Thursday, November 8, 2012

Snowmobile ‘Connecter Trail’ Construction Criticised

Protect the Adirondacks (PROTECT) has published an online critique of a new snowmobile trail being built by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest.

DEC trail crews are building a new 5.1-mile snowmobile trail that will connect the Limekiln-Cedar River Road near Fawn Lake to State Route 28 near the Seventh Lake Boat Launch. The trail is phase one of a long-distance “community connector” designed to link Indian Lake, Inlet, Raquette Lake and Long Lake.

PROTECT reviewed the work being done along the new snowmobile trail and documented what they found. “Field work revealed that this ‘trail’, really a de facto new road, is much worse than we feared,” Protect’s Executive Director Peter Bauer wrote in an e-mail to the press. PROTECT detailed their specific objections to the way in which the trail is being constructed with more than 20 photos posted online.

“The pictures… show construction more like an engineered road than the required ‘character of a foot trail,’ profoundly altering the natural terrain in order both to facilitate grooming by heavy, tracked machines permitted only on designated roads, and in turn to enable high-speed travel by snowmobiles,” PROTECT says on its website.

DEC construction is guided by its recently adopted “Snowmobile Guidance Document” which John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council called flawed in an essay written last year for Adirondack Almanack. “Overall, the Adirondack Council supports the ideas expressed in the guidance document, including moving trails away from the interior of Wild Forest areas and towards ‘adjacent’ travel corridors (roads, railroads, existing public trails on conservation easement lands) on their ‘periphery,'” Sheehan wrote, “However, the guidance document defines ‘adjacent’ and ‘periphery’ as ‘within two miles’ of a public highway or motorized water body. That renders the rest of the plan meaningless.”

“More than 95 percent of the entire Forest Preserve (Wilderness included) is within 5 miles of a public highway,” according to Sheehan. “There are more than 5,000 miles of public highway in the Adirondack Park, not including private roads and logging roads. Roads are everywhere.”

The State Land Master Plan (SLMP) defines snowmobile trails as having “essentially the same character as a foot trail” but PROTECT argues that the new trail is far from meeting that criteria. A caption on one photo reads: “The snowmobile trail in this spot was widened to over 20 feet in width. ‘Community Connector’ snowmobile trails are supposed to be 9 feet wide in straight areas and 12 feet wide on slopes and curves.”

PROTECT says it also documented the cutting of over 1,100 trees, the installation of 20  bridges (each 12-feet wide), stone and stump removal, drainage cuts, and heavy machinery grading and bench cuts.  “It looks like a road, was designed like a road, was built like a road, and will be traveled by motor vehicles at high rates of speed like a road, so it must be a road,” PROTECT’s website reads.

Photos: Above, a 12-foot wide snowmobile trail bridge being constructed in the Moose River Plains; below, a map of the new route.

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John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




26 Responses

  1. Collin says:

    The one thing PROTECT forgot to mention was where we send our money. If Peter Bauer wants of fund his own (undoubtedly generous) salary, painting a picture of doom and gloom on the Forest Preserve will be necessary to maintain membership.

  2. Tony Goodwin says:

    I agree that this new snowmobile trail is wider than many hiking trails, but having seen it in person I would still conclude that it looks a lot more like a trail than a road. My comment at the time was that, “I’d hate to try and run for reelection as town highway commissioner and call this a ‘road’.” Yes, there may well be a spot where the trail is 20 feet wide. The reality is that trees don’t grow a uniform 9-1/2 or 12-1/2 feet apart. As a result, when one tree that would have narrowed the trail to 10 feet on a corner is cut (something within the guidelines) the next tree may be another 10 feet away.

    There are some relatively straight sections where the new trail is following old roads, but the truly new sections of trail follow the contours with many curves. Snowmobiles will not be able to travel at “highway speeds”, and this trail is a long, long way from meeting “Michigan standards” for snowmobile trails, which are truly roads.

  3. George King says:

    Is there anything that “Protect” doesn’t complain about. I suppose this will result in another lawsuit that will drain more of the public’s money to suit their narrow vision of how the world should be.

  4. Paul says:

    Aren’t these “community connector” trails one of the selling points for adding some of these other newly acquired lands to the Forest Preserve? Now they are opposed to it? 1100 trees is not very many trees. Do they mean large trees? You can easily cut a thousand trees when you just making a short trail that is even a few feet wide? This whole things sounds like a fund raising scheme. 1100 trees sounds shocking to potential donors that don’t know anything about trail construction.

