Monday, January 19, 2015

Plethora Of Proposals For Forest Preserve Lands

snowmobiles photo by Nancie BattagliaThis fall, the Adirondack Park Agency invited the public to offer ideas for revising the State Land Master Plan – which hasn’t been substantially amended since 1987 – and the agency got an earful.Among those submitting suggestions were the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, environmental organizations, mountain bikers, and backcountry skiers.

The Local Government Review Board, which has a non-voting seat on the APA board, proposed a number of amendments. Perhaps the most fundamental change would put economic development on an equal footing with natural resource protection in the plan’s mission statement.

Fred Monroe, the review board’s executive director, said when the APA was created in 1972, Governor Nelson Rockefeller and state legislators spoke of the need to balance economic and environmental considerations. The State Land Master Plan, however, states that “the protection of the natural resources of the state lands within the Park must be paramount.”

“Whatever happened to the balance that the governor wanted and the legislature wanted?” Monroe remarked in an interview with the Adirondack Explorer.

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said Monroe is drawing a false analogy between the APA Act and the State Land Master Plan. The APA Act, he noted, largely deals with private land, whereas the master plan governs the public Forest Preserve.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, sees Monroe’s amendment as a ploy to open up the Preserve to more motorized recreation. “Many local-government leaders believe that motorized recreationists are the only ones that contribute to the local economy,” he said.

Many of the review board’s recommendations aim to expand or improve recreational use of the Forest Preserve, both non-motorized and motorized. They include:

■ Opening old roads in Wilderness Areas and Primitive Areas to mountain bikes (which ADK also favors).

■ Updating the definition of a snowmobile trail to allow wider, smoother routes. The plan now says that snowmobile trails must have “essentially the same character as a foot trail.”

■ Permitting floatplanes to land on more backcountry lakes.

■ Allowing grooming of cross-country-ski trails in Wild Forest Areas. The plan now allows grooming only in Intensive Use Areas.

■ Maintaining scenic vistas along roads.

■ Allowing the maintenance of natural glades for backcountry skiing (as proposed by the Adirondack Powder Skier Association).

The review board also favors amendments to allow the state to use some non-natural materials to build a snowmobile bridge over the Cedar River and to establish boat-inspection stations at major entrances to the Park to curb the spread of invasive species.

Environmental groups have their own ideas for amending the State Land Master Plan. ADK, besides seeking more opportunities for mountain biking, wants the state to be able to maintain scenic vistas along trails, by cutting brush and saplings, and to have the option of using non-natural materials in footbridges in Wilderness and Primitive Areas.

Woodworth said the natural-materials rule is overly strict. When the state replaced a traditional suspension bridge over Johns Brook, he said, it was forced to build “an oversized monstrosity that cost ten times as much.”

Phil Brown Backcountry Skiing photo by Susan BibeauBauer said Protect the Adirondacks believes that the master plan should contain a section on conservation-easement lands and that easement lands should be shown on the APA’s land use map. Easement lands – which are privately owned but protected against development – comprise more than 750,000 acres. “They’re an important part of the landscape now,” Bauer said.

Protect also wants the plan amended to give the APA the power to investigate violations of Preserve regulations and force the state Department of Environmental Conservation to take steps to remedy them. “Right now they don’t have the authority to tell DEC what to do,” Bauer said, adding that DEC doesn’t always enforce or follow the regulations.

Protect and Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve both want the APA to ban all-terrain vehicles in the Preserve. As a matter of policy, DEC does not allow ATVs in the Preserve now, but it could lift the ban unless it is written into the master plan.

Adirondack Wild also wants to see group competitions, such as trail races, prohibited in Wilderness Areas.

The Adirondack Council is pushing for an amendment to ensure that the Remsen-Lake Placid rail corridor will remain classified as a Travel Corridor even if the tracks are pulled up, according to Willie Janeway, the council’s executive director. Some people fear that the corridor would be assimilated into adjacent Wilderness and Wild Forest Areas, restricting recreational use of the corridor and preventing the tracks from being replaced in the future.

“With or without the rail that corridor should be one unit, subject to one unit management plan,” Janeway said.

