In 1921, nearly a hundred years ago, a few dozen people met with the idea of forming an organization that would help facilitate public access to the Adirondack wilderness through trail building. A year later the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) was formed and, soon thereafter, ADK completed the Northville-Placid Trail. In the years that followed, ADK has not only worked to educate the public on how to steward public lands but also advocated for their protection at the highest levels, including in the various New York State courts. And, as other advocacy groups came into the picture, it became the norm to join forces in our collective strength to litigate against anything that ran afoul of Article 14 of the NYS Constitution, the Forest Preserve’s “forever wild” provision.
In response to impending construction on the proposed Class II Community Connector Snowmobile Trails—the center of today’s controversy—ADK went out and began counting trees along the intended corridor to assess the legality of this work and in anticipation of reconvening with the other Adirondack groups on how best to proceed. However, before we could, a lawsuit was singularly commenced. From the perspective of our traditional cooperation, this challenge was not off to a good start. Sadly, the arguments presented went well beyond challenging the proposed construction under the existing standard (3 inch dbh) that had served us well in balancing the Park’s wild nature with “facilitating meaningful public access and enjoyment.”
Instead, petitioners advocated for a new standard that will actually do considerable harm to the natural resources of the Forest Preserve.
As readers are undoubtedly aware, many of the Adirondack Park’s 2,300 miles of trail were built merely as an expedient path to reach the summit. At the time, not much thought was given to environmental impacts. As a result, these trails wash away in heavy rains, leaving behind loose soil and bare rock. Indeed, the Adirondack Council’s own trail assessment underlines this point, stating in part, “More than half of the trail mileage in the Adirondack Park’s Central High Peaks Wilderness Area is too steep to remain stable and fails to meet the modern design standards for sustainable trails…”. From a hiker’s perspective, many trails are unsafe. And from an environmental perspective, they are a disaster. Thankfully, modern trail design provides methods of maintaining trails and building new sustainable re-routes by instituting resilient techniques like turnpiking and switchbacks, which necessarily require longer routes to withstand erosion and heavy foot traffic. Regrettably, the new standard imposed by the appellate court in this case would make it impossible to re-route these degraded trails in order to implement sustainable trail building techniques.
What’s more, this new standard goes much further. Because it now counts all trees, to include saplings and seedlings, to determine whether a project is constitutionally permissible, it casts serious doubt on our collective ability to perform even simple trail maintenance. Think about all those red maple and conifer sprouts that pop up along the edges of the trail each year, which eventually generate overgrowth. Ordinarily, these sprouts would be removed in order to keep the trail clear and keep hikers from heading off in any number of directions, which harms surrounding vegetation. However, if this new standard is sustained, trail workers will be required to count these saplings in such great numbers as to render the most basic maintenance projects so time consuming, and costly, that they are untenable. Their efforts would further be disincentivized by further threat of litigation. Because of these issues, the 2020 trail work season was largely canceled.
For these reasons, ADK, and other organizations who have long supported proper stewardship of conserved land, thoughtful trail development and responsible recreation, is advocating for the restoration of the long-held standard that was used to maintain a more balanced approach between forest preservation and public access (amicus PDF link).
And, with respect to Mr. Terrie’s article, which was published in the Almanack earlier this week, while it is not in our nature to disparage others or their organizations, we will defend ours. Toward that end, the suggestion that, after nearly a hundred years of supporting responsible enjoyment of the Forest Preserve, ADK has involved itself in this matter for fear of losing financial support from the DEC is false and, quite frankly, disgusting.
But while others pen baseless attacks, ADK will continue its boots-on-the-ground work, to include the tens of thousands of hours ADK’s professional trail crew and volunteers perform each year to fight erosion and protect the Forest Preserve; the ADK-staffed Summit Stewardship Program will spend another tireless summer protecting the alpine zone, New York’s most fragile ecosystem; and as the first organization to teach Leave No Trace Master Educators and Trainers in the region, ADK staff will continue to educate visitors and recreationists on how to responsibly enjoy the wilderness. Indeed, for a hundred years ADK has helped provide the public with access to our state’s wild lands and waters while building a constituency of dedicated stewards who protect the land and waters they love. And we will continue to do so for the next 100 years.
Thanks, Michael. Well said.
counting seed sprouts along existing trails!!! what a waste of time and resources, trails that exist if they can be re-reouted to better wear-ability, should be done, then let old trails grow over. adding new trails should be built with longevity and long term low impact in mind. a long boggy area, dont just put logs to walk on and have to be replaced every few years, dig a few holes, put in culvert pipe vertically and fill with concrete and a bridge built above the bog. build and good for 40-50 years, over than a few holes , low impact. better than logs blocking flow, people stepping off. it is an approach that lower impact overall, not work out other issues and build to make it logevity.
Bridge construction across bogs creates a dead zones under which nothing will grow. This is detrimental to the bog. Environmental scientist have long known that bogs are vital to the health of the ecosystem. They produce more biomass per square foot than a large farm. Protecting these vital systems is an issue for experts and mitigating the effects of footpaths is still under debate. Were Hamlet written today he would say something like “There are more things to know about the Earth than are in all your philosophies Horatio!”
Thank you Michael and ADK!
Executive Director Barrett explains that ADK is, “advocating for the restoration of the long-held standard that was used to maintain a more balanced approach between forest preservation and public access.,” but that is only part of the story. Director Barrett’s words are consistent with the Club’s long history of education, and of promoting public use and access to the forest preserve. It also lines up with a long record of taking less strident positions on environmental issues, when other conservation minded people felt a stronger response was warranted. This moderate approach has worked well for ADK over the years, but has also caused some frustration and disappointment among environmental advocates who favor stronger measures.
