Monday, June 11, 2018

AWA: Snowmobile Decision Calls Into Question Other Road Claims

black river wild forestA local wilderness advocacy organization is expressing concerns about road definitions in a pending management plan that could have implications around the Adirondack Park.

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.

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13 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    The judges “definition” of a road seems way out there. Artificial surface?

    What about the case involving “the old mountain road”? Looks like we have some different legal opinions out there.

    • Boreas says:

      Paul,

      I believe the Old Mountain Road legal issue was related to whether or not it was legally “abandoned”, not whether it was considered a road. Perhaps that will be the next argument.

      It seems the ADK Park is a good place to be a lawyer. I certainly made a wrong turn with a healthcare career…

      • Paul says:

        Yes – the issue there was if the road was legally abandoned. Apparently it wasn’t.

        Yes, I agree, this could be a new angle in a case like that. Kooky one – but hey why not.

        The court was unanimous in their decision there so they certainly saw it as a “road” for the purposes of that case. Just dirt. Pretty natural, like lots of other ‘roads’.

  2. Charlie S says:

    “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.”

    There you go! The neo DEC! The mindset of urbanites. Department of Environmental Conservation? Conservation my ass! I thought Scott Pruitt was working for Donald Thump!

    • Paul says:

      Charlie the potty mouth adds nothing. As I am sure you know snowmobile trail milage is capped in the Adirondacks on public land. Only the snowmobile folks had/have to deal with that.

      • Boreas says:

        Paul,

        Mileage may be capped, but what this issue involves is how many trails can be legally upgraded to Class II trails. If the state Ignores or circumvents their own established guidelines restricting connector trails then the total acreage of snowmobile trails could increase dramatically without changing total mileage.

        • Concerned says:

          Boreas – nothing in the snowmobile trail guidance says that DEC can only designate Class 2 (Community Connector) trails on roads (new or abandoned). It specifically discussed a number of criteria that would be balanced in determining where a Community Connector trails would be sited:


          Specific Trail Siting Criteria for New and Rerouted Snowmobile Trails

          Class II Trails: Community Connector Trails

          New and rerouted Class II Trails on State lands will be sited as close as possible to motorized travel corridors. No new or rerouted trail segments will be sited farther than one mile from these corridors unless terrain or environmental constraints dictate otherwise, or such siting of a new or rerouted trail segment within the periphery is necessary to connect important, existing trail segments that together will form the same Community Connector Trail.

          Snowmobile Trail Siting Standards
          1. In cases where closure or abandonment of a motorized travel corridor results in an existing snowmobile trail location being inconsistent with these guidelines, such trail will, if practicable and as soon as possible, be relocated or reclassified to comply with these guidelines.
          2. New and rerouted snowmobile trails will be sited, when possible, along existing routes or previously existing old routes such as foot trails, woods roads, utility rights of way and abandoned railroad beds in lieu of constructing entirely new trails.
          3. New and rerouted snowmobile trails will be sited with an objective to avoid locations that present safety hazards such as the edges of ravines or ledges, major highway crossings and crossings of frozen surfaces of water bodies such as rivers, lakes and ponds. If suitable alternative routes are designated or developed, trails that lead riders to unsafe locations will be closed to snowmobile Page 7 of 17
          use in favor of the alternative routes in order to lower risks and eliminate unnecessary snowmobile trail mileage.
          4. New and rerouted snowmobile trails will be sited with an objective to avoid areas considered environmentally sensitive, such as: wetlands; endangered plant or animal populations that might be harmed by the trails and/or their use; remote interior areas as defined by these guidelines and forested corridors connecting such remote interior areas; and deer wintering areas and other significant habitats, so that the values of these areas are not diminished.
          5. New and rerouted snowmobile trails will not be established without an evaluation of potentially significant impacts on adjacent private holdings.
          6. New and rerouted snowmobile trails, including spur trails, will not provide access to private lands where public snowmobile access is not permitted.
          7. New and rerouted snowmobile trails, through the acquisition of easements or other access rights from willing sellers, will be sited on private lands rather than State lands wherever possible to minimize impacts on the Forest Preserve.

          The above discussed relocation of existing or construction of new trails. It seems like DEC is merely proposing changing the class of some existing snowmobile trails from Class 1, which wouldn’t result in any relocation, in which they would need to only address relocating sections that were in “remote interior locations:”


          II. Reconfiguration of the Snowmobile Trail System

          Establishment of Community Connections

          The establishment of a Park-wide community-connection snowmobile trail system will provide north-to-south and east-to-west routes that will link many Adirondack communities together. Designation of Class II, Community Connector snowmobile trails on Forest Preserve lands will create essential portions of the system, the use of which will result in a significant shifting of snowmobile use away from some remote interior areas of these lands to the periphery. Within the periphery, these Class II trails will intentionally be located as close to motorized travel corridors as practicable without locating them within – nor within sight of – road rights-of-way wherever such locations can be avoided. The actual, on-the-ground routes that establish the connections through Forest Preserve will be determined through the UMP process. Many of the connections already exist and the focus will be on improving them through proper siting, construction and trail maintenance work.

