Friday, March 11, 2016

APA Votes To Amend Master Plan, Allow Bikes In Essex Chain

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Adirondack Park Agency board voted 9-1 on Friday to allow the use of mountain bikes in the Essex Chain region — a move that some wild-land advocates say weakens protections for the Forest Preserve.

With one dissent, the board agreed to amend the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan to permit bicycling along nine miles of former logging roads in the Essex Chain Primitive Area and the nearby Pine Lake Primitive Area. (The two areas are expected to be combined in the future.)

The master plan will continue to prohibit bicycling in other Primitive Areas except on administrative roads.

The APA also voted to allow the state Department of Environmental Conservation to use motor vehicles to perform non-routine maintenance on the roads, which also will be open to horseback riders.

Dick Booth, the chairman of the APA’s State Land Committee and the lone dissenter, warned that the APA’s action will weaken the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. “Until now, today, no governor in this state has chosen to force the Park Agency to weaken the Master Plan. Governor Cuomo and his staff have chosen to do so. The people in the State of New York should understand this is a significant weakening of the Master Plan. And what has been done today can be done over and over again regarding any of the areas in the Master Plan, not just Primitive Areas. ”

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, agreed. “This is a major step backwards and is a sharp departure from Wilderness management used since 1972,” he said in a news release.

Under the Master Plan, Primitive Areas are managed for the most part like Wilderness Areas. Bicycling and motorized uses are banned on lands classified as Wilderness, the plan’s strictest land-use designation.

Dave Gibson of Adirondack Wild also accused the APA of weakening the State Land Master Plan.

In January, Protect and Adirondack Wild filed a lawsuit over the unit management plan (UMP) for the Essex Chain region, which the APA approved in November. One cause of action contended that allowing bikes in the Primitive Areas would violate the State Plan Master Plan. It’s uncertain how the APA’s vote to amend the plan will affect that aspect of the lawsuit.

The APA also voted Friday to amend the Master Plan to allow DEC to use non-natural materials in bridges in Wild Forest Areas. This amendment was spurred by DEC’s plan to build a large snowmobile bridge over the Cedar River. The bridge site is just outside the Primitive Areas.

The lawsuit filed by the two environmental groups contends the bridge would violate the Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers System Act. The issue raised in the suit is not about the construction material.

“Cedar River Bridge violates the [the act] because it is being built for motor vehicles,” Bauer told Adirondack Almanack after the vote. “It’s not the materials, it’s the use, which also dictates the size. A pedestrian bridge could be built in a Scenic River corridor that was four feet or less in width.”

The bridge will allow snowmobilers to travel from Indian Lake to Newcomb and eventually, once a new trail is built, to Minerva. Bicyclists also will be allowed to ride the same route. (The lawsuit argues that the snowmobile trail duplicates a nearby trail and thus violates state policy.)

The APA and DEC contend that the amendments will expand recreational opportunities in the Essex Chain region. The state acquired the lands from the Nature Conservancy a few years ago. They once belonged to Finch, Pruyn & Company.

“I commend the Adirondack Park Agency for approving these important amendments to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan,” DEC Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a news release. “This progressive proposal, which was carefully crafted with strong public participation, will ensure the public can access and enjoy a broad range of recreational opportunities on newly acquired lands and waters in the Adirondack Park while the state continues to protect and conserve the region’s globally significant forests and natural resources.”

The amendments will be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his approval.

Photo of Cedar River by Phil Brown.


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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.

39 Responses

  1. Jim S. says:

    I find this to be very discouraging. The Essex chain should be classified “wild forest”. Bikes don’t belong and a network of roads don’t belong in a primitive setting.

  2. Cranberry Bill says:

    Presently this discussion is about lands newly entered into the wild/wilderness realm. It worries me that decisions made about these new lands may at some time affect decisions on older parcels. I dread seeing forest preserves, such as the 5 Ponds Wilderness, being opened up to bikes. Is this is a problem? I read this forum every day, but I still may have missed something. Let me know what I have missed. New paragraph.

