Friday, November 18, 2022

DEC Illegally Rebuilt A Mile Of Road In The High Peaks Wilderness Area And The APA Swept It Under The Rug

A year ago, we published a piece in the Adirondack Almanack alerting the public to a weird incident where the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) had worked for two years to tear apart abandoned logging roads on newly purchased lands at the south end of the High Peaks Wilderness, only to go back in with heavy machinery and start to undo their work and rebuild the road. Heavy rains last December limited how much of the road the DEC was able to rebuild before winter set in, but by our measurements they managed to rebuild 0.82 miles.

According to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (Master Plan), roads are not allowed in Wilderness areas. They are considered a non-conforming use. Through the Unit Management Plan process, any roads in newly acquired lands should be converted to other uses, such as a hiking trail, or abandoned to slowly, inexorably rewild.

The road in question is an extension of the East River Road, which starts on the road to the Upper Works in Newcomb. It runs through Wild Forest lands and then through conservation easement lands. The road extends into the High Peaks Wilderness as a Primitive Corridor, where it connects two conservation easement tracts. Click here to see a map.

The state purchased these lands as part of the Boreas Ponds deal. The road is near Dudley Brook, in the MacIntyre East section of the High Peaks Wilderness Area. Under the 2018 UMP Amendment for the High Peaks, the only trail designated for this area was to be the new 8.2-mile White Lily Trail that starts at Boreas Ponds, wraps around White Lily Pond, and then is routed northwest towards the Opalescent River to connect with the existing “trail” to Allen Mountain. These former industrial forest lands had many vestiges from decades of logging, including miles of logging roads replete with benchcuts, borrow pits, and drainage ditches, as well as many grassy and open log landing areas. None of these landscape features were identified in the UMP for conversion to hiking trails or any other type of recreational use. This area was largely designated as a trailless area in the southern High Peaks Wilderness.

After the 2018 UMP Amendment was approved, the DEC approved a Work Plan in 2019 that authorized the reclamation of abandoned logging roads in the Dudley Brook area. The Work Plan stated: “Work will be completed to remove culverts, bridges and reclaim the road surface, on grades. This project will improve the recovery of the natural resources and enhance the Wilderness Experience of future users.”

The Work Plan further stated: “The intent of the work is to remove the larger infrastructure of the road system, hasten naturalization and support a future trail system. By removing the bridges and allowing the road system to start the recovery process, we provide a blank slate for the future of trail development. By designing the trail system from the start, to be a hiking trail system and not relying on using old roads, the Department is situating itself to create a sustainable trail system that blends with the forested surroundings and enhances the hiker’s overall trail experience.” The stated intent of the Work Plan was to dismantle and reclaim the existing logging road systems in the MacIntyre East area.

This road reclamation work marked a new approach by the DEC. Traditionally, DEC managed abandoned roads on the Forest Preserve through benign neglect, slowly letting them melt back into the forest, a process that takes many decades. In 2019-20, DEC staff undertook “naturalization” work to expedite forest reclamation on abandoned logging roads by creating a series of pits and mounds in the road corridors to mimic a natural intact forest landscape, dismantle the long linear geometric form of the roadway, and expose boulders. Similar work was undertaken on abandoned logging roads near Boreas Ponds.

Then things got weird, really weird.

In the fall of 2021, DEC abruptly reversed course. It brought in heavy machinery and started to undo the “naturalization” work undertaken in 2019-20 and re-installed a long stretch of the roadway. This was an unusual situation. As far as we can tell, the DEC had never removed a non-conforming use in a Wilderness Area and then turned around and re-installed it. Bad weather in the late fall limited how much they could do, but by our count, the DEC’s heavy machines removed 51 sets of pits and mounds and regraded and flattened out 0.82 miles of road in the southern High Peaks Wilderness Area.

At the time, DEC stated that its road reconstruction was necessary to correct purported mistakes in the “naturalization” work, protect water quality and public safety, and facilitate revegetation. DEC’s reversal of its prior forest reclamation work, and its explanation for why that work was supposedly necessary, are problematic in several respects.

