DEC responds to mountain-biking concerns

A mountain bikers rides past LaBier Flow near Boreas Ponds. Photo by Phil Brown

In its proposed amendment to the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest management plan, the state Department of Environmental Conservation sets forth a goal of creating two networks of mountain biking trails just north of Blue Ridge Road—in the southern portion of the former Boreas Ponds Tract. The “stacked” trails would be similar to the winding mountain biking networks created in Wilmington.

DEC also is proposing to open to biking other trails and former logging roads on the former Boreas tract.

The department received many comments on the bike proposals. Many were in favor, but some questioned whether mountain biking would catch on in an area far from hamlets.

The Adirondack Park Agency is expected to vote on the Vanderwhacker amendment on Friday.

Earlier this week, we posted comments from rock climbers and backcountry skiers regarding proposed changes to the High Peaks Wilderness and Vanderwhacker management plans. Following are the comments about bicycling, with DEC’s responses in italics. Since biking is not allowed in the Wilderness Area, the comments pertain only to the Vanderwhacker plan.


Comment: Mtn. bike trail network should not be approved without feasibility analysis of trail network in North Hudson.

Comment: Since mountain bikes travel approximately twice the speed of hikers they should be allowed access to twice as many miles of trails as hikers. To hike 5 miles could take about 2 hours but to bike 5 miles it could take only 1 hour. So, in order to make it worthwhile for mountain bikers to visit an area they would want at least 4-5 hours of saddle time. Therefore, access to 25 miles would be suitable for a one-day visit but access to 50 miles would guarantee a two to three-day visit.

Response: The construction of phase 1 of the mountain biking trail network is part of a larger investment by the State, including the planned campground and day-use area at Frontier Town, to promote recreational use of the Forest Preserve in the vicinity of North Hudson. As explained in the plan, the phased approach to trail construction will allow for the evaluation of need at various times before the entire trail system is implemented. This evaluation will also consider other uses, as the trails are proposed for hiking and x-country skiing as well.

 Comment: Fat bikes which can be used on packed trails during the snow season, many times they share snowmobile trails which is ok with the NY State Snowmobile Association, NYSSA had added a fat bike seminar to their statewide conference to educate users on this new winter activity.

Response: Fat bikes are a subset of bicycles and are allowed anywhere bicycles are allowed. In these plans, bicycle use is proposed to be allowed on all snowmobile routes.

Comment: Electric pedal assist and throttle assist bicycles, which we prefer to be regulated like motorized vehicles until we can assess the impact caused by these new devices. Pedal assist would be more like a bicycle causing minimal impact but throttle assist electric bikes are more like motorcycles and could cause more damage to the trails. Handicap placards can allow physically challenged individuals to use pedal assist electric vehicles on trails appropriate for their use.

Response: Both electric pedal assist and throttle assist bicycles are considered motor vehicles pursuant to DEC regulations, and as such are only allowed where public motor vehicles are allowed.

Comment: Bike packing is the newest trend that utilizes long distance single track trails or forest roads or a combination of both for self-sufficient adventure. Similar to long distance back packing this new activity would need access to primitive backcountry camping areas along long distance scenic routes. Route determination would be evaluated in terms of what is actually rideable.

Response: The Newcomb to North Hudson Community Connector Trail, as proposed in this and other Department planning documents, will allow for bicycle use. Numerous primitive tent sites are proposed along the trail, providing ample opportunities for camping.

Comment: Mountain bikers in general prefer single track trails and there already are enough areas where bikes are off limits so improved access is welcomed.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Most of the trails in this region are old extraction trails and are not built with sustainability in mind so not many people will be using them unless they are modified to become more rideable.

Response: The proposed mountain bike trails will be designed, constructed, and maintained in a manner that provides both long-term sustainability and user enjoyment.

Comment: In the UMP you refer to Mountain Bicycles as ATB All Terrain Bicycles – This is not common terminology.

Response: The plan has been changed to correct this terminology.

Comment: It is current DEC Policy in Region 7’s Draft Recreational Plan in 2007 that all trails are open to Mountain Bicycles unless signed otherwise and we would like you to stick with this policy as it treats mountain bicycles fairly. This draft plan was to be used as a model for other regions developing recreational policies. Refer to the region 7 recreational plan part 190 – use of public lands.

Response: Department regulations allow for bicycling on any trail (except in Wilderness and Primitive Areas) unless the trail is signed as closed to bicycling. These areas will be managed consistent with the regulations.

Comment: Vermont’s Kingdom trails give access to over 100 miles of purpose built mountain bike trails and this has boosted the local economy tremendously because people stay for long weekends in off season and stay for a week or more during the summer. Other similar trail systems are being built for mountain biking in Quebec and other areas throughout the USA.

Response: Noted.

Comment: The State has proposed creating new motorized bike trails. I am absolutely opposed to any motorized trail additions in this sensitive area. I am equally opposed to the parking lot nearest to the recently acquired Boreas Ponds. This location at 4 Corners is less than a mile away from them and would introduce pollution too close to those pristine waters.

Response: Various Mountain biking opportunities have been outlined in the Amendment, but none involve motorized bikes, as this is not an allowable trail use in the Forest Preserve. The parking configuration has been determined to strike a balance between providing appropriate access to destinations within these two units for people of all abilities with appropriate protections of the lands and waters in the region. These proposals are supported by the underlying land classifications, the existing infrastructure, and the ability of the natural resources of the area to withstand the anticipated use of these facilities.

Comment: The two proposed mountain bike trail systems violate the new mountain bike Trail Siting and Maintenance “Guidance” with regards to choosing the location of a trail network and working with local partner organizations for trail maintenance. Not every Wild Forest area makes sense for a mountain bike trail system.

Response: The Department has outlined the locations for various mountain bike opportunities. Currently there is only biking along Forest Preserve Roads, but partnerships for the construction and maintenance of trails will be sought when those action items are initiated, and local officials in North Hudson have expressed an interest in creating this opportunity within their town. It is the Department’s understanding that Agency staff believe that the trails are designed and sited in conformance with the trail guidance.

Comment: We also support the proposed mountain bike trail network that will be similar to the trail networks built by ADK trail crews at Wilmington and Windham. The small parking area to service this trail network off the Blue Ridge highway is well thought out and designed to avoid user conflict. Cycling should be permitted on roads in areas or corridors classified as Wild Forest and otherwise where it is lawful to ride bikes. The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (APSLMP) Primitive Area Definition (Page 28) under Bicycles states, “the same guidelines will apply as in wilderness areas except that bicycles may be used: (a) on existing roads legally open to the public and on administrative roads specifically designated for such use by the Department of Environmental Conservation as specified in individual unit management plans; and, (b) on former all-season roads in the Essex Chain Lakes Primitive Area, as described above under “Primitive Recreational Trails”

Response: Thank you for your support in this matter. The Amendment outlines mountain bike use on many of the roads within the Wild Forest, but not within Primitive Areas.

 Comment: ADK interprets this to mean that in order for bicycles to be ridden on the section of the Boreas Ponds road classified as Primitive (the section surrounding the Boreas Ponds Dam), DEC would need to 1) designate the road as an administrative road and 2) designate the road as open to bicycle use. DEC should consider the designation of horseback riding trails on some old roads in both Wild Forest and Wilderness Areas.

Response: This Amendment does not designate the section of Boreas Road located within the Boreas Ponds Primitive Area as open to bicycles.

Comment: The proposed mountain bike trail system should be phased in starting with the proposed “Blue Ridge Trails” off of Elk Lake Road. The system proposed off of Gulf Brook Road should not be built until several years of usage of the Blue Ridge Trails have been assessed, and the impacts on the surrounding wild lands has been analyzed.

Response: The Amendment proposes the phasing of trail systems beginning with the Blue Ridge Mountain Bike Network. Subsequent phases of implementation will be based on the results of the wildland monitoring program for data driven actions.

Comment: I fully support the creation of the Blue Ridge Mt Bike Trail Network for the same reasons stated above. In addition, it is a good idea to have all-season use in mind so many trail users benefit from the effort of building the trails.

Response: Thank you for your support in this matter

 Comment: Fat tire bikes don’t leave impacts on the trail system.

Response: Noted.

Comment: The East River Rd should be open to bicycles beyond the bridge as well as foot traffic. Since the road is being maintained for motor vehicle use by DEC and private access to McIntyre Conservation Easement lands, it will be suitable for bicycle use.

Response: Given the flashy nature of the floodplain, use by private landowners, and lack of destination, The Department does not see it suitable to promote recreational opportunities other than foot traffic.

Comment: I fully support the creation of the Gulf Brook Mt Bike Trail Network. The Adirondack Park is lacking in purpose-built mountain bike trails and this trail development will be a step toward accommodating the increased interest in riding a bicycle on single track. Again, it is critical to employ proper layout and design to create a desirable trail network that is sustainable and fun for a range of abilities. The Wilmington WF trails demonstrate that it can be done right with the help of experienced trail builders.

Response: Thank you for your support in this matter.

Comment: As an avid cyclist, I can also say that the Boreas Ponds Tract would not be suitable for “family biking.” The dirt roads are not paved like suburban bike trails and such use would inconsistent with the SLMP.

Response: The family style biking mentioned in the Amendment is for mountain biking, similar to the very popular Camp Santanoni mountain biking trip along Newcomb Lake Road, not one which requires pavement.