  3. Bruce says:

    The roads in question up until recently, were carrying heavy truck traffic. I fail to see how bicycles or even horses will cause significant damage or detract from the wilderness experience except in the minds of some.

    I wonder what Mr. Bauer has to say about hiker use? Will they be required to keep to the roads which are already there, or will hikers be wanting shortcuts through the forest to prime areas?

    • troutstalker says:

      It’s not that they will damage the roads, it’s will they stay on the roads and not decide to ride a trail through the wilderness! I feel that some bicycle riders will take that liberty. They may only be able to just go so far due to blow down or boulders and roots but it will still be inviting to them!

      • Bruce says:

        And hikers don’t go where they’re not supposed to, and do what they’re not supposed to when they get there?

        As someone pointed out in another discussion, if the main concern is folks doing what they shouldn’t be doing, then the wilderness should be closed to all.

  4. Joeb says:

    I see no problem with allowing mountain bikes on logging roads. On hiking trails no. In rack the use of the bikes on logging roads will cause less damage to the environment then hikers.
    Go on any hiking trail and you’ll areas where the trail had been worn down a foot or more below the surface exposing roots and rocks. Waterbars and natural stairs are constructed to help control erosion. Blowdown is cut to allow passage .some new sections of trails are constructed to replace badly erroded trails Oh, and are rocks and trees “Not ” to be removed from there natural areas but yet are moved to construct the water bars and carins. And how about that suspension bridge on the way to Mt Adams. Hmm…It’s not made out of 100% natural material ( and with the bridge in the Essex chain the environmentalist first claim was it was not made of natural materials) and it ruins a scenic view. If you want a true wilderness experience,take down the bridge and find a way to cross the river naturally.
    Though I am not a mountain biker (I am an avid hiker and snowmobiler) I do support the use of mountain bikes on the logging roads. They have just as much right to enjoy their sport as the rest of us in the Adirondacks. And just think. By open I g up the roads to mountain bikers ,it could allow those who are disabled with specially outfitef bikes to enjoy the outdoors as well.

  5. Marco says:

    “I wonder what Mr. Bauer has to say about hiker use?…”
    Bruce, an extension of this logic would also declare that they outlaw bushwacking and other off trail activities(pooping for example), since, they create trails, also. Foot paths are not even in the same category since even animals create foot trails. I suppose you could say that wild horses or wild cattle would cause as much damage, but the ADK’s is devoid of these critters.

    I agree that the conversion of roads to bike traffic or horses will be more positive in impact than logging trucks.

  6. Boreas says:

    This is really no different than the current ATV/ORV discussions. Mitigating damage and enforcement will fall to already undermanned DEC staffing. Don’t wait until the damage occurs to begin thinking about resource protection. If a plan is in place for effective enforcement, fine.

  7. Tim-Brunswick says:

    “Bruce” and “Joeb” are on target and I was elated when I saw the APA decision in the Times Union. I could hardly wait to view the wailing/ranting of the “Wilderness Only” crowd that love to comment on every imagined infringement on “their Adirondacks”.

    These are not “trails” they’re a step up from logging roads and have been used for nearly 100 years by members of the various clubs that were ousted from their camps that they enjoyed with their Families for years. Those same families spent $$ in the various Adirondack communities, which are now economically starving due to the loss of these seasonal residents.

    As far as damage to trails by Mountain bikes…. gimme a break………Really!

    Vibram soled foot gear worn by hikers carrying 40# packs tear up trails far more than a rubber-tired Mountain bike. Just look at the re-routing and even closures for trails in the High Peaks due to damage caused by hikers.

    It’s about time that the elite hiking crowd learned that they have to share the Adirondacks with others. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a trend to open up more areas to access by means other than our own two feet. Maine is a great example of a State that has learned that “wilderness” is not destroyed by snowmobiles, ATV’s and Mtn. Bikes.

