Monday, June 13, 2022

2021 Forest Preserve Court Decision Has Far-Reaching Implications

Recent pieces in the Adirondack Explorer (see here and here) have attempted to assess the implications of the decision by New York State’s highest court in Protect the Adirondacks v Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency. The Court of Appeals found that these state agencies violated the state Constitution in their efforts to build a network of new extra-wide snowmobile trails in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. These commenters have derided the decision because they say it’s focused on tree cutting, which they argue is a poor standard to evaluate the constitutionality of management actions by state agencies under Article 14, Section 1, the Forever Wild Clause.

These commenters fundamentally misread the 2021 Court of Appeals decision and don’t seem to grasp its breadth or scale and how it will reform Forest Preserve management in the years ahead. The decision expanded Forest Preserve case law far beyond the tree cutting standards that were established by prior court decisions interpreting Article 14.

It’s hard to miss this expansive look at Article 14 in the recent decision. In its very first paragraph, the Court stated:

The [state’s snowmobile trail] plan requires the cutting and removal of thousands of trees, grading and leveling, and the removal of rocks and other natural components from the Forest Preserve to create snowmobile paths that are nine to 12 feet in width. We conclude that construction of these trails violates the “forever wild”provision of the New York State Constitution (art XIV, § 1) and therefore cannot be accomplished other than by constitutional amendment. (p 2)

Tree cutting was just one of the factors that the Court used to find that the State’s plan to create a network of new wide snowmobile trails was unconstitutional. Because it required such major changes to the Forest Preserve, as enumerated above, it could not be accomplished administratively, and may only be done through a constitutional amendment to Article 14.

Article 14, Section 1 of the New York State Constitution provides, in pertinent part:

The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.

New York’s courts first took up an Article 14 case, and issued guiding rulings, in 1930 where both the Appellate Division and Court of Appeals issued decisions in the “MacDonald” case. In 1993, the Appellate Division issued a further Article 14 ruling in the “Balsam Lake” (Catskills) case. Now added to these cases are the decisions from the Appellate Division in 2019 and Court of Appeals in 2021 in the Protect the Adirondacks case (the “Protect” decision).

Tree cutting has been used historically as a principal factor in Article 14 caselaw because it’s an objective measure that can be quantified. Trees or stumps can be accurately counted. Thus, the courts can rule on whether “the timber thereon” was “sold, removed or destroyed.” Before Protect, the courts had not focused as much on other parts of the Article 14 clause, such as the requirement that the Forest Preserve “be forever kept as wild forest lands.”

Tree cutting, of both big and small trees, was at the heart of the 1930 and 1993 decisions. For those who complain that tree cutting is not a valid factor by which to evaluate a constitutional violation on the Forest Preserve, their complaint lies with the courts from 1930 and 1993. For over 90 years this has been a staple of Forest Preserve law, but in 2021, the courts augmented tree cutting with other equally important factors and the Court of Appeals issued an expansive decision.

Those who complain about small trees of less than 3” diameter at breast height (DBH) being considered to be “timber” protected by Article 14 have simply not looked at the historic record. In the late nineteenth century, one definition of “timber” in the most commonly used dictionary of the day said that it meant “woods or forest; wooded land,” among other definitions. The word “timber” was used by writers of popular Adirondack travelogues of that time to refer to the whole forest, or vast forested hillsides or mountainsides. These writers wrote about thick impenetrable stands of small timber. Professional forest management manuals and state forestry reports of the day referenced both “big timber” and “small timber.”

More important was the use of “timber” in the 1894 Constitutional Convention debates on what came to be Article 14. The words timber, trees, forest, and wilderness were all used interchangeably. Those who continue to argue that the meaning of the word “timber” in Article 14 refers purely to large merchantable trees ignore history and are making the same mistake as the State agencies made in the Protect case did when they stubbornly argued for just one narrow contemporary meaning of the word “timber.” (And even today, the use of “timber” is varied.) When the State’s argument was factually and persuasively debunked by a prominent historian’s testimony, the State had no credible response, and its arguments fell apart like a house of cards.

Protect the Adirondacks’ case was also bolstered by fieldwork that showed that there were many trees of 1”-3” DBH that were cut down to build the State’s trail system, that were 75 years old, or older. Some of these “small” trees were over 50 feet tall. There are many factors like soils, aspect, slope, shade, and tree type, among others, that affect the growth rate of a tree. Even the State’s expert scientist testified that a tree is a tree even if it’s just 1”-3” DBH.

The findings of the trial court and the Appellate Division in the Protect case that these small trees were indeed “timber” (which were relied upon in the Court of Appeals decision) provided an important clarification by the courts about the meaning of “timber” in Article 14. The Protect case clarified that all trees on the Forest Preserve, both large and small, are protected under Article 14, and will help to improve state Forest Preserve management in the years ahead.

Yet for those who are disturbed about using tree cutting, whether big trees or small trees, to make the constitutional analysis, there’s lots of good news in the Protect decision. For those who want broader criteria beyond tree cutting for evaluating whether a specific activity is constitutional on the Forest Preserve, now is the time to rejoice rather than gripe. The recent Protect decision goes well beyond tree cutting. Its most interesting and far-reaching aspects introduced new criteria for Forest Preserve managers and future courts to apply.

In 1930 and 1993, the courts’ Article 14 decisions focused on tree cutting. The MacDonald decision introduced a test that trees must be protected on the Forest Preserve and that any cutting for State management of the land must not be “material” or “substantial.” In MacDonald, the state’s two highest courts found that the State’s plans to cut 2,500 “large and small” trees on 4.5 acres of Forest Preserve to build a bobsled track violated Article 14.

In 1993, in the Balsam Lake decision, the Appellate Division found that the State’s plans to cut 350 big and small trees (the State counted trees down to 1” DBH in its court documents) to extend a cross-country ski trail by 2.3-miles did not violate Article 14. These two cases served as constitutional bookends for Forest Preserve law, one making a finding about an impermissible action, the other making a finding about a permissible one. The line of what is impermissible “material” or “substantial” tree cutting lies somewhere between the two.

The MacDonald decision also added that certain types of facilities on the Forest Preserve were impermissible, such as the bobsled track, or things like a golf course. In discussing what uses may be permitted, the Court referenced Robert Marshall’s 1930 article in the Scientific Monthly, The Problem of the Wilderness, in which Marshall argued that only trails and temporary shelters should be permitted in wilderness areas, and motors should not be permitted.

Protect the Adirondacks went to court because we believed that the State’s plans to build a network of hundreds of miles of new wide snowmobile trails would result in tree cutting (destroyed trees) on the Forest Preserve that violated the MacDonald tests of “material” and “substantial” cutting. We also believed that the terrain alterations needed to build these trails violated the requirement in Article 14 that the Forest Preserve be “forever kept as wild forest lands.”

