Adirondack Park Agency commissioners appear closer to making a decision on wild forest roads and what constitutes a “material increase.” In a more than hour-long discussion last week, they considered a fourth option that may be sent to public comment at next month’s meeting, showing that the other three options may be fading into the background.
These policy questions are important because they could determine whether long-used roads are closed and if local governments support future state land acquisitions. Roads also impact the park’s ecology and in a presentation before commissioners, APA staff showed just how much a relatively small strip of road can impact wildlife habitat, invasive species spread and hydrological systems.
But first, here’s a quick recap on this policy-dense matter that has been circulating since May (and arguably since 1972, though the questions were more recently pressed).
Within the park’s leading policy document called the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, it states: “Public use of motor vehicles will not be encouraged and there will not be any material increase in the mileage of roads and snowmobile trails open to motorized use by the public in wild forest areas that conformed to the master plan at the time of its original adoption in 1972.” This means the APA has to determine what the existing mileage of wild forest roads was in 1972 and what it is today. It also has to decide what “material increase” means, and if paths open only to people with disabilities meet the definition of a road.
APA Deputy Director for Planning Megan Phillips presented three options for considering material increase of wild forest roads, but last week, she presented a fourth option. It suggests the estimated mileage of roads in wild forest is 206.6 miles and does not constitute a material increase in road mileage since 1972, when the estimated road mileage was 211.6. Theoretically, this could mean that should the state acquire more lands to add to the park’s forest preserve–those are lands protected by the “forever wild” clause of the state constitution–APA would have about 5 miles of roads that could be added without becoming a “material increase.” If the state acquired more lands and had already hit the cap of 211.6 miles, the APA would have decisions to make on road closures and whether new ones would be a “material increase” on a case-by-case basis.
The fourth option also notably does not include roads open to people with disabilities in the mileage count. If it did, the APA would be over the 211.6 miles and would be faced with considering road closures.
We’ll keep following this and have more for you from the upcoming meetings.
I’ll also quickly note that a 5-megawatt solar project in Moriah the APA approved in May 2021 has grown under a new permit with a new solar developer. The facility will be built in the area of Dugway Road and Tarbell Hill Road. Previously, the project was on about 18.7 acres of cleared area and now will be on about 23 acres. The reason for needing more land for the same amount of energy? The developer is now using a tracking array system where the panels will tilt with the sun. The previous project was going to use static panels. The APA passed the updated permit last week.
The APA also signed off on upgrades to the Sharp Bridge Campground in North Hudson. Plans were out for public comment at the end of November: https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/stories/apa-dec-seek-feedback-on-north-hudson-campground-plan. And in case you missed it, three state agencies and John Brown Lives! are working on some transformative plans at John Brown Farm State Historic Site in North Elba. There is a public comment period underway. You can read more about that here.
Image at top: This map from the Adirondack Park Agency shows public motor vehicle roads in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest.
This first appeared in Gwen’s weekly “Adirondack Report email updates. Click here to sign up.