Thursday, April 12, 2018

Buildings on the Forest Preserve: Public Lodging Facilities

Buildings on the Forest Preserve are limited by state laws, regulations and policies to administrative and historic preservation purposes. The biggest looming threat to the Forest Preserve is the proposal to expand allowable buildings to include public lodging structures through some kind of formal hut-to-hut system.

The final report issued by Adirondack Community-based Trails and Lodging recommends four instances where Forest Preserve lands were included for “hut” locations as necessary stops for one of their proposed 59 hut-to-hut trips.

In this way, the checkerboard pattern of public and private lands through the Adirondack Park has created opportunities to use private lands and existing lodging facilities. Public lodging facilities, beyond campsites and lean-tos, are not allowed under existing state law on the Forest Preserve. The only way that some kind of hut-to-hut network could be created on the Forest Preserve, akin to what exists in the White Mountains National Forest, is through a Constitutional Amendment.

As with many things on the Forest Preserve, the heart of the matter is found in the Constitutional requirement that Forest Preserve lands are to be kept “forever wild.” Article XIV, Section 1, the famed forever wild provision, of the NYS Constitution states:

“The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.”

A simple read of this section shows that buildings are not allowable, but the history of management of the Forest Preserve is anything but simple.

Today, buildings on the Forest Preserve are limited to two uses by longstanding state policy: 1) state administration as necessary facilities for Forest Preserve management; 2) educational and historic preservation purposes. Advocates are now openly pushing for a third class of buildings: public lodging.

The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan has worked effectively for 45 years to protect the natural resources and manage public recreational use on the Forest Preserve. The SLMP is unequivocal on the matter of cabins or “glamping” tent platforms on the Forest Preserve for public use. They are not allowed.

Three definitions shape Master Plan prohibitions on cabins for public use on the Forest Preserve:

19. Improvement – any change in or addition to land, which materially affects the existing use, condition or appearance of the land or any vegetation thereon, including but not limited to foot, horse, and bicycle trails, roads, administrative roads, snowmobile trails, cross country ski trails, improved cross country ski trails, trail heads, picnic areas and individual primitive tent sites. (p 18)

29. Ranger Stations or Ranger Cabins – enclosed buildings constructed or maintained by the Department of Environmental Conservation, suitable for human habitation and manned seasonally or year-round by administrative personnel to facilitate administrative control of lands and public use thereof under the jurisdiction of the Department. (p 19)

36. Structure – any object constructed, installed or placed on land to facilitate land use, including but not limited to bridges, buildings, ranger stations or ranger cabins, sheds, lean-tos, pit privies, picnic tables, horse barns, horse hitching posts and rails, fire towers, observer cabins, telephone and electric light lines, mobile homes, campers, trailers, signs, docks and dams. (p 20)

These definitions make it clear that the only time that buildings are allowable on the Forest Preserve is if they are used for state administrative purposes and used by administrative personnel. No buildings are allowed for public residential use. The only buildings allowed on the Forest Preserve are for administrative purposes, such as the caretaker’s cabins at Lake Colden or Raquette Falls or the various buildings used by Rangers and seasonal DEC staff at the state Administrative area at Little Tupper Lake, among others.

The Master Plan also provides clear direction on the question of new structures of the Forest Preserve:

Insofar as forest preserve lands are concerned, no structures, improvements or uses not now established on the forest preserve are permitted by these guidelines and in many cases more restrictive management is provided for. (p 16)

This passage makes it clear that the Master Plan does not contemplate new structures or improvements being allowed on the Forest Preserve where they are not currently established. This passage prohibits some form of hut-to-hut facility on the Forest Preserve.

The issue of “tent platforms” has been raised by hut-to-hut advocates with regards to creating some form of “glamping” facility. The Master Plan is clear that tent platforms are not allowed on the Forest Preserve. The Master Plan defines as tent platform as:

37. Tent Platform – a platform, with or without walls and other attachments, erected as a base for tenting or similar camping activity. (p 20)

A tent platform is listed as a “non-conforming use” in Wilderness Areas. (p 24) Because tent platforms are prohibited in Wilderness Areas they are also prohibited in Primitive and Canoe Areas. The Wild Forest Area section of the SLMP states “The Department of Environmental Conservation having removed all tent platforms previously existing under Department permit, erection of new tent platforms will be prohibited.” (p 40) As such, tent platforms are not allowed in Wild Forest areas either.

