Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Bauer: State Ignoring Lessons of Class II Snowmobile Trails

Public comments were illuminating at the public hearing in Raquette Lake on November 28th. Held at the Raquette Lake School, the hearing took comments on the state’s proposal to build a new 4-mile section of a 9-12-foot-wide community connector snowmobile trail through the northern edge of the Blue Ridge Wilderness Area where it borders NYS Route 28 between Raquette Lake and the Marion River Carry.

I attended the hearing and made comments. I was the only environmentalist among the crowd of 40 or so snowmobilers, local government officials, local residents and representatives of the NYS Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

One avid snowmobiler talked about his disdain for the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail, the newly constructed community connector class II snowmobile trail, that was built in 2012-13 through the interior sections of the Moose River Plains Wild Forest Area for the purpose of connecting Inlet and Indian Lake to Raquette Lake. This snowmobiler said he refuses to ride the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail because of how it was built; too many turns, too many steep elevations, too difficult to effectively groom. To him it’s simply not a fun trail to ride. He said that the local snowmobile club refuses to regularly groom the trail because it’s too difficult.

Another snowmobiler urged the state to make sure that when it builds the new class II trail through the Blue Ridge Wilderness that it does so in a way that’s different from the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail. He too said that he does not like the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail and avoids riding on it. He said that as an older snowmobile rider he found the trail to be physically difficult.

Snowmobilers also expressed alarm that when state builds the new class II trail from Raquette Lake to Long Lake, through the Blue Ridge Wilderness, private lands, and through the Sargent Ponds Wild Forest, they fear snowmobile riding on frozen lakes will be banned. There are now two current snowmobile routes from Raquette Lake to Long Lake. One involves riding on a series of frozen lakes – Raquette, Forked and Long, with trails on roads and various other lands stitching the trail together. It was said at the hearing that for many riding snowmobiles on frozen lakes is what defines the Adirondack snowmobiling experience. The other existing route is a land route that takes one from Raquette Lake to Indian Lake to Newcomb and then to Long Lake. It’s near certain that even if the state builds the new land trail from Raquette to Long Lake, the existing trail over frozen lakes will remain the much more popular route. It’s prettier, it’s easier to ride, and snowmobilers can ride a lot faster on it.

The state is investing millions of dollars to build new class II snowmobile trails. These trails are controversial because of their construction methods, widths, and the number of trees destroyed to build them. By state policy, class II trails are to be 9-12 feet wide, but in reality, due to the extensive benchcuts and grading, they regularly see clearing to widths of 15 to 25 feet. Five years after the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail was built it is now a grassy corridor that runs through an intact forest. Few use it during summer months for hiking because it is unattractive and not pleasurable to walk on. It’s not only a bust as multi-use trail in spring, summer and fall, it’s also a bust as a snowmobile trail too in the winter.

The irony is that the state is spending millions of dollars to build these trails and inflicting serious environmental damage on the Forest Preserve in the process yet ends up with a trail that few snowmobilers find enjoyable or satisfying. The state is making a huge effort to build class II snowmobile trails, yet snowmobilers consider them duds.

The successful snowmobile trails are the trails that run on roads in Wild Forest areas, such as the Cedar River and Limekiln Lake Road through the Moose River Plains. These roads are wide and allow for consistent high speeds. The snowmobile trails that are built on thousands of acres of lands owned by the Town of Webb in Old Forge are popular because they too are wide. Trails on roads through conservation easement lands are also popular and have proven successful in St. Lawrence County, Speculator, and Newcomb. The new snowmobile trail from Newcomb to Long Lake is mostly on conservation easement lands and it was praised by Town of Long Lake officials. The trails in Tug Hill, which are also wide, and run on seasonal roads, through farms, and on conservation easement lands are also successful. These experiences can never be replicated on the Forest Preserve without changing the State Constitution. New class II snowmobile trails do not provide snowmobilers with the experience they seek.

