make the Adirondacks as popular as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota and tens of thousands would be flocking to the Adirondacks.  Local residents and businessmen are still waiting for that to happen.

The Moose River Plains area was sold by Gould Paper Company to New York state in 1962 with the intention that the network of dirt roads would provide access for sportsmen, including hunters, campers, hikers, and fishermen.  The “greenies” within the DEC hierarchy and preservationist groups have constantly tried to classify much of it as Wilderness or create a de-facto wilderness by closing roads and bridges to restrict access.  The latest land grabs of a section of that Wild Forest and the re-classifying it as Wilderness and the road closures now “protects” that area against a grandfather taking his grandchildren fishing in several locations. Their big concessions were creating that as a separate Wilderness area so the closed road between them could be used for bicycles, as if that were a big deal, as well as opening three lakes (one of which was fishless) to seaplanes for a few years.

The Quiet Waters Campaign started a few years ago by Dick Beamish has since become an issue with other preservationists.  Rather than place a prohibition on personal watercraft (jet skis), speedboats, or big “cigar boats,” this campaign aims to ban motors on many waters in the Adirondacks.  Certainly there are bodies of water where motors should be prohibited or the size of horsepower limited, but this proposal strikes at reasonable usage in many waters.

To illustrate how illogical this campaign is, one of the waters that they want to ban motors on is Eighth Lake of the Fulton Chain.  There is a large DEC campground on the west end of the lake and a major highway, Route 28, which runs alongside the lake.  Not only is this not a “quiet” water, this ban would make fishing for lake trout and landlocked salmon impractical as well as prevent the vacationers there from taking their kids tubing, etc.

There are many other issues where the views and actions of the preservationists or “greenies” conflict with sportsmen or local residents.  One example is Adirondack Recreational Trails Advocates (ARTA) convincing New York State to tear up the railroad tracks from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid and replace it with a multi-million dollar superhighway hiking and biking trail.  The motions, rhetoric, and lawsuits by Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club have delayed and attempted to destroy the plans of Adirondack Club and Resort to develop Big Tupper Ski Area and other economic developments in Tupper Lake.

Their strict adherence to the letter of the SLM and threat of lawsuits has prevented DEC from flying into remote lakes to research the waters for brook trout restoration.  Even in Wild Forest Areas efforts to restrict even canoe or kayak access to many lakes and ponds “to keep out Joe Sixpack” as some of them derisively refer to many users has had the effect of preventing many families from enjoying a canoe or fishing trip on these waters.

Wilderness areas are beautiful and some places deserve such protection.  But how much and how many are necessary?  It is our money that purchases and maintains these areas.  It seems that unless you are 30 years old, physically fit, and have the time and money to backpack or carry an ultralight pack canoe, you should be limited to being a “windshield tourist” in the eyes of most preservationists.

When we are dealing with land classification, regulations, and development we need to ask ourselves:  Whose Adirondacks Is It Anyway?

Leo Maloney is the editor of Adirondack Outdoors magazine and a former staff writer for the New York Sportsman and former editor of Lake Ontario Outdoors as well as a freelance writer.  He is past president of the NYS Outdoor Writers’ Association and an inductee in the NYS Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame. He enjoys a wide variety of Adirondack outdoor sports and has spent many years advocating for Adirondack issues and sportsman’s rights.