A 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 [email protected] 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.