The bridge spans the beautiful Blackwell Stillwater stretch of the Hudson, one of the most picturesque spots in the Adirondack Park. The Goodnow River enters the Hudson just above the bridge.
The state wants to keep the bridge open for motor vehicle use. There are four major problems with this.
The main reason to tear out the Polaris Bridge is because it serves no functional management or recreational purpose. The east side of the Hudson River will be a mix of the Hudson Gorge Wilderness area and trail-less and wild parts of the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest area. The east bank of the Hudson River would provide great canoe access camp sites and as the years pass and the forest regenerates, the several miles of the Blackwell Stillwater would become a popular flatwater canoeing and camping area, in some ways more desirable and with better campsites, than the Essex Chain Lakes. The Adirondack Park does not have nearly enough wild, motor-less, quiet places. We need more.
Unfortunately, the draft Essex Chain Lakes Complex UMP, currently in the public hearing process, fails to envision how extraordinary the flatwater canoeing and camping destination of the Blackwell Stillwater could be. It would rival other beautiful motor-less paddling areas such as Little Tupper Lake, Henderson Lake, and Lake Lila, among others.
The Polaris Bridge would allow motorized uses. This would preclude a Lake Lila type access to the Blackwell Stillwater that preserves a motor-less experience for all visitors. When motors are precluded from places, such as Round Lake or the St. Regis Canoe Area, one can always count on a wild and quiet experience.
Also, retaining the bridge will lead to a major new snowmobile route, which violates Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and DEC policy. Those that want to retain the bridge want to connect it to a major new snowmobile trail cut through the west part of the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest area that would lead to the Minerva area around Sporty’s Bar. They also want to retain some of the roads in Wild Forest areas on the east side of the Hudson for various other activities.
On July 9th, the APA approved a major new snowmobile trail that will connect Newcomb to Minerva. This trail will largely follow Route 28N. The 90,000 acres of the former Finch Paper lands where the State purchased conservation easements in 2010 solidified and permanently created major snowmobile trails between Newcomb and both Long Lake and Indian Lake.
Snowmobile enthusiasts say they need the Polaris Bridge to link Minerva to Indian Lake, but there is now a major snowmobile route planned that will connect Newcomb to Minerva, so a trail over the Polaris bridge is redundant and unnecessary. Such a trail would entail cutting of thousands of trees and excavating and grading a new road-like trail with heavy machinery. This would be disastrously disruptive to a wild part of the Forest Preserve.
The 2009 “Management Guidance” for snowmobile trails in the Forest Preserve approved jointly by the APA and DEC holds two principles for management in recognition of the heavy footprint of these 9 to 11 foot wide snowmobile trails and the great expense of constructing them: 1) major snowmobile trails should not be redundant, but provide the sole linkage between communities; 2) snowmobile trails should be kept on the periphery and not be cut through the interior of Wild Forest units.
The snowmobile trail through a trail-less and wild part of the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest proposed to utilize the Polaris Bridge violates both of these principles.
A third reason the Polaris Bridge should be removed is that it violates the NYS Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers Act. The bridge is in an area of the Hudson River designated Scenic, which precludes public motorized uses. DEC regulations call for four-foot wide trails, for non-motorized uses only, in Scenic corridors. The Environmental Impact Statement promulgated by the DEC during adoption of its Rivers Act regulations states in a number of sections that Scenic River corridors are motorless. DEC is attempting to get around these restrictions by arguing that private motorized recreation rights used by leaseholders should be “grandfathered” as new public rights. In reality, DEC’s only option to retain the bridge would be to change the law and DEC regulations.
A fourth reason the Polaris Bridge should be removed is that the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest Unit Management Plan, approved in 2005, includes nothing about trails through its western reaches. People use this area to hike Vanderwhacker Mountain or into the various ponds.
The DEC and APA worked for years to complete the 2006 Adirondack Park Snowmobile Plan, which listed priority community-connector trails in the Adirondacks. A Minerva-to-Indian Lake trail was not listed as a priority. Local government leaders were at the table throughout Snowmobile Plan process and connecting Minerva and Indian Lake was never highlighted as a priority. The state would have to revise this plan before it could approve or build such a trail.
The Polaris Bridge is a bridge to nowhere. Keeping it will lead only to widespread natural resource degradation, a colossal missed opportunity for a beautiful new wild and motor-less paddling destination, and a violation of state laws.
The DEC should tear down the Polaris Bridge.
Photo: Above, Polaris Bridge in a flatwater stretch of the Hudson River; below, a DEC map that shows proposals for new snowmobile trails through a wild, trailless part of the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest Area.
Editor’s Note: Another Public Hearing has been scheduled in Albany on the Essex Chain Complex, which includes plans for the Polaris Bridge. You can read more about here.