"My personal experience and readings convince me that preservation
of wild places is the best of American traditions.
Wilderness is at the heart of the nation.
It tells one generation what is right and lasting about
all generations and about the land itself."
—Michael Frome


Planning for Wilderness Management

By David Gibson

The view of Gothics from Boreas Ponds. Photo by Phil Brown

As I review notes from several public hearings on the State Land Classifications, including Boreas Ponds, the apparent gulf between voices to “keep it or make it wild” and “this isn’t wilderness anyway and we need motorized access” seem unbridgeable.

Well, perhaps not. More than one or two speaking out for “more access” to the Boreas Ponds (usually meaning motorized) also addressed how experiencing quiet, serenity and wildlife undisturbed moved them personally as much as any wilderness advocate. For their part, several wilderness advocates stressed that economic benefits of access (usually non-motorized) should interest local businesses and governments. The personal values expressed by all the speakers clearly demonstrated the common ground for all of us – a deep appreciation, even love for being in the out of doors Adirondacks.

Regardless of perspective expressed at the hearings, I found a widespread lack of appreciation on all sides for the difference (found in the federal and state definition of Wilderness) between “untrammeled” and “untrampled” – as in the phrase “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.” Yes, the Boreas Ponds and the High Peaks etc. may be “trampled” but that word is nowhere to be found in the legislated definition. To meet the Wilderness federal and state definition the land must not be “trammeled,” meaning hindered, shackled, hobbled (as in hobbling a horse).

To choose Wilderness here is to choose a process of restoration, to see Wilderness potential and character restored in future, not to be limited or blinded by the land’s current conditions.  To choose Wilderness is to choose hope and management – management of us and our recreational appetites. Miles of former industrial dirt roads – of greatly differing character and condition – and dozens of culverts underneath them does not by any stretch “trammel” the Boreas area, or disqualify it from Wilderness definition, classification or future management – just as it did not disqualify the William C. Whitney and many other of our other Wilderness, Primitive and one Canoe area despite their century-long industrial forest history.  Indeed, we would have no Wilderness in the eastern United States (Adirondacks, Catskills, Everglades, Baxter, White Mountains, Green Mountains, etc.)  if we went strictly by its often intensive land use history.

Perhaps we all could use a refresher course. What is Wilderness (Primitive, Canoe) under the State Land Master Plan? How should one parse its definition? Do you know it when you see it? How are infinite variety of Wilderness “users” described and why must they be managed? What considerations do professional wild land managers need to keep in mind about the designation, definition and user management of Wilderness? What range of variation exists or is allowed in Wilderness areas?

Readers could be directed to the volume, Wilderness Management by Chad Dawson and John Hendee (4th ed, 2009). It’s a fine, in-depth text for those passionate (or instructed) in this field, but it’s not for everyone.

I offer a slimmed-down, 21-page, pretty accessible, though dated, guidebook on the subject: Unit Planning for Wilderness Management (1987). Its author was once the Director of the NYS DEC Division of Lands and Forests, Norman J. VanValkenburgh.

Throughout his notable DEC career, Norm sought to make the field of Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve history, protection and management more accessible to the general public. His Forest Preserve slideshows, brief histories, longer histories and primers dating from the 1970s and 80s fill many shelves. He wrote Unit Planning for Wilderness Management as much for State employees of the DEC as for the public at large. The fact that Norm went to a private organization to publish it speaks to his appreciation for the crucial historical role of citizen watchdogs in the protection, proper management and public education about our publicly-owned Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve.

So, here is a pdf of that guidebook from the Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve office.

You will find it dated in more ways than one. Thirty intervening years has changed our lives a great deal, including incalculably greater human population and pressures, climate change and whole collapse of some earth ecosystems, to say nothing about our altered attitudes about government and about wilderness and how to care for it.

Still, this slim little volume about Wilderness and how to keep it by our former State Lands director (and one of my heroes) remains relevant and, I hope, informative to Almanack readers.

Happy New Year.


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Archived Safeguarding Field Notes

2018 - Click Here for Archives


12/18/17 Governor Cuomo: stop the growing rail junkyard in the heart of the Adirondacks read more >

12/18/17 DEC’s Motorized Road Proposal impacts Rare Park Boreal Ecosystem read more >

06/15/17 Adirondack Wild - 'Oppose A Constitutional Convention' read more >

04/20/17 A World Class Park and The North Hudson Gateway read more >

04/04/17 EPA Budget Cuts Imperil the Adirondacks
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03/10/17 - Adirondack Wild Promotes Park Legislation read more >

02/08/17 - Protecting Open Space Should Be Paramount read more >
01/23/17 -Infrastructure Construction at Boreas Ponds? read more >
01/02/17 -The High Peaks Wilderness: This Resource is Limited read more >
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ADK ALMANACK - Writings by David Gibson

Wilderness 50th

The mission of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is to advance New York’s ‘Forever Wild’ legacy and Forest Preserve policies in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, and promote public and private land stewardship that is consistent with wild land values through education, advocacy and research.

Top left, Moose River ©2010 Ken Rimany; Field Notes photographs ©2011 Ken Rimany. Wild Action Now photograph ©2011 David Gibson

Peter Brinkley, Honorary Chair
Terry Jandreau, Chair
Kenneth J. Rimany, Partner
David H. Gibson, Managing Partner
Mobile: 518.469.4081

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve    Founded 1945   PO Box 9247 • Niskayuna New York 12309 | ©