Editor’s note: This first appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Adirondack Explorer magazine. In this regular column, we invite organizations and/or individuals to address a particular issue. Click here to subscribe to the magazine, available in both print and digital formats: www.adirondackexplorer.org/subscribe.
The question: Should ORDA reshape Whiteface?
Seeking a just Whiteface trail plan
We object to the current draft of the Unit Management Plan Amendment proposed by ORDA for upgrades at Whiteface Mountain. We join the youth of the world and many world citizens who are finally facing facts and mobilizing to mitigate climate change and promote climate, social and economic justice.
The new plan prioritizes widening of ski racing trails to accommodate the upcoming World University Games and other national and international events. The plan initially called for deforestation of 27,000 trees, including parts of the habitat of the Bicknell’s thrush, a bird that is of high conservation priority. The current plan is less precise, with ORDA’s legal counsel saying, “the process will determine just how many trees need to be cut.” Forests help stabilize the climate, regulate ecosystems, and play an integral part in the carbon cycle. We have an obligation to stop deforestation at a global and local level. Using New York State taxpayers’ money for deforestation to create a bigger playground for the wealthy and privileged is the antithesis of social, economic and climate justice.
Deforestation is contrary to the slogan and educational mission of World University Games, “Save Winter.” Deforestation does not align with the mission of the Adirondack Park Agency to preserve the Adirondack Forests or ROOST’s objective to embrace a regional approach to improve environmental sustainability.
Sustainability, save winter, stewardship of the environment, and climate justice are not just slogans. These require all of us to change our current behavior and practices. It seems that increased revenue outweighs the potential environmental and social impact of local projects. When leaders pitch projects with the smoke screen of being “good” for the local area, we need to ask, “Good for whom?”
The ORDA venue expansions are funded by our tax dollars and have benefited local hotel owners, short term vacation rental owners, Realtors and restaurant owners, while community members are increasingly being priced out of the local economy. With recent increases in season pass prices, some locals are being robbed of the opportunity to participate in the recreational activities their taxes are funding. Many of us have taken a step back from volunteering at ORDA events because of this.
Social, economic and climate justice are intertwined constructs that require action and vigilance. We need to do the hard work of moving forward with improvements that are not detrimental to the environment and are just and fair to the community.
— Tim Reynolds, an IBM employee, and Shelley Reynolds, a retired teacher and a four-year ORDA volunteer nordic ski course marshal and starter assistant, live in Lake Placid
Whiteface tree removal needed for world events
Deforestation isn’t the right word. That’s sensationalizing the issue. With the alpine race trails, we look to conform to the standards of safety. The sport has evolved with shaped skis and the turns are faster. The courses need to be wider to accommodate a safe venue for the events.
Trail widening called for by governing bodies of these international events require homologated (specially designed) trails. Whiteface has one, but the standard is to have two, one for training, the other to simultaneously race on. That allows us to keep all the racing athletes in one area separate from the general public.
We want to widen the trails to separate athlete from the guest.
We want to widen existing trails and add new connector trails to keep lower-level skiers in areas more appropriate for their ability. Wider trails improve traffic flow and help ease snowmaking and grooming.
Also, we plan a new lift so people can get to the lodge easier, even without skiing there. And staff can avoid using snowmobiles to ferry staff and food.
We plan new trails for hiking and biking to connect to Wilmington Wild Forest and Flume Trails—front country solutions to growing issues in the backcountry.
As for the Bicknell’s thrush, we hope to protect the area above 2,800 feet by barring tree cutting from May 15 to Aug. 1 when the bird is using high elevations for summer breeding. The Northern New York Audubon Society says this is sufficient to protect the nesting birds. “The habitat changes, made outside the nesting period, to add a few, short hiking trails above 2,800 feet may even add preferable edge habitat for nesting,” said Joan Collins, the society’s conservation chair.
ORDA takes great care to ensure its tree cutting actions are reasonable and purposeful. Our ski racing trail widening is our focus right now. Most of the tree cutting is for the construction and improvement of alpine ski trails which is already authorized under Article 14, the wild forest provision.
Mountain biking and hiking trail expansion is on pause until the state sets its tree-cutting policies.
Tree cutting for constitutionally authorized ski trail widening and construction on Forest Preserve lands will cover 12.5 acres of the 2,910-acre intensive use area. It will result in 3,335 trees greater than 3 inches to be cut and 6,593 slimmer trees to be cut.
— Olympic Regional Development Authority CEO Mike Pratt and staff (from statements and records)
Photo: Whiteface ski patrol, courtesy of ORDA