Adirondack Wilderness Advocates (AWA) says that DEC’s plan for new trails and parking facilities the Black River Wild Forest likely does not conform with State Land Master Plan guidance, and part of the reason is a recent snowmobile decision that went against Protect the Adirondacks in 2017.
“The issue hinges on the definition of a ‘road’ on state land,” Bill Ingersoll, a co-founder of AWA, said in a statement sent to the press. “For years the state has been assuming that anything used in the past by wheeled vehicles is a road, but a recent ruling handed down by the New York State Supreme Court has set a much higher standard, and this really changes the way we must look at the Black River area.”
The Black River Wild Forest in the towns of Forestport, Ohio, and Webb is 125,000 acres of ‘forever wild’ Adirondack Forest Preserve, including many miles of access roads, hiking trails, and snowmobile trails. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) wants to convert some of those snowmobile trails into community connectors, which would entail widening and grading the routes for a higher volume of traffic. State policy requires such connectors to be sited on or near automobile roads to protect the wildness of the interior areas.
“This area has lots of old roads,” said Ingersoll, who has been frequenting the Black River Wild Forest since 1997. “But the decision handed down by Justice Gerald Connolly in Protect the Adirondacks! v. NYS DEC, et al. in 2017 provided a clear legal distinction between a ‘road’ and a ‘trail,’ namely that a road is not a road unless it has a crown, ditching, room for two cars to pass, and an artificial surface.”
“It seems doubtful that these features ever existed on many of the backcountry routes that DEC wants to use,” Ingersoll added, saying, “the core of this [Black River] Wild Forest had already been added to the forever-wild Forest Preserve by 1900.”
“APA and DEC cannot gloss over the conformance issues the Connolly decision raises,” Ingersoll stated. “The onus is on the state to perform a more thorough analysis of the origin of these old trails, to ensure this management plan is done correctly, for the benefit of everyone.”
Map of Black River Wild Forest with 1900 USGS map topography courtesy Adirondack Atlas.