Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Is the Adirondack Park dying for recreational activities?

Class II Snowmobile connector trailBy Harsh Vaish, Skidmore College

The Department of Environmental Conservation – henceforth referred to as DEC – has been developing plans for major community connector snowmobile trails between Adirondack communities for a number of years. Protect the Adirondacks first sued the DEC in 2013, contending the trials cause significant environmental damage and violate the Constitutional clause for the ‘forever wild’.

Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, the environmental organization that sued to block the construction said the litigation is about Class 2 snowmobile trails and not hiking trails. He specifically called out the Adirondack Mountain Club and Open Space Institute’s concerns “specious claims.”

I agree with Mr. Bauer’s claims about the case. I believe that the removal of trees from the Forever Wild area will negatively impact the ecology. The number of trees being cut in the 25 miles of these trails has violated the forever wild clause in the state constitution, according to Protect the Adirondack. The clause ensures that millions of acres of forest preserve lands are protected for future generations, and prevents the harvest and sale of timber.

I understand the sentiment of wanting an area of wild that is used for recreational activities, but the park already does contain a lot of land for those purposes. There are trekking and other commuter connector trails available in other parts of their park. I believe that if the DEC would like to take the forever wild land then another piece of land should be categorized as the forever wild or the DEC should offer and give up some of their other lands back towards the preservation of the ecology and the forest land.

-Harsh Vaish is a junior at Skidmore College majoring in environmental studies.

Please note that comments and commentary included on the Adirondack Almanack are those of the individuals and not the Adirondack Almanack or Adirondack Explorer. Send in your commentary to Almanack Editor Melissa Hart at [email protected]

Photo: Seventh Lake Mountain Class II Snowmobile Connector Trail/Almanack archive

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park.

Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at [email protected]




41 Responses

  1. Not a resident (sadly), just an often-visitor who loves the entire Adirondack region. Just want to follow along with this discussion as for those who live and work in the Adirondacks all year round, it’s really your perspectives that matter most. Thanks – Joshua

    • ROBERT DIMARCO says:

      I have to disagree with your statement thst locals opinion matters most.

      In our sytem of government everyone has a vote and a voice. So a resident of Manhattan has the same voice as myself, a resident of Lake Placid.

  2. Congratulations to Peter and Protect the Adirondacks for their win We are now one step closer to complete eradication of the Adirondack park.

  3. Jim Schaefer says:

    The reason for preserving “wilderness” and lands kept “forever wild” does not necessarily correlate with a human need.

    Those unable to grasp its importance should spend time wandering from Bangalore to Hyderabad, India, or Mumbai to New Delhi, India.Closer to home try Battery Park to 14th Street in NYC.

    • Nandor Teleki says:

      Forever wild designation of millions of acres of Adirondack forests is not a beneficial aspect for wildlife as any environmentally minded person should realize that old growth forest lands do not benefit wildlife either big or small!! I have been hunting and fishing the dacks since I was 18 and have sat hours in the woods sometimes without seeing a living thing besides bugs and flies! if the lands were properly managed such as other game lands wildlife would flourish again and create an economic boom for the area towns!

      • Ryan Finnigan says:

        Your comment gets my vote for possibly the most ridiculous ever made here.

        • Gary Holliday says:

          Not a very intelligent reply Mr. Finnigan.
          I too have spent 50 years in the Adirondacks and have seen it transformed from abundant wildlife to very scarce wildlife! A huge amount of precious timber falls each year and hiking thru the forest has become a labyrinth. Modern logging methods, selective harvesting, etc. Would be a huge benefit to the forest, the animals and fund the whole DEC program plus more. However, very typical of NY State to go to the extreme. Mother nature will most likely take her toll eventually with damaging forest fires!

          • Dave says:

            An interesting detail here: at one point, if I remember right, someone actually asked business owners in the Adirondack logging industry about this. It turned out that opening up Forest Preserve land for logging was just about the last thing that anybody wanted.

            There’s a lot of private timber land available in the Park already. If Forest Preserve gets opened up for logging, too, the big thing that will happen immediately is a glut on the market. The value of the timber on private land will go way down, which will make lots of people unhappy.

            Then the people that really like the current leave-it-alone management of the Forest Preserve, will *also* be unhappy about lots of skidder tracks and missing trees in their favorite patches of State land. Nobody wins, except maybe some lawyers — there’s just no end of unpleasant unintended consequences.

            Another practical detail to worry about: somebody would actually have to *manage* Forest Preserve logging… probably a New York State government agency! If that idea doesn’t scare you, it probably should. Something like this was actually tried in 1885, with a new agency called the “Forest Commission”. In less than a decade there were already enough accusations of corruption and special dealing to get everybody completed disgusted with the whole mess — so much so that the Forever Wild clause ended up the state constitution. (!)

          • Andre says:

            Forest fires are a part of nature. The problem arises when governments try to stop forest fires which builds up too much fuel over time. Fires are healthy for forests. Even African savannahs have natural fires from lightning strikes. Nobody is there to put them out – and it helps the health of the Savannah and even encourages growth of trees.

      • Zephyr says:

        The Forest Preserve is not there to generate game for hunting and fishing. Wilderness exists for its own sake, on its own terms, to change and evolve in its own ways. Yes, we all know the Adirondacks is not a true “wilderness,” but it was created with the goal of letting it be what it is and becomes, without limited intervention by man. Snowmobile superhighways are certainly incompatible with the Constitution of New York that created the “forever wild” area.

        • Ethan says:

          Thank you. Well said.
          Why would some feel that the Adirondacks should be managed for the purpose of “growing” more game animals?
          Need more game? Hunt less often for a couple of years.

      • ROBERT DIMARCO says:

        Omg, you really said that!

      • Jeanne says:

        Nandor…if you want to see’unmanaged land’ come on over to Rochester ,NY and the Southern Tier. Over run deer everywhere. You are also incorrect on ‘Adirondacks is not a beneficial aspect for wildlife’. Please do your research and feel free to contact ‘ Protect The Adirondacks’ Group. I have lived many years in the Adirondacks and it must be managed.

  4. Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

    Hi Harsh, greetings from a Skidmore alumna, and thank you for taking the time to write! 🙂 This is indeed a monumental case. Glad folks from Skidmore are paying attention and discussing it. It is great to see a new generation supporting “forever wild.”

    A completely unrelated sidebar: I used to go to events hosted by HAYAT when I was at Skidmore – they were great! Introduced me to a lot of cuisine that I now love and some that I even cook. Keep up your good work, as you never know who you’re helping out. 🙂

  5. Zephyr says:

    It must be noted that there are more than 800 miles of official snowmobile trails on state land in the Park already, and thousands of more miles of trails on private lands, with more than 1000 miles receiving funding from the state. It’s not like snowmobiles have nowhere to go. Worth reading John Warren’s history of how snowmobilers got special privileges to ride on “forever wild” lands: https://www.newyorkalmanack.com/2021/02/how-snowmobilers-won-their-special-privileges-to-ride-on-forever-wild-lands/

    • Ben says:

      The trails that were to be built were to connect towns within the ADK that aren’t currently connected with each other.

      • Dave G. says:

        That’s certainly a valid point. The problem was that the DEC decided to make those connections between towns by going directly against the New York State Constitution.

        There’s a way to make these connections perfectly legal: do the work to get a constitutional amendment passed. Trying to take shortcuts by simply ignoring Article XIV was never a good idea, and now it appears that it didn’t work for the DEC.

        The problem is that if the DEC is allowed to just go ahead and bulldoze these particular stretches of Forest Preserve — for what some people think are good solid reasons — then where are the limits?

        Suppose that the future some new group of enviro-wackos decides that the Adirondacks desperately need a string of private bug-proof meditation huts in cleared areas every hundred yards along every trail in the High Peaks, so that they can safely take breaks whenever they want, to properly enjoy the beautiful environment… without losing too much blood to mosquitoes. Should those clearings and constructions be okay with everyone, as long as the DEC “just goes ahead” and decides that it’s a good idea?

        (Something vaguely along those lines might very well actually have happened back in 1930, when the Forever Wild clause was a lot newer. It was called the “Closed Cabin Amendment”.)

        Luckily the DEC doesn’t get to decide. Nobody can cut substantial amounts of timber like that, “simply and solely for the reason that … the Constitution says it cannot be done.”

        Maybe it’s not a perfect rule, but boy does it have the virtue of simplicity. The Forever Wild clause prevents some arguably good things from happening, while continuing to do its primary job of preventing a whole lot of really bad ideas from ever getting put into practice.

        • Scott says:

          Unfortunately there is side effects of this ruling. For example, I don’t know how the new foot trail up cascade mountain can legally be completed at this point. It’s a risky proposition to cut any trees at all now. You can’t just say “these trees are protected but these ones aren’t” without risk of getting fined into oblivion

          • Dave Greene says:

            Yup, we’re at the stage now where a lot of people are thinking and saying that that’s a big problem — but they’re probably not reading the actual ruling, or looking at the legal precedents.

            The court’s ruling specifically addresses the difference between these connector trails and normal hiking trails:

            “the Class II trails require greater interference with the natural development of the Forest Preserve than is necessary to accommodate hikers. Their construction is based on the travel path and speed of a motorized vehicle used solely during the snow season. The trails may not be built like roads for automobiles or trucks, but neither are they constructed as typical hiking trails.”

            Long story short, this decision allows traditional hiking trail construction and maintenance to proceed as usual.

            There’s always the possibility that someone will sue somebody about something, of course… but that doesn’t mean they’ll win. Suing anyone about normal hiking trail maintenance is a total waste of anyone’s time and money, and will eventually be laughed out of court — there’s a century and more of relevant precedent to fall back on, for things like that.

            The main precedent that _this_ court decision sets is that if somebody tries to run a *bulldozer* to the top of Cascade, it will now be a little bit easier to stop them!

  6. Dan says:

    I’m not a snowmobiler, but if I recall one of the main reasons that towns like North Hudson, Minerva and Newcomb approved the sale of the former Finch lands was because of expectations for snowmobile connector trails. I have to ask if they are regretting those decisions? And, if in the future, other towns may think twice before signing off on land acquisitions unless their wants are guaranteed. When EPF funds are used for land acquisitions, I believe town approval is needed.

    • Boreas says:

      A valid point. Guarantees are few and far between. If the towns didn’t approve of the acquisition, what would have happened? Who would have purchased it? What would be done with it?

      I agree – I think the take-home message is that just because DEC feels they have Albany backing them up, it doesn’t mean they can circumvent the Constitution. It would be best for the Forest Preserve if there was more distance between Albany politics and DEC policy, but that is unlikely.

      • Big Burly says:

        @ Boreas … achieving the distance you suggest is laudable, desirable … unachievable with the current cabal in Albany and the leadership of the DEC.

        • Boreas says:

          Big Burly,

          Albany has always been corrupt – but yet, the Forest Preserve was created despite corruption. In fact, many would argue the FP was created BECAUSE of corruption. Certainly the residents of the north country weren’t given a lot of voice in its creation. Same with National Parks.

          Most of these creations were created by power, not grass-roots efforts of the locals. But voters still have some say on who sits in Albany. They just need to be made aware of the quagmire the DEC and APA have slid into. Most NY taxpayers have no clue about it, other than what they are told by Albany. So I speak out when I can.

  7. Ben says:

    Time to change the State Constitution. Been done before, can be done again.

    • Ben says:

      As an add-on here, maybe the state needs to rethink how they go about buying properties. Maybe they should build the trails first as part of the agreement to buy the property; complete the trail & then finalize the purchase. That way they aren’t cutting trees in the ADK on land owned by the state! Then I would hold off for an additional year or so, so the trail can become established as being used. Only then would I complete the purchase.

  8. Susan says:

    This issue parallels a bigger issue in D.C. where the House seems to think that they can pass laws that violate the Constitution just because they want to, Like the issue there, a Constitution is a law that can only be changed by changing the Constitution, not by merely passing a law that goes against it. (ie. D.C. statehood). So also in this case, the Forever Wild clause can only be changed by changing our state Constitution. If this premise falls by the wayside, then we are a country and a state where laws are meaningless.

    • Dave G. says:

      Aha, yes, this is the really big hidden issue here. I mean, it shouldn’t be hidden, but it doesn’t seem as if it’s really clear to everyone yet.

      Even the original article doesn’t get this point quite right. The last paragraph talks about the DEC potentially swapping “other lands” into the Forever Wild forest preserve, to exchange acre-for-acre the land that would be removed by cutting connector trails.

      But in fact that would *also* need a Constitutional amendment! A big part of the issue here is that the DEC simply doesn’t have the authority to just wave its hands and say that “this piece of land shall now be treated as Forest Preserve”, and “this other land is now free to be used in other ways”.

      It appears that the DEC would very much like to have that authority, and they’ve tried acting as if they have that authority, in starting to cut these connector trails — but this court case makes it clear that in fact they *don’t* have that authority.

  9. ben says:

    All those old logging roads the state wanted to get snowmobiles off of by building these connector trails; maybe the DEC should go back in & allow them to be opened back up & put to use!

    • Boreas says:

      ben,

      That is likely, but there is still the mileage cap to contend with – and enforcing it.

      It is also possible that connector trails of smaller dimension and footprint could be constructed along the lines of the old primitive or Class 1 snowmobile trails, but that seems unlikely if sleds are too big. But perhaps the industry should put on its big-boy pants and put out a line of small, electric sleds specifically for backcountry use.

      We certainly haven’t heard the last of this.

  10. Ron Bright says:

    Cut the tree’s,forest’s need to be thinned to grow better,all you tree hugger’s need to realize what the economic impact is from Snowmobiles,just ask Ontario,Canada , they don’t have a problem with this.

    • Jeanne says:

      Ron, May I suggest an article ‘The Sputter of Snowmobiling ‘ In your statement ” just ask Ontario, Canada.” They have and ARE experiencing all the issues we are facing in the Adirondacks. Please get educated with their problems.

    • Boreas says:

      “Cut the tree’s,forest’s need to be thinned to grow better…”. Gee, I wonder what industry began that rationalization? It certainly has no basis in science. Trees grew just fine for around 400 million years without human intervention. In fact, that is why we have fossil fuels today.

      Heaven forbid we have one “un-managed” forest on the planet. There are many acres of private, state, and national forests around the world in which larger snowmobile trails would be more appropriate. It is a sport enjoyed by a few – there is no pressing NEED to put them through protected forest.

  11. Joanne Wilson says:

    You need to police the trails. tired of convoys of side by sides using trails all over. have seen 20+ machines crossing roads like they’re on guided tours. not expanding the trails on my property for this. the destruction from one drive thru is horrendous. The out of staters blow thru blockages

  12. Jeanne says:

    Peter Bauer of Protect the Adirondacks thank you for all the time regarding ‘forever wild’. Congratulations!

  13. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Zephyr says: “The Forest Preserve is not there to generate game for hunting and fishing. Wilderness exists for its own sake, on its own terms, to change and evolve in its own ways.”

    > This be true! If we can just keep the ‘crazy ape’ man from lustily encroaching upon more and more of what little is left!

    • Boreas says:

      Charlie,

      Are you trashing apes again? A “crazy-ape” on a bad day is not as harmful to the earth as a human on a good day.

      • Charlie Stehlin says:

        Humans ‘are’ the crazy apes Boreas. We have yet to see the first rays of light outside of the entrances to our caves…even if those caves are castles or million-dollar homes. Ignorance knows no bounds! Of course I speak in general terms when I say what I say! ‘General’ meaning “in most cases” which is not good. I suppose it could be worse! It could be that wholly the race is not sensible.

  14. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Shawn Typhair says: “Congratulations to Peter and Protect the Adirondacks for their win We are now one step closer to complete eradication of the Adirondack park.”

    Why? Because not all of us agree with carving a wide swath in them woods, at the expense of thousand lots of trees, and other, to allow noisy, polluting machines to have their way! Eradication of the park! That’s a might big stretch of wording Shawn.

  15. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Boreas says: “Trees grew just fine for around 400 million years without human intervention.”

    Yes, and once man steps in we know very well what happens. Our written records are replete with the history of forestry, or forests, the pros and cons. The European history is what our models used to be based upon, when those initial “preservation” thoughts came over our New York ancestors minds. They (our ancestors) knew very well what was at stake for the future of not only our forests and the ecosystems contained within, but especially for the water supply in relation to those forests. In large, New York is known (or used to be known) for having some of the best water in this country, thanks to our forests which acts as a filtering system.

    We don’t look at the ‘big picture!’ Or some of us don’t, or too many of us don’t! We don’t know history. Heck, we don’t even read anymore, or if we do it’s not about our history, it’s about the stock market, or dysfunctional Tiger Woods….. Of course I’m being facetious, but you know what I mean some of you do. Thank you Peter once again for your efforts, consciously or not, in helping to preserve what little is left!

    • Boreas says:

      Charlie,

      Thankfully, Europe – especially eastern Europe – has been jumping on the preservation bandwagon in the last few decades. Many forests are seeing extant large mammal species return such as wolves, bison, lynx – and are even attempting to resurrect the lost aurochs. We can only hope this trend continues since our wild spaces in the US have been under siege almost since their creation – especially Alaska.

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