Posts Tagged ‘Trails – Access – Navigation Rights’

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Canoe Rights Advocates Go On the Offensive

The Sierra Club—the same people who thought they had re-established canoe rights once and for all in New York State with a lawsuit-baiting paddle down the South Branch of the Moose River in 1991—wants to make sure that private landowners and state officials recognize what that trip accomplished.

In a letter sent last month, the Sierra Club’s Adirondack Committee asked the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to enforce public navigation laws by making an Adirondack landowner remove cables and signs strung across Shingle Shanty Brook.

“This is a clear-cut case where those laws have been violated by Brandreth [Park Association] for many years,” an August 27 letter to DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis states. “DEC should order the Brandreths to remove the cable and intimidating signs from the State’s right-of-way where they have long been a threat to paddlers and a hindrance to navigation.”

Four canoeists and a kayaker affiliated with the Sierra Club were sued for trespass nearly two decades ago when they attempted to paddle the Moose River through the Adirondack League Club near Old Forge. The test case worked its way through the courts for seven years before it affirmed the right of recreational paddlers in New York not only to float through private land via rivers but to use the banks to portage around obstacles (for background see this Almanack article, or this brochure on the history and status of navigation rights).

The Moose River ruling said streams that are “navigable in fact” are open for public passage. There’s room for disagreement about the definition of “navigable in fact” on rivers such as the Beaver between Lake Lila and Stillwater Reservoir, which is really only passable for about a week after ice-out.

Other waterways, such as the East Branch of the St. Regis River and Shingle Shanty, seem to meet navigability criteria, yet landowners continue to post them. Paddlers could use the disputed section of Shingle Shanty on a traverse from Lake Lila to Little Tupper Lake with a short carry around a dam at Mud Pond. Here’s a recent account of that trip by Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown.

A June 2008 article in the DEC magazine The Conservationist by agency attorney Kenneth Hamm states, “[A]ttempts by landowners to interfere with the public’s right to freely navigate violates the State’s trust interest in the waterway. Either the State or the public can sue if a landowner tries to interfere with the public’s right to navigate on navigable waterways.” In the late 1980s DEC was still arresting paddlers for trying to access rivers involving private land. Its enforcement policy shifted, to uphold paddler rights, in 1991.

Nobody has sued a landowner yet. Charles Morrison, a retired DEC official who co-signed the Sierra Club letter as the group’s public navigation rights coordinator, has been focused on codifying riparian-rights case law and common law in statute. A bill has an Assembly sponsor but has been stymied in the dysfunctional state Senate. If the legislature and the DEC don’t take up the issue, we might see a paddler as plaintiff rather than defendant in the next navigation rights lawsuit.

Here is the Sierra Club letter to DEC:

Dear Commissioner Grannis:
 
We are writing to request that DEC take action to remove the blockage of the State-owned public right-of-way on Mud Pond and a segment of Shingle Shanty Brook between the outlet of Mud Pond and the downstream Forest Preserve boundary. This blockage, where these navigable waterway segments flow on private land adjacent to the William C. Whitney Wilderness, is maintained by the Brandreth Park Association. It consists of a cable strung across Shingle Shanty Brook by Brandreth at the downstream Forest Preserve boundary and a number of posting signs, all erected by Brandreth. (For general location, see sketch map of the Mud Pond-Shingle Shanty Brook through-segment and vicinity, Attachment 1.)
 
This blockage forces paddlers to use a very rough one-mile carry trail through the Forest Preserve instead of this easy waterway route.
 
As discussed and documented in the attached“Illegal Blockage of Shingle Shanty Brook and Mud Pond in the Whitney Wilderness Vicinity,” these impediments to public navigation violate both State public nuisance law and the public’s right under State law to freely navigate on navigable waterways. They are infringements on the navigational easement that the State holds in trust for the public. This also is a critical link between Little Tupper Lake and Lake Lila in the heart of the proposed 500,000-acre Great Oswegatchie Canoe Wilderness (GOCW), whose creation has been advocated by the Sierra Club and other conservation organizations. (See map in enclosed GOWC brochure showing this larger area, Attachment 2.) The GOWC includes Lows Lake and the Bog River, the Five Ponds Wilderness Area and the Pigeon Lake Wilderness Area, all of which are accessible from the Whitney Wilderness by paddlers.   