In the Protect case the State Supreme Court and Appellate Division, Third Department, both bifurcated Article 14 into two parts and both ruled that the State did not violate the requirement that the Forest Preserve “be forever kept as wild forest lands.” The Appellate Division, however, overruled the Supreme Court in a 4-1 decision, and ruled that by cutting tens of thousands of trees, both large and small, the State had violated the prohibition in Article 14 on the destruction of timber.

In the Protect decision, the Court of Appeals stated that Article 14 should not be bifurcated, holding “that the constitutional protection is unitary”. (p. 9) By doing this the Court emphasized new, broader criteria for evaluating constitutional compliance. Tree cutting, the Court of Appeals stated in 2021, was one important factor, and it affirmed that the MacDonald tests of “material” and “substantial” levels of cutting still applied, but it also said that tree cutting was just one of several factors that need to be evaluated.

The court wrote that the impact of state management on the “wild state” of the Forest Preserve must be evaluated. Additionally, the court articulated new tests for terrain alterations, and for managing the Forest Preserve “as wilderness.”

Wild State: The Protect decision articulated a new “wild forest” management directive for State managers. Quoting from the 1930 MacDonald decision, the Court stated:

defendants and the dissent contend that the project’s impacts are justified because it enhances access to the Preserve and provides a variety of recreational opportunities. That analysis proceeds from a fundamental misunderstanding. The constitution provides for access and enjoyment of the Forest Preserve as a wild forest: “very considerable use may be made by campers and others without in any way interfering with this purpose of preserving them as wild forest lands.” (p. 11)

The Class II trails were found to be unconstitutional because they “require greater interference with the natural development of the Forest Preserve than is necessary to accommodate hikers.” (p. 10) To comply with this directive from the Protect decision, State managers now need to consider the impacts on the “wild forest” state of the Forest Preserve of their planned management actions. And, contrary to what some Chicken Littles may claim, nothing in the Protect decision says that building, maintaining or improving hiking trails is problematic, as it actually supports such efforts.

Terrain Alteration/Trail Width: The Protect decision also established a new standard for trail width, which was an important factor that led the Court of Appeals to find Class II trails to be unconstitutional. The Class II trails were at least 9 to 12 feet wide with a flat tread area, and wider in many places where extensive bench cuts were made on both sides of the trail. The Court stated “The trails may not be built like roads for automobiles or trucks, but neither are they constructed as typical hiking trails.” (p. 10)

Additionally, the Protect decision described other factors that contributed to the unconstitutionality of the Class II trails, such as “bench cuts—cuts into sloped ground and removal of the cut soil, rock and trees to create a ‘bench’ upon which a trail can be placed—require clearing the land on the up- and down-slopes of the trail, resulting in the clearing of the forest floor up to 20 feet in width in certain areas—a span wide enough to site a two-car garage.” (pp. 10-11) The Court found such cuts to violate the mandate that the land be “forever kept as wild forest lands.” The court also referenced “grading and leveling” and the “removal of rocks and other components” as factors that put the trails in violation of Article 14. Henceforth, changes to the terrain must be carefully considered by the DEC and APA when planning Forest Preserve management actions.

The Ultimate Objective of Wilderness: Another standard from the Protect decision is based on the statement that the State’s Forest Preserve management must highlight the “ultimate objective of protecting the forest as wilderness.” (p. 9) In essence, the Protect decision highlighted the critical importance in Article 14 that the Forest Preserve must be “forever kept as wild forest lands.” This factor is yet another important test for state managers.

Clearly, the Protect decision goes far beyond merely limiting tree cutting. At Protect the Adirondacks we think that the criteria for upholding the “wild state” of the Forest Preserve, limiting alterations to the terrain of the Forest Preserve, and putting Forever Wild at the heart of Forest Preserve management will have a far greater impact in the years ahead than looking at tree cutting alone.

The Forest Preserve is protected in the State Constitution for a reason, and that’s to give the People of the State of New York the right and the responsibility for making the big decisions about its use. Big decisions should only be made by a constitutional amendment voted on by the People and not made by the Governor, the Legislature, or state agencies. The courts have reaffirmed the right of the People to decide about major changes to the Forest Preserve and have reined in State agencies when they attempted to make major changes on their own. Forest Preserve law has been shaped over the last 92 years, and the most recent decision provides important new guidance for state managers and the public.

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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 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 and two children, 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 Twitter.




87 Responses

  1. Habitatman says:

    Fantastic! The Court of Appeals saw the obvious and made the right decision.

  2. Deborah Coffin says:

    Thank you for your perseverance and for your reading of the case here.

  3. David Pietkiewicz says:

    The unintended but unfortunate result of such continued strict interpretation of Article 14 of the NYS Constitution is that the Adirondack Forest will just continue to mature and become a vast wasteland for most wildlife. Most of New York’s wildlife thrives in successional growth areas and forest canopy openings but not in mature forests. I wish, we the people of New York, could address that moving forward,

  4. Tony Goodwin says:

    I understand the need to remain vigilant regarding any egregious violations of the ‘Forever Wild’ clause. A bobsled run and its associated access road, parking, service roads, and spectator provisions was clearly a violation of ‘Forever Wild’. However, these proposed snowmobile trails were much closer to the Balsam Lake standard tan to the McDonald standard to the extent that they stretched the “material” threshold. Furthermore, the grading and terrain alteration objection is again not much more than the alterations of grade and terrain made in the construction of the new East Trail to Mt. Van Hoevenberg. And there is, apparently, an ongoing effort to construct a similar trail much of the way up Cascade and Porter.

    The DEC’s promise of these snowmobile trails was essential in getting the affected town boards to accept the addition of 65,000 acres of additional Forest Preserve within the borders of their towns – most notably Newcomb, Indian Lake, and North Hudson. These additions to the Forest Preserve allowed the creation of the new Hudson Gorge Wilderness Area – an area that would obviously not have any new snowmobile trails.

    The initial creation of the Forest Preserve in 1885 was a “political” decision based on the desire to preserve the watersheds needed to supply the Erie Canal with enough water to operate through the summer. Other “political” decisions such as the Hewitt Amendment in the 1930s have further benefitted both the Forest Preserve and the Adirondack Park. I believe that the militant defenders of the Forest Preserve should have been willing to accept the ‘trade-off’ of 65,000 new acres of Forest Preserve and it’s millions of now-protected trees for a few trees cut for some snowmobile trails that are considerably narrower and more rugged that any comparable snowmobile trails on public lands elsewhere.

    • Zephyr says:

      The DEC can’t promise political deals that go against the State Constitution. Many of us argued this at the time these illegal deals were first being discussed. It was crystal clear the snowmobile superhighways were illegal from the get go. So now it is “militant” to defend the Constitution?

      • Tom Paine says:

        Super highways? Please. Been to the High Peaks super hiking highways lately? The NYSDEC promises deals all the time. Provided they are for the right user groups.

  5. Eric says:

    In other words, you’ve made it virtually impossible to add any additional hiking trailheads or expand any existing trailhead parking. Which virtually every person who doesn’t live in a fantasy world of shuttles or so-called “overuse” realizes are sorely needed.