As for supporting “sustainable snowmobile trails” on forest preserve land, the concept may well be an oxymoron that most of us would prefer not to notice. Having worked on some of the first department sanctioned snowmobile trails built on the forest preserve back in the 1960s, I can tell you that they were pretty nominal affairs, built with minimal tree cutting, for small, slow moving snowmobiles with engines in the ten to twenty five HP range. The Conservation Dept. naively blessed these tiny, slow moving snowmobiles with a caveat that they were to be operated on ice and snow – as if nothing else mattered.
Half a century later, those quaint family outings, chugging along on narrow, windy trails, enjoying the scenery, on slow moving snowmobiles, have turned into souped up snow machines that bear little resemblance to what the Conservation Dept. brass thought they were permitting to operate on the forest preserve – and sadly, rangers are scraping up the results – dead and injured snowmobilers – pretty regularly.
What is the correct way forward? I can’t help but wonder if snowmobile trails are ever going to be sustainable? Or are we just kidding ourselves and adding “fig leaves” to cover bigger, faster, more dangerous versions of snowmobiling (or some similar iteration) whose proponents will demand ever bigger, ever faster, ever more intensively managed portions of our forest preserve for their use?
Neither ADK nor Protect came out in support of snowmobile trails. The issue at hand is that Protect is trying to introduce a more stringent standard that impacts their ability to even maintain existing hiking trails.
Thank you, Michael!!
It is ridiculous that Protect has resorted to slinging mud, making disparaging remarks about OSI and ADK. All of this pettiness obscures the issue at hand. So Protect, let’s stick to the facts, agree to disagree, and get back to work.
Any financial connection with ADK an DEC is ridiculous! Protect should be better than that!
But that does not negate the truth of Protect and Phil Terrie’s argument.
Yes, let’s stick to the fact and no mud slinging.
But the reality of modern snow mobile machines and the need for what are essentially “highways” in the woods is real folks! We need to deal with this in a way that most importantly preserves the integrity of our Forest Preserve! !s on purpose.
Neither ADK nor Protect came out in support of snowmobile trails. The issue at hand is that Protect is trying to introduce a more stringent standard that impacts ADK’s ability to even maintain existing hiking trails
Though there are a few Adirondack issues where I have disagreed with Protect, they are not trying to prevent trail maintenance or the construction of new environmentally designed ones. This is about building incompatible “roads” for 70mph machines in our Forest Preserve: bulldozing, grating, ripping up the shape of the land- destroying 1000s of trees of every size per mile…. need I say more?
Yes, you do need to say more. Because Protect is suing over an issue that has immense implications to trail maintenance and construction. The objection may or may not be restricted snowmobiles, but the impact of the litigation applies globally to trail maintenance.
That’s certainly the key point at issue here. Michael Barrett and the ADK definitely seem to be seriously worried that the decision here will somehow end up being applied to traditional foot-trail maintenance.
Phil Terrie’s article flatly states that that’s “nonsense”, and Peter Bauer’s replies about sprouts and saplings explain in some detail as to why he doesn’t believe that the outcome of this case should make any difference at all to ongoing maintenance work on traditional hiking trails — since that has already been declared to be legal by past court decisions which are not being challenged here.
See Dave G below. I think that is the reality vis a vie trail maintenance and construction. There’s a huge difference between a mostly 3′ wide trail that treads lightly on the landscape and will only become better as existing trails are updated to modern specs and new, well designed trails are constructed and what is now being touted as the new, modern snowmobile “trails”.
“ADK went out and began counting trees along the intended corridor to assess the legality of this work and in anticipation of reconvening with the other Adirondack groups on how best to proceed.”
So is ADK doing paid work for DEC building snowmobile trails? That would be incompatible with ADK’s stated mission: “ADK works to protect New York’s wild lands and waters by promoting responsible outdoor recreation and building a statewide constituency of land stewardship advocates.”
Building such trails does not “protect New York’s wild lands and waters.” I would argue that high-speed motorized vehicles in the Forest Preserve is not “responsible outdoor recreation.” And, doing this is certainly not “building a statewide constituency of land stewardship advocates.” Instead it is advocating for destruction of a portion of the land in order to benefit a few.”
For the fourth time in just this thread. ADK is not supporting snowmobile trail construction. They went out to count trees to gather data and then reconvene with other groups to determine how to proceed. The issue at hand in the current disagreement is that PTA is trying to introduce a new standard that would make it legally risky (at best) for ADK to maintain or improve even existing foot trails. Counting all the spring shoots as “timber” makes a mockery of Article 14.
Please that there are appear to be two completely different people named Eric that responded at almost the exact same time. I don’t know what the hell the other Eric advocating roads for.
Right , that’s why we need roads instead of just trails . Roads could be used for firefighting , SAR , and backcountry cleanup and maintenance. Roads could considerably reduce the need for atvs and snowmobiles for these circumstances.
This is a robust response! Thank you for posting. Again worth repeating that I have been an ADK member for several years now, love your classes, etc.
That said… it’s saddening that you’re so offended by the other Almanack post. I get it 100%, but I think ADK missed an important opportunity to clarify its stance until now. I said on the previous post that implying some sort of financial coercion is a serious accusation – we all agree. This case has been ongoing for a while now, and has gotten a lot of coverage for one that hinges on such a nitty gritty detail.
