Tuesday, April 12, 2011

SNIRT ATV Rally Comes Under Fire

An ATV rally, SNIRT (Snow/Dirt), is coming under fire from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Council for apparent purposeful destruction of wetlands near Otter Creek and Brantingham Lake in the Southwest part of the Adirondack Park in Lewis County (the Eastern side of the Tug Hill Plateau).

The event drew attention after YouTube videos of the event from 2008 and 2010 surfaced showing ATV users riding through wetlands, past posted signs, and drinking at the event, and after the rally’s organizers sought to move the event onto some state lands.

In a letter by Robert Davies, Director of DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests, the department scolded the event’s organizers for hosting it during mud season, and for past “significant enforcement issues.”

“Based on the projected number of users at this one day event [during Mud Season], we have determined such intensive use of ATVs cannot be accommodated without significant environmental degradation and damage,” Davies wrote. “While we appreciate the efforts you have made to maintain some control over participants, enforcement personnel have reported considerable problems associated with encroachment/trespass on private and public lands and Vehicle and Traffic Law violations including drinking and driving.” Davies also noted that a map provided participants at last years SNIRT event “erroneously showed state roads open for the event.”

The Adirondack Council has criticized Lewis County administration officials for for failure to complete an Environmental Review of the damage associated with the event. “Although the Council is optimistic that this event can go forward with appropriate safeguards to minimize the environmental impact, we urge to to complete a formal environmental review before holding this event in the future, Adirondack Council Executive Director Brian Houseal wrote to Lewis County Manager David Pendergast. “The Council has no interest in shutting down this annual event, Houseal wrote, “However, if you continue to refuse to abide by state law or to conduct the required environmental review, the council will be placed in an untenable position [and] be forced to consider seeking a court order to stop the event in the future.”

County legislators opened portions of 12 county roads to ATVs for the 8th Annual SNIRT rally, which occurred April 8th. Robert C. Diehl, Lewis County’s trail coordinator, and Deputy Michael K. Leviker, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Department’s parks and recreation officer, both told the Watertown Daily Times that this year’s event included at least 3,000 riders. “Many of whom did not register for the event,” the Watertown daily reported. At least three accidents were reported at this year’s rally, including one in which a woman was taken by Lewis County Search and Rescue to Lewis County General Hospital for treatment of leg and shoulder injuries.

In comments posted on a YouTube video from this past weekend’s event, one rider brags about trying to outrun law enforcement officials. “thought we could out run em. was headed for the trail (almost made it) and got blocked right in front of Tuh Hill Inn Hook & Ladder. coulda went around but they had us,” the video’s poster claims, noting that “they hooked us up and we only got one [ticket] each for reckless operation.” Additional videos from this year’s event are posted here.

The event has grown considerably in recent years from from 1,660 registered users in 2009 to 2,283 registered riders in 2010, according to the paper. Comments on the 2010 YouTube video suggest that someone was killed at SNIRT in 2009, but that could not be confirmed. Comments posted here say that approximately 500 pounds of canned food was donated to the Lewis County Food Pantry, and the event generated “thousands of dollars of income” for local businesses.

With nearly 48 miles of trails, Lewis County is the leader of establishing ATV trails in New York State. The county budgeted $140,000 in 2008 and 2009 to build and maintain ATV trails, the amount budgeted for 2011 is $88,500. The cost of the yearly permit to use the Lewis County ATV Trail System is $80, $40 for members of clubs belonging to the Tug Hill Adirondack ATV Association. [Source: Adirondack Daily Enterprise]

DEC’s Region 6, which includes this part of the Park, had allowed ATVs on trails in the Forest Preserve, before they were banned in the Preserve generally. ATVs have since been banned from all trails in the Forest Preserve, following an up-swell of condemnation over damage caused by misuse.

Photos: 1) An ATV user rides through a posted wetland in 2010; 2) ATV riders on a Lewis County road in 2010; 3) A Lewis County Sheriff’s Department officer stops an ATV rider at a roadblock last weekend; 4) An ATV rider tips over in a posted wetland in 2010.

 

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