A visit to the site in the fall of 2022 found that tangled wads of poorly installed silt fencing remained along with piles of trash. Intermittent streams cross the road over bare ground, causing erosion. There is no revegetation in the regraded roadway, though there is revegetation on the existing pits and mounds built in 2019-20. The road corridor with pits and mounds is no more difficult to travel upon than it is to bushwhack through the surrounding forest. The DEC re-installed road accomplished nothing for water quality, revegetation, or public safety.

DEC also poorly secured the road entrance. Three boulders were placed in the roadway to block motor vehicle access. Two large boulders were placed on each edge and a smaller “boulder” was set in the middle. The smaller middle boulder is easy to push aside, which based on the tire tracks from motor vehicles and ATVs has been done on a regular basis. The rebuilt road is facilitating illegal motor vehicle use.

The Master Plan makes it clear that roads have no place in a Wilderness area:

A wilderness area is further defined to mean an area of state land or water having a primeval character, without significant improvement or permanent human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve, enhance and restore, where necessary, its natural conditions, and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable. (p 22)

Nothing in this definition makes a long, linear 0.82-mile roadway allowable in a Wilderness area. This road is not a designated trail under conversion, it is simply an illegal road.

Master Plan Basic Wilderness Guideline 1 states: “The primary wilderness management guideline will be to achieve and perpetuate a natural plant and animal community where man’s influence is not apparent.” (p. 22) Rebuilding a road violates Basic Wilderness Guideline 1 because “man’s influence” is readily apparent in the long road and will remain so for years. Click here to see pictures that show clearly visible signs of “man’s influence” on the rebuilt roadway.

Basic Wilderness Guidelines 2a and 2c state: “In wilderness areas A)no additions or expansions of non-conforming uses will be permitted; C) non-conforming uses resulting from newly classified wilderness areas will be removed as rapidly as possible and in any case by the end of the third year following classification.” (p 22)

Basic Wilderness Guidelines 2a and 2c were violated by rebuilding this road, which is inarguably a non-conforming use. Reconstruction of this road was an addition or expansion of a non-conforming use that should not have been permitted.

The Master Plan provides even more guidance. Basic Wilderness Guidelines 3 states: “No new non-conforming uses will be permitted in any designated wilderness area.” (p. 23) The rebuilding of 0.82 miles of a road in a Wilderness area is a non-conforming use. The Master Plan requires that non-conforming structures or improvements, such as a road, should be removed from newly acquired Forest Preserve lands classified as Wilderness. The Master Plan also makes it clear that no new non-conforming structures or improvements, such as roads, will be allowed in Wilderness areas.

In rebuilding this road in the High Peaks Wilderness the DEC cavalierly violated the Master Plan.

Click here to read a new letter to the Adirondack Park Agency about its failure to properly investigate this incident.

Master Plan violations were brought to the APA, but the agency refused to act. The APA never even went to inspect the site. None of its staff, neither its legal staff, its Forest Preserve staff, its water quality or wetlands staff, none of them went to the site. As the crow flies, APA was content to review the situation from 40 miles away. APA’s “investigation” appears to have consisted of APA asking questions of the DEC and accepting DEC’s answers.

When asked about its “investigation” the APA also refused to provide any meaningful information to the public. A Freedom of Information Act response stated that their correspondence between the APA-DEC on this matter was withheld, and shielded from public scrutiny. We’re talking about public lands paid for with public funds and managed by public employees paid for with public funds. The heavy machinery that rebuilt the road was paid for with public monies. None of this stuff involves important state secrets. Yet, the public isn’t allowed to know about the details of management decisions on public lands.

As the APA sees it, the 0.82-mile road at the south end of the High Peaks Wilderness was not rebuilt and does not really exist. The APA wants us to believe that a 0.82-mile-long, flat, and graded road, that looks in every way like a road, which had been removed a year ago, and was then rebuilt, and is now being used by motor vehicles, is somehow not really a road.