    They have far more wildlife diversity than the Adirondacks, with no apparent harm to their eco-systems either.

    • Boreas says:


      If they can stay on the roads – perfect – I’m all for it! If they can’t, then what happens? Anyone have a plan for that? Keep in mind, Maine’s population is much different – in many ways…

      • Bruce says:


        There is always going to be someone who has a problem following the rules, no matter who is or isn’t allowed to use the resource. Just consider the illegal hiking trails which were highlighted in a couple of previous articles on this forum last year.

  8. Todd Eastman says:

    The APA is acting as a regional chamber of commerce and not the regulatory body it is mandated to be under the law.

    Expect some broad-based support for litigation…

    • Boreas says:

      Must be good to be a lawyer in the Adirondacks…

      • Paul says:

        Not really. Some folks in the Adirondacks may use a local firm for some of these things (Jim McCully as an example using Norfolk in LP) but most of these environmental groups seem to farm their legal work to firms outside the park – in places like Albany and Glens Falls.

  9. Marco says:

    Whatever they do, just marking the roads is going to cost money. I don’t mind bikes on the old roads. As long as they are reviewed every 3-5 years to check their condition, there is no reason not to use them. When the forest starts reclaiming them, trail conditions will dictate. The ADK’s have a way of dictating it’s own needs.

    • Boreas says:


      Good point. I don’t know what the plan is for basic maintenance, if any. I am not familiar with them but if there are culverts, there will likely be beavers creating ponds that can undermine or flood the roadway. Will DEC be required or prohibited from moving them? Same with washouts & downed trees. Any readers out there know how this stuff will be handled?

      • Boreas says:

        And just to hitchhike on that thought, will users be prohibited from going off the road to avoid obstacles? I would hate to drive an hour to get there only to find downed trees blocking the road in many places. Will bike clubs be permitted to perform “trail maintenance” such as cutting up downed trees or filling potholes?

        • Bruce says:

          This could lead to more sensible use of available resources, and if the clubs worked with the DEC like our fly fishing club worked with the National Forest Service to maintain a trail along a popular trout stream, the benefit to all users would be tremendous. Clubs with 501 non-profit status have a public service requirement as a part of their charters, which this kind of work meets.

          Once a year, usually in the spring, the Forest Service would evaluate the need, and supply materials, tools and on-site leadership to ensure the work was done properly. Once the need was identified, the Forest Service would contact us and we would schedule a work weekend. In return, we got a weekend’s free camping at a really nice group camp. The work never took more than a little past lunchtime on Saturday.

        • Boreas says:

          To partly answer my own question, I missed this paragraph –

          “The APA also voted to allow the state Department of Environmental Conservation to use motor vehicles to perform non-routine maintenance on the roads, which also will be open to horseback riders.”

          I guess my question now is, will the DEC be REQUIRED to perform any/all maintenance, or are they just “allowed” to?

          • Paul says:

            Just look at the budget for these UMPs there isn’t much there for maintenance so even if required they couldn’t do it. So it is allowed, in case we some day have enough money to maintain all this land we have bought.

      • Joe Smith says:

        Shoot the beaver, move the tree… That is part of our, “Nature”.

        • Bruce says:

          Mentioning beavers…how is it handled when beavers flood authorized foot trails?

          • Taras says:

            The impression I have is they stay flooded and a herd-path develops around the flooded area. I think the speed of official repairs may depend on the popularity of the trail. This seems to be the way footbridges are handled. Some get replaced ASAP and others never.

  10. Todd Eastman says:

    Horses have a nasty habit of pooping and spreading invasive and non-native plants along their routes.

    Perhaps a pick-it-up-pack-it-out policy will be implemented by the land managers…

    … as if!

  11. josh says:

    I think these limited changes actually affect only 9 miles of existing gravel roads, until recently used by large trucks. This is a good thing, a small thing, and certainly not cause for great alarm and lawsuits, etc.

    Tempest in a teapot. Good grief, give it a rest.

  12. Curt Austin says:

    This is not long-standing sacred ground that will be violated. Allowing bicycles or not is the difference between it becoming 99.98% or 99.99% wild. For perspective, let’s keep in mind the difference between a bicycle and a log skidder.

  13. ADKerDon says:

    Time to remove Booth from the APA. His prejudices and discriminations against the elderly, handicapped, disabled and youths must end. Time to make all lands below 3,000 feet elevation wild forest or to abolish the forest preserve entirely.

    • Boreas says:


      Haven’t heard from you in a while – I have missed your thoughtful contributions!

    • mike says:

      Yes, Don, nice to see you back here, getting your oar in the water. The echo chamber here is a bit too strong sometimes and a reminder of other points of view is welcome.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Yea, turn it over to the Feds. The NPS would make the APA/DEC combo look like “Wise-users”…

  14. John Henry says:

    I am in favor of this. The area when purchased was promised to be more open and the stakeholder towns backed it because of that. Many more people of limited mobility will be able to explore the area now. I think we can all accept a little bit mixed use in limited does. This area has not been wild for over a 100 years and this allows more of the public to use it in a responsible open manner. If abuse happens, comes down on them hard, just do not stop this from happening. The ADA got it right and I think the numbers represent that in the vote.

  15. Charlie S says:

    Todd Eastman says: “Yea, turn it over to the Feds.”

    The same Feds aka corporate whores who would sell their souls for a dollar…..

  16. Charlie S says:

    “This area has not been wild for over a 100 years and this allows more of the public to use it in a responsible open manner.” John Henry

    We’re not as responsible as we should be John. Far from it! Matter of fact i would venture to say we’re a flighty lot with egos bigger than old growth white pines. It seems to me all of these discussions of late lean towards turning the Adirondacks into one big playground for everyone other than those who desire getting around by foot which is the way it always had been until motorized machines came onto the scene and lethargy set in.

  17. Bill Ingersoll says:

    I have no confidence in the ability of the Adirondack Park Agency to serve as an unbiased steward for the wilderness lands I love. But at least one of its members, Richard Booth, has my enthusiastic support.

    As a frequent visitor of the park–a patron of its businesses, an explorer of its forests, an addict of the wilderness experiences I can find only here–I find the agency’s recent actions regarding the State Land Master Plan to be abhorrent. An agency intended to shield the Forest Preserve from political influences has instead acted submissively to the top-down management directives received from Albany.

    Chairwoman Ulrich has exhibited ineffective leadership in this regard, and under her administration the Forest Preserve to which I will return on my next trip will for the first time ever be one that is diminished–however incrementally–in its legal protections. The SLMP provides clear, apolitical guidance for the management of the preserve, and yet Chairwoman Ulrich has been influenced more by her desire to keep her appointed position. She has supervised an amendment process that has blurred the distinctions between wilderness and wild forest–a process that will undoubtedly enhance her relationship with her employer, but which has resulted in a historic step backward for the agency and the park as a whole.

    On the other hand, only Richard Booth has had the courage to speak his beliefs and vote according to his conscience–not the to source of his paycheck. His statement on March 11, 2016, at the conclusion of the agency’s vote to approve the SLMP amendment package, was an eloquent statement in defense of wilderness values, as well as an accurate assessment of the agency’s current weaknesses and flawed view of its own role in regards to the Forest Preserve.

    I applaud Mr. Booth’s statements and actions on the state land committee, and I hope he remains serving as an agency member as the lone vote in favor of wilderness.


    Bill Ingersoll
    Owner, Wild River Press
    Barneveld NY

    • Bruce says:


      Whoever said the APA was unbiased (implying neutral)? I can’t see how it’s possible for them to make any kind of a neutral decision, it’s the nature of their job.

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