If Warren County permits snowmobiles to use the Warren County Bikeway where it traverses land owned by the Magic Forest theme park, the trail could be barricaded, severing the trail link between Lake George and Glens Falls. That, at any rate, is one option available to Magic Forest’s owner, Jack Gillette, said Gillette’s attorney, Mike Stafford.
Whereas Warren County owns outright or by easement most of the 17-mile trail, Magic Forest owns the 350 feet of trail over the park’s land, Gillette said.
“The agreement was that it would be used for non-motorized, recreational activities,” said Gillette. “I welcomed that, because others had been abusing the area.” But if a new push to open the trail to snowmobiles succeeds, he will close his portion of the trail, Gillette affirmed.
Warren County’s Board of Supervisors blocked the efforts of Lake George Town Supervisor Frank McCoy and the South Warren Snowmobile Club to open the trail across Gillette’s property to snowmobiles last winter, and according to email exchanges among snowmobile club members, Gillette is to blame.
“Amazingly, a person that relies on the tourism dollar much more than most, Jack Gilette, the owner of Magic Forest, did everything in his power to ruin it for everyone, which amazingly he was able to do in no time, at the county level,” wrote Mike Fazio, the South Warren club’s president.
The club had hoped to use the bike trail to forge a link allowing snowmobile riders to travel between Washington County and Lake George.
Prevented from using the bike trail to reach Lake George, snowmobilers used a road through a residential neighborhood instead.
At a public meeting in May, however, residents of the neighborhood complained that noise from the snowmobiles was akin to “having an Americade all winter long.”
Lake George Supervisor Frank McCoy said he believed the residential road should be placed off-limits to snowmobilers and the bike trail opened to sleds.
“We’ll look into that; it’s the obvious solution,” said McCoy.
“If Supervisor McCoy wants to present a new proposal to open the bike trail to snowmobiles, we would certainly look at it again,” said Dan Stec. “We frequently re-visit issues in light of new information.”
It is not clear, though, that Warren County has any right other than Gillette’s verbal permission to use the trail across his property for any reason whatsoever.
According to Mike Stafford, Gillette’s attorney, no easement is attached to the deed and no record has been found granting Warren County rights to use the property.
Gillette said his insurance company had advised him against opening the property to snowmobiles, lest he be held liable for any injuries or damages.
But it was not only his concerns about liability that dissuaded him from permitting snowmobilers to cross his property, Gillette said.
“The cleats on the snowmobiles grind and pit the surface of the trail, ruining it for the people for whose use it was intended, the bicyclists,” said Gillette.
Gillette said he has collected more than 200 signatures from people riding or walking on the bikeway opposing its use as a snowmobile trail.
Fort Edward attorney Paul Ryan, a member of the South Warren Snowmobile club, said Warren County should consider seizing the trail by eminent domain if Gillette seeks to prohibit access to it.
“Taking it by eminent domain would be a relatively easy thing to do,” said Ryan. “The trail has a history of public access and recreational use.”
The Warren County Bikeway connects Lake George Village with Glens Falls where it intersects with the Glens Falls Feeder Canal Trail. The Feeder Canal trail crosses the border into Washington County and ends at the Old Champlain Canal Towpath.
Photo: The Warren County Bikeway near Magic Forest. Courtesy Tiki Architecture.