The APA is dutifully doing the DEC’s dirty work, cleaning up the DEC’s mess. If the APA was an independent agency, it would not be doing its Forest Preserve like this. What the APA should be doing is upholding Forest Preserve policy and the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

The APA should do its Forest Preserve work without fear or favor, based on the law, and not sweep illegal actions by the DEC under the rug.

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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.




63 Responses

  1. Eric says:

    Seems pretty clear to me that someone at the DEC likes X-C Skiing. Old roads that are let to go to seed are perfect cross-country ski trails. Mounds and pits are most definitely not. I don’t really have a problem with them getting rid of the mounds and pits as long as they clean up their crappy fencing job and trash. X-C skiing always gets “the shaft” in wilderness areas. Let em have this one. Block the road properly, get the crap out of there, and let it go to seed. No need for mound-building.

  2. Rick Becker says:

    It seems like someone at the DEC is making their own rules. Flat roads are for novice XC skiers and (God forbid) snowmobilers. I’ve hiked Allen Mtn. and that stretch of land desperately needs to return to nature. A little variety by adding some mounds and being sensitive to water quality would be most welcome. Plant some milkweed out there, too.

  3. Tim says:

    Coming back from Allen several years ago, I took a detour to that area and was puzzled by all the machinery I saw back there. Thanks for elucidating. Inexcusable messing with designated wilderness.

  4. SH says:

    So where to go from here – seems to me this would not be a one-off, but the prelude to more – the APA/DEC needs to be challenged, in court, or there will be more …

    As far as FOIA is concerned – there is a time limit for response, if none there is a mechanism for appeal and after that the ability for a court challenge

    The law is being flouted here on several fronts, both with regard to DEC actions, APA lack of action and FOIA flouting ..

    • Chris Newton says:

      I wholeheartedly agree. There was a time when agencies focused upon “environmental” initiatives chose to bury nuclear waste out of sight and out of mind, all the while polluting the lands and water tables of low income communities deemed a lost cause anyhow. The example may be a bit dramatic (and I know it’s not an apples-to-apples correlation to what’s happening in the park) but history has proven time and again that an agency, regardless of its intention, is only as good as its level of public oversight. I hope that due diligence is applied and that both the DEC and APA are held accountable before this unfortunate situation is allowed to become precedent.

  5. Jeffrey Foster says:

    It’s very demoralizing when responsibility gets pushed aside when it involves public money. Who is the next level of responsibility? Are these workers appointed? elected?

  6. Glenn Weston says:

    I agree that the agencys should follow the law, and would prefer the benign neglect
    approach to old logging roads. Personally, we find the old roads beautiful, and our preferred way to peacefully enjoy the ADKs.

    • drdirt says:

      we agreee,.,.,. the loggers followed the terrain around and up and down our mountains w/ a lot of expertise and following the old logging roads is almost always the ‘correct way’ to hike. ,.,.. I’m all for just letting the old roads return to nature, as they always do ,.,.,., DEC and APA obviously had hidden agendas in this whole messy affair.

  7. Steve B. says:

    What’s to be done ?. If this were a private company, they’d be hit with significant financial penalties as well as possible criminal penalties against company owners and employees. But as a state agency there are no penalties that can be levied except firing the managers and employees responsible. That unfortunately deprives the agency of potentially retaining valuable and knowledgeable employees but does set a lesson learned for existing and future employees to not be breaking the law. Maybe in this case that’s what’s needed.

  8. William Mozdzier says:

    A little bit of road work, and you are all in a panic, meanwhile the dot is dumping !countless tons of salt in the park and ruining everything around them, and you say nothing !! Nothing but a bunch of hipocrites

    • Shane M Sloan says:

      For the sake of clarity, let me make sure I’ve got this right. Your comment minimalizes one bad thing in lieu of another, and you’re calling everyone else hypocrites? My guess is you’re one of the few Biden Harris signs that actually existed in 2020.

  9. Andrew Detar says:

    This is a recently designated wild river. As one who has been there with plans to go back I am saddened. I guess the agencies protecting our wilderness need watching. Another great expose by Mr. Baur.

  10. jorose says:

    I’d like Peter Bauer to comment on why the DEC, with the compliance of the APA,
    did this.