    • Boreas says:

      “…State managers now need to consider the impacts on the “wild forest” state of the Forest Preserve of their planned management actions. And, contrary to what some Chicken Littles may claim, nothing in the Protect decision says that building, maintaining or improving hiking trails is problematic, as it actually supports such efforts.”

      • Eric says:

        Parking my good boy. We need more trailhead parking and new trailheads. If you don’t think this affects that then you don’t understand the decision or how the legal system works.

        • Boreas says:

          Have you ever read it? You should give it a try. Yours is the Chicken Little arguement.

          Plenty of precedents for trails, maintenance, and parking. Class 2 snowmobile trails – not so much. Now perhaps if they were planning a parking area that would require removal of a similar number of trees as a 10 foot wide snowmobile trail many miles long, it may well be rejected. But that would be one big parking lot!

          • Eric says:

            Yes. We need acres of new parking to even begin to approach adequacy. Expansions to pathetically small existing lots like Round Pond and Roostercomb as well as new lots/trailheads. You just know PROTECT is going to fight that every step of the way and they’ll be citing this case as precedent.

  6. Sean says:

    Amazing how people are upset by this. Trying to equate new trailheads and trails compared to the proposed size and scope of the snowmobile trails literally is the definition of a false equivalency. The idea that a vast wasteland of any kind will be created by a maturing forest is babble. Oh and yes the only militant ones would be the Forest Preserve defenders.

  7. geogymn says:

    Right on Sean!

  8. Bob Meyer says:

    When it comes to good faith agreements, Tony Goodwin does have a valid point.
    The complication is that no “agreement” can supersede or override the constitution of the state of New York.
    One of the unintended consequences may or will be the reluctance or refusal of towns to make similar agreements that added substantially to the forest preserve and wilderness areas going forward.
    False arguments claiming equivalency between snowmobile trails and maintenance and construction of hiking trails and their access is spacious at best.
    This is a complicated and complex question that might deserve a specific constitutional amendment but, given the failure of the four or so clearly needed constitutional amendments for the Adirondacks in this year‘s legislative session, I’m not too hopeful for that kind of action. Sad.

    • Tony Goodwin says:

      Bob;

      I realize that in this case the cutting was deemed ‘unconstitutional’, but the quibble is about what constitutes ‘material degree’. Since the creation of the Forest Preserve, many, many trees have been cut for hiking trails, fire tower phone lines, and state campgrounds to name just a few. None of this cutting was done with a constitutional amendment. Many of the roads in the state campgrounds are paved, so why is a bit of side-hill benching on a nine-foot wide snowmobile trail so terrible?

      • Bob Meyer says:

        Tony,
        I know your deep comprehensive knowledge and love of the Park. We have met in the woods more than once in years past.
        I’m not necessarily in disagreement with you and am well aware of what trail cutting and maintenance require as well as the other inconsistency’s you mention.
        I think the decision in this court case hinged on the degree of disturbance and modification on Wild Forest lands in the Forest Preserve. Is it misplaced? Not being a snowmobiler and only having seen photos I’m not sure.
        As for what constitutes a tree or timber, the discussion of this is a rabbit hole I won’t go down.

        • Zephyr says:

          Take a look at what Class II snowmobile trails are like. They are roads, not trails. https://www.protectadks.org/class-ii-trail-construction-caused-enormous-damage-to-the-forest-preserve/

          • Habitatman says:

            If a picture is worth a thousand words, these pictures negate a thousand gripes—-

          • Bob Meyer says:

            I have looked and read David Gibson et al.
            Hopefully you are familiar with Tony Goodwin and what he means to and has done for the Adirondacks. His cred is beyond any doubt and he does make a valid point about the inconsistent application and enforcement of Article 14.
            The reality is that these “enhanced” connector snowmobile trails are/were part of an agreement between certain towns and the state as a trade off for them OKing substantial additional land for Wilderness in the Forest Preserve. These towns have the right to not ok transfer of lands to the state. The land happened (yes!) but not the trails. So, to the towns and residents affected this is a bad faith result. What do you think their response will be to any future requests for more state land?
            All this said, I am not a fan of snowboarding ( especially the newer faster more dangerous models) and I am a wilderness advocate.
            I’m not in favor of roads in the wilderness going back to the truck “trails” put in after the “ big blowdown” of 1950.
            Much has changed in the Forest Preserve; “trailless” peaks with well defined herd paths ( essentially trails). No more real bushwhacking of the Sewards for example as I experienced in the 60s…Severe erosion and widening of trails like the McIntyres.
            So much needs to be improved, remedied and smartly updated to deal with the present reality of use in the Adirondacks. I just hope the snowmobile trail decision doesn’t derail the larger issues going forward.

          • Tom Paine says:

            Your right, pictures are worth a thousand words of the double standard. Here are some of your own. Albany’s not so dirty little secrets.

            https://www.protectadks.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/High-Peaks-Trails-1.png

            • Sean says:

              Yes, obviously they should be concerned and spending on more trail improvements, reroutes, trailheads, parking, shuttle options plus more protection and enforcement personnel. Not large snowmobile trails THAT WILL be used at best maybe 4 months. Yet WILL THEN be used by ATVs and other motorized vehicles. Trees aren’t the only things that will disappear and be changed because of such a project. Those “trails” will need be maintenance and watched also.

              • Tom Paine says:

                Define large trials? Is that 10 feet wide or 100 feet in width? Will hiking trial improvements also include the reduction of many illegal super hiking highways from 50 to 100 feet in width to the state mandated 8 feet in width? We went from illegal tree cutting to illegal trespass by ATVs on snowmobile trails. Which is it? Most if not all roadways and trails used by snowmobiles are gated by the NYSDEC at the end of each season. The local snowmobile clubs work with the NYSDEC to maintain trails in the park, they also watch as you say. The inform the NYSDEC when issues arise. The monies for development, maintenance and policing of our trails comes from our registration dollars. Trespass in the off season occurs on both public and private land by ATVs.

                • Sean says:

                  Nice whataboutism/false equivalency rhetoric Tom, 9 to 12 feet is your answer and up to 20 in some of the sloping ground. As for gates, nowhere is installing them mentioned. Also when have they ever stopped something from going around if so desired? Oh please point out those illegal super hiking highway for us? Also one is permitted via the constitution and the other is not. Get the constitution amended, problem solved. Oh, and yes it is was so apparent even before the Adirondacks become a go to attraction for advertising NY that we had or currently have enough personnel policing the said Adirondacks. Yes, extreme sarcasm was implied.

  9. Paul says:

    How many trees blow over with your average storm? The court may feel this cutting may be unconstitutional but it is also inconsequential to the forest preserve. These cut and graded trails with things like culverts are much better for the environment than the hap-hazard trail that you will be getting instead. Snowmobiles are legal in the forest preserve so all you are getting rid of is a well designed and constructed trail.