You all have your own magazine and some of the most high trafficked property in the park. You’re the first organization associated with the mountains that I got to know when I started hiking frequently. There’s a LOT of opportunity there to clarify a stance. Nor do I think it’s necessarily wise to have been silent for fear of offending other environmental non-profits. As one poster pointed out somewhat cynically – unfortunately, you’re all competing in a crowded space where the public who cares has limited bandwidth.
This is the type of statement that would have caused me to have a lot more trust in your motives a lot earlier. Which is not to say your motives were ever necessarily bad! (Though I admit I don’t find the DEC to be fantastic and could certainly see them to be a sketchy party through no fault of yours.) If it had been clear earlier that trail maintenance in general really is in question, I think we all could have had a more robust discussion where you wouldn’t be in such a defensive position. Let’s try to have that discussion going forward.
Finally, it’s a real shame that there’s such conflict here, because I think there are some basic principles we all agree on: the forest preserve should be protected, and to be honest, snowmobiles are not at all a “wilderness” experience. I hope we end up some place where snowmobile use is appropriately restricted, but foot trail work can proceed.
Agreed! You make several good points here.
It seems to me that ADK’s response is still unfortunately failing to clarify what should be the key point from Phil Terrie’s article… which is *not* the financial question about murky money-related motivations related to the ADK/DEC connection. It’s usually impossible to prove anything about motivations one way or another, and therefore probably nobody should bother their heads about that.
So, yeah, I hope everyone can back off on the “mud-slinging”, and also cut out the complaining about mud-slinging, which can often become an equally offensive way of slinging mud, just in a different direction.
— No, the key point was this one:
“ADK argues in its brief that Protect’s suit could somehow interfere with foot-trail construction. This is nonsense. Previous judicial rulings have confirmed that foot-trail construction is perfectly legal, and Protect’s suit does not challenge that.”
I’m okay with legal efforts that try to make sure that reasonable trail-clearing work remains legal. But if those legal efforts have the side effect of allowing 70mph highways to be bulldozed through Forest Preserve land, then a legitimate question arises: wouldn’t it be better to just pay the lawyers to reinforce those standing “previous judicial rulings” that Mr. Terrie was talking about?
Dave, that’s helpful, thanks much for clarifying. I am not a lawyer but I agree strongly that it seems weird that the case in question would do that. There’s a lot of people saying that no, this really isn’t about snowmobile highways….
…but what if it actually is about snowmobile highways? Very hard to tell as a relatively uninformed 3rd party.
The Amicus brief that the Adirondack Mountain Club submitted to the Court of Appeals is a fundamentally dishonest document. In this piece, ADK’s executive director Michael Barrett relies on 8 major whoppers to try and make his case.
Let’s look at Barrett’s first whopper.
Barrett wrote “In response to impending construction on the proposed Class II Community Connector Snowmobile Trails—the center of today’s controversy—ADK went out and began counting trees along the intended corridor to assess the legality of this work and in anticipation of reconvening with the other Adirondack groups on how best to proceed.”
This is the first I’ve ever heard of ADK going out and doing tree counts on class II snowmobile trails. When did ADK do this work? Which trails? There are 27 miles of class II trails involved in this lawsuit, the first of a network of hundreds of miles of such trails DEC wants to build. PROTECT had to wait until a significant amount of work had been done on these trails before we brought our suit in April 2013 (and we had to get permission from the court in March 2013 for an Article 14 challenge). Had we sued when these trails were approved in a Unit Management Plan, or Work Plan, or ENB Notice our lawsuit would have been dismissed as unripe. Given the amount of work that DEC undertook on class II trails in 2011 and 2012, in the wake of the APA’s approval of the controversial “Snowmobile Trail Construction and Maintenance Guidance” in 2010, if ADK was planning on “convening” the groups why did they not try and bring the groups together before April 2013? If ADK had actual tree counts, as Barrett says, then ADK must have organized its tree counts in 2011 or 2012, after the first trails were marked and DEC had started cutting and trail construction. I doubt ADK was counting trees and stumps in the snow in the winter of 2012-13, so why did ADK not try and convene the groups before April 2013?
If ADK actually had independent tree cutting data, then ADK’s decision not to intervene in the 2017 trial on the matter is truly mystifying. From what Barrett writes it appears ADK’s tree count data convinced ADK about the constitutionality of the class II trails, whereas our counts (and I personally photographed over 9,000 stumps) convinced us that the state was violating Article 14. Why did ADK not try and bring this important information to the attention of the court during the trial in 2017 or during the court proceedings around temporary injunctions that halted class II trail construction in 2016? If ADK had gathered independent field data why did ADK not seek to bring this information to the courts?
Perhaps ADK would be so kind as to post its tree counts and tell us when and where they were gathered. PROTECT’s tree counts are all part of the official court record.
Thank you for clarifying your position.
Let’s look at Michael Barrett’s second whopper.
Barrett wrote “However, before we could, a lawsuit was singularly commenced. From the perspective of our traditional cooperation, this challenge was not off to a good start.”
Let’s talk about this “traditional cooperation.” I don’t know where Barrett is getting his information, but I lived these things in these years. The Adirondack environmental groups were split over the 2006 NYS Snowmobile Plan, which created the class II snowmobile trail. At that time I worked for the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks (RCPA) and along with ADK I had participated for years on Governor Pataki’s Snowmobile Focus Group with many others. The RCPA (which later merged to form PROTECT) opposed the snowmobile plan in 2006, and I argued in many public comments that class II community connector snowmobile trails could not be constructed at widths of 9-12 feet without violating Article 14. ADK did not share RCPA’s position. Evidence of the split among the groups was seen shortly thereafter when the Adirondack Council sued the state over the snowmobile plan.
