The 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.