We actually are asking DEC to do several things. First, with regard to the case at hand, enforce existing State public nuisance and public navigation rights law in accordance with the 1991 DEC enforcement guidance memorandum on this subject. This is a clear-cut case where those laws have been violated by Brandreth for many years in the name of their deeded recreation rights.  DEC should order the Brandreth to remove the cable and intimidating signs from the State’s right-of-way where they have long been a threat to paddlers and a hindrance to navigation.
 
Second, DEC should ensure that Brandreth’s surrogate, Potter Properties LLC, amends its 2007 deed concerning its illegal claim to navigation rights on the waterway segments at issue, to reflect the State’s ownership of these rights. This is discussed below.

Third, we ask DEC staff to honor the several commitments made during the Sierra Club’s December, 2007 meeting with them, which were to:

—revise, update and reissue the 1991 DEC enforcement memorandum for public navigation rights as soon as possible.
 
—remove the text on navigation rights in the black bordered box on page 3 of the DEC Whitney Wilderness brochure. This text erroneously states that a court decision is needed to find that a waterway is navigable in order for it to be truly navigable-in-fact, which is incorrect.
 
—help to educate the public about their lawful rights and obligations by issuing a statewide flyer or brochure that combines and expands on  the information that is in Kenneth Hamm’s article and the John Humbach-Charles Morrison article, both of which are described below. The flyer would be widely disseminated through all DEC Regional Offices and via DEC’s website.   

Fourth, DEC needs to let paddlers know, in DEC’s brochure for the Whitney Wilderness, that the vital Mud Pond-Mud Pond Outlet-lower Shingle Shanty Brook link is open to the public for navigational purposes, for through travel.
 
It is particularly important to follow through with these committed actions in view of the delay in getting a bill (A.701) passed in both houses of the Legislature to codify the public right of navigation in a single statute and give DEC specific authority to issue regulations, including a list of navigable waterways that would be subject to amendment based on field investigations. We appreciate DEC’s collaboration in drafting this legislation.
 
Please let us know if we can provide any other information to aid DEC’s pursuit of this enforcement case, or if we can help with any of the agenda items to which DEC committed itself in 2007. Thank you for your attention to the abuse of the public’s rights on Mud Pond and Shingle Shanty Brook.
 
Sincerely,
 
Roger Gray, Co-Chairman, Adirondack Committee
John Nemjo, Co-Chairman, Adirondack Committee
Charles C. Morrison, Adirondack Committee, Public Navigation Rights Project Coordinator

Encl. Main attachment and eleven (11) numbered attachments

cc: Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General
     Judith Enck, Deputy Secretary for Environment, Executive Chamber
     Stuart Gruskin, Executive Deputy Commissioner, DEC
     Allison Crocker, General Counsel, DEC
     Michael Lenane, Deputy Commissioner, DEC
     Christopher Amato, Assistant Commissioner, Natural Resources, DEC
     James Tierney, Assistant Commissioner, Water and Watersheds, DEC
     Robert Davies, Director, Division of Lands and Forests
     Kenneth Hamm, Associate Attorney, DEC Office of General Counsel
     Christian Ballantyne, Director, Legislative Affairs, DEC
     Elizabeth Lowe, DEC Region 5 Director
     Christopher LaCombe, Regional Attorney, DEC Region 5
     Brian Huyck, Enforcement Coordinator, DEC Region 5
     Katherine Kennedy, Director, Environmental Protection, Depart. of Law
     Lisa Burianek, Environmental Protection, Department of Law
     Curtis Stiles, Chairman, Adirondack Park Agency
     Terry Martino, Executive Director, Adirondack Park Agency

Photograph of the East Branch of the St. Regis River


Sunday, September 6, 2009

APA Meeting: Wind, Snowmobiles, Cell Towers, DOT, Lows Lake

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) will hold its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Wednesday, September 9 through Friday September 11 at APA Headquarters in Ray Brook. Meeting topics (detailed below) will include: two new cellular towers in North Hudson; the expansion of Adventure Bound Camps; a new permit application for wind energy projects; the 2009 New York State Draft Energy Plan; an agreement on travel corridor management between the Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the APA; DEC and APA guidance for snowmobile trail construction and maintenance; the classification proposals for land and water in the vicinity of Lows Lake and the Five Ponds Wilderness Area. The September meeting will be webcast live on the Agency’s homepage; meeting materials are available for download at http://www.apa.state.ny.us/Mailing/0909/index.htm » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

8-Mile Reroute of Northville-Placid Trail Complete

A reroute of the Northville Placid Trail has been completed by Adirondack Mountain Club professional trail crews (under contract with DEC) to move the trail off Cedar River Road and into the Blue Ridge Wilderness; the trail has been constructed, marked, and is now open for public use. Although others are planned, this is the first of the DEC’s road-to-trail projects to be implemented on the Northville-Placid Trail.