  5. Pete Klein says:

    These never ending stupid arguments about how wide a trail is or where it is are probably one reason why many outsiders look at the Adirondacks and decide everyone in the Adirondacks is a nut case.
    The result – why would any sensible person want to live or visit someplace loaded with nut cases?

  6. Tom Koval says:

    It always amazes me that the people who pay the least into the funds that purchase are the first to complain how they should be used,I would love to see a hikers toll at trailheads,year after year,whether we have snow or not I register 4 snowmobiles and hunting licenses and my hard earned money goes into purchasing and maintaining lands for many,many people who pay nothing into the system, I realize that you ultra naturalists think you have the supreme last say on how we utilize our land,but keep in mind,it’s OUR land not just yours,and you need to learn how to play nice with the rest of the kids without throwing your little tantrums, if you can’t please get out of the sand box!

    • John Warren says:

      Tom,

      “It always amazes me that the people who pay the least into the funds that purchase are the first to complain how they should be used”

      Huh? Your money from snowmobiling licenses and registration and sporting license is not going to purchase land.

      Therefore, (since it apparently needs to be said) people who think the trails should be in other places or should be better designed also have as much right as you do to determine how the land is used.

      • Tom Koval says:

        Am I incorrect in thinking they are coming from the general fund,I do also know that my sporting license money goes into a conservation fund,which is used for many of the trails that hikers use as well as funding the forest rangers who do most of the maintanence work ,I certainly am sure of one other thing that you have not mentioned,and thats the fact that these trails also are widely used by the wildlife,it makes their ability to travel in deep snow conditions much easier and reduces winter kill in the population.I also have seen many times cross country skiers using the trails that the snowmobilers have funded,as well as hikers.

        • John Warren says:

          Tom,

          Just for the record, I don’t have a position on this (yet), because I support snowmobiling and the forest preserve and try not to jump to ill-informed conclusions.

          However, you are incorrect. State land purchase money comes from a dedicated fund – the Environmental Protection Fund, funded by the real estate transfer tax.

          Also, Forest Rangers do NOT do most of the maintenance and certainly sportsmen do not (snowmobilers do some, but mostly on private lands). Forest Rangers don’t have time for maintenance. Most trail work is done by volunteers like the ADK, Lean2Rescue, ASTC, the Student Conservation Association, and others – it is overseen by the DEC (because their job is to manage state lands).

          Major facilities, some new trails like this one and the new one up Jay Mountain are built each year by DEC facilities crews. For example – all the boat launches, camp grounds and other facilities everyone uses.

          The Conservation Fund does not fund trail building – it only serves sportsmen: http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/566.html

          Also, while people may use snowmobile trails, they are generally not open to cross-country skiers. A snowmobile trail crosses in front of my house, I’d love to use it to go to town with an ATV – I can’t.

        • Sven says:

          Forest Rangers do very little trail work. They are a police agency responsible for Law enforcement on state land as well as conducting search and rescue operations and wild fire supression. The DEC contracts out most trail work or it is done by volunteers.

  7. Solidago says:

    John, you forgot the exclamation point, which is an official and distinctive part of their name!

    Although Protect! almost always takes it too far, they certainly serve as a good watchdog. As annoying as it is that they bark at everything, it causes the rest of us to take a look and decide for ourselves. A lot of the issues they make a fuss about might not cross the line, but they are near it.

    I just wish they’d be a little more careful about which things they sink their teeth into and refuse to let go of. This case is worth keeping an eye on, but does not look like it is worth a lawsuit.

  8. Ann Melious says:

    If we calculated trailhead sizes and all trails’ widths and lengths, I wonder what proportion of Forest Preserve acreage they would represent? Less than 1 percent? Even calculating designated backcountry campsites and intensive use areas (campgrounds), we must be talking about less than 3 percent of the Forest Preserve. That leaves 97 percent of the Forest Preserve largely untouched by humans.

    • Sven says:

      I understand the point you are trying to make and it’s true as far as “land clearing”. However, your logic is fundamentally flawed. Ecological studies have shown the impacts of trails, roads and homes extends well beyond the “development envelope” of these clearings.

    • Lily says:

      How far from a line of roaring snowmobiles does the noise and exhaust smell scare birds and animals? THAT is impacts zone, not the linear footprint of the clearing, itself.

  9. Peter H says:

    Are they saying that the State Land Master Plan should be followed?