Comment: Protect the Adirondacks has many questions about the efficacy of two pro- posed new specially designed mountain bike trail networks for the VMWFUMP. We are skeptical about their viability. These two systems are poorly located and do not have the important local support of successful mountain bike trail areas, such as The Flume and Hardy Road systems in the Wilmington Wild Forest area. The two proposed mountain bike trail networks in the VMWF appear to violate basic tenets of the new Management Guidance: Siting, Construction and Maintenance of Single-track Bicycle Trails on Preserve Lands in the Adirondacks Park in several ways. The two networks do not seem to meet the criteria to establishing a new mountain bike trail network.

Response: The Department feels the mountain bike networks meet the criteria outlined in the Management Guidance. It is the Department’s understanding that Agency staff believe that the trails are designed and sited in conformance with the trail guidance.

Comment: Two proposed mountain bike trail networks flunk Guidance criteria for siting new trails: The new Guidance lays out a four criteria for a new stacked loop mountain bike trail system. These criteria include “local support” and “location” as two important factors:

  • Local Support: The devotion of a local organization, municipality, or combination that is prepared to assist with trail maintenance and construction activities. Resources required for construction and maintenance of a stacked loop trail network requires this capacity.

Response: The above are considerations to give a new stacked loop network. The Department will seek to work with partners, as it does for all other trails, for the design, construction and maintenance of these trails. It is the Department’s understanding that Agency staff believe that the trails are designed and sited in conformance with the trail guidance.

  • Location: Stacked loop trail networks are most appropriate where Forest Preserve lands abut municipal lands or publicly accessible private lands, generally within two miles of hamlet boundaries or one mile from Intensive Use areas.

Response: The Guidance also outlines connecting stacked loop networks to hamlets with long distance trails and gives these trails priority during the bicycle trail planning process. These networks are connected to the community connector trails outlined in this Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest UMP Amendment, the 2015 Community Connector Trail Plan, and the 2016 Essex Chain Lakes UMP.

Comment: No local bike trails group near new proposed trails: These two systems are the fourth and fifth mountain bike stacked looped trail networks proposed by the DEC. Two exist in the Wilmington Wild Forest area, one has been approved but not constructed in the Moose River Plains Wild Forest, and another has been proposed in the Saranac Lake Wild Forest UMP. The Wilmington trails networks have local population centers in Lake Placid and Wilmington and attracts riders who are both local and visitors to the area. There is also an active partnership with a local bike trails organization for trail maintenance. It appears that the DEC’s zeal to build new mountain bike trail networks has far outpaced local organizations and local partnerships.

Response: The Department will seek to work with partners, as it does for all other trails, for the design, construction and maintenance of these trails.

Comment: A build-it-and-they-will-come mythology is not adequate natural resource planning: DEC is planning to build these new mountain bike trail systems largely on a build-it-and-they-will-come belief with no data about public demand for mountain biking regionally across the Adirondack Park or locally in the greater North Hudson area.

Response: Mountain biking is one of the fastest growing recreational pursuits. The installation of the mountain bike trails will be done on a phased basis, and the Department will evaluate the effectiveness and demand for the trails before building the final phases of the trail networks.

Comment: New trails fail to meet Guidance emphasis to build new trails that accommodate more than one type of user: A basic tenet of the new Guidance is that planning for mountain bike trails should consider “Accommodating more than one recreational use on a trail can help accomplish resource protection goals by reducing trail development and environmental impacts.” (p 6) The two systems proposed in the VMWF appear designed exclusively for mountain biking and will not be attractive for hiking or cross-country skiing.

Response: The Amendment describes how these trails, along with several other trails will be designed, constructed and maintained to be enjoyable for cross country skiing.

Comment: Mountain Bike Network should not be approved without feasibility study analysis in North Hudson.

Response: The Department has determined there is interest for this type of activity in the currently proposed locations based on input from the local and mountain bike communities.

Comment: Facilities should be sized and designed on some kind of carrying analysis and not on mysterious professional judgement.

Response: The mountain bike networks are described in the phased approach. Like the other facilities outlined in the Amendments, these will depend on monitoring and data driven management actions.

Comment: The fact that planners in the VMWF failed to adhere to the Guidance reveals more about the weak- nesses of the Guidance than about the draft UMP. Recreational management in the Adirondack Forest Preserve today is about building separate trail networks for a variety of outdoor recreational activities, including hiking, mountain biking, snowmobiling, automobile travel and roadside camping, cross country skiing and powder skiing. At the same time that the DEC is building an infra- structure to facilitate separate and diverse uses, it also masks the impacts of the most controversial trail network – the road like class II community connector trails – by calling them “multiuse” trails though few will ever use any of the class II trails for anything other than snowmobiling,

Response: The Department feels the mountain bike networks meet the criteria outlined in the Management Guidance.

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About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

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