APA spokesman Keith McKeever said the agency’s first priorities are amendments pertaining to the Essex Chain region: one to allow biking on old roads in the Essex Chain Primitive Area, the other to allow the state to use non-natural materials in a proposed snowmobile bridge over the Cedar River. Other amendments may be developed in consultation with DEC and stakeholder organizations.

Photos: snowmobiles by Nancie Battaglia; Phil Brown backcountry skiing by Susan Bibeau.

This story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.

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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.

7 Responses

  1. drdirt says:

    thnx for the update, Phil .,.,., just returned from Indian Lake area, where we looked almost as good as you coming down through the trees on the Kunjamuk trail off Big Brook Rd. (chuckle,chuckle).
    grooming trails in the wild forest for x-country skiiers should not be expanded ,.,., we make our own trails on the way in and out if the snowshoers and/or snowmobilers haven’t already packed things down .,.,.,
    grooming trails takes away the back-country feel and seldom improves the experience for anyone except racers, who belong at the ski centers.
    just my 2 sense, but grooming state land certainly adds cents.JUST GO OUT AND SLIDE.

  2. Bill Ingersoll says:

    The APA has summarized the public comments in one document on their website:

    It is an interesting read. I attended the “listening session” held at Old Forge this fall, and was somewhat bemused that that’s all it was: APA employees with blank pads of paper, jotting down everything that anyone said. Listening.

    Well, okay, that’s fine as far as public engagement goes. But when it comes to actually amending the SLMP, I hope that the agency demonstrates more leadership. After all, we as taxpayers are funding the agency’s staff to be the experts on state land management, NOT to function as customer service reps.

    Specifically, APA planners should know the history of how their jobs were created in the first place, and what their legal constraints are when it comes to planning for the Forest Preserve. The legacy of past wilderness stewardship should be guiding the vision for future management. They should NOT be responding directly to user groups, making changes just because someone complained about a perceived lack of access. This kind of knee-jerk reaction to recreation management is what got the old Conservation Department in trouble, costing it its job as the Forest Preserve’s primary steward.

    The SLMP is now going on 43 years of age, and certainly there are improvements to the plan that can be made based on all this practical experience from having worked with it for so long. But the forest itself hasn’t changed, and the passage of time hasn’t diminished the need to protect wilderness values from modern intrusions. Therefore I hope the agency isn’t now trying to determine its mandate by tallying up all the yeas and nays that they so carefully recorded on their easel pads back in November. There is nothing so pressing about the Essex Chain that an amendment action needs to be made this very minute.

  3. Pete Klein says:

    Bill, a couple of knit picking points.
    The NYS Forest Preserve contains state owned lands in the Adirondack Park and the Catskill Park.
    In the Catskill Park, the DEC is the ONLY steward of the Forest Preserve.
    There is not a Catskill Park Agency.
    The Adirondack Park Agency was primarily created to manage, zone and limit the use of private property in the Adirondack Park.
    Maybe it should be limited to being a zoning agency and stop being allowed to take a second bite at the state owned land. Let the DEC hold hearings on new UMPs and revisions to UMPs in the Adirondack Park as is done in the Catskill Park.
    Better yet, decommission the APA and allow towns within the Adirondack Park zone private property as they see fit, as is done in the Catskill Park.

  4. Paul says:

    Pete, the DEC does hold hearings on the UMPs for the Adirondacks.

  5. Pete Klein says:

    Paul, I know they do but the difference between the Adirondacks and the Catskills is that once hearings are held in the Catskills, the next step is for the governor to approve. In the Adirondacks, after the DEC holds hearings on a UMP, it then goes to the APA for its approval and then goes to the governor for approval.
    It’s a two step in the Catskills and a three step in the Adirondacks.

  6. ADKerDon says:

    This article shows further reasons that the APA should be abolished. The state should be following the same rules it follows in the Catskills and across the state. DEC is fully capable of managing our lands and waters without any APA interference. All state lands be placed under DEC control. No APA interference in any state land, water issue. Restrict all forest preserve lands to those state lands above 3,000 feet elevation.

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