The split on this issue among the groups manifested again in 2010 when the APA promulgated the new “Snowmobile Trail Construction and Maintenance Guidance.” ADK had supported the Guidance. Protect the Adirondacks, which formed in 2009, had opposed the Guidance, arguing that it failed to protect Article 14, and that it contained a dozen lethal loopholes. The Adirondack Council sued the APA over the Guidance.
There was no consensus among the groups on these issues. We were split.
Also, note that during the years of 2011-2013 the groups were also split by the NYCO Amendment where ADK agreed to trade away 120 year old+ forests classified as Wilderness to a mining company in exchange for cut-over forests.
Just to be clear, where Barrett alleges “traditional cooperation” among the groups, note that Protect the Adirondacks and ADK had lined up on different sides of the snowmobile plan and APA’s Snowmobile Trail Guidance as well as on the NYCO Amendment. Given our clear differences on the major Forest Preserve policy issues in 2010-2013, it hardly makes sense that PROTECT would seek to collaborate on a major, long-term, difficult effort like a legal challenge.
Will the DEC still be allowed to cut down trees for SAR , like they did on top of Wallface ?
After reading ADKs response it became clear that the club is objecting to the legal standard set by the Appellate Division concerning the cutting of trees in the forest preserve. This begged the question: “What was the standard?” So I dug out the opinion and reprint it here since this is the core of the issue:
“Although this project did not involve clear-cutting or the removal of a large swath of trees (compare Association for Protection of Adirondacks v. MacDonald , 253 N.Y. at 236, 170 N.E. 902 ), but instead necessitated destruction of narrow corridors of trees for many miles, we need to consider the entire project when determining its effects. The destruction of a substantial number of trees can be problematic whether those trees were together or spread out along one or more portions of the Forest Preserve. For example, the construction of these trails required the destruction, on average per mile, of over 200 trees at least three inches DBH and approximately 925 trees of all sizes. It would be anomalous to conclude that destroying 925 trees per mile of trails, or approximately 25,000 trees in total, does not constitute the destruction of timber “to a substantial extent” or “to any material degree” ( id. at 238, 170 N.E. 902 ; see 1954 Ops Atty Gen 157… Protect the Adirondacks! Inc. v. N.Y. State Dep’t of Envtl. Conservation, 175 A.D.3d 24, 106 N.Y.S.3d 178 (N.Y. App. Div. 2019)
The issue then is whether or not this new legal interpretation of Article 14 (to consider the overall impact of a project on tree destruction) will indeed limit ADK’s ability to construct trails within the Forest Preserve? I sincerely doubt it. Footpaths have always been allowed in the park and one would be hard-pressed to argue that their construction is now prohibited by this new standard. When discussing the forest preserve the issue always comes down to this: where do we draw the line? Doubtless to say a good many people would love to see paved roads leading to the top of every summit. Is this really what proponents of the park want? If we draw the line high then only footpaths are allowed. If we draw the line low, then snowmobile, and off road vehicles are also accommodated. Lower still and we have paved roads and all that entails. I believe Protect’s concern lies with the later interpretation and rightly so. DEC is practically seeking to build a road through the park to accommodate motorized vehicles. The Court of Appeals has already ruled that this is allowed only when the road permits fire protection and other upkeep of the Park. A snowmobile road does not meet that criterion. Personally, I side with Protect. Keep motor vehicles out of the forest. They are noisy, smelly, and disturb wildlife. If you remain in one place long enough to observe the approach of these vehicles you can see animals fleeing for their lives in all directions for 5 miles around the vehicle. Then the wildlife (even spiders and bugs) lay low for over an hour to make sure the coast is clear. When vehicle after vehicle approaches this is a major disturbance to the forest and could imperil wildlife. This is not what I consider “wild” use of the land. There are plenty of non-motorized methods of enjoying the Forest Preserve: skiing, skating, paddling, sledding, snowshoeing, bicycling, etc. This should meet anyone’s needs. I believe ADK needs to reconsider their position.
Let’s look at Michael Barrett’s third whopper.
“Sadly, the arguments presented went well beyond challenging the proposed construction under the existing standard (3 inch dbh) that had served us well in balancing the Park’s wild nature with ‘facilitating meaningful public access and enjoyment’.”
There’s a lot to unpack in this one.
First, PROTECT’s lawsuit is about the State Constitution and Article 14, the forever wild provision. The constitution is not guided by the state’s 3”DBH tree cutting rule. The state’s tree cutting rules should be guided by the constitution.
Second, the level of tree cutting on class II trails of trees that were bigger than 3”DBH exceeds the allowable levels in the historic case law of prior Article 14 court cases such as MacDonald (Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks v. MacDonald, 1930) and Balsam Lake (Balsam Lake Anglers Club v. Department of Environmental Conservation, 1993).
Third, the trial created a factual record. Though ADK’s Amicus Brief referenced a lot of stuff outside the record, the courts compiled a factual record on which it will make its decision. One fact that was affirmed during the trial is that there was no science behind the state’s 3”DBH rule. DEC’s own staff and state scientist testified that there was no science behind the 3”DBH rule. It’s an arbitrary standard.
Fourth, another fact that was affirmed during the trial is that the framers of forever wild believed in 1894 that they were protecting all trees on the Forest Preserve, not just trees of commercial value, but all trees, regardless of size. “Timber” in the 1890s was used interchangeably with the words trees and forest. The Supreme Court and Appellate Division both agreed with this historic interpretation on the use and meaning of the word timber by the framers of Article 14. Phil Terrie, the pre-eminent historian of the Adirondack Park, testified on these matters as an expert witness.