  10. Tony Goodwin says:

    The UMP for the High Peaks had a table with the total miles of trail and number of campsites in the unit. Since human impact was of great concern to many of those working on the plan, I did some calculations. Assuming that each trail was a uniform 10 feet wide and that each campsite impacted 1/4 of an acre (both assumptions being well over the actual situation), I came up with 0.2 % of the total area impacted by trails and campsites. I’m not suggesting that we should go out and trample five times more of that area even if that meant only 1% was impacted, but I think it does put the overall human impact into perspective.

    John, as for Jay Range trail construction, I believe it was entirely ADK and SCA (not DEC) crews that did the construction, although a DEC forester put in a good number of hours planning and supervising. Funding for the ADK crew came from private donations, most notably a bequest from an estate.

    • Sven says:

      Again, per comment above. The impact is beyond the “clearing”. The camping sites at Marcy dam, some of which may be used as many as 200 days a year have an impact on wildlife much greater than 1/4 acre.

      • Solidago says:

        Agreed, the ecological impact is surely far more extensive than trail mileages and widths suggest. Also, a route running through an alpine zone, deer wintering yard or areas critical to threatened species is much more ecologically problematic than one going through the hardwoods.

        • Moose says:

          I never understood why we would even have trails on alpine summits. I suppose some would say summit stewards are adequate protection. In terms of fragile and rare ecological zones in NYS, 200 hikers on the summit of Marcy is way more impactful than a snowmobile trail running through lowlands, even if 15 feet wide!

          • Solidago says:

            Keeping the public off of public property with significant recreational value isn’t an option, even if there will be severe ecological impacts. If you didn’t have trails, you’d have herd paths, which would be much worse.

  11. TiSentinel65 says:

    The snowmobile trails are a good thing. After a fresh snow I doubt you would be able to tell the difference from hiking trail to snowmobile trail. John are you advocating a little ATV trail system over their in Chestertown? I know you could get support from many people that would be willing to pay good money to see it come to fruition.

  12. Scott D says:

    How is this trail a community connector? It leads to a lake that is one of the last to freeze, usually no safe ice until early January. Is this trail designed to put people on the lake and then ride down to the campsite and then either across 8th or onto the old uncas trail? Seems like it would have made more sense to extend this new trail to the part of the uncas trail from Mohegan that comes down to 28 at the campsite. At least with that route there is a no water access to a snowmobile trail that ultimately leads to Raquette.

  13. Hope says:

    It is quite obvious, at least to me, that a snowmobile trail would be wider than a footpath. I’m not sure what Protect was expecting to find. It is far better to have a maintained trail for snowmobiles, through the forest, than to have them riding nilly, willy through the woods. providing a place for that type of recreation is just as important as providing a place to hike or ski. We all need to work together. I’m a skier, not a snowmobiler, but I have used the machine to get into the backcountry to ski. I find that snowmobilers take very good care of their trails and they do not encourage ATV riding on them. I have, on occasion, skied on sections of snowmobile trails getting to and from other ski trails. I’ve never been run over or forced off the trail by a snowmobiler. I have seen lots of deer sign on the trails, in winter, leading me to believe that these animals are utilizing the packed trail for their own benefit when the snow is deep. It would be better to encourage quieter more fuel efficient machines then create animosity among other NYS recreationists who are also owners of this Park.

  14. Jim Rolf says:

    This TRAIL is a multi-use trail. Why Protect! is just making an issue of the snowmobile use speaks well to their position against such use, no matter what the trail width is. I walked a portion this trail… it is FAR from being considered in the “characteristic of a road”. Mr. Bauer can’t be serious! An attempt at fundraising from those that believe his false representations here? I guess i didn’t see that, but now can.
    This new trail will ultimately end up eliminating lake riding once complete to Long Lake. This phase will take riders to Sagamore Rd. from MRP, with the next northern segment getting undertaken in the future.
    I ride sleds quite a lot and have my whole life. I have never come across a x-country skier or snow-shoer where an incident almost ensued on a trail open to snowmobiles as well. We can all use these trails cooperatively all winter, except for the ATVs which are prohibited by NYS law on these such trails, then the hikers have it the rest of the year.

  15. “Field work revealed that this ‘trail’, really a de facto new road, is much worse than we feared….”

    Really? You’ve got to be kidding me. I took my snowmobile over this “road” this past winter. In many places, it wasn’t much wider than my snowmobile. It certainly wasn’t a road and it had more crooks than a gathering of Congressmen.

    What is really sad is that NYS will have to waste valuable time, money and resources to defend against a lawsuit over a trail that fails MISERABLY at being a Community Connector.

    Darrin