Previously, the trail followed the Cedar River Road for 6.6 miles between Wakely Dam and the former McCane’s Resort in the Town of Indian Lake, Hamilton County. The new trail section – eliminating all but 0.7 miles of road walking – passes through old growth forest of sugar maple, yellow birch, hemlock and red spruce. » Continue Reading.


Friday, September 4, 2009

APA Seeks Public Comments On Snowmibile Trails

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) is now accepting public comments on Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan compliance for proposed guidance on snowmobile trail siting, construction and maintenance on State Lands in the Adirondack Park. The draft document is available from the APA here. The public comment period will end September 30, 2009. The APA State Land Committee will deliberate whether the draft standards and guidelines are consistent with the State Land Master Plan at their monthly meeting on September 10th.

The proposed document will follow-up the October 2006 Snowmobile Plan for the Adirondack Park’s Environmental Impact Statement. According to a press reelease issued by the agency today: “The 2006 Snowmobile Plan established a framework to reconfigure the Adirondack Park State Land snowmobile trail system through the Unit Management Plan process. The goal of this comprehensive plan is to improve safe connections between Park communities and minimize potential adverse environmental impacts. In addition, this plan promotes relocating snowmobile trails from the remote interior to the periphery of Wild Forest classified State Lands.”

The following are highlights of the proposed document provided by the APA:

Shift snowmobile use from the remote interior or Wild Forest areas to the periphery of Wild Forest areas.

Establish ”community connector” or Class II snowmobile trails, to be located in the periphery of Wild Forest areas, with slightly wider than present standards (9ft maximum width; 12 ft width on curves and steep slopes over 15% grade);

Establish “secondary” or Class I snowmobile trails which would provide recreational opportunities other than connecting communities. The Class 1 trails would be maintained at a maximum 8ft cleared trail width at all locations;

Allow grooming of “community connector” trails with small tracked groomers;

Allow grooming of “secondary” trails by snowmobiles with drags only;

Ensure both “community connector” and “secondary” snowmobile trails will retain essential characteristics of foot trails;

Ensure snowmobile route design, construction and maintenance activities will be carried out pursuant to Snowmobile Trail Work Plans developed by DEC staff in consultation with APA staff.

Following the APA State Land Committee meeting on September 10th, the APA will continue to collect public comments for the full APA Board prior to the October 8-9 monthly meeting. Written comments received after September 30, will be provided to Agency members but will not be part of the official record. During the October meeting the Full Agency may render a formal State Land Master Plan determination on the snowmobile standards and guidelines document.

Written comments should be addressed to:

James Connolly, Deputy Director – Planning
Adirondack Park Agency
P.O. Box 99
Ray Brook, NY 12977

Or e-mail: [email protected]


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What’s On Your Adirondack Stimulus Money Wish List?

The Herkimer County Progressive blog’s post A Local Stimulus Wish List got me wondering what folks in the Adirondacks would want to do with stimulus money. It’s a question our politicians didn’t bother to really ask – so here’s your opportunity to sound off.

New or improved trails?
Light rail?
Sewer system installations or upgrades?
Educational upgrades?
Rooftop highway?
Invasive eradication?
Property tax relief?
Additions to the Forest Preserve?
Energy projects?

The question is basically if you had unlimited money, but had to prioritize, where would you put it?


Thursday, June 25, 2009

$250k For Local Snowmobile Clubs, Trails

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has announced $3.3 million in grant awards for 32 trail-related projects around the state as part of the federal Recreational Trails Program. Over a quarter million dollars is slated to be spent on local snowmobile trails. The grants will be used for such projects as creating new trails, improving trails, providing connections and purchasing equipment. Trail development plans must emphasize providing access for people with disabilities and minimizing environmental impact.