Fifth, the courts recognized that trees in the Forest Preserve, even those that are less than 3”DBH, enjoy protections under Article 14 subject to limited cutting for recreational and other purposes so long as that cutting is neither “substantial” or “material.” The trial had expert testimony about trees that were 70 years old and older but were between 1-3”DBH, many 30-50 feet in height. The court affirmed that these are trees by any standard. In fact, the Forest Preserve is loaded with 50-year-old, and older, shade tolerant trees that are 1-3”DBH, that grow slowly, biding away the decades, until there’s an opening in the forest canopy to exploit.
Sixth, keep this in mind that the ADK Amicus Brief does not just ask the Court of Appeals to clarify what a tree is. It asks the Court to vacate the Appellate Division decision completely. So, in essence, ADK is supporting a network of hundreds of miles of class II trails, not just concerned about hiking trails.
Last, is Michael Barrett, as the leader of an environmental group, really making the argument for an arbitrary rule that is not based on science? The trial showed that the 3”DBH rule was an arbitrary standard of practice, not something based on science.
Thank you, Peter, for your robust reinforcement of the facts.
Let’s look at Michael Barrett’s fourth whopper.
Barrett wrote: “As readers are undoubtedly aware, many of the Adirondack Park’s 2,300 miles of trail were built merely as an expedient path to reach the summit. At the time, not much thought was given to environmental impacts. As a result, these trails wash away in heavy rains, leaving behind loose soil and bare rock. Indeed, the Adirondack Council’s own trail assessment underlines this point, stating in part, “More than half of the trail mileage in the Adirondack Park’s Central High Peaks Wilderness Area is too steep to remain stable and fails to meet the modern design standards for sustainable trails…”. From a hiker’s perspective, many trails are unsafe. And from an environmental perspective, they are a disaster. Thankfully, modern trail design provides methods of maintaining trails and building new sustainable re-routes by instituting resilient techniques like turnpiking and switchbacks, which necessarily require longer routes to withstand erosion and heavy foot traffic. Regrettably, the new standard imposed by the appellate court in this case would make it impossible to re-route these degraded trails in order to implement sustainable trail building techniques.”
Again, there’s a lot of nonsense to unpack here.
First, the longer the route should not impact a tree cutting standard that is based on the number of trees per mile.
Second, at the 2017 trial on this case, Protect the Adirondacks provided voluminous expert testimony. In fact, as one part of our case, we looked at tree cutting and hiking trail construction. The new 1.18-mile Goodman Mountain Trail saw 64 trees destroyed. This is a modern design trail that winds around the mountain. When we compare this to trees destroyed for an average mile of class II snowmobile trails we get a tree destruction rate of 17:1 with class II trails compared with foot trails. We also looked at the new trail on Coney Mountain, which is also a modern designed trail that winds around the mountain. If we use Coney Mountain Trail data, where 13 trees were destroyed in 1 mile of new trail, and compare that to a class II trail, the ratio is 71:1 with class II trails compared with foot trails. There’s no comparison. Tree cutting on a class II trail is an order of magnitude different than tree cutting on a foot trail.
Third, the reality is if there is a hiking trail somewhere in the Forest Preserve that requires the destruction of 925 trees per mile that are 1”DBH or greater, like the level of tree cutting seen on an average class II trail, then that hiking trail is probably not well designed and a better less-environmentally-harmful route should be found. It seems to me that one basic criteria for a “sustainable trail” is that it does not necessitate the destruction of 925 trees 1”DBH or greater per mile.
Fourth, ADK should have brought to court Barrett’s contention that our lawsuit “would make it impossible to re-route these degraded trails in order to implement sustainable trail building techniques.” We would have loved to have reviewed ADK’s submissions supporting this contention, cross-examined its witnesses, and visited any sites referenced on the Forest Preserve with independent forest ecologists and trail building experts to evaluate these claims. The submission of a dishonest Amicus Brief, or the posting of an article on the Adirondack Almanack, is hardly the same as going to court. To try and make his case, it seems that Barrett is grasping at straws. ADK really should have shown up when it mattered and put their evidence on the table and submitted expert testimony during the trial in 2017.
Fifth, Barrett argues that the Appellate Division, Third Department, “regrettably” imposed a “new standard” that “would make it impossible to re-route these degraded trails in order to implement sustainable trail building techniques.” This is wrong. The courts affirmed that Article 14 protected all trees, regardless of size, subject to limited cutting for recreational and other purposes according to the “material” and “substantial” standards from historic case law in the “MacDonald” and “Balsam Lake” cases. The 3” DBH rule was found to be an arbitrary and unscientific state policy. Accordingly, the DEC, in response to the Appellate Division ruling, started counting all trees 1” DBH and greater in its field work in 2019 and 2020 and drafted work plans and Environmental Notice Bulletins without a problem.
Sixth, in arguing to vacate the Appellate Division decision, Barrett is not simply advocating for the 3”DBH rule to be used for hiking trail construction and maintenance, he’s arguing to build a network of hundreds of miles of class II trails.
Let’s look at Michael Barrett’s fifth and sixth whoppers.
Barrett wrote: “What’s more, this new standard goes much further. Because it now counts all trees, to include saplings and seedlings, to determine whether a project is constitutionally permissible, it casts serious doubt on our collective ability to perform even simple trail maintenance.”