For all the reasons stated above, the Master Plan is explicit that hut-to-hut style facilities for public use, whether they be tent platforms, glamping facilities, yurts of some form of other structure are prohibited.

Public use of cabins across the Forest Preserve was voted down in a proposed Constitutional Amendment in 1932. The proposed Porter-Brereton Recreation Amendment, which came to be known as the “Closed Cabin Amendment,” would have allowed for the “clearing of timber” on the Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks and Catskills for the construction of “recreational facilities.” The vague language was a deliberate loophole to allow any number of things.

The famed John Apperson-Paul Schaefer partnership rallied opposition, organizing over 150 organizations in a vote no campaign, including support from the Adirondack Mountain Club and Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks. Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt also opposed the amendment. One of the most persuasive arguments in 1932, which still rings true today, was that the private lands in the Adirondacks offered all manner of public accommodations and that the heart and soul of the Adirondack Forest Preserve was as a place where people could experience wild nature.

The Closed Cabin Amendment sought to authorize the Conservation Department with new authority for “the construction of such recreational facilities as are not inconsistent with the general wild forest character of the Forest Preserve and the making of necessary clearings of timber therefor.” This chapter in Forest Preserve history is important because it makes clear that the only way buildings for public lodging are possible on the Forest Preserve is through a Constitutional Amendment.

Use of the Forest Preserve by some kind of hut-to-hut network, with facilities akin to the Johns Brook Lodge owned and operated by ADK, would mark a major change in Forest Preserve management. Such facilities must meet all manner of state codes and require serious logistical operations. If the Cuomo Administration seeks to use the Forest Preserve as a location for any kind of hut-to-hut network, an idea that enjoys broad support among the Governor’s aides and the Department of Environmental Conservation, the only lawful way this can be done is through amending the State Constitution.

This article is third in a series looking at the issue of buildings on the Forest Preserve. The first dealt with buildings used for administrative purposes and the effort to retain the inner Gooley Club. The second focused on buildings that are classified as Historic and how this group of buildings is growing.

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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.

34 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    I agree. What makes the Park unique is the intermingling of private and public lands. There are plenty of places to construct lodging on private land, if none is already available, for longer “hut-to-hut” treks. This may make some hikes uncomfortably long but there would be other, shorter hikes. Just because I’m not comfortable hiking the Great Range in a day doesn’t mean I can’t hike the peaks individually.
    I’ve stayed in huts all over the world but one need travel no further than the Whites of New Hampshire to see how they change the character of the wilderness. I would not be opposed to constructing short trails to link huts on private land.

  2. Jim S. says:

    Thank you Peter for bringing us this series. It is important for Adirondack wilderness enthusiasts to hear about the drive to remove the wild from the woods.

    • Aaron says:

      Really, “remove the wild from the woods”? Go 200 yards off trail in any direction and the woods are quite wild. A tiny little hut is not going to change that in the slightest.

      • Jim S. says:

        With meals provided, toilet facilities and lodging? That is much more than slight. I call that Holiday Inn.

      • Boreas says:

        FWIW, there used to be a rock shelter on Marcy’s summit years ago. It allegedly became a pig-stye and was removed.

        • Aaron says:

          Yeah, and it should’ve been rebuilt. It was historical and fun.

          • Taras says:

            For history, you have the commemorative plaque on Marcy’s summit. There’s also an old survey bolt (a few feet from the USGS benchmark).

            For fun, there’s the actual hike to Marcy and, in season, its Summit Steward who’ll happily explain the finer points about Marcy’s alpine flora and fauna.

            • Mick Finn says:

              The USGS benchmark should be removed because it represents human exploitation of the wilderness. Right?

            • Aaron says:

              Sure, that’s fun, too. You still haven’t made the case for why the hut shouldn’t have been rebuilt.

              • Boreas says:

                Why make the same mistake twice?

                • Aaron says:

                  Explain how it was a “mistake”?

                  • Boreas says:

                    Who did it serve? After it was built (1928?), it may have been useful for a few people – when few people climbed Marcy. Decades later it was misused and dangerous. Excrement, trash, deterioration – you get the idea. It was removed (as were many lean-tos) because of its condition (safety and sanitary) and appearance – not because of today’s non-conforming structure rules. Leaving it or rebuilding it would have just created more problems for the Rangers and DEC.

                    From the 1999 HPW Unit Management Plan:
                    “Non-conformances are defined as those structures, facilities, or uses not compatible with the concept of wilderness. It is not a new definition or concept. An early non-conformance pre-dating the APSLMP was the MacDonald Storm Shelter constructed in 1928 atop Mt. Marcy. The structure was later removed by the Conservation Department (predecessor to DEC) in 1962. Its original purpose had been subverted by its de facto use as a garbage dump and latrine. With few exceptions, the APSLMP requires DEC to remove certain structures and facilities and terminate uses and activities that are not essential to wilderness management.”

                    Today it would be a non-conforming structure and no camping is allowed over 4000 feet. It would be a tough sell to convince the state and taxpayers to rebuild it.

  3. Mick Finn says:

    “Bauer Almanack” is in full swing this week! Peter picks and chooses specific clauses to suit his agenda and conveniently ignores the other more meaningful clauses,always setting up nice acquisition targets for wealthy donors to get nice tax breaks.

    Give it a rest already.

    • Boreas says:


      Mr. Bauer should be free to submit any articles he likes. It is up to the editorial staff to determine whether it is posted/published. Why don’t you submit some articles that are more meaningful to you? I certainly wouldn’t mind reading about some different stuff.

  4. Paul says:

    Couldn’t these “huts” get a Temporary Revocable Permit -TRP from the DEC to be used seasonally? It’s done all over the Adirondacks now? This is not really anything new. Obviously what is done now under a TRP is legal. I have never heard any complaints about the seasonal camps set up by hunters. Dave Gibson talks about bring a permit to one of these camps here:

    This isn’t contrary to the “character” of the Adirondacks. It is the character of the Adirondacks.

    • Boreas says:


      While not being contrary to the character of the “Adirondacks” in general, structures are certainly out of character in certain areas. I think each situation needs to be scrutinized in regards to each individual setting.

      • Paul says:

        I totally agree with that. In my opinion a cabin at Lake Golden is over that “line” but I guess they need it. A friend of mine stayed up there for a number of seasons. It was the cat’s meow!

        • Taras says:

          The “cabin” at Lake Colden is a DEC Interior Outpost (a.k.a. Ranger Station).

          DEC staff use it as a year-round base for educating and monitoring the thousands of hikers and campers who pass through the area.

          • Paul says:

            I know that. I have been in it many times, like I said my friend was stationed there for several years. I just personally don’t think it should be there. Does that mean it would make hiking there less safe? Yes. The same could be said for lots of things we don’t allow in the heart of the HPW. Often making things less dangerous makes them more popular with people that should maybe not be there.

  5. Greg M. says:

    Peter, while you have some valid points, I think your making up what to believe again with the “requires a Constitutional Amendment” bit. None of your supporting claims merit a constitutional amendment.

    You reference the SMLP definitions (which are incredibly weak given they include “including but not limited to…”) as *the* reason it’s illegal for these structures to exist. The SLMP has held up in court that it’s merely a guidance document. Further, it can be changed quite easily without anything on the order of a Constitutional Amendment.

    What was voted down in the 1930s it irrelevant. They tried to get a generalized amendment passed, and it was voted down. It does not mean they couldn’t get huts in there then, nor does it mean they couldn’t do it now.

    In my view based on my prior knowledge and your set of articles, there is only one thing that would warrant a constitutional amendment. The definition of “forever kept as wild forest lands”. The rest of Article XIV is irrelevant for the huts definition (your snowmobile lawsuit just validated any localized clearing of trees)

    Thus huts will become a reality if the following holds:

    (1) The “powers that be” want them
    (2) The SLMP is amended and/or viewed as guidance (as done in the past)
    (3) “forever kept as wild forest lands” in and of itself allows for huts

    #1 and #2 are relatively easy and can be tackled in a handful of months. #3 would require careful stepping, perhaps linking it with intensive use areas like campgrounds and showing many other backcountry areas have public cabins.

    Oh…and I guess #4 of wading through Peter’s lawsuit that will waste time and money, but not change the outcome.

    It still perplexes me that people can support the ADK inholdings, OSI inholdings, and others, but can be against this. It’s a difference of jumping through legal hurdles that allow it, but not substance or impact on the “wilderness”.

    • Boreas says:


      In my opinion, and I think I speak for a lot of people in this respect, Article XIV and the “forever wild” concept is one of the main reasons the ADK Park remains distinctly different than other state and national forests/parks around the country – certainly in the east. The more erosion we have of that guiding tenet, the less unique the ADK Park will be. I personally believe there should be a lot of hoops to jump through to allow such exceptions – if they are allowed at all.

      • Greg M. says:


        I don’t necessarily disagree. I’d love to see, though am not advocating for, the entire high peaks area free of inholdings and major peninsulas. Ditto for a couple other larger blocks of semi-contiguous FP land. A recent hike into OK Slip Falls was nice, but crossing the road part-way in takes away from the experience. Again, I’m not suggesting this inholding be purchased, but it does degrade the experience.

        The problem I have here is Peter regularly writes things that he suggests are “law”, but rather are his own fictitious view of something. It’s a disservice to believe most of this article’s implications and conclusions as “law” and “fact”. Anyone hoping for the prohibition of rented lodging on FP lands will be disappointed when they learn what they thought was wrong.

        Case in-point from this article, it ends with: “If the Cuomo Administration seeks to use the Forest Preserve as a location for any kind of hut-to-hut network…the only lawful way this can be done is through amending the State Constitution.” Throughout the article he keeps flipping “hut-to-hut” and “Building” interchangeably. They are not the same thing under the law, or even as suggested in the various proposals from the past few years.

        I seriously doubt a tent platform would be found in violation of Article XIV (it’s less than a lean-to). Adding a heavy canvas tent/yurt would not violate Article XIV. While the former violates the SLMP, that’s hardly a high hurdle to change if the powers to be wanted it changed, and does *not* need any constitutional amendments.

        For full credit, in some cases, he does correctly condition some things like “akin to what exists in the White Mountains National Forest” and “akin to the Johns Brook Lodge”. But then throws it out the window when trying to equate these to the full definition of “Public Lodging Facilities” and “Hut-to-hut”.

        Operating on valid facts and knowledge of the laws matters. If the powers that be want permanent buildings, nothing but “forever kept as wild forest lands” in and of itself will prevent that. But if we’re talking huts/yurts/tent platforms/tents or other similar semi-temporary structures that can be setup/removed in few hours, my view is the only thing stopping these is the current SLMP, and public opinion preventing change to it.

  6. Paul says:

    The “hanging mollies” on the cliffs of avalanche lake are not necessary for the safety of anyone. They actually facilitate getting more people more easily further into the backcountry where the unprepared hiker gets in trouble and needs help from the people staying at the Lake Colden cabin. Nor is the staircase that leads up ore bed brook necessary to protect the environment or for safety. It just gets people who maybe have no business climbing a rock slide up a rock slide. Ditto, the cables on Gothics. Same goes for some of the other facilities in the HPW. Because they are there to make hikers lives easier they are fine. A temporary hut in a flat place like Boreas or Chain Lakes – no we can have that. Sacrilege.

    • Jim S. says:

      I agree but aren’t they called “hitch-up Matildas”?

    • Boreas says:


      I think there should be at least some distinction between long-standing facilities that are part of the very old and poorly routed trail system in the HPW, and new structures adding to the list. Many old “facilities” have been removed in an effort to minimize man-made structures – especially if they were in poor locations and in poor condition. Frankly, with the current lightweight camping and hiking gear, I am not sure of the need for additional shelters/structures – especially in Wilderness areas.

    • Taras says:


      Whoever told you all those things you said about HPWA infrastructure, was mistaken.

