Monday, November 16, 2015

Advocate: Essex Chain Plan Snowmobile Policies

snowmobile trailNote: This article is the second of three that looks at the widespread violations of public process, state policies, and state laws in the recent approval of the Essex Chain Plan. Part one can be found here.

One of the most controversial elements of the Essex Chain Complex Unit Management Plan (Essex Chain Plan), approved last week by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), is the proposal to cut a new five-mile snowmobile trail through the western part of the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest area, east of the Hudson River. This new snowmobile trail will retain and use the Polaris Bridge and is designed to connect the communities of Indian Lake and Minerva with a major new snowmobile trail, despite the fact that these communities are already connected with a major snowmobile trail.

In 2009, the APA and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) approved “Management Guidance: Snowmobile Trail Siting, Construction and Maintenance in Forest Preserve Lands in the Adirondack Park” (Snowmobile Guidance). This document details the ways that snowmobile trails in the Adirondack Park are to be managed.

The Snowmobile Guidance recognizes the major financial investment to build and maintain snowmobile trails in the Forest Preserve as well as the negative ecological impacts of these major trail systems on natural resources. In light of these considerations, the Guidance states a clear preference that trail redundancy is to be avoided and that trails should not be built in wild, interior areas.

The approved Essex Chain Plan widely violates the Snowmobile Guidance.

Indian-Lake-to-Minerva-Existing-Snowmobile-TrailsFirst, the Essex Chain Plan includes a duplicative new class II community connector snowmobile trail system. In July 2015, the APA approved a new trail to connect Newcomb to Minerva and the DEC is now undertaking extensive work to build that trail around Harris Lake and along Route 28N. There has long been a trail that connects Indian Lake to Newcomb, via a major existing snowmobile bridge over the Cedar River. This trail runs parallel to Route 30 in the Blue Mountain Wild Forest and runs through conservation easement lands.

In fact, state purchase of the snowmobile trail route in that easement was the major recreational right obtained. Since an existing trail connects Indian Lake to Newcomb and a new trail, now under construction, will connect Newcomb to Minerva, it stands to reason that Indian Lake and Minerva are connected. (See maps here.)

Yet, through a bewildering and Kafkaesque denial of reality, state agencies say that the existing trail system does not count as a Minerva to Indian Lake connection.

The DEC states that while one may be able to use this trail system to travel from Indian Lake to Minerva, the existing trail serves other purposes because it also connects trails to Blue Mountain Lake and Long Lake. Because it’s primary purpose is not a discreet Indian Lake to Minerva connection, the DEC contends it’s not a bonafide community connection.

The agencies also state that the existing route from Indian Lake to Minerva is too long at over 31 miles, whereas the new shorter route over the Polaris Bridge and through the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest area will be just over 20 miles. DEC staff have said the longer mileage make this trail “not practical.”

The route that involves cutting a new trail through five miles of the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest area, forests that have not seen an axe for more than 100 years, is somehow too long for snowmobile travel. This is a head-scratcher. Isn’t the whole purpose of snowmobile riding the enjoyment of snowmobile riding? Snowmobile riders regularly make 30-mile rides from Indian Lake to Speculator or Indian Lake to Old Forge, among many other places throughout the Adirondacks and Tug Hill area. It’s a regular event for snowmobile riders to ride from Old Forge to Long Lake and back.

The distance of the trail should not be the deciding factor. Snowmobile riders are riding motor vehicles after all. They’re not walking. Why is it that they need the shortest route possible? (At the APA meeting, Fred Monroe of the Local Government Review Board, stated “local government wants the shortest route possible.”) Isn’t the thrill of snowmobiles snowmobile riding? Newly constructed state-of the-art hiking trails up Coney Mountain, Goodman Mountain and Moxham Mountain were not built for the shortest routes from parking lot to mountain summits. These trails were built on routes to minimize impacts and protect natural resources. And hikers are actually walking. It makes no sense for a new snowmobile trail to be cut through a wild trailless part of the Forest Preserve simply to provide a shorter connection.

This decision is a clear violation of the Snowmobile Guidance, which discourages trail redundancy.

In addition to putting on blinders about trail redundancy and violation of the Guidance, APA and DEC also united to avoid assessing real alternatives. The Town of Indian Lake stated throughout the process that it hoped that the Essex Chain Plan would create a new snowmobile route that utilized the Wild Forest corridor between the Essex Chain Lakes Primitive area and Hudson Gorge Wilderness area and a new bridge over the Cedar River. In this way, snowmobilers could ride from Indian Lake to Newcomb along the existing trail and then return via the new trail through the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest area, across the Polaris Bridge, down the Wild Forest corridor, across a new Cedar River bridge, and down the Chain Lakes Road to Indian Lake. The Essex Chain Plan makes this loop a reality, but it could have been accomplished with much less damage to the Forest Preserve.

EssexChainPlan-4The APA-DEC never seriously looked at alternatives where a snowmobile trail that utilized the new Wild Forest corridor and Cedar River Bridge could have been connected to the existing Indian Lake to Minerva snowmobile trail east of the Hudson River. In this way the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest area could have been spared and the Polaris Bridge removed. Only through a deliberate obfuscation can the APA-DEC maintain that a new trail is needed.

The other way that the newly approved trails violate the Guidance is that the trail through the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest runs through wild, trailless interior areas. The Guidance says that snowmobile trails should be kept on the periphery of Forest Preserve units, but in this case DEC and APA ignored their own Guidance. APA and DEC studies showed extensive wetlands along this route where dozens of bridges and “bog bridges” will be needed. They also acknowledged that this trail “may” have impacts on deer wintering yards.

The new Indian Lake-to-Minerva snowmobile trail also runs contrary to the priorities detailed in the 2006 Snowmobile Plan for the Adirondack Park. This plan contained a list of priority trail systems to link communities throughout the Adirondack Park. This plan is the definitive policy to date for vital community connection trails in the Adirondacks. Under “Community Connection Goals” in the “Trail Section” part of the Snowmobile Plan (pages 45-46), there is no mention of a Minerva-to-Indian Lake snowmobile trail. This was not a major goal for New York and was not recognized as a priority. The Environmental Impact Study associated with the Snowmobile Plan did not evaluate the impacts of a Minerva-to-Indian Lake trail. APA and DEC said blithely and without any evidence that they judged the new trail complies with the state Snowmobile Plan.

The APA and DEC never seriously looked at issues such as snowfall for the Indian Lake to Minerva route. This part of the Adirondacks receives significantly less snow than western communities, like Old Forge, or parts of the Forest Preserve like the Moose River Plains. APA and DEC said snowfall should not be a consideration because these will be “multi use” trails for hikers, horseback riders, and mountainbikers. In addition to blowing off requests for analysis of snowfall data, these agencies blew off requests for user data on other multi use trails. The reality is that class II community connector snowmobile trails receive very little use other than snowmobiling. Mountainbikers do not use them. Horse riders do not use them. Hikers do not use them.

The other issue that neither agency considered is that the major viable snowmobile connections for community-to-community snowmobiling in the Adirondacks have already been made and are long established. The routes being cut today are of marginal value for enhancing the Adirondack snowmobile riding experience, yet cause immense environmental damage as they are cut largely through wild, trailless areas and they connect communities where snowmobiling is not a major sport, in part due to lack of consistent snowfall.

Plans, policies, and regulations adopted by state agencies exist to provide a public accounting for public policy objectives and safeguards for public lands. They also provide a guide for the ways that decisions should be made. Without these public documents, decisions would be made based on political considerations and by the caprice and whim of agencies seeking to implement the political or emotional objectives of their leadership.

The APA and DEC ignored their stated public policy objectives and safeguards for the Forest Preserve and made their decisions purely for political purposes. The net result is immense and needless damage to the “forever wild” Forest Preserve.


Related Stories

Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife, has two grown children out in the world, and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Threads.

43 Responses

  1. Lorraine Duvall says:

    Looking at the analysis of the travel study in yesterday’s Almanack, I cringe to think of what we are doing to our environmental resources – justified for economic development. A low percentage of visitors come here for snowmobiling (8%). Winter visitation is dropping, because of poor winter sports weather, which is a trend with climate change. Makes no sense.

    • Dave says:

      That 8% for snowmobiling is bassed on 1 counties count (Essex County), not the entire ADK.

      • John says:

        Using this studay as a basis for covering all snowmobiling in the area is a farce. That would be like doing a article on snowmobiling & only using Long Island as a reference! Total BS!

    • Paul says:

      Lorraine, Whiteface has had two of the longest ski seasons in the areas history in just the last few years. Last years extended cold weather was ideal for snow-making. Climate change may have a longer term impact but for now things are looking pretty good. El-nino may put the kibosh on this winter in the east this season.

      • Bruce says:


        True, cold weather makes for extended snow making, but if there had been no snowmaking, how long would the actual ski season have been? I really don’t see artificial means as evidence of a longer season in general. Did the snowmobilers have artificial snow to run on like the skiers?