    • Boreas says:

      I would prefer to see the DEC and APA to comment, since they are the agencies involved and tasked with managing these areas.

  11. Boreas says:

    I am certainly not against criticizing DEC or APA, but I am simply having trouble getting my head around the how and why of the debacle. I would be very happy with a “we screwed up” explanation, as everyone makes mistakes – but in this case, WHICH job was the actual mistake? Silence is not golden with this matter. A simple – while possibly illogical or even illegal – explanation would put things to rest quickly and allow proper remediation. I mean it isn’t like someone re-routed the Northway through Boreas Ponds.

    • Anonymous says:

      The initial ‘mound building was fine but the rangers didn’t like it because they use ATV’s for rescues back there, the ‘re building/de mounding of the road was totally wrong and illegal

  12. Jeanne says:

    This certainly is odd and needs further explanation. I have always believed its important to question authority. APA DEC Answer why, where, how & when did the APA & DEC do this? There are many eyes watching.

    • Anonymous says:

      They dug up roads legally, higher ups and rangers didn’t like it, so a different group went back and re built the roads illegally for ranger access.

  13. David Vanderwalker says:

    NYSDOT should fine them heavily like DEC did them for just cutting tree on DOT land Right of way

  14. ADK Camper says:

    The work that DEC had done to “re-wild” the roads was unsightly and pretty much wrecked XC skiing opportunities. So, I’m actually glad that they’ve undone that mess.

    The tracks that you saw were likely from DEC rescue vehicles (ATVs) as they have long used the roads for extractions.

    DEC should have left the roads alone in the first place. They did the right thing by undoing their mess.

    This is Pete Bauer complaining just to complain.

    • Rick Becker says:

      And we shouldn’t complain when the law is broken?

      • Eric says:

        There’s no law saying they had to dig mounds and pits. They just can’t build a new road or add infrastructure to maintain the existing ones. They have some discretion in how they let existing roads go back to nature. They need to adequately block the road from vehicle traffic though that’s pretty clear.

    • Boreas says:

      “This is Pete Bauer complaining just to complain.”

      I personally am happy he brought this waste of money and resources to light – not to mention shining light onto the often questionably cozy relationship between these organizations not known for transparency.

      • ADK Camper says:

        Yeah, have more “happiness” while more money is wasted investigating this.
        Those roads shouldn’t have been destroyed in the first place. This isn’t a true Wilderness. This is DEC trying to replicate a “Wilderness” project. It’s a (recent) logging zone that some think can be turned into a “Wilderness” over night.
        Thankfully someone realized that this is stupid. Power to the XC Skiers.
        Buzz off.

        • Boreas says:

          And how will this “happy result” for skiers keep a similar situation from happening again?? These agencies need to be operating above board with a public mandate. Mistakes happen, but a simple investigation now to find where the system broke down and how it can be prevented in the future would be money well spent. There are many more miles of Wilderness “roads” to consider. No one will be “buzzing off” any time soon.

          • Boreas says:

            To continue, I am all for increasing skiing and/or other opportunities on these abandoned roads as long as the uses comply with Wilderness guidelines. But these agencies FIRST need to come up with a plan and present it to the public for proper comment before a shovel is turned. It may take a while to finalize the plan(s), but the owners – NYS citizens – need to be involved in the process. These agencies act under the NYS constitution and other than emergencies, need to act accordingly and not spin in circles, wasting taxpayer money.

  15. Shane M Sloan says:

    There isn’t an agency in NY state, on either political side, that isn’t corrupt. These are the same entities who green lit the clearcutting capabilities of developers at the Big Tupper project. Did the developer say they wouldn’t? Of course. But as with the plandemic, those in bed with NY know it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Sadly, they have learned they no longer need forgiveness either.

  16. Joan L Moore says:

    Well obviously the DEC has not read the Master Plan or just chooses to ignore it! I am very disappointed with the APA for not even caring enough to go and check it out! This is an opening to do things illegally in the Park and I don’t want to go there!

