Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Wild Forest roads questions continue

roads in wild forest

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.

You can read more about all of this here.

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.

Related Stories


Gwen is the environmental policy reporter for Adirondack Explorer.




18 Responses

  1. Eric says:

    This is the dumbest discussion I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen some dumb ones over the years. By a plain reading of the act it obviously meant that more roads shouldn’t be built on what they currently have and that no new ones should be added on future lands they acquire. It was in no way meant to discourage future land acquisitions that may have an existing road. The mental gymnastics some of these people go through to try to get their way is insane.

    • Boreas says:

      Eric,

      I am not sure about the mental gymnastics mentioned here. Can you point me to where it is suggested that anyone “…discourage future land acquisitions that may have an existing road”? Indeed existing roads may complicate an acquisition, but I don’t see what discourages the purchase.

      On any acquisition since APA was instituted, vigorous differences in land usage during the classification process ensued. As long as this discussion is above-board and not done in secret with key stakeholders PRIOR to acquisition, this discussion should be part of the process. But we have certainly found out what happens when the cart is put before the horse.

  2. An Adirondack Resident says:

    The number that defines “material increase” should be proportional to the amount of Forest Preserve. In other words, if the state acquired more land, than the allowable road mileage should go up the same percentage as the land increase.

    This is what should have happened with the snowmobile trail mileage cap of 848.88 miles established in 1972, but it didn’t. The state acquired millions of acres of land, mostly former timberlands, some of which had trails on the logging roads. No new trails were built, but the existing trails in these parcels still pushed the total trail mileage closer to the limit.

    Think about this: Even horses are not allowed on the about half of Forest Preserve (Wilderness classification). Do you think that if this restriction was included in the original “Forever Wild” language it would have been supported?

  3. Boreas says:

    AAR states:

    “The number that defines “material increase” should be proportional to the amount of Forest Preserve. In other words, if the state acquired more land, than the allowable road mileage should go up the same percentage as the land increase.”

    I understand the overall logic of this statement, but it simply is not spelled out this way in the the current SLMP. As quoted above:

    “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.”

    The last part of this statement spells out “…at the time of its original adoption in 1972.” and does not address future acquisitions. I agree it should – while I am no lawyer or expert on the subject – but an amendment to the SLMP may need to happen to address this “proportional” cap. I also feel the issue of snowmobile and other off-road motorized vehicles, disabled-only access, and equestrian use should be studied for environmental and economic consequences, and addressed in any review of the SLMP.

    But in my opinion, machinations to manipulate the certain narrow inadequacies of the current SLMP that do not address the overall direction and plan for the Park should be avoided. I believe this “overall plan” for the Park SHOULD be re-evaluated in its entirety (and not piecemeal) 50 years on.

  4. Todd Eastman says:

    “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.”

    The use of the word “material”, which in this case equates with “important”, appears to have been chosen for its vagueness. Some wiggle room there.

    “Public use of motor vehicles will not be encouraged and …” is clear.

    • Boreas says:

      ““Public use of motor vehicles will not be encouraged and…” is clear.”

      Indeed! I too see this as the key here.

      This was the plan and direction 50 years ago at inception of the APA. Perhaps we should consider a moratorium on any land use changes or acquisitions until the long-term, overall mission, plan, direction, and even EXISTENCE of the APA is reconsidered by taxpayers. Do it once, do it right.

    • Tom Paine says:

      By NYS law a snowmobile is not classified as a motorized vehicle. They have their own classification of recreational vehicle.

  5. Tom Paine says:

    After the McCulley/Jack Rabbit trail lawsuit, an investigation by the NYS Attorney General’s Office or a special council into all roadways that have been deemed abandoned by NYSDEC and APA and then illegally confiscated within the Park is overdue. How many miles have been illegally confiscated from the Adirondack Park counties, towns and villages? Breaking the law to benefit one user group is still breaking the law. The tip of a very big iceberg.

    • Boreas says:

      “Breaking the law to benefit one user group is still breaking the law.”

      Indeed! Why is this so often misunderstood? And why is it so often overlooked? All stakeholders seem guilty of compliance waffling when their interests come into play. Job security for lawyers.

  6. Roberthameline@gmail.com says:

    Well that map makes absolutely no sense, it says road back to indian lake, then to indian river, it’s been closed from brook trout to squaw for 4 years and from squaw to indian for 20, and from indian down to the river for 60. So if your using the mileage data with these roads included, your numbers are off. I am not in favor of opening up the road to squaw or indian, I like it as it is.
    Rob Hameline

  7. JIM CARMAN says:

    The state is being disingenuous here. The Moose River Plains purchase mandated that the existing roads at the time of purchase be kept accessible for sporting use. The state has abandoned the road access to Indian and Squaw Lakes and beyond. This is not a gain in road access it is a loss in what existed and was agreed to in the purchase. Yes, there is an increase in trash and slob behavior in the Plains but the solution should not be an abandonment of access, but a return to the original patrols and monitoring of the past. Originally there were manned stations at both entrances and far more frequent patrols. The fact that the state has not fulfilled it’s man power obligations for Forest Rangers and ECON officers is not a viable excuse for closing the roads.