Any use of “seedlings” in this discussion is a red herring. Barrett is being dishonest when he talks about “seedlings.” Please note that the Appellate Division majority decision does not even mention the word “seedlings.” For some reason, ADK felt the need to talk about “seedlings” eight times in its Amicus brief. This is a pure and deliberate attempt to muddy the record and distort the issue. The Appellate Division decision was not about any tree less than 1” DBH, hence no seedlings. All talk about “seedlings” or “saplings” is an effort to distort and deceive. PROTECT’s lawsuit is about Article 14 in the state constitution and its protections for trees in the Forest Preserve.
Let’s look at Michael Barrett’s sixth whopper.
Barrett wrote: “Think about all those red maple and conifer sprouts that pop up along the edges of the trail each year, which eventually generate overgrowth. Ordinarily, these sprouts would be removed in order to keep the trail clear and keep hikers from heading off in any number of directions, which harms surrounding vegetation.”
More nonsense. “Sprouts”? Seriously? Again, just as with the use of “seedlings” any talk about “sprouts” is an effort to muddy the waters and deceive. The lawsuit and Appellate Division majority decision was never about anything called “sprouts.” It takes years, depending on site conditions, after a tree “sprouts” out of the ground to grow to a point where it is 1”DBH (1 inch diameter as measured at 4.5 feet in height). Again, this lawsuit and the Appellate Division decision was about trees that are 1″DBH and greater, not saplings, seedlings and sprouts.
It’s interesting to note that the National Park Service prohibits motorized watercraft, a/k/a airboats, anywhere in Everglades National Park. What do the Everglades have in common with the Adirondacks? Plenty. Airboats are tremendously destructive to wildlife. Even when they’re not being used to bulldoze sensitive wetlands they scare the living daylights out of everything for miles around. I rode one of these contraptions several years ago. Despite the cache they’ve gained from TV they are: First, LOUD! You can’t hear the person next to you even when shouting. Second, the driver paid no mind to where he was going mowing down trees, sawgrass, etc. To my horror I witnessed hundreds of exotic nesting birds screeching in terror at our approach. I watched as alligators and other animals dove for cover as we practically rode over them. God knows if there were any manatees there. When I looked behind the vehicle I saw a swath of destroyed land over six feet wide – trees, sawgrass, etc. mowed down. This was all during a 15 minute excursion. The bottom line – motorized vehicles are more destructive than we realize. Their damage goes beyond the aesthetics of noise, smell, and size of path. They deeply disturb wildlife habitat. They are out of place in the woods especially in an area designated “Forever Wild.” Perhaps the legal standard of Article 14 should be “What Native Americans did on the land before Columbus.”
I’d like to make another suggestion to the readers of the Almanack: have you ever tried just sitting in the woods? I’ve done this and within 10 or 15 minutes had a woodchuck come rambling by oblivious to my presence. I heard a buck snort not more than 5 feet from where I was sitting. Squirrels descended trees to check me out, woodchucks resumed their nut gathering activity. Birds started calling. In short, I saw more wildlife during that sit than I had seen in dozens upon dozens of “hikes” before that. Try it. Define your experience by what you “see” along the way and not by the miles covered.
Let’s look at Michael Barrett’s seventh and eighth whoppers.
Here’s the seventh. Barret wrote: “However, if this new standard is sustained, trail workers will be required to count these saplings in such great numbers as to render the most basic maintenance projects so time consuming, and costly, that they are untenable.”
More efforts to confuse and distort. Why did Barrett switch from “sprouts” to “saplings” here? It’s clear that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. As to saplings, it was clearly established at the trial that a sapling was something older and larger than a seedling, but was still a young tree under 1”DBH. There are differences in classifications based on species. Of greater importance, is that the Appellate Division did not get hung up on “saplings” and the majority opinion only referred to them once when quoting from the Balsam Lake case. ADK is using “sapling” here as a means to distort. Though the Appellate Division majority opinion only used the word “sapling” once when quoting a prior decision, ADK felt the need to mention “saplings” 10 times in its Amicus Brief, in an effort to deceive and distort. The Appellate Division decision was about trees 1”DBH or greater, which is not a “sprout” or “seedling” or “sapling.”
Last, as one who actually counted live trees in the field, it does not take long to do a count. And I was counting tree across a 9-foot width, 2-3 times the width of a “sustainable” hiking trail. Any trail crew professional can do this work expeditiously and thoroughly. This is a specious argument.
Let’s look at Michael Barrett’s eighth whopper. Barrett wrote “Their efforts [meaning NYSDEC] would further be disincentivized by further threat of litigation. Because of these issues, the 2020 trail work season was largely canceled.”
There was a lot of Forest Preserve trail work done in 2020. Some even done by ADK, despite real practical difficulties imposed by COVID19.
The DEC has had its own High Peaks Trail Crew in the field in 2020 building the new Cascade-Porter trail re-routes and the new trail up Mount Van Hoevenberg. They worked deep into the fall. In addition to the DEC crew in 2020, there were crews from Tahawus Trails, the Student Conservation Corp (SCA), and ADK that worked there as there was no work stoppage on these high priority trails.
In 2020, SCA worked on a new bridge at Tirrel Pond, the Mt. Arab trail, the Cranberry Lake Trail, and Northern Forest Canoe Trail. From 2019 to the summer of 2020, DEC listed 11 notices in the Environmental Notice Bulletin that involved Forest Preserve tree cutting form different projects. These ENB notices included this statement “Tree cutting will be in accordance with the July 3, 2019, New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division decision on tree cutting in the forest preserve.” DEC managed just fine according to the Appellate Division ruling.
