Wednesday, November 5, 2014

PROTECT Faults DEC For Rebuilding Road in Preserve

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few years ago I wrote a story for the Adirondack Explorer about a trail run to Gull Lake in the Black River Wild Forest near Woodgate. My outing began on a muddy mess of a road passable only by jeeps and pickup trucks.

This year, the state Department of Environmental Conservation repaired two miles of the road, smoothing it out, laying down gravel, and installing new culverts. I was able to drive my Honda Fit (not a high-clearance vehicle) the full two miles with no problem.

Dave Smith, DEC’s regional forester, told Adirondack Almanack that the road (called Mill Creek Road or Bear Creek Road) was rehabilitated to give hunters, hikers, and others easy access to the interior of the Forest Preserve.

Smith said the Black River Wild Forest’s management plan, which was approved in 1996, called for fixing the road, but the department lacked the resources to undertake the work until this summer. “We did it when we had the time to do it and when we had the money and the people,” he said.

But not everyone is pleased.

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, asserts that the project amounted to the reconstruction of a road—as opposed to routine maintenance—and should not have been authorized without an amendment to the management plan. He said the department’s work plan called for cutting about 300 trees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABauer raised several objections to the project, which can be read here on Protect’s website, but one of his main complaints is that the road is at odds with the wild character of the Preserve. He contends the road is too wide and contains too much gravel.

“It stands in stark contrast to the other Wild Forest roads in that area,” he said, adding that most Forest Preserve roads are dirt.

Bauer filed a complaint with the Adirondack Park Agency, which signed off on the project, and is waiting to hear back.

About a decade ago, DEC rebuilt another road in the Black River Wild Forest, leading to Woodhull Lake. That project also drew some criticism. Smith said DEC expects to restore other roads in the years ahead.

Photos by Phil Brown: Mill Creek Road after repairs (top) and in May 2012 (bottom).

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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.

21 Responses

  1. Greg says:

    Complain when a road is not maintained because mud puddles kill wetlands and then complain when it is “too” maintained because stones do not belong in the wild.

    I’d laugh, but these shenanigans divert much needed APA/DEC resources away from real issues.

  2. dave canavan says:

    Not everyone has a 4×4, let the rd work begin..I live in the ADKs

  3. Bruce says:

    I don’t know if any of these roads follow watercourses, but the US Forest Service has determined that unimproved dirt roads through the NF are the biggest single cause of stream siltation in the forest. I’m not saying pave or gravel all forest roads, but those which carry a noticeable amount of vehicular traffic should be done, especially if they end at a parking area.

  4. Mike says:

    So what’s the difference between building log footbridges across new wetlands and repairing/maintaining an access road? I’m talking about the Beaver Pond access to the Pharaoh Wilderness.

  5. Hawthorn says:

    So, the DEC doesn’t have the resources to enforce the law against driving into Crane Pond, but instead they do have the resources to rebuild roads? Rebuilding this road is a higher priority than enforcing the law?

  6. David Christie says:

    I have to fall on Peter’s side of this discussion. The DEC seems to be engaged in a pattern of failure to enforce no-vehicle traffic in the park until the damage is so severe that “maintenance” of these tracks is “required”. Why not enforce the rules we have, rather than let motorization of the wild forests and wilderness tracts go on illegally? Surely if we can bring heavy equipment in to fix a road, we can use the same equipment to make illegal motorized access impossible.

  7. Peter Bauer says:

    Just to clarify.

    PROTECT believes that the reconstruction of this road was beyond the maintenance authorized in the Black River Wild Forest UMP. The road reconstruction went outside to footprint of the road, necessitated removal of 276 or more trees, and changed the Wild Forest character of the area.

    Because of the scale of these changes, the APA and DEC should have undertaken an amendment of the Black River Wild Forest UMP – not the SLMP. They should not have authorized this project through a Jurisdictional Inquiry Form (JIF) with limited public disclosure.

    A UMP amendment would have provided much better public disclosure and required that the decision on this road reconstruction be made in a public setting with ample opportunities for public scrutiny and public deliberation. The APA State Land Committee has had an exceedingly light agenda throughout 2014 and could have taken up this matter in a UMP Amendment.

    We believe that the UMP amendment process would have yielded a better outcome by ensuring greater public scrutiny, which would have resulted in far less natural resource degradation through the loss of trees, widening of the road, and creation of 22 road pull off areas.

    PROTECT continues to believe that management decisions made on public lands are best made with ample opportunities for public input and oversight.

    The APA-DEC MOU states in the UMP Amendment section that: “Any modification involving new or expanded improvements to an adopted UMP prior to the periodic five-year update, must be processed as an amendment to the UMP….” For reasons stated above this road reconstruction project qualified as an “expanded improvement” and should have been undertaken through a UMP amendment.

  8. Phil Brown says:

    Fixed story above to reflect that Protect said work required an amendment to the Unit Management Plan, not the State Land Master Plan.

  9. Bill Ingersoll says:

    The last line in Phil’s article, “Smith said DEC expects to restore other roads in the years ahead,” should send chills down the spine of anyone who might be sympathetic to Peter Bauer’s view.

    There are indeed other extremely old woods roads in the Black River Wild Forest that DEC would like to convert into modern automobile thoroughfares, according to the 1996 UMP for this area. They are currently open to motor vehicles (read: ATVs) for no other pretext than that they lead to a small private inholding or two.

    The old Herkimer Landing road (the nineteenth century wagon road described as being “uphill both ways” in Dunham’s book “Adirondack French Louie”) comes immediately to mind. It was probably last maintained as a century ago, when the Town of Wilmurt was still in existence. Its current condition may be deplorable, but filling it with gravel isn’t necessarily the best, only, or most legal solution either.

