Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Skiers Seek To Maintain Backcountry Glades On Lyon Mt.

Copy of phil2A band of Adirondack skiers is urging the state to allow them to maintain a glade for skiing on Lyon Mountain—a practice that has been done surreptitiously in the Forest Preserve, but something that authorities view as illegal.

Ron Konowitz, a spokesman for the Adirondack Powder Skier Association, contends that backcountry ski trails and glades do not harm the environment and should be permitted as facilitating a benign use of public lands.

The association is speaking up now because the state Department of Environmental Conservation is preparing a management plan for the 60,000-acre Chazy Highlands Complex, which includes Lyon Mountain. The state purchased Lyon Mountain from the Nature Conservancy in 2008.

Lyon has long been a prime destination for backcountry skiers, but now that the state owns the 3,830-foot peak, the future of the glades and informal access trails is in doubt.

“It’s a great ski resource that has been used by skiers for the past four decades, and it’d be a shame to lose it,” Konowitz said.

DEC plans to hold a public meeting in Saranac High School at 6:30 p.m. Thursday to explain the planning process and solicit ideas from interested parties. The Adirondack Powder Skier Association is urging skiers to attend.

Konowitz said backcountry skiers boost the economy in the hardscrabble communities near Lyon by patronizing local gas stations, restaurants, and stores. Elected officials representing the towns of Saranac and Dannemora and the counties of Clinton and Essex passed resolutions backing the skiers, he said. So did the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages.

The Adirondack Powder Skier Association wants permission to cut brush and clear blowdown in the glades and to maintain the trail used to reach the area. Konowitz said the skiers would do the work themselves under the supervision of DEC.

Critics might object that maintaining glades could damage the environment. A few years ago, however, I started researching a story on glades and spoke with three scientists, including two from the New York State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry. All told me that the ecological harm is next to nil.

Critics may also question the legality of maintaining glades in the forever-wild Forest Preserve. The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan mentions ski trails but has no mention of glades. Nevertheless, skiers have maintained glades on a number of peaks without DEC’s permission. Several years ago, the department prosecuted a skier who was cutting brush in the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness.

John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, said maintaining glades may be lawful if done through proper channels. “If they’re not destroying timber on the Forest Preserve, then it is something that the state might consider legal,” he said, “but it can’t just be something they go out and do. It would have to be part of a unit management plan.”

However, just as we were about to publish, a DEC spokesman emailed me to say that “the clearing of trees, brush and other vegetation to maintain glades for skiing is a prohibited activity” under the State Land Master Plan and the state constitution.

Peter Bauer executive director of the Protect the Adirondacks, said his organization has not taken a formal position on pruning glades. “It sounds like something that’s akin to clearing summits for vistas,” he said. “So it could be problematic, but it’s something that we’d have to take a closer look it.”

You can comment on the plan by sending an email to or a letter to Dan Levy, the planning coordinator, at NYSDEC, P. O. Box 296, Ray Brook, NY 12977.

Photo: The author 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.

13 Responses

  1. John Sullivan says:

    Remember Article 14? The economic benefits of glade skiing (!?). Why can’t I cut trees and brush on state land? It’s good for me! It MUST be good for you! Good grief! How many more exclamation points?

  2. Jerry Clarkson says:

    It always starts with small cuts into the mountainside. Then next comes the 8-lane freeways, the DOT inevitably will want to build, right through the forest preserve.

    The DOT originally wanted to the build the Adirondack Northway, right smack through the middle of Pharoah Mountain. But us Environmental Leaders said no.

    But now, if we allow people to ski on Lyon Mountain, next comes the strip malls in the forest preserve, and the expressways. It’s a very slippery slope.

    • Paul says:

      I think this a streatch at best!

    • chris says:

      It all starts with small cuts… Doesn’t the definition of “Glades” contain skiing in the trees? I don’t see anyone advocating anything near clear cutting here – glades skiers want to keep the trees – that’s the whole point!

  3. Paul says:

    Seems like a good idea. But if you have to clear brush and blow-down I am not sure I would call it “back country skiing”? It is more like a ski area without a lift or lodge.

  4. dave says:

    “But if you have to clear brush and blow-down I am not sure I would call it “back country skiing”? It is more like a ski area without a lift or lodge.”

    Not exactly. They don’t clear cut wide trails. Glades are often pretty subtle. You wouldn’t spot them from afar, and most people wouldn’t notice them even if they walked across them… unless they were specifically looking for them.

    Of course, I imagine there are poorly maintained glades out there that contradict what I’m saying, but all of the ones that I am aware of… including some that get significant usage on very popular mountains… are very low impact. Nothing like a ski area without a lift.

    That said, I still find myself in opposition to the practice. I tend to feel that there are enough natural slides, natural trails, man made ski trails, and ski resorts in our area that there is no need for people to be cutting and creating their own.

    • Paul says:

      Sounds reasonable.

    • blah blah blah says:

      Why are cut trails needed to hike a mountain? These eroded trails with the ladders and bridges have much more impact. Who can honestly say they come across a pruned glade that had anywhere the impact that the hiking trails have? Short of the bozo’s across the pond

      There’s quote in this article comparing pruning to clearing summits. That’s a head scratcher.

  5. Phil Brown says:

    The Adirondack Daily Enterprise published a story about the glades in today’s editions.

  6. rc says:

    all well and good but if somebody decides they want to cut a shoreline bare because they are actually being ‘good stewards’ of the land, how can we ever complain?

  7. Tele-Rob says:

    Lyon Mountain once homed a operational ski area. If the Adk Powder Skier Association is willing to work with the DEC and within their guidelines to maintain this recreational area. Let it happen. Trust me working within DEC guidelines is not at easy as it sounds, worked at a school district within the ADK Park and developed an Informative Trail system with an Outdoor Classroom, lots and lots of RED tape. Will this bring in some local dollars, probably a little. Will this bring in a 8-lane super highway, definitely NOT. Personally I would like to see this go through. The ADK is for us, the people, so why lock it up. What good is having something to see and not use? By maintaining a gladed area, it will provide a more safe, sustainable recreational environment.

  8. Andrew says:

    Adirondack park is “to be forever reserved for the free use of all the people” – Colvin

    “The problem with many youngsters today is not that they don’t have opinions but that they don’t have the facts on which to base their opinions.”
    – Albert Shanker

    Lyon Mountain is an incredible asset, especially for skiing. Given the amount of hunting, snowmobiling, hiking, forestry and other land use that occurs there I am sure a sound solution will prevail.

  9. chris says:

    A Glades program would be an absolutely perfect public use of these public lands, and is certainly consistent with the reason why the park was formed.

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