    • Shane M Sloan says:

      I agree completely. As was my concern with the Tupper Lake project. Gore was waiting for precedent to be set, so they could get their own permits. The environmental groups are just a couple of pigs in lipstick. Make it sound like they’re pro environment and nobody will look into it. I’m old enough to remember realizing that freedom fighters were anything but.

  17. Tom Paine says:

    Reopening a road they took illegally in the first place. Must be they realised they will loose in court again.

    • Dana says:

      The road was neither re-opened, nor was it taken illegally. But certainly there is evidence of mismanagement of the project.

  18. William Trojnor says:

    They need To open the trails up to ATV’s and UT v’s So that other people can enjoy the irondacks besides hikers and equestrians.

  19. Walter Tolcser says:

    This is great news for all disabled people who want to enjoy wilderness areas. Very inclusive for the state to do this.

  20. Nathan says:

    Shouldn’t you let the Dec do there job? Stop wasting taxpayer money challenging our state entities in court. Your special interest groups are ruining these lands, that should be available for everyone. How many acres in the preserve??? Hmmmm, why don’t you focus on. Your loon studies? Maybe you’ll figure out why they are killing off the Native ducks, like your trying to push out our Natives of this land.
    If I had to chose between the Duck Killers aka loons and You Crazy Loons, I’d choose the feathers every time.
    Go back to your lives and let the DEC do their job.

    It would pay, for you save every tree people to travel through VT, NH,and Maine. They are prime examples of successful forestry while keeping the land available for everyone’s use. Shocker, their animal populations are doing just fine.

    • Dana says:

      So their “job” is to spend tax dollars making a remote road impassable, then spend more tax dollars turning around and undoing their previous work??

    • Steve B. says:

      What the DEC is doing is in violation of state law. If it were a private company choosing to build a road thru the state forest with no permit, they would be fined and find themselves in court. Who holds the DEC liable for those same violations ?. Likely the state comptroller or other state investigating agency should be tasked to investigate with those making these decisions being fired. A lesson needs to be taught that deliberately violating state law has repercussions, state employee or not.

  21. Tom Paine says:

    The NYSDEC claimed the road was taken legally on the Jack Rabbit trail. In court we found out otherwise.

    • Dana says:

      Is that the road in question? No. What is your point, and what does it have to do with the discussion?

      • Steve B says:

        He’s simply pointing out that there have been prior instances of the DEC lying about their practices and projects they work on where the the work was subsequently found to be in violation of state law.

  22. Edward Holmes ( Ned ) says:

    My thoughts on this debauchle. One,why spend tax money removing old logging roads when it’s sorley needed to improve road infrastructure through out the Adirondacks. Old roads do take time for nature to reclaim but in the meantime cost is ZERO. In the meantime they provide hiking trails with no added cost of developing someone’s “vision” of what a trail should be. To my knowledge most designated hiking trails have evolved from paths being reused enough to warrant improvements for safety. Two, old logging roads provide a path for equipment necessary to control and fight a forest fire being by direct attack or creating fire breaks. just thought.

  23. Todd Eastman says:

    Seggos is running a political candy shop and the APA is showing that it has been coopted by development and motorized recreation interests.

    With action like Peter has described in this instance and others, this will go to the courts…

    BTW, if you want gentle XC skiing, go to a golf course…😎

  24. Shane M Sloan says:

    I’m seeing only comments about the road. It’s the cover-up which should be of concern and somehow doesn’t seem to be. What’s with you people? Have your political leanings made you so tribal as to let law and the park be damned?

  25. Dick Carlson says:

    I spent some time exploring the Branch Road and the two parking lot roads off the Elk Lake Road this past Summer/Fall. These are all old logging roads – extremely well built – they carried log trucks. There is evidence of new road work, replacing culverts, etc – not much “naturalization” at all.

  26. Nate says:

    I’m glad that they are removing these ditches. The damn things were 10’+ deep no joke! Where that equipment is parked I know the exact location and No I did not take the picture. We all have opinions and here is mine, for safety reasons for hikers/hunters or anyone that is using these trails. Think of this it was a very dry year what if there was a forest fire and we have all these ditches in the way, I guess just let the MF burn? They screwed up the first time now they are fixing it the way it should be don’t bitch unless you actually got something important to bitch about this is just a first world problem.