          A small number of existing DEC snowmobile trails in the Park shown to be located partly within remote interior areas may receive Class II designation due to their importance and may be retained and kept open, as long as either of the following conditions are met: 1) the remote interior area of concern is small – no more than 750 acres in area; or, 2) the trail segments of concern are located very near the boundary of the remote interior area, with no trail segment located further than one-half mile into the interior from any boundary. DEC will give high priority to relocating out of the remote interior area any Class II trails or trail segments so retained.

          No existing DEC snowmobile trails in the Park that receive Class I designation may be retained and kept open with any portion of the trail located within a remote interior area.

          • Boreas says:

            “Boreas – nothing in the snowmobile trail guidance says that DEC can only designate Class 2 (Community Connector) trails on roads (new or abandoned).”

            I don’t know if anyone is stating the trails need to be built ON existing “roads”. But the trails need to be placed near roads as your attached quote states (see below). But as the author states above, the encroachment into the forest depends on what the state deems a road. Is an old jeep or logging trail a road in the spirit of the language?

            “New and rerouted Class II Trails on State lands will be sited as close as possible to motorized travel corridors. No new or rerouted trail segments will be sited farther than one mile from these corridors unless terrain or environmental constraints dictate otherwise, or such siting of a new or rerouted trail segment within the periphery is necessary to connect important, existing trail segments that together will form the same Community Connector Trail.”

  3. Curt Austin says:

    There must be a context for when that road definition applies, or it’s been paraphrased inaccurately. It’s too far from the ordinary meaning, which originated before asphalt and the automobile. Many people would be surprised to learn that they live on a trail, not a road.

    In any event, a more meaningful debate is over the realities – not the semantics – involved in the awkward compromise required between wilderness and recreation. I enjoy reading about legal disputes, but they are not persuasive in the way that matters to most people.

  4. Gregory M Moore says:

    Bill and AWA: I think your making two major logical fallacies and each renders the argument moot. The decision does not state “…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 actually says nothing about roads in a meaningful president-setting manner.

    I was curious, particularly on the “artificial surface”, and searched the document for relevant passages and think your basing your comments on this section:

    “It is clear to the Court from the evidence presented that the trails at issue herein do not share the identical essential characteristics of foot trails or forest roads, but rather fall somewhere between the two. The constructed trails, like foot trails, are not crowned, do not utilize linear ditching, are less wide than forest roads (which are described generally by Dr. Sutherland as having sufficient space for two vehicles to “get around each other if they dance a little bit” (Trial transcript pg. 341, Lns.10-12) and are not constructed using materials brought in from outside the immediate location. On the other hand, the trails are clearly wider and more groomed (e.g., by the removal of rocks and stumps and by a greater degree of topography change such as bench cuts) than the average foot trail, which often go around obstacles such as trees, stumps or rocks and is typically significantly less wide than the width of the trails constructed herein.”

    The first part is not defining a road…it’s defining what a foot trails are, by defining what they are not. That’s a big difference logically and legally and the double negative treatment is core of why the conclusions are wrong. It is not saying that a road *must* have a “crown”, “ditching”, “width for two cars to pass” and “utilize materials brought in from outside the immediate location” as you suggest. Rather it’s saying foot trails do not exhibit these features, which in general it true and agreeable to nearly everyone.

    The second part defines that the snowmobile trail exhibits features that are not like foot trails, namely “wider” and “more groomed”. Again, I think this is very agreeable, but again it’s not defining a road, rather defining that the snowmobile trails are not like a foot trail. You correctly mentioned nothing of this.

    Even if it did define road explicitly in the first part as you suggested, there is another major mistake in that it’d be “…namely that a road is not a road unless it has a crown, ditching, room for two cars to pass, OR an imported surface.” The opposite of “not A and not B…” is “A or B…”.

    The Connolly decision perhaps does raise something new and thought-provoking by opening a new can of worms by setting a legal president that there exists things between “foot trail” and “road”. This would be a new framework that would require rehashing all existing documents that assume trail or road exclusively.

    [Note: I’m not necessarily in favor of the roads, but I’m also tired of the statements suggested as fact with no sound legal basis, misguided legal efforts, and wasteful lawsuits. The latter is a broad comment not directed towards Bill or AWA directly. If legal conclusions are to be perched up, the basis should at least be quoted directly.]

  5. Scott says:

    Thank you for your research and quotes Mr Moore.

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