Vital Importance of Adirondack Forest Preserve: Less than 1% of all lands east of the Mississippi River is designated Wilderness

The 26 states east of the Mississippi River total more than 573 million acres and there’s around 4.8 million acres of Wilderness lands. That means that for every acre of Wilderness there’s roughly 120 acres of cities, suburbs, small towns, highways, farms, shopping malls, golf courses, snowmobile trails, dirt roads, parking lots, and so much more.

The ratio of 120-1 of developed lands to Wilderness lands east of the Mississippi River shows the importance of Adirondack Wilderness.

Click here for a list of all Wilderness areas in the U.S.

Wilderness-SignOutside of the 1,184,894 acres of Wilderness and Canoe area lands in the Adirondacks, there’s another 143,000 acres of Wilderness in the Catskill Forest Preserve. Other than these lands there’s 1,380 acres of federal Wilderness on Fire Island, outside New York City, called the Otis Pike High Dunes Wilderness. In the 26 states east of the Mississippi River, there’s 1.3 million acres of Wilderness in the Florida Everglades, 354,000 acres in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, 132,000 acres in Isle Royale in Michigan, and 79,000 acres in the Shenandoah Wilderness in Virginia. The closest large Wilderness area to the Adirondacks is the 61,000-acre Wild River Wilderness in New Hampshire. All told, in the 26 states east of the Mississippi there’s just under 3.3 million acres of federal Wilderness lands; see complete list attached.

There’s another approximately 150,000 acres of state Wilderness areas beyond New York’s Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves. In total, less than 1% of land east of the Mississippi River (4.8 million out of 573 million acres) is Wilderness and off limits to motor vehicles.

The paucity of Wilderness lands east of the Mississippi River shows a world out of balance. Outside of the Everglades, the Adirondack Park provides the greatest Wilderness opportunities in the east. The importance of Adirondack Wilderness is brought into sharp relief when the populations of 11 Northeast U.S. states and eastern Canada are considered because no other Wilderness system in the country is surrounded by such heavy population densities.

The High Peaks Wilderness has experienced a massive surge in visitors, doubling historic levels on some of the most popular trails in recent years. This shows the upswing in popularity of the largest Wilderness area in the Adirondacks. This high level of public use, which dwarfs the failed classification of the Essex Chain Lakes area, makes the case for expanding the High Peaks Wilderness Area.

100,000 Acres More Wild Forest than Wilderness in Adirondack Forest Preserve Today

It’s also important to realize that across the 2.6 million acre Adirondack Forest Preserve, there are nearly 100,000 acres more Wild Forest lands, where motor vehicle use is allowed, than Wilderness lands, where motorized uses are prohibited.

Across the Adirondack Forest Preserve today there is 1,184,894 acres classified as Wilderness or Canoe (which is also a largely motorless Forest Preserve unit) and 1,298,209 acres classified as Wild Forest. This is not a 50-50 balance. Wilderness lands should be on a equal footing with Wild Forest. Given the desperate shortage of Wilderness lands east of the Mississippi River, there should be far more Wilderness lands in the Adirondack Forest Preserve than motorized Wild Forest lands.

The relative scarcity of Wilderness in the eastern U.S. makes the opportunity for creating new Wilderness in the Adirondack Park one that must be seized.