    • An Adirondack Resident says:

      Exactly. The state has not complied with the terms of the Moose River Plains purchase. Perhaps they may claim that accessible does not necessarily mean open to motor vehicle use, but I highly doubt that that was the original intent of the deal. The Indian Lake Road is now closed at Brooktrout instead of Squaw. How long before they move it back further? Or close the loop road or permanently close Rock Dam?

  8. Kurt Rogers says:

    Why don’t you just leave the rd issue alone? You claim it’s an environmental hazard to the
    Adirondack Park. yet there are highways thru the preserve that have been built and need to be maintained since the park was established. Why not close some of these as well? Certainly there is more traffic on these rds than any rds thru the Moose River Plains. This isn’t an environmental issue, its an issue of people with $$$$ /APA wanting their precious hands off land. The MRP was given to the State and was to be used for recreational purposes, not ” Forever Wild”. I feel that protecting the environment is important but imposing your will to do as you please with the backing of $$$ and politicians is unacceptable. Probably the smartest thing that could have been done would have been accommodating the handicapped a little before the lawsuit? Yet again, another group with their own agenda. But, they won and now we should suffer with rd closures? The original 2 of the 3 persons involved in the Lawsuit don’t even live in NY, and I believe one of them passed away shortly after the lawsuit ended! The APA is over stepping the boundaries of what the park is about and what it was meant to be.

  9. Barry Hewitt says:

    You can put up an ugly solar farm but we can’t have a cell tower near the Number Four area so we can use cell phones in an emergency or internet if we want it. We have to rely on pathetic Frontier where our phones don’t work 50 per cent of the time and they won’t let us have internet

  10. Charlie Stehlin says:

    JIM CARMAN says: “Yes, there is an increase in trash and slob behavior in the Plains but the solution should not be an abandonment of access, but a return to the original patrols and monitoring of the past.”

    That was a long time ago JIM…original patrols. I’m of the mind that no matter how much manpower there is to protect a wilderness from slobs, it will never be enough as we are who we are and those patrols cannot babysit around the clock which is what would be needed to stop the trashing of Moose River, or anywhere for that matter. We all have our stories about how things have changed so much compared to the way they used to be. The Catskills are a haven for slobs too, and though there may have always been a problem with ‘trash and slob behavior’ it just never seems to have been the way it is now as it was back then. It could be said that maybe we weren’t as conscious of it back then as we are now, but even then it still seems by far worse nowadays which makes sense when you look at the rest of our mass behavior in general, ie……there’s seems to me a major lack of empathy towards all that is good or towards things which have substantial meaning in life.

    • JIM CARMAN says:

      Even though you do not actually state it, your tone implies to me that the current lack of access should be maintained. To carry that thought process to it’s logical next step, access reduction should progress even further until access to the Plains should eventually be limited to the Cedar River and Limekiln gates. I am a realist in the sense that I view mankind as barely evolved from it’s animalistic heritage and therefore there will always be the slob element amongst us. But abandonment is not the ethical answer in my opinion. Increased enforcement and heavy consequences for abusers, while not being a cure all for man’s slob element… is a far fairer method for those of us that love and care for the Plains. Ultimately, your and my opinions are irrelevant as far as the state is concerned. They will do as they damn well please. But they will hear my voice regardless, as well as yours I suspect.

  11. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Increased enforcement and heavy consequences for abusers, while not being a cure all for man’s slob element… is a far fairer method for those of us that love and care for the Plains.”

    I’m with you on this Jim, and I didn’t mean to imply other-than if I came off that way. My earliest camping experiences go back to the Moose River Plains half a hundred years ago, and they are dear to my heart I assure you. My dad, when he was alive, used to talk of the days when the Indian Lake Road in Moose River took him all the way back to the Indian River. He used to enjoy driving back there and he just loved the solitude that far in. I was back in there surely 14 years ago by now when there was still car access to Squaw and Indian Lake’s, spent four days and nights in them lonely woods in a camp set way off the road up from Moose River. That old road (back into Into Indian River) was a trail 14 years ago, the woods on both sides coming over and nearly enveloping it. I believe that trail began just after Indian Lake where the road dead-ended up to it. Just beautiful way back in there! The last time I was back in there they had boulders over the road so that you had to walk a distance to get to Squaw Lake, and of course, beyond. We can come up with the money for this and that, but when it comes to money for protecting and safeguarding usage (for us taxpayers) for places such as Moose River, there’s no big push evidently which is unfortunate for people like you and me and many others who feel that sense of ‘awe’ which comes with being immersed in those sacred woods. It is things like these which make me appreciate and savor all of my moments past and present!

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *