Adirondack Wild and a former high-ranking state environmental official contend that the state’s plan to cut a snowmobile trail in the Blue Ridge Wilderness violates the forever-wild clause of the New York Constitution.
Adirondack Wild and Christopher Amato, a former assistant commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, make the argument in a letter to Nick Addison, a DEC forester.
DEC is proposing to build a “community connector” that will enable snowmobilers to travel between the hamlets of Raquette Lake and Long Lake without crossing frozen lakes. About four miles of the trail would pass through the Blue Ridge Wilderness.
Ordinarily, snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles are not allowed in wilderness areas, but the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan allows snowmobile trails to be created in wilderness—“in limited instances”—within 500 feet of a highway.
Amato, who is a lawyer, and David Gibson, a founding partner of Adirondack Wild, contend that this provision of the master plan violates Article 14, the section of the constitution mandating that the forest preserve “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.”
“The provision of the Master Plan relied upon by DEC is an anomaly that is wholly inconsistent with the definition of Wilderness and with the express prohibition against motor vehicle use in Wilderness areas,” Amato and Gibson write. “Being so diametrically opposed to all enunciated principles of Wilderness classification and management, it fails to pass constitutional muster and violates the Forever Wild clause of the Constitution.”
But even if the master plan’s provision is constitutional, they argue, DEC is misapplying it in this case. “The purpose and intent of that clause was to allow, on the rarest of occasions and only when no other options existed, a short snowmobile trail segment to connect to longer, authorized snowmobiling trails on Wild Forest or on private lands. A four-mile snowmobile trail, most especially a community connector [which is wider than typical snowmobile trails] … falls far outside the purpose and intent of this Master Plan provision,” they write.
In an email to the Explorer, Amato confirmed that he and Gibson are arguing that snowmobile use in wilderness areas violates Article 14. Amato is Adirondack Wild’s vice chair and counsel.
DEC spokesman Kevin Frazier, however, said the master plan is presumed to be constitutional. “DEC proposes to site a Class II Community Connector Trail within the Blue Ridge Wilderness Area pursuant to and in compliance with the existing language in the current Master Plan,” he said in an email.
Dominic Jacangelo, executive director of the New York State Snowmobile Association, agrees with DEC. “It is not a violation of the constitution to have a trail anywhere in the forest preserve,” he said. The master plan, though, specifies what trails can be built where.
Jacangelo said the new trail is needed to enable snowmobilers to avoid crossing frozen lakes. Two winters ago, he said, 10 snowmobilers drowned after breaking through ice on waterways in the state. “We prefer that folks not use the lakes,” he remarked.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, argued on Adirondack Almanack recently that the Blue Ridge trail would see little use. Jacangelo disagrees, though he conceded that many snowmobilers enjoy riding fast on lakes.
“In recent years, either Raquette Lake or Blue Mountain Lake did not freeze,” he said. “You need an alternative to these lakes.”
The state received public comments on the proposal through Dec. 7. Click here to read our earlier article on the issue.