New York has one of the most expansive trail systems in the nation. The trails, which lead through public and private lands, are developed and maintained by state and local municipalities and volunteers.

State Parks administers the federal matching grant program providing funding to state and local governments, not-for-profit organizations, corporations, and partnerships for the maintenance, renovation, development, acquisition and construction of trails and trail-related facilities. Funding is provided through the Federal Highway Administration’s Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

Projects recommended for funding in the Adirondack counties include:

Hamilton County

Pleasant Rider Snowmobilers Inc $54,900 – The grant will go toward the purchase of equipment for public snowmobile trail maintenance in Lake Pleasant, Hamilton County.

Herkimer County

Salisbury Ridgerunners Snowmobile Club, Inc. $132,782 – The Salisbury Ridgerunners Snowmobile Club will purchase equipment to groom and improve 79 miles of heavily utilized, multipurpose, year-round trails in the Southern Adirondack-Mohawk Valley region.

Jefferson County

Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District $107,760 – The project is to restore approximately six miles of trails, including improving stream crossings and drainage, on two county forest lots as part of a multi-county trails system.

Village of West Carthage $114,908 – The village will expand public and pedestrian access, walkways, and amenities at the South Main Street Boat Launch area, including an asphalt walkway, a picnic shelter, a wood chip wetland trail, a concrete boat launch ramp, an asphalt road and parking area, tree plantings, interpretive panels and signage, and benches.

Lewis County

Lewis County Department of Forestry, Parks and Recreation $110,550 – The project will create a Tug Hill Trail System using county reforestation lands, and private land for motorized and non-motorized recreation.

Barnes Corners Sno-Pals, Inc. $37,064 – The Barnes Corners Sno-Pals, which maintains over 100 miles of snowmobile trails, will purchase an all-season tractor with a front end loader and rotary cutter to perform all-season trail maintenance.

Saratoga County

Town of Halfmoon $200,000 – The Town of Halfmoon will construct a second segment of the Champlain Canal Towpath trail.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Wilmington: New Multi-use Flume Trail System Opens

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has officially opened the Flume Trail System as the first trail system on forest preserve lands in the Adirondacks designed to allow mountain biking. Representatives and staff from DEC, the Town of Wilmington, the Wilmington Mountain Peddlers, Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) and Whiteface Mountain Ski Area and the members of the public attended a ribbon cutting ceremony at the trailhead in the Wilmington Wild Forest. Earlier that morning volunteers spent time working on the trails. Afterward the Town of Wilmington and the Wilmington Mountain Peddlers hosted a barbecue.

The Flume Trail System includes approximately eight miles of trails for four season recreational activities including mountain biking, hiking, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. The trails were designed to meet the specifications of the International Mountain Bicycling Association and include trails rated as easy, moderate and hard. The system includes a trail along the West Branch of the Ausable River and a hiking only trail to Flume Knob.

The majority of the trails lie within the Wilmington Wild Forest unit of the forest preserve, however, approximately two miles of trail are located on the Whiteface Mountain Ski Area, which is operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority.

The Town of Wilmington strongly advocated for mountain bike trails during DEC’s development of the management plan for the Wilmington Wild Forest. In addition to the Flume Trail System, the management plan, which was approved in October 2005, also proposes a seven mile multi-use trail system in the Beaver Brook Tract, off of Hardy Road, designed to include mountain biking. The Town also appropriated funds to pay for the Adirondack Mountain Club’s professional trail crew to construct new trail segments at the Flume in 2007.

The Wilmington Mountain Peddlers have been involved from the early days of trail development at the Flume, and have also been strong advocates for mountain bike trails. The group has volunteered countless hours to construct and maintain the trails. They will continue to maintain the Flume Trail System under DEC’s Adopt-A- Natural-Resource program.

In addition to work by their professional crew, the Adirondack Mountain Club has organized numerous volunteer work projects to upgrade existing trails and construct new trail segments at the Flume. An ADK volunteer trail crew will be constructing a new trail to connect the Flume Trail System with the Whiteface Trail from the Wilmington reservoir this summer.