    • Steve B. says:

      If there is no human infrastructure nearby, the policy is probably going to be let it burn. It’s a natural process that can help the forest. They often are better off letting it happen, thus no need for roads for fire suppression.

  27. Ryan Austin says:

    If you really think DEC or APA is going to give you an honest answer about what their doing, well then I got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. The whole APA thing is a joke. A bunch of folks who don’t know a lot about wildlife and what it needs

  28. Tom Paine says:

    While we are on what is legal and what is not. There needs to be a complete legal investigation by the NYS AG’s office into all abandoned roads in the Adirondack Park, to determine if NYSDEC/APA acted illegally in closing these roads. As we have seen from the McCulley case and the Old Mountain Road (Jack Rabbit Ski trail) NYSDEC did in fact illegally close that road. This is just the tip of an iceberg of illegality across the Park.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Obviously a great conspiracy to drive the motorheads crazy…😱

      • Tom Paine says:

        Great conspiracy floating in who’s head?? 😱😱😱

        Todd Eastman says:
        November 20, 2022 at 2:08 pm

        Seggos is running a political candy shop and the APA is showing that it has been coopted by development and motorized recreation interests.

        • Anonymous says:

          You don’t know what you’re talking about, this road was re-built because the Forest Rangers made a big fuss about access for rescues and the DEC higher-ups in Albany went around the local land managers head and illegally re-built the roads. End of story. Theres no way a private citizens vehicle could access those roads. Locked behind multiple gates.

  29. AdkAck81 says:

    Nothing will happen here… Nothing

  30. Bill Keller says:

    The “High Peaks Karen’s” are at it again.

  31. Jackie Heisinger says:

    SHAME ON all you folks on the East coast! Get off your one eyed monster that has consumed more time bitching,blaming and bio-hazarding your brains! Take action “out there” yourself, or I’ll put it a better way…United we stand, Divided we fall! I live in The Pacific Northwest (Columbia River Gorge)retired Forestry (fire crew,campgrounds,civiculture, Pacific Crest Trail mngmnt/hiker, Eyes in the woods advocate, SMOKEY BEAR’S BFF, oh and can’t leave out Bigfoot! Anyway,got sidetracked there,sorry…People spend way to much of their life in Cyberspace instead of their planet! No good comes from that! You have one place to live,EARTH! One thing is certain…our Nations Forest are going to be shutting down due to disrespect, no communication ,education !!! So folks…slow the (s)pace down and get real. Ya just can’t fix STUPID! THANKS FOR LISTENING. Warmly,Jackie

  32. Anonymous says:

    This is what happens when you have elected officials (politicians) selecting the APA members and the DEC Commissioner. WE need these positions voted in by the people of New York.

  33. Andrew Detar says:

    Irrational response, off topic. You should proof read before calling an entire population of people stupid only for their geographical location. In your long list of skills you forgot troll lol.

  34. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Shane M Sloan says: “But as with the plandemic…..”

    I haven’t had the time, or mind, to respond, or even read most of the responses to Peter’s story above, but while quickly browsing before I go back to the ‘on-the-clock’ project I’ve been working on, I just wanted to respond to the above which struck me as just more of a continuance of the psychology of a great number of those amongst us.

    ‘plandemic’ which I take to mean the pandemic we’re in was by design. It may as well could have been (though I highly doubt it was) but also why couldn’t it have been just another one of the multitudes of pandemics which have cropped up over the centuries. Pandemics are nothing new which if we knew our history we’d know that. What is new is our response to this latest one, our anti-science stance which is surely going to catch up to all of us due to the few of us who thrive on fairy tales, or big lies. It’s unfortunate! It is why, at the very least, education is important!

  35. Andrew Detar says:

    All the education in the world won’t stop willful ignorance. All the evidence in the world won’t change a mind predisposed. There are many “smart” people who just want to believe in debunked nonsense.

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