Peter Bauer should replace Michael Barrett at ADK’s helm.
Why? So everyone is just parroting the same thing? We need different groups to have differing viewpoints so they can discuss intelligently and arrive at the best solution for all involved. Many people give to both of these groups in the hopes that ADK will advocate for their outdoor recreation rights and unrestricted access while Protect advocates for the trees. These are two different groups, each with a different primary focus, and it’s extremely disappointing to see them fighting like petulant children (especially Peter).
100% this. We (the public) don’t want either one of these guys to “win”. If it were up to Peter no human would ever be allowed to set foot in the forest preserve. If it were up to ADK there’d be White Mt style huts throughout the park. We need middle of the road solutions. In this particular case I think Peter and PTA are being a bit ridiculous. Anyone with a third grade education knows that the vast majority of the young trees you see on the forest floor will never mature into timber. They can’t all get the sunlight they will need. One tree will win and the other 100 around it will die.
Ok, let’s wrap this up.
Barrett concludes: “And, with respect to Mr. Terrie’s article, which was published in the Almanack earlier this week, while it is not in our nature to disparage others or their organizations, we will defend ours. Toward that end, the suggestion that, after nearly a hundred years of supporting responsible enjoyment of the Forest Preserve, ADK has involved itself in this matter for fear of losing financial support from the DEC is false and, quite frankly, disgusting.
“But while others pen baseless attacks, ADK will continue its boots-on-the-ground work, to include the tens of thousands of hours ADK’s professional trail crew and volunteers perform each year to fight erosion and protect the Forest Preserve; the ADK-staffed Summit Stewardship Program will spend another tireless summer protecting the alpine zone, New York’s most fragile ecosystem; and as the first organization to teach Leave No Trace Master Educators and Trainers in the region, ADK staff will continue to educate visitors and recreationists on how to responsibly enjoy the wilderness. Indeed, for a hundred years ADK has helped provide the public with access to our state’s wild lands and waters while building a constituency of dedicated stewards who protect the land and waters they love. And we will continue to do so for the next 100 years.”
“Disgusting” and “baseless attack” are pretty good descriptions of ADK’s Amicus Brief.
To end, however, Barrett makes a good case above about the valuable work that ADK does. Protect the Adirondacks salutes ADK for doing this fine work – Summit Stewards, Leave No Trace, hiker education, trail work. We too hope that ADK keeps doing this work for years and decades to come. However, we do believe that ADK can undertake this fine work on our public Forest Preserve without undermining and trampling on Article 14, the famed forever wild provision of our State Constitution.
Personal attacks don’t support your argument, whatever side you are on. Despite what some keep typing on here, the central issue is centered around the building of snowmobile superhighways through the Forest Preserve. For some reason DEC and ADK have decided it is acceptable to cut close to 1,000 trees per mile to build these roads in the wilderness. One question I have is if ADK has asked its membership to vote on what they think about this? I suspect they would answer that the board of directors represents the membership and they are in support of building these snowmobile roads. I still wonder what the average ADK member/hiker thinks about it.
Well said Zephyr.
This average ADK member is opposed to cutting 1000 trees per mile for any kind of trail.
You’re true to form, I’ll give you that.
You’re funny, though you’re off your rocker, but at least you’re funny.
Your recounting of my history is without merit.
Your attacks on Protect the Adirondacks are also without merit.
Your description of me as the playboy of Blue Mountain Lake, though, is kind of funny for a guy who bears a striking resemblance to Ichabod Crane.
Some years back a commenter likened me to looking like Bea Arthur, and that made me laugh too.
I helped run up a bunch of successes in Lake George with the Charles R. Wood Park project, invasive species control, arranging financing for important land protection deals, building strong relationships with local government leaders that set the stage for the mandatory boat control program, strengthening the Park Commission with new environmental voices, strengthening the FUND for Lake George, and working deeply with local activists to change the politics of the Town of Lake George, which continues to produce dividends for the lake and community, to just name a few things. My jump to PROTECT was announced in early May, after notice in April, but I stayed on at the FUND into the early fall. When I left the FUND, I was named to chair the Town of Lake George ZBA.
Jumping to Protect the Adirondacks was a natural, but tough choice to rejoin my first love – the group that had replaced the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks (RCPA) in a merger – and, equally important, the PROTECT job was one I could do from Blue Mountain Lake, where my family planned to return full-time after my youngest graduated from High School in Lake George, which we did in 2016. These environmental group ED jobs don’t open up often, as you know people stay for decades, so in 2012 it was now or never. Working with lots of others, my run at PROTECT has been marked by a string of victories for the Adirondack Park, picking up where the RCPA left off.
I’ve been really really really fortunate to have worked for three such terrific Adirondack environmental groups for pushing 30 years now where in return for working nearly non-stop I get to work with lots of great people and go all around the Adirondacks and the Forest Preserve to do fun and important work week-in-week-out to protect the Adirondack Park.
To M.P. Heller: I have removed your post because it violates our commenting policy.
So does Peter Bauer last post.
Protect and the Adk Council collect hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to limit access to the Adirondacks.
99% of the time, conservation and access are in harmony, despite what the measuring tapes of these two groups are supposed to lead us to believe.
Not sure what your point is. ADK also “collects hundreds of thousands of dollars annually,” with a good chunk coming direct from the DEC for trailwork. ADK also charges for parking at the Loj with a hard limit of around 200 cars, so in that regard they are limiting access to the most popular trailhead in the Adirondacks. I believe Protect and the Adk Council are more on the environmental end of the scale while ADK is more on the recreational end of the scale, but they all believe in a balanced approach. The question is where is the best balance point.