  10. Phil Brown says:

    Bill, I should have made clear that DEC is looking at roads in other units as well, such as Independence River Wild Forest.

    • Bill Ingersoll says:

      Not a problem, and I wasn’t faulting you. The Herkimer Landing project was mentioned by DEC several years ago, along with several other “roads” in other places in Region 6. From memory:

      1) South Shore Road (snowmobile trail south of South Lake in the Black River Wild Forest)

      2) Herkimer Landing Road (connects with South Shore Road to provide a through-snowmobile trail from Nobleboro to Atwell; former public highway probably not maintained since at least 1918, when the corrupt Town of Wilmurt was abolished by the state)

      3)Big Otter Lake Road (former wagon road in the Independence River Wild Forest; motor vehicles allowed on basis that this use was established prior to state acquisition in 1955; area was proposed for Wilderness classification in 1960s, but that idea was scuttled; “road” is currently only passable by ATV)

      4) South Creek Lake (Aldrich Pond Wild Forest; former Mecca Lumber Company railroad bed; was marginally passable by 2WD car in 2007, although very narrow; I have since been told that it now has a gravel surface)

      5) Maple Hill Trail (Aldrich Pond Wild Forest; spur trail from old Newton Falls Paper Co railroad bed, leads to hunters’ campsite near the Middle Branch Oswegatchie River; signed by DEC as “Motor Vehicle Trail” in 2007; no visual evidence that this trail was ever an automobile road)

      As I said, these are all from memory, so I beg forgiveness if I messed up the list a little. However, these projects were related to events of about 10 years ago when RCPA sued DEC over ATV use in the Forest Preserve. DEC agreed to close 54+/- roads and “repair” the five listed above. Because few people are familiar with many of these trails, no one seemed to have caught on that DEC was pulling the wool over RCPA’s eyes.

  11. Will Doolittle says:

    Isn’t it better in every way to have a neat, well-maintained road, which encourages drivers to stay on the roadway, than a muddy track that encourages drivers to stray to the sides to avoid getting stuck? Isn’t the new road far more attractive and a far better complement to the wilderness around it than the mud wallow created by use of the dirt road? Isn’t the damage created by use of the dirt road exactly the sort of thing some folks have complained about in the past? If DEC must go through an extended process every time it wants to maintain a road in a way that benefits the environment by leading to less damage than the maintenance won’t get done. This is the sort of thing that makes people shake their heads and conclude the goal of some environmentalists is not to make things better but to obstruct every effort at improving access to the wilderness.

    • Hawthorn says:

      In this case it isn’t technically “wilderness,” but yes, many of us oppose creating improved roads into wild areas, which makes those areas less wild, allows access by ATVs and snowmobiles to areas where they shouldn’t be, and uses valuable DEC resources that could be better used protecting wilderness and wild areas.

    • Peter Bauer says:


      We disagree. A basic rule of thumb is that decisions on public land management are best made in public with ample opportunities for public disclosure and scrutiny.

      Things go awry far more often when public processes are minimized.

    • Chris says:

      “Improving access to the wilderness” is what will ultimately destroy all of it. Improved easy access to this road will simply lead to more traffic and garbage on this road. People already do 60 M.P.H. (in a 40 M.P.H.)on this road all the time. Too many people with too little respect for the wilderness will degrade it. Yes,the road was a mess but the people who live on this road weren’t complaining that I’m aware of. BTW,I own property on this road and some of us were amazed at the waste of money.

  12. Bill Ingersoll says:

    The SLMP has three key things to say about roads in designated Wild Forests:

    1) DEC can maintain existing roads
    2) DEC cannot create new roads
    3) The term “road” is defined as a “way designed for automobiles…”

    These three items aren’t all bulleted on the same page as I have listed them here, but they are all in the SLMP somewhere. My interpretation of these three guidelines/definitions has always been that:

    –A Wild Forest “road” is only truly a road in the SLMP sense **IF** at some point in the past somebody designed it for travel by automobiles, either before 1972 for older state parcels, or prior to acquisition for newer state parcels.

    –A “road” that was built for trains, wagons, logging tractors, or anything other than automobiles does NOT meet the qualifications of a road per the SLMP, and therefore cannot be maintained by DEC.

    –“Traditional use,” as in “this old road has been traditionally used by vehicles” is an insufficient justification for road maintenance.

    Therefore if a meaningful outcome is to result of Peter’s advocacy on this topic, it might be to incorporate these tests into the planning process. If DEC wants to maintain a road, they should be able to satisfactorily demonstrate that the road is indeed a road in the SLMP sense, and not just a road in the descriptive sense. This might help clarify the status of many old roads in the Forest Preserve, and lead to smarter management.

  13. Dan Crane says:

    If I am understanding this correctly, the DEC does NOT have the resources for any patrols to the Chub Pond lean-to in the past 20 years to determine it is not even near compliant with their own regulations, even though it is located only a few miles away, but they do to “maintain” Bear Creek Road.

    You have got to be kidding me.

  14. Henrietta Jordan says:

    I think Peter’s point is that DEC didn’t follow the rules. Reconstructing the road may be a good idea, or a poor one, but if the rules require an amendment to the Unit Management Plan before such projects go forward, then that is what should have happened. A regulatory agency cannot selectively enforce its own regulations!

  15. Paul says:

    It seems reasonable to upgrade the road to have it be safe for modern cars and trucks to navigate on. Removing trees close to the road or hanging over the road would all fall under this. A road that isn’t easy to tear up (like an unsurfaced road) is probably far more expensive to maintain over time. I don’t see any reason for a complicated approval process to fill and grade a road.

    Getting rid of the mud holes is not going to encourage ATV use probably just the opposite.

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