        When I was living in Oswego County many years ago, the first permanent snow was usually on the ground by Thanksgiving. How we doing these days? Right now on the day after Thanksgiving 2015 at 0930, Old Forge is 54 degrees and rain.

  2. Like Lorraine I noted the low percentage of snowmobilers coming to the park for winter activities. I also saw another statistic a short time ago that showed snowmobiling was dropping in popularity in NY, with a drop by about a third in the last few years. I have to wonder why DEC and the APA are trying to prop up a non-compliant, environmentally unfriendly and declining winter activity. This makes no sense at all.

  3. Keith Gorgas says:

    I’m quite sympathetic to a lot of Peter’s concerns for the Adks. Without a doubt, this shows the power of snowmobile lobby in Albany. What I do find a little troubling is that the Adirondack Council has been stone cold silent on the subject of the destruction of the environmentally friendly Adirondack Railroad in favor of adding a week or two to the snowmobiliers’ use of the track. In both instances, the RR and the Essex plan, both the DEC and APA seem powerless to follow their own regulations and mission.

    • Keith Gorgas says:

      Correction to above… I wrote Adirondack Council when I meant to say Protect the Adirondacks… I don’t know how to edit posts on this forum

    • Boreas says:


      Gotta agree there. The APA and DEC in the last few years seem to be having trouble with their chartered tasks. They seem to be increasingly inconsistent, likely due to internal and external politics. In their defense, they have very complex tasks, and get very little good press regardless of their decisions. Every decision they make lately is controversial due to polarized ideologies within the Park. Perhaps state and/or local referendum votes would help get them back on track, rather than relying just on public and private meetings.

  4. John says:

    Maybe because snowmobiling brings in more revenue than the lame train every will. But again, we all know this thread & article are slanted to support the rail folks & screw everyone else!

    • Bruce says:


      I don’t recall Peter saying anything about trains, where did that come from?

      I ask you to show us your unbiased data along with its source, which supports your contention that snowmobiling brings in way more than the (lame?) train ever will. You very well might be correct, but verification is needed here.

      • John says:

        HOW MANY TIMES does the snowmobile community need to post the FACT that a 2013 Potsdam studay concluded that snowmobiling brings 868 million dollars a year into NY State & of that @245 million is spent in the Adirondacks. Now show me where that “little” old Train comes anywhere near 200+ million dollars brought into the ADK. Maybe then I’ll believe that cows really can jump over the moon & fairies do exist. Till then, the rails folks are just blowing hot air that even the DEC & APA don’t want to hear anymore!

  5. Keith Gorgas says:

    As far as I know, Peter has never shown any support to the RR. I might be ignorant. My whole point is that Protect the Adks has been silent when they should have taken the lead in opposition to ripping up the rails. There’s plenty of other threads on this subject so I;ll limit my comment to that.

  6. Tom Payne says:

    How can a study done for only part of the Park be considered legitimate. Herkimer and Onedia Counties where completely ignored. Sounds like some major cherry picking of data going on.

    • Bruce says:


      I don’t know about Herkimer, but only a tiny corner of Oneida County is inside the Blue line around Forestport. If Oneida were included, the results would be skewed by the popularity of the Tug Hill region In Oneida, Oswego, and Lewis Counties.

      • Tom Payne says:

        The only skewied data is what this report claims.

        • Tom Payne says:

          Herkimer County is in the Park. Old Forge ring a bell?

          • John says:

            We cannot let little pesky things like that get in their report. If you take the entire ADK region into account, snowmobiling is A LOT more than 8%, but then again this report is slanted to make the rail folks happy.

            • Bruce says:


              I just read the Potsdam report and the NYSSA 2012 report. Nowhere did I see a figure of 245 million spent in the park alone. In fact it was clear that based on the demographics in the report, the vast bulk of NY snowmobiling takes place from Herkimer and Oneida Counties westward, along the Lake Ontario snow belt. About half the responses were from NYSSA members, I hardly call that unbiased.

              • Tom Payne says:

                I also looked at that in the Roost study as well most of the responses are from members of ADK Mtn Club and members of the environmental lobby. Was the questionaires passed out at the ADK Loj or at the monthly meetings or sent to all?

                • John Warren says:

                  “Tom Payne” is a paid lobbyist for a snowmobile group.

                  • Tom Payne says:

                    Sure John! Everyone else here is by first names or aliases.

                    • John Warren says:

                      You’re supposed to be a professional and you are paid to advocate. Hiding yourself behind a fake name is disingenuous at best.

                      If you’re claims are as valid as you pretend they are, why won’t you stand behind them with your own name?

