View Full Version : NYS: Wild Forest vs. Wilderness vs. Primitive Area

07-12-2016, 19:37
After a week of hiking in Adirondacks I began to wonder - are there any significant differences between "wild forest", "wilderness" and "primitive area" in relation to hiking, backpacking, overnight stays or bushwhacking in New York State?

Another Kevin
07-16-2016, 23:48
Very little if you're not a trail maintainer.

Motors are forbidden in Wilderness, except that maintenance clubs can get special permission to use chainsaws one week in the Spring and one week in the Fall to clear blowdown. There are no snowmobile trails in Wilderness, and no roads in the interior. Very few new trails are approved in Wilderness, and a good many destinations are bushwhacks.

Primitive is "we want this to be Wilderness, but there's some asset that we can't put a timetable on getting rid of." For the most part, the Primitive areas are around manmade features such as roads and powerlines that the long-term plan would have relocated, or in areas adjacent to private inholdings with activities like mining. There are also Primitive Bicycle Corridors (that allow mountain bikes), Historic Primitive Areas (created so that they wouldn't have to tear down the fire towers, which are inconsistent with a Wilderness designation) and similar special cases.

Canoe Area is essentially the same as Wilderness, only wetter.

Wild Forest is usually land that came into the State's hands more recently, and it was often newly logged when the State got ahold of it. Motorized access is allowed - snowmobiles and in rare cases ATV's - and it's generally considered able to support more intensive use. As far as the regulations go, that's about it for the differences. The rangers treat any Wild Forest above 2700 feet elevation (Catskills) or 3100 feet (Adirondacks) as being de facto Wilderness.

The Detached Parcels are all Wild Forest.

In all of the above, dispersed camping is allowed anywhere below 3500 feet (Catskills) or 4000 feet (Adirondacks) that's at least 150 feet from a road, trail or water source. Note that the outside of a lean-to is too close to a trail and is NOT a designated site; camping in the immediate vicinity of a lean-to is forbidden unless there's a yellow CAMP HERE disk. Many lean-tos have designated sites nearby. Camping at higher elevations is allowed in the winter months (21 December-21 March) only. There is a permanent fire ban above 3500 feet (Catskills) or 4000 feet (Adirondacks) and anywhere in Eastern High Peaks. There's also usually a fire ban in Spring from when the snow is gone until the hobblebush leafs out - the woods are a tinderbox at that time.

Bear bagging is legally required in all of the above. Bear canisters are required in Eastern High Peaks (the High Peaks Wilderness east of the ridge of Street, Nye and MacNaughton Mountains).

Off-trail hiking is allowed in any of the above. (It's usually forbidden in the State Parks, but the lands we're talking about here are the Forest Preserve, a different kettle of fish.)

More at http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/7811.html for the land designations and http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7872.html for the regulations.

High Peaks Wilderness has a bunch of special regulations (https://govt.westlaw.com/nycrr/Document/I21eeaefec22211ddb7c8fb397c5bd26b?viewType=FullTex t&originationContext=documenttoc&transitionType=CategoryPageItem&contextData=(sc.Default)) that pertain just to it.

07-17-2016, 15:01
The other thing that comes to mind is that rules are more strict in the wilderness areas regarding party size. Wilderness will not allow more than 8, while Wild Forest can give permits for groups up to 12 (these are for camping) while day groups are 15 or less in Wilderness and up to 20 in Wild Forest areas (not really written as such but in something about having special permission for over 20).

Not that that may apple to you, but in case others see the posting and might need this info.

07-17-2016, 20:14
Wow! Quite frankly I didn't expect to get so much info! I really appreciate it guys!