      When the way grows steep and challenging, many hikers hug a trail’s sides. This causes the sides to erode away, the trail to widen, and the erosion cycle continues. Most of the infrastructure you’ve described was installed to break this cycle and protect the environment.

      The cables on Gothics were installed to keep hikers on the exposed rock and off the adjoining krummholz. It’s done a good job of it. A portion of the trail *above* the cabled section is steeper and more exposed yet has *no* cables. Why? Because it’s naturally barren (and wide) so there’s little to be damaged by errant footsteps.

      Similarly, the south side of Saddleback, an expanse of ledges far steeper and more exposed than the cabled section of Gothics, has no cables nor ladders. Why? Because it’s barren and there’s little that hikers can damage. If it was for hiker convenience, the entire face would be festooned with ladders.

      The staircase along the Orebed Brook Trail was installed to dissuade hikers from walking along the slide’s left side (climber’s left). When wet, the slide is not easily negotiated and hikers cling to its left side, where they now find a secure stairway. If you travel higher along this trail, beyond the staircase, (~3400′ ) you will encounter a stark example of the trail-widening problem I described.

      The “Hitchup Matildas” serve the same purpose as all other foot-bridges and that’s to span a waterway in order to protect the banks. It funnels and concentrates foot-traffic to prevent broad erosion of banks. Most bridges are installed exclusively in high-traffic areas (like the ADK Loj – Upper Works corridor). If you go deeper into the interior, especially along low-traffic routes, you’ll encounter fewer bridges (if any).

      If the goal was hiker convenience, you’d see far more infrastructure such as ladders on Saddleback’s south side, a bridge spanning Johns Brook at Bushnell Falls, a walkway across Marcy Brook at Indian Falls, many, many ladders along the unmarked trails in the Sewards and the Santanoni Express Trail, a bridge across Indian Pass Brook, etc. If these areas ever do get ‘hardened’ it’ll be because hiker-induced erosion degraded the resources and required mitigation.

      Comparing these structures to proposed ‘glamping’ huts and platforms is a false equivalence.

      • Paul says:

        If these trails have these issues than they should be closed. If you need a staircase on a slide to keep people from wrecking the place then the trail has no business being there. Same goes for permanent cables or hanging walkways. I am sure that many of the additional “Infrastructure” you suggest will eventually be built in the HPW, wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

        • Boreas says:


          Many of these old routes should be re-routed, THEN closed. But I don’t know how you would re-route H-U-M…

          Unfortunately, who needs to do this? DEC. And is there specific funding for it? I think we know the answer. Probably won’t be addressed until a few lawsuits are filed. Then these traditional, historic trails and structures will be defended by staunch history advocates and we are back at square one – everyone blaming everyone else for an ongoing quandary.

          • Paul says:

            Closing trails doesn’t cost anything. Yes, re-routing does. So close them if they are in the wrong place. Then when folks don’t get to use them maybe they will pony up some dough to get them re-routed? If there isn’t sufficient funds to enforce a closure then you need to think about a larger closure of some areas. Then maybe more people will step up to the plate and realize we need to fix the problem. It is that time of year where we tell people to “avoid” hiking over a certain elevation because it will wreck the trails. Well – as usual lots of people will ignore that suggestion, again there you need to do closures if you really care enough to protect the resource.

  7. Charlie S says:

    Aaron says: “Go 200 yards off trail in any direction and the woods are quite wild. A tiny little hut is not going to change that in the slightest.”

    That tiny little hut would be like a tiny pebble in a foot-filled shoe Aaron…an irritant, especially to those of us who like things the way they are so far as the Adirondack wilderness is concerned. This hut to hut and glamping theme seems so odd to me, as if we are encouraging convenience for the leisure class, as if the comforts we rely on so heavily have softened us to this point…where we need modern luxuries when we’re in what little bit of wilderness remains on planet dearth.

  8. Steven R says:

    “Leave no Trace” and “Carry in – Carry out” have proven to be wise and broadly beneficial practices. Let’s consider applying the same thoughts to the lodging problem. Leave the lodging on private land. If you need lodging carry in a tent.

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