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.