Tuesday, May 3, 2022

It’s Mud Season Again. Past Time to Close those Gates

ruts in the road

It’s mud season again in the Adirondacks. During mud season, we are all warned by our NYS DEC to stay off designated hiking trails in or near the High Peaks or Giant Mountain Wildernesses at this time of the year because the scarce, thin, organic soil at higher elevations so easily comes off on our boots and leaves nothing on the former trail but boot holes and pools of water. Save our vulnerable soils, plants and trails. Come back later in May or June, we are asked, when conditions are drier. The request makes plenty of sense.

However, on snowmobile trails in the valleys where the soil tends to be mineral rich and not as boggy,  we might find better footing and better trail conditions in the spring. And so, we head out on valley designated snowmobile trails, now turned hiking trails, to find whatever it is we wish to find, or to discover in our Adirondack Forest Preserve’s designated Wild Forest.

Our spring luck depends, in part, on the seasonal closure of gates to motor vehicles. Left open during the snowmobile season, we depend on the few DEC Forest Rangers to close those gates in the spring so that two-wheelers, 4-wheelers and even trucks cannot motor down the same trails and leave nothing but pools of mud.

mud season no motor vehicles sign

Those same trails are usually posted on a prominent tree at the trailhead – “Motorized Vehicles Prohibited, Except Snowmobiles when Surface is Covered by Snow or Ice,  as per Part 196.2 of the New York State Codes, Rules and Regulations.”

But the sign is one thing. A closed gate is quite another. I recently found these conditions at a popular Forest Preserve snowmobile trail in the southern Adirondacks. The sign was intact. But the gate was left open in April. And the result was a series of lengthy, muddy ruts, holes left by motor vehicles going at speed, several of which passed me by as I hiked. Rivers of water ran down the tracks they left on the trail.

To say DEC Forest Rangers, Foresters and other natural resource staff are stretched is an understatement.  They all want to close those gates on time each spring before the motor vehicles, illegally, get past the gates. They do not wish to see what I found the other day, the sign up but the gates left open. However, they are pulled in all manner of directions on each day, and sometimes those gate closure assignments are put off to another day, to just one more week, and the trail damage is done.

open gate

DEC gate left open, sign on tree, left side.

I did phone the DEC office nearest this trail and report the problem. The local Forester and Forest Ranger had wanted to close this gate, but they were pulled away to get to another trail job. They promised to get on it when they returned.

The number of DEC Forest Rangers and Lands and Forest personnel remain stuck where they were decades ago, in fact are fewer in far too many places. And the trail conditions I found are just one symptom of not investing more in our women and men in green, the frontline workers struggling to be good stewards of our “forever wild” Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve.

Photos by David Gibson

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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.


15 Responses

  1. Pete says:

    I am a snowmobiler and also like to ride my little Yamaha TW-200 dual sport so I definitely like motorized recreation; but I am also a hiker and fully support the restrictions on non-winter motorized use of most trails. In many cases I can ride my little trail bike carefully and do minimal damage but most operators can’t or don’t even try. I have seen the huge mud holes created on non-hardened hiking trails and it isn’t pretty. They even manage to rip up semi-hardened seasonal roads. It is unfortunate that one segment of motorized users ruins it for the rest of us.

  2. Tom Paine says:

    I would surely believe if the asked the local snowmobile clubs would be able to close and lock the gates at the end of the season to help the NYSDEC. All they need to do is ask.

    • Randy says:

      Unfortunately you are probably thinking too unreasonably.

      • Pete says:

        Contrary to the belief of some anti-snowmobiler ‘environmentalists’, snowmobile clubs have an interest in protecting the trails and the environment. They do not want to see the trails torn up. Snowmobile clubs and towns in the Adirondacks work with the DEC all the time. However they may not have keys to gates so closing and opening might have to be done by the DEC.

        • Dave says:

          All clubs need to do is work with their DEC Ranger & ask for a set of gate keys, so that at the end of the snowmobiling seasons, they close gates as they pick up signs. I’ve seen it done, you just need to have the TRUST of the local DEC ranger.

          • Tom Paine says:

            The snowmobile clubs do work with the NYSDEC. They have too. On private land the clubs close gates and lock them at the end of the season if requested by the landowner. It can be the same on public land. That being said, I believe the reason the NYSDEC does not issue keys to the clubs is the political ramifications in Albany with the environmental lobby.

            • Boreas says:

              Could be, but I think it would be bad policy to issue keys to anyone outside DEC – at least without a legal agreement. Could be a liability issue on either side – remember, the same person who can close the gate can open the gate. It is sad a common sense approach cannot be used, but it isn’t always “political”, just a good policy. It is just another issue that needs to be brought up to the Commissioner to illustrate the need for more staff.

              • Pete says:

                The snowmobile clubs do have stewardship agreements with the DEC

              • Tom Paine says:

                The snowmobile clubs that participate in the trails program are required to have trail insurance. And there is also the protection of the NYS General Obligations law. I would see no problem for the clubs through NYSSA signing a legal agreement to close and lock the gates on state lands. It is done on private lands thousands of times a year by the clubs. Real simple and why spend more NYS taxpayer monies for gates to be closed and locked.

  3. Todd Miller says:

    Good article (and comments) pointing out the realities to the challenges of implementing policies to sensibly avoid damage to trails. I think the DEC could do better managing their schedules so that these gates are closed and avoid these things slipping by.

  4. JT says:

    I think the NYSDEC needs to post a sign stating that ATV’s going beyond the gate will be subject to a $500 fine. Is that enough of a fine or should it be more?

    • Boreas says:

      You could make it $10k and it wouldn’t matter. It isn’t a deterrent. There is virtually no chance of getting caught, let alone convicted. Without proper ECO staffing, hidden trail/surveillance cameras would be the best way to get a conviction.

  5. rosemary pusateri says:

    Thanks for reminding everybody, yet again.

  6. jd says:

    I think those trail pictures are near Caroga Lake. I know the snowmobile trail crew here would close the gates for the Rangers. I asked DEC once if I could take my chainsaw and remove blow downs crossing trails so xc skiers and snowmobilers could get thru. I cut 10 cords every year. I was told I could volunteer for this after taking the chainsaw safety class. I asked where and when I could take that? Not being offered currently. So, the state doesn’t have enough employees to maintain the trails and makes it impossible for volunteers to help out. Typical government reaction. We can’t and we won’t let you make it happen.

  7. Pete says:

    The Chain Saw Safety Course is occasionally given in various places.Check with your local snowmobile club to see if they have anything scheduled. It is also usually given once on Friday and once on Saturday at the New York State Snowmobile Association educational forum in April. https://www.nysnowmobiler.com/

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