Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Time To Pass A Constitutional Amendment For Van Hoevenberg

Protect the Adirondacks supports a proposed Article 14 Constitutional Amendment for the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex outside Lake Placid. At the Mt. Van Hoevenberg complex, the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) currently manages around 1,220 acres of Forest Preserve classified as Intensive Use by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA). Abutting these lands is 319 acres of land owned by the Town of North Elba. Together this complex houses the Olympic bobsled and luge track, cross-country skiing and biathlon trails, and associated facilities, with most of the intensive buildings and facilities located on the town lands.

Under this amendment (A.9416 Jones/S.7222 Kaminsky), the state would be authorized to utilize 323 acres of 1,039 acres in the Mount Van Hoevenberg complex for a variety of winter sports activities and facilities, including trails, buildings, water lines, and parking lots, among other structures or facilities. The amendment would exempt the state from tree-cutting standards applicable to the Forest Preserve. Through an Article 14 amendment, the Mount Van Hoevenberg complex would be governed by the distinct terms just as the downhill ski areas at Whiteface Mountain, Gore Mountain, and Belleayre Mountain have been regulated by amendments.

Around 181 acres of lands currently classified as Intensive Use would also be reclassified as Wilderness and added to the High Peaks Wilderness Area. The amendment would compensate the Forest Preserve by purchasing at least 2,500 acres of new lands to add to the Preserve.

The “split” lands of the Mount Van Hoevenberg complex, between the town and the state, is partly the result of two famous Article 14, Section 1, legal decisions in 1930, one by the Appellate Division, Third Department, and the other by the New York Court of Appeals, that struck down plans by the State of New York to build a bobsled track on Forest Preserve lands at this location. This decision forced the state to build the bobsled track for the 1932 Winter Olympic Games on lands owned by the Town of North Elba.

Since then, the State of New York has placed much of the buildings and other facilities on town lands, but in the intervening eight decades the state has also undertaken a number of questionable actions on the Forest Preserve at the Mount Van Hoevenberg complex that clearly violate Article 14, Section 1. For instance, there are buildings that straddle the Town-State boundary. There are paved roads that are connected on Town-State lands. There are parking lots that straddle the Town-State boundary. There has been tree cutting on the Forest Preserve in excess of constitutional limits, as established in case law. Many of these violations pre-date the formation of ORDA in the mid-1980s, but others have occurred during ORDA’s stewardship.

YouTube video


A look at the new trail up Mount Van Hoevenberg, which is expected to be completed this fall. The trail is expected to see a lot of hiker traffic due to its location near Lake Placid and was designed with extra effort from the DEC. Video by Mike Lynch/Adirondack Explorer

This proposed legislation states: “First passage of a constitutional amendment to authorize the construction, operation, and maintenance of the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex on Forest Preserve land in the Town of North Elba, Essex County and add at least 2500 additional acres to the Forest Preserve.” This proposed amendment is accompanied by enabling legislation (A.9453/S.7221), which provides important details about the implementation of this legislation. We believe that “first passage” of a proposed Article 14 constitutional amendment should always include passage of accompanying enabling legislation that spells out many of the details of the proposal. Once first passage is secured, this must be followed by “second passage” in a new legislature and then a vote by the people.

Protect the Adirondacks has long stated our belief that state management of the Mt. Van Hoevenberg complex has at times violated the State Constitution. These are particularly glaring given that these violations exist within the literal and actual shadow of the first major Article 14 legal decision. We have raised these issues during Unit Management Plan (UMP) review and hearings, among other forums. Our concerns forced adjustments to ORDA’s plans at various points in the past, but other violations occurred, nevertheless.

Today, ORDA is implementing an unprecedented surge of construction funded by hundreds of millions of dollars in state money to renovate the entire Mount Van Hoevenberg complex. Much of this work is underway so that the facility can meet international winter sports competition requirements for major events, the first of which is the World University Games in 2023. We believe that a number of actions in this massive renovation and expansion violate Article 14, Section 1. Therefore, we believe that the best remedy is an amendment to Article 14, Section 1, even if it’s late in coming, despite the fact that it’s after-the-fact.

Here is the draft amendment language:


It’s important to note that in addition to the Mount Van Hoevenberg Winter Sports Complex, ORDA also manages three alpine downhill ski areas owned by the State of New York – Gore Mountain and Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondack Park and Belleayre Mountain in the Catskill Park. Each of these ski areas is built on Forest Preserve and is governed by an Article 14, Section 1 amendment that sets parameters while also enabling management activities and upgrades to keep these facilities consistent with changes in the sport of alpine downhill skiing. Whiteface Mountain was approved in 1941 and 1987. Gore Mountain and Belleayre Mountain were approved in 1947.

At all three of these ski areas, the state is allowed to build and operate facilities that would otherwise be prohibited on the Forest Preserve, subject to specific limits in the constitutional amendments. Since taking over the management of these facilities, ORDA has successfully operated them within the bounds set by these amendments. However, the nonconforming state facilities at Mt. Van Hoevenberg are not expressly authorized, nor are they subject to constitutional limits, like the other three facilities. This proposed amendment would help to right historical wrongs.

Protect the Adirondacks believes that now is the time for an amendment for the Mount Van Hoevenberg complex similar to those in effect for Whiteface, Gore, and Belleayre. Such an amendment would create clear lines for future administration while providing a measure of flexibility for future growth. The current expansion of the Mount Van Hoevenberg complex, and the vast amount of state spending there, demand that action be taken now to bring this facility into compliance with the Forever Wild clause. At this point, the only way to accomplish this is to pass an amendment.

If an amendment is not pursued, we’re left with two choices: 1) accept continued violations of the Forever Wild provision by the State of New York; 2) go to court and sue the state. Neither option is appealing. Acceptance of violations of our State Constitution by the State of New York is an intolerable situation for all New Yorkers and the people’s land – the Forest Preserve. Going to court is no fun either.

Given these realities, Protect the Adirondacks supports a constitutional amendment for the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex.


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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 was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). 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, has two grown children out in the world, and 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 Threads.

28 Responses

  1. Gary LEE says:

    What about the proposed new trail building on Whiteface Mtn. where they were going to cut over 4,000 trees and clear 44 acres in boreal bird habitat where the Bicknell’s Thrush lives, they claim it isn’t in spruce forest. I haven’t seen the plans yet but believe this project should be watched.

    • JB says:

      I thought the same thing. There are a number of rare plant populations also that have been demonstrably threatened by the construction in that area. Amendments to Article XIV are only part of the equation. We need a functional APA to continually protect these lands as part of a larger, cohesive ecosystem (of which people are a part).

    • Paul says:

      It is being “watched” closely. If you follow it closely yourself you will see that some of the ornithological experts they have consulted have said that the project will actually improve Bicknell Thrush habitat on the mountain.

  2. Loki says:

    How is this different than the many campgrounds on forrest preserve land? If the forrest preserve portions of Van Hoevenberg is unconstitutional, then so are the numerous DEC campgrounds. Are they next? While the complex is built up, all of the would-be offending parts are purposely NOT on forrest preserve lands, and thus those parts do not matter at all legally. You mentioned only a road and a couple buildings & lots. Not really a big deal. For context, pick even a mid-sized DEC campground and it has a greater impact than Van Hoevenberg’s FP lands. Intensive use makes sense.

    Also, there is absolutely no need for 2500 acres of additional lands. Sounds a lot like a power grab. If you want to create clarity, do that. Requiring acreage — particularly disproportionally so much — creates a look of dishonesty, especially when the state’s regularly buying acreage anyways so it’s not actually impactful. Think the Raquette Lake title issues — historic “problems” where nearly everyone from all sides want the same thing (a vibrant VH) should not be a time for land grabs but rather working together to figure out long-term solutions to ensure a trouble-free future. Raquette Lake’s acreage was trivial in size and cost compared to what it cleared up. Here the only “loss” would be extra “cut” areas for trails/roads/etc which would only amount to say 50 acres being generous.

    Not everything needs to be a lawsuit. Particularly things that are decades past any reasonable statutes of limitations. Worse, these lawsuits are having unintended consequences in both directions and create rifts between allies. Many more people are beginning to favor the state NOT buying additional lands going forward — that’s far more impactful.

    • Colvin says:

      There is a good reason why constitutional amendments usually require that more land come into the Preserve than the acreage that will be taken out (or, as is the case with the Van Hoevenberg amendment, will allow Forest Preserve land to stay int the Preserve but be used for something other than a “forever wild” purpose): it is to remind us of the seriousness of removing land from the constitutionally protected Forest Preserve. Land is not acquired for inclusion in the Forest Preserve in order to create a land bank for non-Forest Preserve purposes and we should never lightly take amendments allowing Forest Preserve lands to be developed.

  3. Lee Nellis says:

    It seems to me that a comprehensive approach to the issues raised by ORDA’s use of state lands would account for ALL of the impacts, existing and future, that an amendment would bless/permit. The enabling legislation should require ORDA (and the legislature that funds it) to use its financial strength to address regional issues like the lack of affordable housing and child care for its employees and the employment ORDA activities induce. Contributing directly to solutions to those problems ought to be a trade-off required to get the amendment.

  4. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “There are paved roads that are connected on Town-State lands. There are parking lots that straddle the Town-State boundary.”

    > An extension of ‘the concrete jungle’ mentality…..the more concrete the more comfortable we become. The reverse of more open space, more forests. Is why it is all disappearing rather rapidly these years of late, those jewels not protected by law. Because we have other priorities.

    “There has been tree cutting.”

    > But of course! Who needs trees when we can put up more parking lots?

    “Acceptance of violations of our State Constitution by the State of New York is an intolerable situation for all New Yorkers and the people’s land – the Forest Preserve. Going to court is no fun either.”

    >That last line got me to thinking about how they operate….exhaust the anti-crowd so that no more fussing will be done, so that we can do as we please, when and how we please. Keep fighting Peter don’t give up! And “thank you” while i’m at it!

  5. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “What about the proposed new trail building on Whiteface Mtn. where they were going to cut over 4,000 trees and clear 44 acres in boreal bird habitat where the Bicknell’s Thrush lives, they claim it isn’t in spruce forest……”

    New York State used to be the role model for the preservation of what forests it possessed Gary, and there was a large concern for its wildlife. Back then just about every state in the union was of the mind to protect its forests, as they saw them as economically viable; they knew the trees protected the water source…, etc., but New York was a step ahead on these matters. They stressed science and European history in their reports. By reading the old reports that came out in the 1800’s you will know this. By what you say above and all of the other reports coming out over the years, their actions point to a change in the psychology in these new State guardians, most of who probably don’t even know what a hiking boot looks like.

    As I keep repeating ad nauseum, we need to preserve, protect, what’s left, starting twenty years ago. It’s sad reading what you say above; sad realizing where our values are, especially knowing that there are generations not yet born who might just appreciate what we seem to vehemently neglect….our natural history and resources, which without…..we are nothing.

  6. Since you are so willing to support a constitutional amendment for what is private, very exclusive recreation, why not fix the Class II multiuse trail issue while you are at it. Why not add to the amendment to allow DEC the ability to maintain 750 miles of maintainable snowmobile trails Most of those, if not all of those miles of trail are already built.
    It is exactly what the Court of Appeals suggested be done.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Please explain the “exclusiveness” of skiing while the average price of a new snow machine is $13,500, trailers $6,000 – $20,000, and 4WD trucks $37,750 – $70,330?

      Race skis $800p/p
      Race Boots $450 tp/p o $900 p/p
      Race Poles $400 p/p
      Basic Skis Racelight $200 p/p
      Basic Boots $150
      Basic Poles $35

      Waiting for your reply…

      • M.P. Heller says:

        I know what you are getting at Todd. You should probably include a $40k Subaru or SUV to get to the slopes plus around $100 a day for lift serve on weekends to your equation. Also, please let me know where you are getting these great deals on equipment. My last pair of skis were $1300.

        • Todd Eastman says:

          Van Ho is XC…

          … real skiing…😎

          • M.P. Heller says:

            Ahhh. Ski-walking. Yes, that is a much less expensive endeavor for sure. Makes perfect sense now.

            Touring skis are where it’s at in the 21st century my man. Human powered alpine runs and no lines. I’ll leave trad xc for those who enjoy it.

    • Boreas says:

      Indeed – why not! If off-road motorized vehicles are to be used in the FP, I believe it should require a constitutional amendment to specifically allow their use. And delineate between ATVs, snowmobiles, and e-bikes while doing so. But I would advise a separate amendment because getting all of the above issues passed through two legislation cycles on one amendment would be unlikely.

    • Tom Paine says:

      Let us not forget to include in this amendment the cutting of trees, rock removal, gravel installation and stairs construction on hiking trails. All currently being done illegally.

      • Todd Eastman says:

        Perhaps your reading of Forever Wild is flawed…

        • Tom Paine says:

          No, what is flawed is how certain groups and organizations get a pass while others have to live to the law.

          • Paul says:

            We build huge staircases up places like Ore Bed Brook in the High Peaks Wilderness? Where is the amendment for that?

  7. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Loki says: “How is this different than the many campgrounds on forest preserve land?”

    Campgrounds have less impact on the preserve in large general. There is also a big difference between a firepit taking up a 2×3 ft. space in each camp occupied by solo, or a few human, campers, than is a 20,000 square-foot complex which attracts cars and crowds by the hundred-lots on a steady basis in- season. A campground is about taking-in solitude within and outside of its confines. A complex such as Mt. Van Hoevenburg is all about money Loki, and crowds, and noise, and temporary pleasures, and most of all…. a disturbance of the natural area that surrounds it. A campground is about magic, about tracing back to our primeval roots, about appreciation of what once was and still can be; but also which is most likely going to go the way all things else have come to be….a thing of the past!

    • Loki says:

      I think you are confusing a “campsite” and “DEC campground”. What you say is relevant to a back country or road-side campsites. Take Rollins Pond as an example campground — just the bathhouse area has a large building, parking lot, cleared field (septic, play, etc). Add to that many miles of paved roads. Additional buildings for baths/staff/maintenance/etc. More impactful, is most campgrounds are heavily waterfront.

      This is a slippery slope focusing on cuttings from many decades ago. A reasonable statute of limitations on past tree cutting has past — and that is all the constitution protects. Any court battles here would have very unintended side effects. Either Van Ho forrest preserve areas (and similarly all campgrounds) would have to be abandoned (bad) or they would be grandfathered and would be as we are today and this is all a waste of time/energy.

    • Colvin says:

      Since the courts recently ruled “road-like” community connector trails used by snowmobiles are tunconstitutional, isn’t it logical to assume that paved roads in campgrounds used by cars and pickup trucks are likewise unconstitutional?

      • Loki says:

        Exactly the point. This is a case of being worked up about certain perceived violations, while allowing others, and creating unintended consequences again.

        Careful though, the courts did not rule the community connector trails were “road-like”. They ruled the opposite if you read the text of the court — they ruled they are very much trails and not roads — this caused an escalation of tactics.

        They did rule they took too many trees using a new tree counting test. It’s these unintended side effects that are creating issues. Bauer wanted to stop snowmobile trails at any cost — if they were simply ruled roads, no real impact on status quo. Instead they were not ruled roads, and rather had to push further to use a new more stringent tree counting test to combat them. Something that is impacting everything from snowmobiling trails to hiking trails to anyone that steps on a seed thinking about germinating.

        It’s this last bit that has many no longer in favor of FP lands. The old test was a reasonable middle ground of usage vs protection. Now basically the only thing that passes muster is hiking trails. Trailhead parking lots for instance are now an issue. For instance the new high peaks trailhead at South Meadows Road from the UMP would probably not pass the test given the building and number of parking spots required for success. This is my concern with this absolutism agenda from primarily Protect. Nearly all other groups realize that with 3 million acres, we must accept some imperfectness for the benefit of the whole.

        Before long either the will of the people (locals in particular) or money will dry up and have a net negative impact on FP.

  8. plow boy says:

    NYSSA can only dream of a constitutional amendment to allow the community connector trail system’s completion to fulfill the forgotten promises made to the forgotten job starved towns in the Adirondack Park.

    • Tom Paine says:

      Now would be a very good time for the Association of the Adirondack towns and Villages, Adirondack counties, NYSSA, local clubs to file a class action suit against the ORDA plan and this New York State double standard. It also could be used to force a constitutional amendment.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Exactly what real jobs do you think could be created in the Park under your amendment?

      Please explain how being outside of the Blue Line has helped the economies of northern Maine, northern Vermont, northern New Hampshire, the rest of northern NYS, Pennsylvania, the UP of Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and northern Minnesota…

      … thanks in advance for your analysis. 😎

      Rural and remote America have bigger problems than zoning designations.

      • Tom Paine says:

        What does outside the blue line and economics have to do with this discussion. This has to do with the ORDA plan for illegally widen trails on state land within the Park. Why should one group or organization be shown favoritism and given a pass.

  9. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “What you say is relevant to a back country or road-side campsites.”

    > I’m always thinking the Moose River Recreation Area Loki, so yes you are right. And I am familiar with campgrounds with showers and toilets, etc….convenience camping, and I must say I do have some fond old memories of them too, in general the Durant Lake campsite. I suppose no matter how hard we try we’re just not going to be the good stewards we should be towards this planet earth. It’s good we’re talking about it though which is important.

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