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Carrying the Torch of Preservation from the PCT to the Adirondacks

After 7,000 miles of thru-hiking, I returned to my hometown in the Adirondack Mountains inspired. Finding a wilderness area under attack, I decided to do something about it... And I'm calling all of us to action to help save it.

By: Tyler Socash + Save to a List

Why are we attracted to the backcountry?

Some go there for exercise and recreation. Others go to take pictures and to breathe the fresh air. But I don’t believe our backcountry can merely be categorized as an attractive amusement park or a popular, green gymnasium – it’s something far greater than that. For me, going into the backcountry provides a psychological retreat. Wandering through the woods, far enough away from the toils of work and the sounds of humanity, allows me to find peace. Immersing oneself in Adirondack wildness is a quintessential spiritual experience. Places like this are becoming increasingly hard to find in the Northeast. Roads, it turns out, are nearly everywhere. But one psychological haven is found 7 miles up Gulf Brook Road from the winter gate closure at Blue Ridge Road. This sanctuary of solitude within the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York is called Boreas Ponds… And its future hangs in the balance.

Photo by: Tyler Socash (@tylerhikes)

Remoteness, stillness, solitude…

These are the intangible characteristics mentioned in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan that must be considered when large tracts of land are added to the Forest Preserve. These three qualities absolutely exist inside the Boreas Ponds Tract right now. Far away from the mechanization of mankind, you couldn’t hear anything but the whirling winds sweeping upwards to the lofty heights of Allen Mountain. The abutting High Peaks Wilderness deserves to keep a silent buffer to the south, and lest we forget, this wetland valley is a critical wildlife corridor that shouldn’t be infringed upon by more vehicles. Nature’s healing balm blessed my group’s presence during all three recent visitations. If classified as Wild Forest, snowmobiles, trucks, and cars would be allowed to rev right beside me. The threat of ATV access also grows as our winters continue to lose their potency. By the whims of a pen in Albany, remoteness, stillness, and solitude could vanish from Boreas Ponds forever.

Access is almost everywhere in the United States. When you travel across the East Coast, you’ll notice that surprisingly few wild places remain. You can literally drive a mechanized vehicle over 96% of New York State’s landscape right now. (Yes, only 4% of New York’s acreage is protected as Wilderness.) In fact, 6,970 miles of public roads crisscross the Adirondacks, which explains how 80% of the Park is already within 1 mile of a road or snowmobile trail. With our state’s population slated to breach 20-million people, New York has a dearth of remote areas where its citizens can find respites from the encroaching hum of civilization. This highlights a grave disparity between the incredible amount of motorized access versus our dwindling availability of remoteness in our country. Roads, which are the antithesis of wildness, usher in the noise, pollution, and the crowdedness that we sought to escape when heading to the woods in the first place.

Wilderness is also a place where the wild things are!

The creatures and plants lived within the Boreas Ponds Tract long before man manipulated the landscape. This ecological haven is home to some of our most iconic animals: loons, black bears, martens, snowshoe hares, and the recently returning moose. These animals, among five other identified rare and endangered species, 9 boreal birds, and 5 waterfowl species, lived around these waterways before we needed to label them as “Value 1” wetlands. Unfortunately, voices of the animal kingdom are still being overlooked in this classification process. The interest of easy access for humans is somehow being prioritized over the protection of the Boreas Ponds Tract. This is reflected in Adirondack Park Agency’s environmentally-damaging Alternatives; a blatant dereliction of their charge to protect the natural resources of New York State. We should ponder: Don’t animals have the same biotic right to exist peacefully in their natural landscapes? 

We mustn’t forget that the magic of wilderness is in its silence. Closer parking lots and penetrating in-roads defeat this intangible essence into a pulp. The tranquility of nature is dependent on silence. It provides special magnificence to the deftness of a bobcat’s calculated pursuit, the suddenness of an evasive ruffed grouse, and mesmerizing innateness of the swirling rapids of a babbling brook. This silence is spiritual, restorative, yet increasingly rare. The very spirit of wildness is exactly what’s at stake in the Boreas Ponds classification outcome.

Photo by: Tyler Socash (@tylerhikes)

Carry the torch of preservation.

We shouldn’t be satisfied with one of the last vestiges of wildness in the East becoming motorized. John Muir, Bob Marshall, and Edward Abbey did not sit idly by and allow every inch of backcountry to become an accessible front country. But these people are gone. Who will pick up the torch that they set down and carry on their legacy of land stewardship? If you won’t stand up for the protection of New York’s largest and highest-elevation wetland, then who can you expect to? The moose, loons, and brook trout cannot do this. If the outcome of the recent Essex Chain of Lakes classification, the recent permission of the NYCO Mine inside the Jay Mountain Wilderness, and the recent four inherently flawed-and-similar Alternatives for the Boreas Ponds classification are any recent indication, this torch will also not be carried by our traditional powers. In short: you have to pick up the torch of preservation.

Remote swaths of land like the Boreas Ponds Tract aren’t a dime-a-dozen. This is quite possibly the last magnificent New York State Wilderness addition in our lifetime. Wilderness needs defenders. It needs the outcry of passionate people who value our diminishing wild places. And they have awoken, have you noticed? Adirondack Wilderness Advocates reminded millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers that staunch wilderness ethics have not disappeared. Instead, Adirondack Wilderness Advocates brought out the largest volume of people to the eight APA hearings. Yes, Adirondack Wilderness Advocates outnumbered all other fragmented Wilderness and Wild Forest interest groups. The majority who showed up at the hearings called for the full wilderness protection of this remote and fragile ecosystem. Boreas Ponds has the physical, biological, and intangible characteristics to warrant this classification.

While it shouldn’t have taken the marginalization of the last vestige of Adirondack wildness to galvanize us, it’s better late than never. Only days remain in this classification battle. Now we need YOU to take a stand today. YOU can demonstrate your wilderness ethics by writing to the Adirondack Park Agency before December 30th. Share the letter writing link and encourage your friends to join us. Help remind New York State that wilderness has tremendous intrinsic value. Let them know why YOU are attracted to the backcountry. And it has to be you...

Because if not you… who?!?

Photo by Seth Jones


Cover photo by: Tyler Socash (@tylerhikes)

Tyler Socash is the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Wilderness Trip Leader. After receiving his master’s degree at the University of Rochester, Tyler embarked on a 7,000-mile thru-hiking journey across the Pacific Crest Trail, Te Araroa across New Zealand, and the Appalachian Trail. He is a New York State Licensed Guide, a Leave No Trace Master Educator, and trained in Wilderness First Aid. A five-time 46er, Tyler loves sharing his deep admiration for the peaks, people, and history of the Adirondack Park. Protecting the remaining wild places of the United States is also one of his greatest passions.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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