                  • Boreas says:

                    John Warren,

                    Thanks for pointing that out. It explains a lot.

  7. ADKerDon says:

    As usual Bauer shows his hatred of the Adirondack people who are trying to introduce winter activities into tourism. He also shows why the state land master plan is outdated and discriminatory These lands belong to all folks to use, winter and summer. Tourism and local economy is part of the plan, but the APA, DEC, and Eco-groups refuse to acknowledge that. They prefer to continue to destroy all wildlife habitat, the economy of every town, destroy all jobs, and abolish all tourism. This is just another example of their support of genocide of the Adirondack people, their heritage, their culture, their way of life.

    • John Warren says:


      Please engage in a civil conversation. I’ve warned you several times to stop with the personal attacks.

      John Warren

  8. chris says:

    In discussions like this it’s always good to get good data. But that’s always hard to come by.

    I’ve seen quite successful arguments made when some one simply hires some high school kids to sit at a location for a couple of days and merely count what is going on.

    We turned back the re-purposing of a local park that way. Every got caught up in the “new idea” but missed the fact that the #’s of users for the new activity wasn’t enough to justify the cost.

    Data is often surprising and allows people to focus on specific use and costs instead of just rationalizing pre-held beliefs. It’d be great if Protect or another would simply set up a simple monitoring effort to bring data to these situations.

    This also works for the future, if you show that the new trail did not increase overall use, but was merely an added cost.

  9. boreasfisher says:

    Good post from Peter…these decisions defy logic given the amount of revenue generated by this activity, the low percentage of park visitors who participate, the ongoing impact of climate change on annual snowfall in these areas, and the likely overwhelmingly negative opinion of most New Yorkers on whether these public expenditures are the best use of taxpayer money.

    A statewide public referendum sure sounds like a good idea.

    • John says:

      Who gives a rats ass what the people outside the park have to say. Thats like telling the upstate folks ya got to deal with whatever the NYC crowd says because NYC population wise is larger than the rest of the state.

      • Boreas says:

        If it weren’t for people outside of the park, there would never have been a park. For better or worse, the park belongs to everyone in NYS.

        • Bruce says:


          Are you saying those folks who come in and spend the millions you keep talking about don’t have a voice in what happens in the park? It doesn’t matter where they live.

      • Thinkinglikeamountain says:

        The State Lands of the park are paid for by every New Yorker and every New Yorker gets to have a say in how they are managed.

  10. Paul says:

    There are many “redundant” hiking trails in Wilderness areas what is what is wrong with the same for snowmobiles?

  11. Charlie S says:

    Lorraine Duvall says: “I cringe to think of what we are doing to our environmental resources.”

    You’re not the only one! I don’t know how I sleep at night knowing what we’re doing….sensitive as I am to this issue.

  12. Charlie S says:

    James Bullard says: “I have to wonder why DEC and the APA are trying to prop up a non-compliant, environmentally unfriendly and declining winter activity. This makes no sense at all.”

    First thing that came to mind was…a tax haven. Are the towns getting taxed for this new snowmobile trail? Or maybe it’s just because the DEC and APA are becoming more and more what the rest of our government,national and local,are wholly about….environmentally unfriendly.

  13. Charlie S says:

    “The agencies also state that the existing route from Indian Lake to Minerva is too long at over 31 miles, whereas the new shorter route over the Polaris Bridge and through the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest area will be just over 20 miles.”

    Too long! I see! It’s all about shortcuts,the easy way out,conveniencing motorhead man.

    • Boreas says:

      Charlie S.,

      I agree. 11 miles on a 50 mph sled shouldn’t be terribly inconvenient. But something new & shiny is always better, right?

      • Bruce says:

        Is the object of snowmobiling to get from point A to point B in the shortest possible time? Probably for some, but I move that many snowmobilers are out there for the enjoyment of the outdoors and not to see how fast they can go. Another question: does there happen to be bars at both ends? If so, I can see why some believe speed is of the essence…it can get cold riding between bars.

  14. ADKerDon says:

    Time to abolish all hiking in the Adirondacks. Close all hiking trails in wilderness areas. No hiking anywhere in the forest preserve. Hikers are the most destructive users. They cause soil erosion, pollution of streams, destroy the vegetation, and leave their garbage all over the woods and along the roadsides. Ban all hiking now!

  15. Todd Eastman says:

    Perhaps installing snow guns and making snow along the Indian Lake to Minerva trail would fit with the new “Analysis Lite” being promoted throughout the Blue Line…

    … No snow? No Problem!

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox