Thursday, May 30, 2013

DEC: Skiers Face Uphill Battle For Glades In Preserve

Ron Konowitz skis on Lyon MountainBackcountry skiers who want the state to allow them to maintain ski glades on Lyon Mountain face an uphill battle, but it might be said that those who “earn their turns” are used to uphill battles.

At a public meeting in Saranac last week, several skiers said the glades on Lyon offer some of the best backcountry skiing in the Adirondack Park.

“We’re not looking to cut down mature forest; we’re looking to maintain what’s already there,” said Dean Schneller, a lawyer representing the Adirondack Powder Skier Association.

Skiers have been maintaining glades on Lyon for decades. In 2008, the state bought the 3,830-foot peak from the Nature Conservancy and added it to the forever-wild Forest Preserve. Now that the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)  is preparing a management plan for Lyon (and associated tracts), skiers fear they will be ordered to stop pruning the glades.

Tom Martin, DEC’s regional forester, told the skiers at last week’s meeting in Saranac High School that maintaining glades is illegal. Not only does it violate the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, he said, but it may violate Article 14 of the state constitution, which decrees that timber in the Forest Preserve shall not be “sold, removed or destroyed.”

Amending the state constitution requires approval by two consecutive state legislatures and the public.

Schneller argues that maintaining glades does not violate the constitution since the skiers want only to prune brush, whippets, and brambles, not cut timber. In fact, he notes that the state maintains glades at its ski areas on Whiteface and Gore mountains, both located in the Forest Preserve (and authorized by constitutional amendments). He concedes that the State Land Master Plan makes no mention of ski glades, but he contends that they are nonetheless a recreational use that fits with the plan.

Martin, however, disagrees. “If you want to legally maintain glades on Lyon Mountain, we have to change the State Land Master Plan, and that is a heavy, heavy lift,” he said.

The master plan, which governs management of the Forest Preserve, allows for a number of recreational amenities, such as hiking trails, snowmobile trails, and ski trails. Skiers argue that glades do no more harm to the environment—and perhaps less harm—than do trails.

Ron Konowitz, a longtime backcountry enthusiast, said skiers care about the environment as much as anybody. “We’re people that want to protect the area,” he remarked after the meeting.

The State Land Master Plan was written in the 1970s before the revolution in telemark skiing. In recent decades, improvements in backcountry equipment—including plastic boots, better bindings, and wider skis—have motivated telemarkers to seek out challenging terrain such as steep trails, slides, and glades.

“The user group is growing, and we’d love to foster it by providing more skiing opportunities,” Konowitz said.

He said backcountry skiers help the local economy by patronizing restaurants, shops, and gas stations. Local officials have backed the association’s proposal.

The association wants to work with DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency to change the State Land Master Plan and/or other regulations to permit the maintenance of ski glades on Lyon.

One option would be to reclassify the glades from Wild Forest to Intensive Use—the zoning designation of Whiteface and Gore. Another would be to amend the State Land Master Plan to establish a general provision allowing ski glades in the Preserve. In either case, DEC presumably would write guidelines for what’s permissible and oversee the work.

Due to a quirk in state law, some of the glades on Lyon may not be not part of the Forest Preserve. That’s because Article 14 does not apply to state land in the town of Dannemora. The mountain is partly in Dannemora, partly in Saranac. However, Martin said the Dannemora lands are still governed by the State Land Master Plan.

Click the links below (PDFs) to read the Adirondack Powder Skier Association’s three-page  letter to DEC.

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Photo: Ron Konowitz skiing on Lyon Mountain.


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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

10 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    “a lawyer representing the Adirondack Powder Skier Association”

    Oh brother! These poor guys feel it is necessary to have a lawyer for this kind of meeting?

  2. Phil Brown says:

    Paul, he also is backcountry skier. And they are making a legal argument that glades are compatible with the SLMP, so it’s not THAT surprising.

    • Paul says:

      No I guess it isn’t. It is just too bad these guys have to pay for an attorney. But this is NY so it is always best to bring along a lawyer! I just wish they would let them do it. I am afraid that both options you raise (intensive use area or modification of the ASLMP) are probably not likely. I would think that environmental organizations would probably be opposed to both. There is nothing to say that other similar uses could not get exceptions.

      I agree that the constitution speaks to timber (maybe they don’t call it “marketable” timber but that is what they were maybe thinking). There is no legal restriction on cutting brush on the Forest Preserve. It is done in an effort to maintain trails all over the FP. Some places it is done more systematically or sometimes it is just the “use” of the trails that keeps them clear. This is not much different than a herd path.

    • Paul says:

      Maybe I should have read your reply more carefully. Sounds like maybe he is doing this PRO BONO.

      • Kevin Joseph says:

        As long as he’s not doing it “Sonny” Bono it’s OK. Sorry I could not resist that one…

  3. Andy says:

    The DEC changes the Adirondack State Land Master Plan all of the time. They are planning a major revision with the addition of Essex Chain of Lakes Tract, and some are even pushing for the creation of a second Adirondack Canoe Area to cover those lakes — which is a big change from the single Canoe Area (St Regis) that is currently specified in the APSLMP.

    And if you compare the APSLMP, as adopted in 1972, to the plan in effect today, you will notice major revisions to the plan, including major changes to classifications in the late 1980s.

  4. dontask says:

    So if this was a great backcountry gladed ski site and everyone knows about it why did they ask permission to keep doing what had already obviously been done?

  5. blah blah blah says:

    yea it would make too much sense to encourage another form of recreation on all this land state has acquired

  6. Phil Brown says:

    Dontask, the skiers are going public because the state is now the landowner and may not turn a blind eye to glade management.

  7. Dave says:

    I’m an avid skier & enjoy skiing Lyon when I’m in that area. The skiing is some of the best I’ve encountered & I think it would be a shame to discontinue maintaining the trails. I would love to see a designated backcountry ski area maintained by volunteers. It promotes a healthy lifestyle, healthy economy, and can give locals some new opportunities & something to take some pride in. Backcountry skiing is booming due to the high price of lift tickets, better equipment, & appreciation for the outdoors. If we can make exceptions to the rules for the state sanctioned ski areas, snowmobiling, atv’s, hiking, etc. why can’t we make an exception for this low impact sport?

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