    • Boreas says:

      Blow down, naturally occurring fires, and natural flora/fauna death in a forest are indeed natural events. When man removes biomass, alters waterflow, and opens up the forest floor to evaporation, invasive species, and erosion, it is NOT natural. So ultimately, we must decide, what is Wilderness and do we preserve its wildness, or create an artificial wilderness that we see in our mind’s eye – one shaped by Man.

      • Bob Meyer says:

        Well said Boreas!

      • Paul says:

        I know that, and I agree, I didn’t say they were the same. I was curious about the numbers.

        • Boreas says:

          That would be pretty tough to pin down as one acre of forest next to another acre of forest can be dramatically different in composition, root/soil structure, and health.

          Many would disagree that the number of trees we are talking about is inconsequential to a forest or the Park. It isn’t about the number of trees, it is about the health and wild character of the Park. So in many people’s eyes, one tree killed and removed by Man is much more serious than a hundred toppled in a storm. Two entirely different processes and outcomes.

          • Paul says:

            I agree, of course they are different processes. But if folks are even concerned about one tree being cut on the forest preserve then they should be advocating for NO use. It takes cutting down thousands of trees to cut the miles and miles of hiking trails. Far more miles of them in the park than snowmobile trails, and many of them in wilderness areas where there are zero snowmobile trails. It seems to me, in principal anyway, that the cutting in these areas (and the building of ridiculous staircases like on ore bed brook) has a far greater impact on the wilderness character of the park than the activity in these wild forest areas.

            • JB says:

              Paul, you’ve hit the nail on the head. With increasing use, you need more infrastructure to support that use while protecting the resource. Wilderness designation allows for some infrastructure — and some use (not “NO use”) — but it cannot accommodate as much use as less restrictive designations can while preserving wild forest character. For example, in Wild Forest, strategically clustered camp sites, in relatively close proximity to access roads and away from sensitive habitat, allow for higher levels of use than a Wilderness design could support while fully protecting “wild forest character”. There are good arguments to be made that some proposed snowmobile trails — e.g., well-designed reroutes that closely parallel existing roads — are very much in keeping with the vision of “forever wild”. We don’t have a timber problem, we have a strategy problem. Strategy is what allows use and wild forest character to coexist, and the current strategy, whatever it is, is not up to this task.

              And Eric, increased infrastructure most definitely does drive demand! Building more railroads, highways, or trails almost invariably increases levels of use rather than alleviating it. Planners have known this for more than 100 years and have named the phenomenon “induced demand”. Why are these principles more widely accepted in villages and cities — where people live and the cost of implementing them is relatively high — and yet not in Forest Preserve — where nobody lives and the cost of implementing them is low? There’s an ideological mismatch there that no amount of “Leave No Trace” education is ever going to remedy. Instead, yes, let’s acknowledge that everything leaves a trace, but, also, let’s channel that into something sensible and respectful — just like we do in the places where we live.

  10. David Pietkiewicz says:

    I am not a Snowmobiler by any means at all but is that just destruction? Perhaps in the eyes of some beholders it is but such a “swath” through the Forest promotes secondary growth and lots food for many species of wildlife during the growing season. There are many sides to this…

    • Steve B. says:

      I think a major re-write of this section of the constitution would be needed if we wanted to promote new growth and improved feeding for wildlife. Right now it (correctly) is letting the forest do its thing and letting nature take its course. Probably best for all if we dont interfere with that.

      • Paul says:

        But we do. When a natural event like lightning starts a fire out west (or in the east when it occasionally happens) we don’t let it do its thing, we try to put it out. We only let nature (which we are a part of) take its course when we want to.

        • Steve B. says:

          The Adirondacks generally do not have many large burns, too wet, too much rain, though it can happen in dry summers. They tend to suppress fires only when it threatens man made structures and typically don’t do so if the fire is burning in a wilderness area. Yellowstone National Park was a typical example of recent fires that they let burn. National Forests and other properties managed by BLM are a different story as the NFS and and BLM considers and treats a lot of fires as potential lost revenue, owing to the NFS being part of the Dept. Of Agriculture, so a different mindset about fire suppression. There has been a different approach the past 20-30 years about letting some fires that do not threaten properties to let burn. A good read on the subject is “Fire Season, Phillip Connors”.

  11. Zephyr says:

    Another problem with the Class II snowmobile trails is that they inevitably get used by ATVs during the summer. https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/stories/atvs-still-running-amuck

    • Paul says:

      Are these class 2 trails in that article’s photos? These are probably the poorly designed and graded trails where drainage is a huge issue. The exact type of trail that snowmobiles will now have in these areas where they were trying to build better trails. I don’t have a snowmobile or an ATV I just wonder if these are really what draws ATV’s onto the FP and creates mud-holes like in the article? This ruling isn’t stopping the “trail” just the type of trail and how it is built. On these trails if there is a stream or a wetland they put in a culvert. On the older trails like these will now be the snowmobile goes right through it.

  12. Paul says:

    It all depends on what a particular group is advocating for. You won’t see an environmental group writing an article like this when the court makes a decision like they did on the “old mountain road” case. In that case the court determined that the state had also done some thing illegal – closing the road. You could easily write an article on the “far reaching implications” of a decision like that and how it could lead to opening many illegally closed roads on forest preserve land….

  13. JB says:

    Galvanizing as they may be, a couple of court decisions could not possibly create the mess that we have seen here. What common law courts can do, however, (building on a millenium of tradition) is bring to light — and hopefully reconcile — deeply held but ultimately incompatible beliefs about how society should govern itself, function and adapt.

    Any conservative worth his salt will be the first to point this out. (In fact, without Edmund Burke, the “father of conservatism”, we might very well have no equivalent concept today for “environmental conservation”; we certainly would not have the terminology.) We’re very fortunate in our state to have a framework in place for maintaining social cohesion and conserving the integrity of our environment. Other places have not been so lucky. And the dizzying internet exchanges happening among pick-your-chosen-Adirondack-recreation-subculture (this is one of the most tame!) should hammer home the virtues of policy based on solid precedent over neoliberalism having its way with things. …Our forebears got a preview of how that looked in the decades leading up to Article XIV.

    As for expanding recreation in designated Wilderness Areas, whether that takes the form of high-capacity parking lots or substantially hardened trails (e.g., to accomodate 10,000+ hikers per year) — read the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, a management framework entirely based upon the “wild forest character” of Article XIV. The blueprint for Wilderness designation (limits on access and infrastructure) is centered upon the idea that there is a limited “level of acceptable use”. Remove that, and the entire conservation paradigm collapses. Instead of arguing for constitutional amendments for every inevitable constitutional violation (and the list of those that might be necessary seems endless), staunch advocates for expanded intensity of use on these lands — and the lands themselves — would be better served by seeking redesignation.