The Whiteface Mountain Ski Area has allowed some of their trails to be included in the Flume Trail network for the free use of the public. These include a scenic trail along the West Branch of the Ausable River, utilized by bikers, hikers, and anglers. Mountain bikers can pay a fee to access the ski areas other 25 trails and the gondola to the top of Little Whiteface. Crews from Whiteface also assisted in the construction of some of the initial trails in the trail system. A proposed hiking only trail to Bear Den Cliffs, will be constructed in the future on the Whiteface Mountain Ski Area lands, and will be open to the public as part of the Flume Trail system.

The Flume Trail System can be accessed from trailhead on Route 86, approximately 2 miles west of the hamlet of Wilmington or from the Kid’s Campus parking lot at the Whiteface Mountain Ski Area.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Volunteers: Cranberry Lake 50, National Trails Day

June 6th is National Trails Day and Adirondack region hikers will have an opportunity to volunteer, at Cranberry Lake in the western Adirondacks. Each year, the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) sponsors an event in conjunction with the American Hiking Society’s celebration of National Trails Day. This year, ADK’s event will celebrate the Cranberry Lake 50, the recently completed 50-mile loop around the lake.

According to the ADK: “Volunteers will spend the day performing trail-maintenance work, such as cutting brush, removing blowdown and building waterbars and rock steps, under the supervision of an ADK trail professional. One crew will tour the lake by motorboat, with state Department of Environmental Conservation personnel, to move outhouses and clean up campsites. There will also be a project for kids, planting tree saplings near the Streeter Lake lean-to.” » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

NYSEG Ordered to Open Ausable Chasm to Paddling

Serious whitewater boaters are frothing at the prospect of access to a Class IV multidrop stretch of the Ausable River along Upper Ausable Chasm. Word on the Northeast Paddlers Message Board is that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has ordered New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) to develop a plan to enable kayakers to cross its land to reach the river for the period between Memorial Day and October 31.

But patience: paddlers are saying it’s doubtful NYSEG will be able to comply in time for this season.

The Adirondack Mountain Club and American Whitewater, a national organization, have battled for years for the right to use NYSEG’s land to get to a 3.4-mile stretch of the Ausable, from the NYSEG powerhouse below Rainbow Falls Dam to the Route 9 bridge. “BOO YAH. That thing runs ALL SUMMER,” comments one paddler on the Northeast Paddlers Message Board, which has more information. The run is expected to draw boaters from around the Northeast because of its consistent water.

NYSEG and the Ausable Chasm Corporation, which operates a tourist attraction at the gorge, had argued against boating access because the steep and narrow canyon, 150 feet deep in places, makes rescue difficult. Ausable Chasm Co. also offers tubing and rafting for paying guests on the lower portion of the chasm. But ADK and American Whitewater countered that FERC had a duty to maintain public access to a public waterbody that had become obstructed by the power dam.

This YouTube video offers a preview of the drops and rapids.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Volunteers Needed for Adirondack Fall Trails Day

On Saturday, Oct. 18, the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) Trails Program will hold its 16th annual Fall Trails Day in the High Peaks Wilderness of the Adirondack Park.

Volunteers, working with trained leaders, will use hand tools to clean drainage, trim overgrown sections of trail and remove downed trees. This maintenance work will help prepare the trails and their existing erosion-control structures for spring. Once debris is cleared from drainage ditches, the trails will be better suited to withstand rainwater and spring snowmelt runoff. All maintenance work is in cooperation with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

“Numerous projects are scheduled for participants of all abilities, including half- and full-day trips,” said Wes Lampman, ADK’s director of field programs. “Cleaning all of the existing drainage may be one of the most important things we can do to help the trails. It’s a great way for hikers to give back to the trails they enjoyed all year.”

The day will commence with a simple breakfast at the High Peaks Information Center near the Adirondak Loj. Participants will receive a Volunteer Trail Program T-shirt upon completion of the project. Most volunteers pre-register, but walk-in participants will be welcomed. Participants can stay at ADK’s Wilderness Campground for free on both Friday and Saturday nights.

For more information on volunteering and registering for Adirondack Fall Trails Day, contact the ADK Trails Program, P.O. Box 867, Lake Placid, NY 12946, (518) 523-3441 or visit our Web site at www.adk.org .

ADK is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection and responsible recreational use of New York state’s Forest Preserve, parks and other wild lands and waters. The Club has over 30,000 members and 26 chapters across the state and region. ADK operates two wilderness lodges and conducts conservation, education and natural history programs.