ADK has always been at the forefront of conservation, but it also has responsibilities for helping manage the Park in different ways, as you mention. Those other responsibilities make all the difference when it comes to crafting policies and practices that accommodate public use and enjoyment, IMO.
Protection of the resource shouldn’t mean limiting access until we have taken more measures to harden trails, provide more education and rangers and create more parking, including at the ADK Loj.
Public use can be accommodated responsibly without automatically assuming the wilderness is suffering simply because of our failure to do so.
I agree! Mostly. I think in the immediate case at hand ADK’s stance is puzzling since the tree cutting issue is directly tied to the DEC’s desire to build snowmobile connector “trails,” which are really roads through the wilderness–9-12 feet wide, graded, rocks removed, major bridges built, etc. By any definition, they require the cutting of hundreds to thousands of trees per mile. These are not “sustainable trails” by any stretch of the definition. They are roads for motorized vehicles. It just doesn’t make sense for an organization that also promotes human-powered recreation, conservation, Leave-No-Trace principals, etc.
Barrett already said ADK is against snowmobile trails. Instead of working collaboratively toward a united opposition, Protect and the Adirondack Council are using this case as a back door to leverage article 14 against public access.
If that isn’t the case, how did the plaintiffs fail to gain the support of the largest conservation organization in NYS before filing their lawsuit? Seems either reckless or disingenuous.
Even at the 3-inch diameter standard it requires the cutting of hundreds of trees per mile to build the snowmobile superhighways, and take another look at Bauer’s long list of actual trail and other projects that were accomplished by the DEC even with the supposed moratorium on trail work. With the DEC there are always ways to get things done they want to do, whatever the letter of the law apparently.
It keeps coming up in comments that Barrett and/or ADK is “against snowmobile trails”.
I can understand ADK using their legal resources to safeguard their ability to build and maintain good hiking trails. If this court case is overturned as ADK is saying it wants in its amicus brief, maybe ADK _will_ have an easier time maintaining foot trails — they could cut more trees where they need to, without worrying about it at all.
But there’s a really serious side effect that ADK seems to be failing to acknowledge. Overturning this court case would also give DEC free rein to do really unprecedented amounts of tree-cutting and snowmobile highway building. There are examples of this level of trail-cutting already out there on Forest Preserve land, from before this court case put a stop to it — and it’s just plain a different scale of modification of the landscape, far beyond what ADK does in foot-trail construction.
If these wide snowmobile highways are really what the people of New York State collectively want, there’s a legal path to make that happen. A Constitutional amendment would be needed to make these things compatible with Article XIV — just like all the other exceptions that have been made over the years to permit non-conforming uses of Forest Preserve land.
They’re just trying to keep the standard of what counts as timber that they’ve been using for 80+ years. They’re not looking to give themselves or anyone else free reign. PTA wants to count all the new spring shoots that need to be culled off the trails every year and other detritus that has no chance of growing up as “timber”.
I do understand that Michael Barrett and the ADK’s amicus brief and quite a few commenters here are effectively _saying_ that “Protect wants to count all the new spring shoots”. That is indeed the rumor that has been spreading lately.
But as far as I can tell, Protect doesn’t want to do any such thing — not surprisingly, since that would be a silly thing to want to do. See Peter Bauer’s various comments: any references to “saplings” and “seedlings” (and, by extension, “spring shoots”) look to him like red herrings that do nothing but confuse the real issue.
The court decision in question got the DEC to stop pursuing an unconstitutional level of trail clearing, for graded snowmobile highways. That level of disturbance had never been attempted before on Forest Preserve, not on anything like this scale — and there was no constitutional reason why it would suddenly be legal now. The court decision did *not* prevent DEC or ADK from continuing to maintain foot trails.
DEC is now challenging the court decision. That implies that they still want to build those snowmobile highways. But it doesn’t imply (to me) that Protect wants to make anyone count sprouts, or that ADK is justified in its worry about hypothetical impacts of the existing decision on its trail-maintenance abilities. I’ve read the amicus brief, and the arguments in it just don’t seem convincing on that front. Foot-trail maintenance will be able to continue just fine, no matter how this last appeal turns out.
Right on and to the point Dave G!
As you so clearly pointed out all this nonsense claiming that Protect wants to close off the forest preserve, and prevent trail maintenance and building etc. is just obfuscation of the real issue.
The risk of having multiple advocacy groups is a muddling and weakening of a message. We have a serious access issue to the most popular parts of the Adirondacks and a solvable issue with use management. ADK has responsibilities for both access and use management that other groups don’t, so it would have made sense to get ADK on board on this particular issue. Attacking them publicly seems unproductive.
The ADK appears willing to risk opening the potential floodgates for the potential weakening of Article 14, to meet its recreational needs.
The strong unified front against issues like tree cutting by nearly all the pro-preservation groups with a stake in the Adirondack Park, is why the Park retains its wild characteristics and continues to serve critical ecosystem services for NYS.
The ADK appears willing to risk opening the floodgates for the potential weakening of Article 14, to meet its recreational needs.
The strong unified front against issues like tree cutting by nearly all the pro-preservation groups with a stake in the Adirondack Park, is why the Park retains its wild characteristics and continues to serve critical ecosystem services for NYS.
No conservation group has a greater stake in the preservation of the wilderness of the Adirondack Park than ADK. And no conservation group has done more to protect that wilderness than ADK.
Please explain your assertion…
… thanks in advance.