    For snowmobile trails on Wild Forest, the problem similarly rests on the constitution and the APA Act, and the lack of a cohesive strategy among management agencies in carrying out their mandates. But, in this case, even if the constitution can be amended or otherwise circumvented, it may be for naught. Snowmobile trail networks overwhelimingly rely upon permissions from private land owners, and many of them have been effectively shut down by landowners who lack any other realistic mechanism for coping with increasing use.

    As hard as it may be to swallow, any long-term solution entails a cohesive management strategy that protects Article XIV “wild forest character”. There are hundreds of millions of people within day’s drive from the Blue Line, and essentially no mechanisms for limiting access. No resident or visitor of the Park has ever seen the levels of use that will occur in the future if management doesn’t change. These problems (interest and means for outdoor recreation) aren’t going away on their own. Advocating for the status quo in light of this is pure madness.

    • Boreas says:

      Well put, JB!

      In MY opinion only, I feel the “Forest Preserve” was set aside to literally preserve the forest as its primary reason to exist. Secondary to that purpose was reasonable access for all – which is NOT the same as unlimited access for all. Just as a restaurant allows access for all, it is not possible to allow UNLIMITED access and still preserve its qualities as a restaurant. There is nothing in Article 14 stating anything about compromising preservation of wild lands to accommodate access to multitudes. IMO, the underlying subtext of Art. 14 is that the Preserve is to be managed for protection of its wilderness qualities while allowing limited (if necessary) access to primitive types of backcountry travel and recreation that do not harm said “wilderness qualities”.

      But the internal combustion engine was just a twinkle in the eyes of inventors when Art. 14 was written. Access to the Park itself was limited to those who could afford a train ore stagecoach ticket and lodging. There were no “day trips”! These people primarily relied on guides for their recreation within the Park. There was no need at the the time to set specific limits as there was no real pressure. Obviously, much has changed since then, except Art. 14.

      Perhaps New Yorkers need to re-assess what Art. 14 means to us NOW, and what it should mean in the FUTURE. As written, Art. 14 is vague enough to allow limited access while maintaining at least SOME wilderness integrity, but the Forest Preserve can only survive in its original ideological form with limits on usage and access. Just as extraction industries needed to be limited, recreation industries need similar limits if threatening the wild character of the Park. It should not sway with the winds of politics and special interests.

  14. Eric says:

    An “acceptable level of use” is one thing but twelve parking spaces for five high peaks (as at Round Pond) is madness. And now that lot is being used for seven high peaks since the AMR decided to violate their agreements with the state. The parking situation all over the ADK is completely inadequate.

    • Boreas says:

      Eric,

      This is indeed the quandary. Not parking per se, but “Acceptable Level of Use”. You can’t determine parking requirements until you determine “ALU”. There are many that believe there is TOO MUCH parking for what the antiquated trail system can accommodate. This is partly why most existing parking lots are small. It was a simple form of regulating access by the DEC that worked for decades. There was no controversy because visitation was at least an order of magnitude lower.

      So what needs to be addressed first is ALU. This will likely, at the minimum, require a change in DEC/APA policy and future planning, which the current agencies, mired in politics and lack of direction/planning, are not willing to address. It will likely require constitutional amendments if any plan is to have teeth in the the long term. We should not just build parking lots to cure the symptoms. We need to address the disease itself and determine a “cure” based on contemporary beliefs and whether New Yorkers feel Art. 14 needs to be scrapped or amended to accommodate the future.

      • Eric says:

        In the internet age you can’t control access by limiting parking anymore. The AMR fiasco has taught us that. There used to be a barely discernible and little used herd path up Gravestone Brook that people used to get their dogs over to Dial and Nippletop without going through the AMR gate. Within two years of our access to AMR being taken away that old herd path is now a six foot wide trial that doesn’t look much different than the Bouquet River trail. All it took was one person to upload the route to Strava and boom. New trail.

        You could ban everyone from getting off of exit 30 entirely and within a month there would be a new trail heading up Grace peak from behind the rest area.

        Stop trying to control other people and give them a place to park.

        • Tony Goodwin says:

          Eric;

          I usually don’t post replies that are not related to the original issue – in this case snowmobile trails. However, I hiked the Gravestone Brook approach twice last year – once in May and again in November. As of November, there was some evidence of use but no, ‘six-foot wide trail’. Now maybe things have changed in the month or so since the snow melted, but I’d like to know your source for your statement about the width of the trail.

          After much initial grumbling about the AMR’s reservation system, the majority of hikers have accepted it and successfully used it. Why bushwhack Dial when you can take a trail?

  15. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Eric says: “Yes. We need acres of new parking to even begin to approach adequacy.”

    Or inadequacy! It seems to me that if you build more parking lots more people will come to them, use them, fill them up….. then what? Twenty years from now more parking space will be needed due to population growth and people wanting to get away from the dysfunction they call hometown, to find some semblance of peace in the woods. It will never end & before long old man Radcliff will be putting up a hissy fit as he recalls them days when his favorite trailhead had a parking lot you could walk across in five seconds whereas it now takes five minutes to walk across. And those stinking outhouses! “There ain’t never used to be one of those smelly contraptions at the trailhead!”

    • Eric says:

      Parking doesn’t drive demand. You have it backwards.

      • Boreas says:

        Certainly not if the state decides to replace trailhead parking with shuttle service! Even if the goal is unlimited access, unlimited parking would be very difficult in the terrain where existing trailheads exist. Steep slopes, ravines, and rivers are not conducive to parking. This is much of the reasoning behind small lots to begin with.

        Historical access is as much of the overall problem as the inadequate trail system. Many small lots lead directly up a STEEP slope that simply isn’t good trail design. Before we start adding destructive parking willy-nilly, we need to rethink the entire trail system, as a well designed trail system will require a redesigned trailhead system.

        The HPW infrastructure system must be re-designed and rebuilt as an entire SYSTEM – perhaps replacing trailhead parking entirely with shuttles – perhaps eliminating shuttles and using permit parking to limit access. There are many different ways to attack the multitude of problems, but DEC’s knee-jerk, stopgap band-aids to fix one problem while exacerbating 3 others is just stupid as well as a waste of money and ultimately damaging to the resource.

        • Eric says:

          Shuttles could work but they have to be 24 hrs and need to stop at all the trailheads and not just half of them. You can’t run a 12 hour schedule in an
          area where many standard routes take 12-14 hours. Even if you’re a faster hiker you still don’t want to hike with a deadline in your head all day. And why does the shuttle stop at Roostercomb but not the Loj? The only reason me or anyone i know have ever left a car at Roostercomb is to do the GRT. The GRT starts at the Loj and ends at Roostercomb. So why stop at one and not the other? Makes zero sense.

  16. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “You just know PROTECT is going to fight that every step of the way…”

    Ere long there won’t be anyone putting up a fight to save what is left of our precious ecosystems, including the Adirondacks. Peter will be remembered as one of them few rare birds whom held out to the last! Surely that day will come as more and more humanoids are being desensitized; surely the time will come when the will of the human species to save what is left will be totally extinguished! They’re working on it! By then Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ will have been banned from libraries by the radical right!

  17. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Boreas says: “When man removes biomass, alters waterflow, and opens up the forest floor to evaporation, invasive species, and erosion, it is NOT natural.”

    That’s what trails do….create corridors for monsters which aren’t fully acknowledged till long after they were introduced and the damage done. The stories are endless!

  18. Charlie Stehlin says:

    JB says: ” No resident or visitor of the Park has ever seen the levels of use that will occur in the future if management doesn’t change.”

    A visionary you are JB! This is the root of many of our woes…we never look too far ahead.

  19. Charlie Stehlin says:

    ” I feel the “Forest Preserve” was set aside to literally preserve the forest as its primary reason to exist.”

    Water was a major concern back then Boreas, those forests protected the streams, kept them viable. Man needs good clean drinking water to survive. They knew that back then. See what happens when you have a stream running through a healthy forest and then that forest is taken away….the stream goes away. The forests all across this country were a priority to every governor in every state just 110 years ago in this country, even if it was for the timber resource. Them days are long gone!

  20. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “IMO”

    Immediate mental observation?

  21. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Eric says: “Parking doesn’t drive demand. You have it backwards.”

    Backwards is a direction society heads-in on a daily basis Eric. What you say is the same as saying new roads won’t induce more traffic! New malls won’t create more congestion on the roads around them!

    In a way what you say is correct, but what I say, in a way, is correct also. The demand for parking space in the High Peaks area is due to so little of it, and, at the same time, due to the desire to utilize the trails which induces the former. It seems to me, and what seems to be the fad of late….. once a ‘thing’ is started it perpetuates, does not lessen (the same as the price of gas reaching for the sky…. why would it come down when people continue to pay for it?) If this is the case then the demand for hiking the trails in the Adirondacks will continue to grow (as the population and tourism advertisement grows), and so the need for more parking space. What is taking shape now regards the same (more parking space to meet demand), was a far-fetched thought just fifteen years ago, if not less. Surely there will be millions more people seeking escape to the woods in just twenty years from now, especially considering how many more people will be inhabiting this ever-shrinking world due to abortion being criminalized the way it is. More hikers, more need for parking space.

    • Zephyr says:

      The population of New York, and in particular Upstate NY, is shrinking, and the population of the USA and much of the developed world is likely to shrink dramatically if demographic trends continue. Plus, with the increased cost of gasoline and all transportation, we may see a reduction in tourist visits to the Adirondacks as soon as this year. Some news reports are that gasoline demand is already dropping. Anecdotally, we have seen many fewer people visiting popular state parks in the southern adirondacks and small summer tourist towns are not busy. I continue to point out that most High Peaks trails are in far better shape than they were 10-20 years ago, and there has never been any realistic study of hiker traffic and/or trail capacity. None of these trails, even the ridiculous Mt. Van Hoevenberg Disneyworld trail, destroys wilderness like these Class II snowmobile highways. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/gas-prices-demand-destruction-already-started-says-strategist-195433877.html

      • Tim says:

        There have been plenty of studies on hiker traffic and impact. You don’t hear about them because they keep finding out that one day of rainfall causes more erosion than tens of thousands of hikers boots. It doesn’t fit into their narrative that they need to gate-keep in order to protect the environment.

        • Dana says:

          You don’t hear about it because it is nonsense. Tens of thousands of hiker boots sets up the soils for erosion when it rains. A boot itself doesn’t “cause” erosion. Look 50 feet away from the trail and see if you can see significant erosion under the leaf litter and moss of a healthy forest.

          Natural erosion/entropy does occur. Mountains will wear down to plains. All humans do is speed it up where we change the environment to our liking – as in poorly designed trails.

      • JB says:

        Zephyr, there has been quite a bit of research on this in tourism studies circles. Both tourism and outdoor recreation have been increasing dramatically worldwide since the 1950s, and projections (including some from the US government itself) indicate that this will continue for the foreseeable future.
        A small decline in population is not legitimate grounds for dismissing concerns about overuse or overtourism — such arguments are based on the faulty premise that population, rather than improvements in infrastructure, technology and quality-of-life, drives tourism. Neither is a cyclical decline in tourism reason to dismiss overuse concerns — these have happened before, and invariably tourism always bounces back stronger than ever. (The same phenomenon happens when use is temporarily diverted away from popular destinations in response to overuse.)

        As one scholar points out, popular tourist destinations such as sports stadiums have recognized capacity limits, why shouldn’t wilderness areas? The reluctance to address the problem seems to stem from a combination of government fears about limiting growth in a capitalist society and special interest groups advancing specific recreational agendas. For a further review of this deliberate bias both on the part of researchers and conservation managers, see Richard Butler’s “The concept of carrying capacity for tourism destinations: dead or merely buried?”.

        • Eric says:

          You’re making a huge assumption that the Adirondack Wilderness is a “tourism destination”, a place where people plan, months in advance, to travel to once and take time off of work and bring their family. The reality is that the vast majority of hikers are people from Clifton Park, Glens Falls, Plattsburgh, Utica, etc who are there hiking 30-40 times per year as part of their regular lifestyle. I’m out there just about every weekend and keep meeting the same people over and over again. These aren’t people putting in for time off weeks or months in advance. They found out a few days ago the weather would be nice and they would have the day off so here they are. This isn’t Zion or Yellowstone where tourists outnumber the day-trippers. It’s completely the other way around. Creating arbitrary limits on access would be a blow to the very lifestyles of people living in the Capital District, Champlain valley, etc. It would be an especially brutal blow to younger people in the area who often have the kind of jobs where you’re told on Wednesday whether you’ll have Saturday or Sunday off. Also, have you ever tried to get three or more unrelated 25 year olds to agree on a plan more than three days in advance? It can’t be done. This is way any parking permit system should be split 50/50 between reservable spots and first-come first-served spots. Sure let the family from Ohio reserve a spot. But leave half the spots for people like the young woman in Glens Falls working as a nurse who doesn’t know when her next day off will be.

          • Bob Meyer says:

            Eric, I think it’s a combination of day trippers and destination people. I think permits, including the highly suspect AMR situation, should only be used if ALL other remedies have been tried and found inadequate.

        • Zephyr says:

          Ask anyone who has been hiking the High Peaks for the last 50 years or so to compare the condition of trails today to what they were in the past. There is no comparison–almost every trail is in far better shape. So, what is the problem? Too many people enjoying hiking in the woods? I am always perpetually amazed how no matter how full the parking lot at the bottom how few people I see once on the trail. We are nowhere near any realistic capacity limit on most trails most of the time.

          • Eric says:

            100% better. Back in the 90s I used to leave every hike with half my pack full of other people’s trash. Nowadays I might find the torn top of one bar wrapper now and then. There was a TP issue back in 2017 for sure but that’s better now too. Lot of newbies came out in 2017 when AllTrails came out. They’ve since learned to do better LNT.

        • JB says:

          Eric, maybe I should have further teased apart the overlaps and distinctions between “tourism” and “recreation” so as to avoid confusion. But both tourism AND wilderness recreation have increased worldwide and are projected to continue to do so. Both issues affect the Adirondack Park, and the majority of carrying capacity arguments apply equally to both.

          It is well-known that those who travel short distances or seasonally migrate specifically to recreate disproportionately drive recreation impacts. Often, such users are among the most opposed to targeted access restrictions, since any access restrictions are most likely to affect their own access. Instead of restrictions, arbitrary ethical standards, like Leave No Trace, are seen as a type of gold standard for reconciling the real, perceived and potential impacts of avoiding restrictions on their recreation of choice — inevitably, those ethical standards will disproportionately exclude other groups (just as an example, in keeping with the topic at hand, snowmobilers).

          Zephyr, to your point, if there “has never been any realistic study of hiker traffic and/or trail capacity”, then how can we then conclude that “we are nowhere near any realistic capacity limit on most trails most of the time”? More importantly, why do we (by “we”, effectively I mean to include the majority of groups opposed to access restriction) automatically assume that carrying capacity is purely based on the number of people using a resource at any given time? If you’ll excuse the distasteful example, there is indeed a likely correlation between E. coli concentration in streams near popular hiking trails and the number of hikers using those trails, but the only relevant metric is not the number of users physically present at any given point of time. Many impacts are cumulative within larger time periods. In fact, there are many separate impacts affecting distinct resources that accumulate (and are rectified) over varying periods of time.

          Contrary to the prevailing mantra, we are never going to be able to comprehensively delineate and assess all perceived and real impacts of recreation and tourism on a continuing basis. But, hypothetically, if we did, what would stop proponents of unrestricted recreation from continuing to dispute the comprehensiveness of any findings? …Or what would stop the arguments that better adherence to ethical codes will negate future impacts? In other words, how would things be any different than they are right now — other than there being more recreational use in this hypothetical future, assuming trends continue?

          Instead, good management ultimately requires some strategy for regulating use that can utilize the information that is already available at any given time — or more precisely, that utilizes the common sense wisdom that is already available based upon decades of management (and mismanagement) of wild lands near and far (the Adirondack Park Act is a great start). Part of that common sense is that use is growing, and backcountry ethics have not been enough to negate all real and perceived impacts of growing use. Wilderness recreation remains one of the last areas where no strategy is seen as an acceptable management paradigm.

          Where I agree with you both is that the current strategy for regulating use that we do have in the Adirondack Park — including the one hiker permit system that has been implemented — is deeply flawed. (In fact, I’ll go so far as to argue that the Park would be better off on the whole without that permit system as it exists today.) I think that recreational frequent flyers — those with intimate knowledge of the landscape and mechanics of recreation — have very valuable insights to offer about how use can be better regulated (both of you included). …So long as these valuable knowledge holders don’t completely succumb to the Kool-Aid of recreation subcultures and interest groups, be it Leave No Trace, or the codes of ethics of hunters, anglers or the snowmobilers.

          • Eric says:

            You make some good points but it’s hard to take you seriously when you don’t agree with Zephyr’s statement that trails are obviously nowhere near capacity. Have you ever left NY? Go spend a summer in the Whites and see what real wilderness management looks like. Multiple trails up every mountain, hundreds of spaces at every trailhead, shuttles running all night in between them. The USFS states on their website that they keep the Lincoln Woods parking lot artificially small because of the especially delicate nature of that area. Lincoln Woods has 180 parking spaces. 180. And that’s “small”. Yes, the Adirondacks are special. But they aren’t more special than the Whites. Most of the hiking community that often visits the Adirondacks are also visiting the Whites a few times per year. Many NH hikers visit the ADK a few times per year. It’s the same people using both. When you intimate that we need to be careful about adding more trails or more parking, that argument is falling on deaf ears for a large number of people who see the acres of parking in NH and wonder why we don’t have the same in NY.

            • JB says:

              Eric, thanks for reminding us about the differences between federal wilderness management and Forest Preserve (and that people do indeed visit the Adirondack Park from such places). It seems odd that the definitions of “wilderness” established by the federal Wilderness Act and the Adironack Park Act are born from the same original tradition (the same phrases, such as “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation”, occur in both), and yet de facto management has diverged so radically over the course of only half a century. It is true that the Adirondack Park does have special protections that federal wilderness lacks (Peter Bauer’s essay illustrates one of them; there are more), but more than anything, this should serve as a cautionary tale about the incremental change that inevitably follows when designations — like “wilderness” — lose concrete meaning.

              • Eric says:

                The USFS at least realizes that times have changed and that “solitude” is a fact of life now; and not a goal of recreation anymore. It’s completely reversed over the last fifty years. We live our everyday lives in solitude, at home and, increasingly, at work. As I type this it has been three full days since I last spoke out loud to another person. We recreate to meet our fellow humans now. NY needs to realize it’s not 1890 anymore. And yet, if you do want solitude, it’s still there in plenty of places. Just not on a high peak on a Saturday afternoon.

                • JB says:

                  If “solitude” is of no concern, then why visit wilderness at all these days?

                  • Eric says:

                    To meet up with my friends of course. Sometime on Thursday evening someone will start a group chat with ideas and where everyone is hiking that weekend. For many, including me, hiking is their primary social activity.

                    • Eric says:

                      This, incidentally, was why the public reaction to the AMR permit system was so visceral and heated. They were interfering with people’s very lifestyle and social network. Especially since they didn’t reserve any spots as first-come first-served.

                    • JB says:

                      Eric, thanks for the honesty (we need more of that). Socializing is definitely a big motivation for many recreationists. I guess my question is, more hypothetically: if “solitude” is no concern, then why do we want to or need to visit wilderness? …A “big picture” kind of question (incidentally, comment nesting is maxed out).

                    • Balian the Cat says:

                      I hate to delve into semantics, but solitude is a requirement of big W wilderness. It’s requirement #2 in the definition of the Act of 1964 which served as the basis for NY’s legislation. That’s not, of course, what Eric is talking about but it is germane to the discussion.

                  • JB says:

                    Balian, to your point, I believe that Eric was talking about a parking lot that is used to access one of the several federal Wilderness areas in the White Mountain National Forest. Federal management of Wilderness has fallen so out of step with the Wilderness Act that additional protections — e.g., National Park designation — have been proposed (and even implemented) in many places. All signs are that this is a deliberate management agenda.

                    The “research” calling into question the existence of “carrying capacity” in the past 40 years has overwhelmingly come from US Forest Service staff — and this has been subsequently appropriated by some recreation interests groups, including several that are operating in the Adirondack Park.

            • Boreas says:

              Eric,

              Zephyr’s comment on capacity is not founded in science, but rather his personal tolerance for numbers of people sharing a given trail with him and his anecdotal personal assessment of trail conditions. I am not saying he is wrong, but he is just one user with one voice. Everyone has a different idea of how many people are “too many” when visiting an area classified as “Wilderness”. But TRUE “trail capacity” is determined by a particular trail’s ability to withstand use without deterioration of the resource – not just how many people can fit on it. This includes simple erosion of course, but also soil compaction, wildlife stress, noise, invasives, and water quality – just to mention a few off the top of my head. More esoteric qualities like solitude and wildness are harder to pin down – but should they be ignored?? Not according to Art. 14 and Forever Wild doctrine. In fact, a Wilderness classification is given the highest level of protection to maintain those esoteric qualities.

              Now we can go on and on about if Art. 14 has used up its usefulness with modern hikers and hiking as a social activity as opposed to getting away from the rat race. However Art. 14 wasn’t set up to make hikers happy, it was set up to preserve the resource as its PRIMARY goal – while at the same time allowing backcountry usage that does not diminish its wilderness character.

              So if one hiker prefers a crowd and another hiker prefers solitude, are we saying wildness, solitude, and preservation of the resource are just going to have to lose out because “things have changed”? This is the reason the classification of parcels within the Forest Preserve exists – to deal with usage patterns and the ability of the parcel to handle it.

              I personally feel the bulk of the greater HPW should no longer be classified as Wilderness – and probably never should have. Change its classification to meet the demand put on it, then manage it as intensely as the pressure requires in order to preserve the resource, albeit at a different level. But at the same time, other lands need to be set aside as Wilderness and managed accordingly. Designating the (arguably) heaviest used backcountry in the FP as Wilderness seems incredulous to me. How can it be managed as Wilderness yet allow increasingly heavy access? More intense access requires more intense planning and maintenance that a Wilderness classification cannot allow. If this is indeed what NYS residents want – unrestricted access to the HPW – I see no other way around it. Open it up for a constitutional referendum and get it done legally. This would be more in line with many federal and state lands around the country, including the Whites. THEN add and harden the infrastructure to preserve as much of the resource as possible. It will no longer be wilderness – just another busy backcountry destination. But if the classification change does NOT pass muster in Albany and with taxpayers, limits are certainly going to be in our future to preserve the resource as its Wilderness classification specifies. There is no middle ground that does both.

              • Steve B. says:

                An immediate thought that comes to mind is to re-classify the corridors occupied by hiking trails in wilderness areas as primitive hiking hiking corridors or some such. Similar to how the LP -Remson railroad corridor is classified as a transportation corridor. It could allow maintenance and construction to be better facilitated, including relocation as needed, without fighting the wilderness rules,

  22. Charlie Stehlin says:

    > I like your optimism Zephyr, though your ‘population decline trends’ & ‘reduction in tourists’ bits I’m not so sure about. Just a few weeks ago, as I was coming back from Cooperstown, we stopped at a Stewarts near Guilderland to find the lot was just chock full of cars. People’s trunks, and back seats, were stuffed with picnicking and camping gear, and other gear designed for ‘fun in the sun,’ coolers being filled up with ice, etc….children tagging along. Memorial Day weekend that was. Gas was at least $4.80 per gallon then. This was the total opposite of what you say above, “we may see a reduction in tourist…” Maybe not tourists per se, but ‘seekers of outdoor fun’, or just plain ol’ ‘seekers of something other’, they most certainly were, which are the same as tourists in a large sense by way of escapism from their everyday routines.

    I’ve been thinking about this! Society has survival instinct which, though we may not be aware of it consciously, subconsciously we act upon it. We have time to spare and money to spend, even if we don’t have much of either many of us. With three years in pandemic-mode fixed in our psyches, war in Ukraine, things in life so very uncertain, prices going through the roof, etc….. I think people are taking advantage of their free time by going places every chance they get, surely the Adirondacks being one of their destinations. What good money in the end? Spend it while your able! Now, I’m not saying this is the case generally speaking, but I do sense that society feels some ‘thing’ coming, and so their instinct tells them to take advantage while they’re able. Why else the roads so busy? Places booking up way ahead? These are not the signs of ‘tourists’, or ‘seekers of fun’, reduction. I’m not seeing this and I get around some. I haven’t been up to the Adirondacks of late but I cannot imagine the trailhead lots being less full than seasons past. I’m guessing people in droves are headed to the woods, more-so because of things the way they have been. Correct me if I’m wrong on this.

    ” the population of the USA and much of the developed world is likely to shrink dramatically if demographic trends continue.”

    > The population shrinking? Where? Not here in upstate New York! Even if there have been signs of a shrinking population, how long do you think that will last what with these religionists getting their way with taking away the abortion rights of women? You know…woman as in “my body my choice!” If they take away ‘Roe’, which seems to be the direction that we’re headed, you can bet we’re going to see a population increase not decrease. They’ll be more blacks, more whites, more people from all walks filling up the welfare rolls, more problems, which has me wondering who’s going to pay for that? The anti-abortion crowd? I have my doubts! That’s another whole story in itself!

  23. Zephyr says:

    Eric, even though it is really OT, I have to point out that your own personal preferences as to how you and your friends enjoy the Adirondacks are just that, your own. It is easy for all of us to project our own lifestyles onto others and imagine that’s the way everyone does it, but it simply isn’t true. I rarely hike with anyone other than my wife or close friends I have known for decades. I always seek quiet and places where I am unlikely to see many other people. However, even on the busiest trails it is rare to see people more than occasionally. People hike at different speeds and quickly you are alone on the trail. I know people who usually hike on their own, while others almost never go except in group outings with their club. Some people love the winter, while others hate it. Some only go to the High Peaks, while others avoid them except in the off season. There are already thousands of miles of snowmobile trails in the Daks, and some like to recreate that way. In short, there are many ways to enjoy the Adirondacks, and I think that is great!

  24. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Zephyr says: “Rural areas all over the country are losing population.”

    This may be so, but it does not apply to metro areas as they seem to be moving into those in flocks…..in the Capital region anyway. I stand and watch, and count the cars on, trains which come through where I live and I must say, the amount of lumber cars (lumber on flats) has been increasing steadily these past some years. That means construction is booming, which correlates with an increase in housing. I don’t know where they’re coming from but they’re coming in droves in the Capital region. All the woodlots coming down are a sore sight to see but that is what happens when society needs to be accommodated. When does it end? When there’s no green space left? That’s a serious question, even if it is a hundred years away. Surely they’ll be no such thing as ‘rural’ by then.

    • Zephyr says:

      It depends on how you define the Capital Region and what time span you are looking at. Albany and Troy lost population between 2020 and 2021. Towns like Saratoga Springs and Moreau grew a little bit. I know there is a lot of new construction in Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County. It is one of the few counties in Upstate to be growing. Judging from this article it isn’t a large change either way, but it was a pandemic year. Still, the point remains that rural areas are shrinking so increased numbers of wilderness visitors have to come from elsewhere, and with transportation costs rising I suspect tourist travel will be impacted. https://www.news10.com/news/local-news/capital-region-communities-grow-despite-pandemic/

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