Class II snowmobile trails are built at a high environmental cost. DEC work crews violated the standards and prescriptions of the APA-DEC “Snowmobile Management Guidance” (Snowmobile Trail Siting, Construction and Maintenance on Forest Preserve Lands in the Adirondack Park) from the beginning to the end of the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail. The APA was incapable of holding DEC work crews accountable. The DEC crews consistently violated the “Guidance” in their construction of the Harris Lake Trail and the Newcomb to Minerva Trail. They’ll do so again if they’re approved to build a trail in the Blue Ridge Wilderness, in the Sargent Ponds Wild Forest, or in the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest Area. Yet, even after bending the “Guidance” rules in Kafkaesque ways where they call a 6-ton groomer simply “low impact landscaping equipment,” or say that excavation and grading of the trail surface for miles at a time is “limited,” or say that a 20-foot cleared area is really an allowable 12-foot bench cut that runs for hundreds of yards because they don’t have to count the clearing done on the upslope or downslope of the benchcut, or that a 75-year-old 2.5 DBH tree is not a tree, or that a forest corridor turned into a grassy field or fern bed somehow still possesses “wild forest character,” the result is a trail that few snowmobilers, or anybody for that matter, use.

The sad reality is that the state refuses to learn anything from its failure on the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail. Refusing to take stock in any way, the state remains in high gear to double down on its failure and is planning to build many more miles of class II snowmobile trails that will inflict enormous environmental damage on the Forest Preserve and will be ignored by the communities and users they’re intended to serve.

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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 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 and two children, 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 Twitter.




38 Responses

  1. Larry Roth says:

    It’s a numbers game. The state can boast of adding miles of snowmobile trails, even if they are lightly used and uncomfortable. Annual reports, advertising, etc. – the appearance seems to be more important than the reality.

    What’s missing? Hard metrics on actual use, rider satisfaction – and the real environmental impact along with the actual economic impact on a trail by trail basis.

    Add in the things no one wants to talk about: changing snowmobiler demographers – aging riders and declining numbers. Don’t forget winters where the weather is increasingly unpredictable, snowfall is erratic, and of short endurance because of rain and warm spells. Whether or not the state wants to address climate change, something is happening out there.

    You could almost believe the state has a perpetual-motion snowmobile trail building operation with no off switch. How about quality instead of quantity, and a focus of resources more in line with demand?

    And how about decreasing local dependence on snow as an economic engine? It’s increasingly a gamble. Maybe something like more rail tourism?

    ICYMI, New England is pushing a rail revival. They’re investing millions in upgrading their rail lines for commuters, travelers, and freight. Ridership is up. There’s serious interest In the Berkshire Flyer – a proposed seasonal train that would operate from New York City to bring visitors to the Berkshires.

    https://www.berkshireeagle.com/stories/state-earmarks-100000-to-further-berkshire-flyer-planning,545378

    There are two existing rail corridors in the Adirondacks that could be brought up to full use with minimal impact on the environment. It’s only a question of priorities and investment that’s holding them back. New England is already enjoying the benefits of the investments they’ve made and continue to make. It’s time for the Empire State to catch up.

    • ben says:

      This article HAS NOTHING to do with the rail line yet you somehow seem to get right back to that old boring story! Build this trail. NY State DOESNOT have snowmobile trails that cross water. If people ride the lakes they do it at their own risk.

      • Larry Roth says:

        Sorry Ben, but if the subject is where the state is putting its money for tourism and recreation, and how it is affecting the land, then a discussion about controversial snowmobile trails is a legitimate place to suggest alternatives.

        If the state is building trails that miss the mark, then the whole trail management system needs a look.

        I’m surprised you’re not more concerned since you’re generally very critical of wasting taxpayer money.

        • ben says:

          wasting money on a rail line that cannot sustain itself. I guess all that money the state gives you guys every year to maintain the corridor must have gotten lost, since it’s now shut down for a few weeks, so the STATE can go fix a mess you all are suppose to manage.

          • Larry Roth says:

            Funny thing about that Ben.

            That corridor is going to need maintenance whether there’s rail line on it or not. The Adirondacks are not going to let it just sit there in peace, not while beavers are free to do their worst, not while brush continues to grow, not while the weather is free to do its worst as well. The job never ends.

            Keep the railroaders away from doing what needs to be done, you’re down to depending on the state to spend that money and do it right. You’re no longer getting those tourism ticket dollars coming in to help fund operations. You’re not getting the other spending they did either. We’ve all seen how well that works elsewhere, when there always seems to be more things needing attention in the Adirondacks than the state has people or money to deal with. Good luck with that.

            Maybe you’ve forgotten what the line looked like before the ASR started restoring it, when it was up to the state to keep it up. Maybe you haven’t been paying attention to the inability of the snowmobilers to keep things from deteriorating on the corridor where the ASR is being kept out. Maybe you have no use for the rails – but the Adirondacks do, more now than ever.

      • ben says:

        And as a follow-up. The Seventh Mountain Lake trail does suck, not because it’s narrow & twist/turns left & right on a regular basis, it sucks because it was never finished. There are rocks and tree stumps that SHOULD be taken out;
        & bridge ramps on/off the bridge needing to be built. Don’t need to widen it, or cut a single tree down, they just need to finish what they (DEC) started! And it’s NOT a road, it’s a trail.

      • Taras says:

        Good people of Left Horseshoe, I give you the … Monorail!

        https://youtu.be/ZDOI0cq6GZM?t=40

    • Sjell Wilson says:

      I personally PREFER the class 2 trails. Two people complaining about twisty trails, does not a majority make!!!!

      • Larry Roth says:

        Well that’s rather the point, isn’t it? How do we know what the actual majority is? What kind of surveys have been done, and how have they been validated?

  2. David Gibson says:

    Fine post, Peter. Interesting on site report and comments. Being unable to get to the public meeting, thank you for your reporting.

  3. John says:

    I’m curious what the response from snowmobilers would be if the choice were either the types of trails they are getting on Forest Preserve or no new trails at all on Forest Preserve.

  4. Justin Farrell says:

    Now snowmobiling needs to be made easier despite designated Wilderness classification…Wow!

  5. Scott says:

    The old saying ‘build a trail and they will come’ needs to become ‘build a road and they will come’.

  6. Jim says:

    I’m not a snowmobiler, but a hiker who regularly walks the Moose River Plains Road and the trails it connects. Like the snowmobilers cited in Bauer’s commentary, I disdain the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail. To their comments that it’s not fun to ride, I’ll add that it’s a lousy hike and the antithesis of the Plains experience.

  7. Peter: On several occasions now the court has not agreed with you that these are Constitutionally infringing. If they are difficult to ride that is because they do not reflect a super highway through the woods another of your frequent claims. A hard trail is much better than trying to ride underwater. I have ridden the Seventh Mountain Lake Trail with decent snow, not like other trails but better than some.

  8. Boreas says:

    Just wondering – is there still an APA/DEC “mileage cap” on snowmobile trails in the FP? If so, perhaps it should be an “acreage cap” that takes into account the width of a trail as well. Perhaps a better use of funding would be to create better Class 1 trails and close the bad ones.

    Whether legal or not, frozen waterways will probably continue to be the “highways” of choice. If this season is any indication, it seems terrestrial trails are at least as dangerous as waterways. Humans, speed, trees and rocks just do not coexist well. You can make a straight, flat, woodland trail 30 feet wide and fatalities will still occur. It isn’t trees and rocks that are the problem, it is speed. With sleds still being mass-produced for speeds in excess of 70 mph, terrible accidents are a certainty. It doesn’t matter what contraption is used, humans (or any vertebrate) simply aren’t designed to absorb an impact much faster than walking speed without injury.

  9. Cristine Meixner says:

    I can’t help but notice how nice the snowmobile trail looks in the photo. In contrast, heavily used hiking trails become herd paths of eroded dirt, with roots and rocks ready to trip any hiker who is not paying strict attention.

    • Taras says:

      “… how nice the snowmobile trail looks in the photo. In contrast, heavily used hiking trails become herd paths of eroded dirt, …”

      The snowmobile trail certainly does look nice compared to heavily-used hiking trails.

      Of course, the contrast is due to the fact snowmobilers don’t drive on unfrozen, snowless trails.

      If they did, you wouldn’t see much of a contrast.

  10. Tim-Brunswick says:

    You go Dom ! and thank you very much Cristine Meixner for your observations regarding the destruction Vibram Soles have wrought upon too many trails. One more observation …exactly what is an “environmentalist” ? Peter Bauer says he was the only “environmentalist” at the meeting he attended….who the heck is he to determine who and who isn’t an “environmentalist”

    Clearly there’s a difference of opinion here and I’ll bet a lot of folks at that meeting love the environment/wild places/ADKs…. and then we have Mr. Gibson chiming in so sorry he couldn’t make the meeting (a blessing…no doubt) and of course “Boreas” has to put in his two cents……..

    Yawn…….

    • Boreas says:

      Tim,

      I notice you didn’t even mention snowmobiles in your post. Do you have a point or just taking pot-shots at others for your enjoyment? You never seem to contribute much to a thread – just throw stones.

    • John Warren says:

      Tim,

      You are contributing nothing. Your last comment attacked someone who lost their life tragically.

      You will either treat people with respect or I will ban you permanently.

      This is your last warning.

      John Warren
      Adirondack Almanack
      Founder & Editor

  11. Robert DiMarco says:

    Gov Cuomo likes snowmobiling so until he is out as gov they will build and keep building!

  12. Paul says:

    how do you know you were the only environmentalist there? I don’t consider you not an environmentalist because you drive some sort of car?

  13. Dan says:

    During the Boreas Ponds debate there was a push by the green groups to build a snowmobile trail along Blue Ridge Road, rather than use existing roads. Now, there’s a proposal to build one along Rt. 28, merely feet inside the Wilderness boundary, and they’re opposing it. What if it were to be moved to the north/wild forest side of the road and go through the campground?

    • Boreas says:

      Dan,

      You bring up a good point. The devil is in the details. WRT Boreas Ponds, “green groups” opposed using existing roads deep within the parcel because it would bring motorized activity closer to the Wilderness area – the same reason motorized vehicles were being opposed deep into the parcel. However, a snowmobile trail was promised to the local communities as part of the deal. So moving the trail to roadside was essentially the lesser of two “evils” in that case.

      Green groups will likely continue to oppose new Class 2 trails being built anywhere in the FP because of the acreage that would be converted from existing forest to corridors of smoothed grass and bridges through natural forestland. Much of the debate comes down to the differing natures of Class 1 and Class 2 trails. Class 1 trails are more like a hiking trail in that they are routed around obstacles such as trees and rocks as much as possible. Class 2 trails are meant to be safer at higher speeds, so they necessitate straight, wider corridors, removal of obstacles, and engineering bridges, slopes, and wetlands crossings to allow heavy groomers. Despite objections to calling Class 2 trails “roads”, I don’t know what else you could call them as they are engineered to allow usage by heavy vehicles as well as snowmobiles.

      “What if it were to be moved to the north/wild forest side of the road and go through the campground?” Makes sense to me. I assume this was ruled out for a good reason (Terrain? Campground opposition? Road crossings?), but who knows?

  14. Susan W says:

    Thanks to Peter Bauer for relating this interesting information about the State’s apparently failed efforts to please snowmobilers. How sad that, despite clearing miles of wild lands to create places for these noisy smelly motorized toys to run through our forests, these folks would rather ride on old roads. Great! Now we know, right? No more clearing forests for these beasts!

  15. Bob D. says:

    Susan,
    Please define: “our” (forests.)
    Who constitutes “our?”

  16. Snowman1 says:

    He was the only “Extreme Environmentalist” at that meeting. Snowmobilers are environmentalists too, truly enjoying the outdoors in the wintertime.

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