Six men filed suit in federal court this week to force the state to allow the disabled to fly into wild lakes by floatplane or helicopter.
The plaintiffs contend that banning aircraft from tracts of Forest Preserve classified as Wilderness, Primitive or Canoe violates the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.
Before the adoption of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan in the early 1970s, floatplanes regularly flew in and out of lakes where they are now banned. The plan prohibits nearly all motorized use in Wilderness, Primitive, and Canoe Areas.
The Explorer will run a story on the lawsuit in a future issue. Meanwhile, you can read this account in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.
The plaintiffs in the suit are military veterans. Some suffered grievous injuries in war that prevent them from hiking or paddling to remote lakes.
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for them, but I spoke today with one disabled person who opposes the lawsuit. He is Michael Washburn, the former executive director of the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks.
“I don’t believe my rights as a disabled person should extend in a way that deprives others of their rights,” said Washburn, who is legally blind. “The citizens of New York have a right to a wilderness experience without the intrusion of motors.”
He also argues that many disabled people support wilderness regulations. He points to a federal study (pertaining only to federal lands) that found “the majority (76 percent) of the respondents with disabilities do not believe that the restrictions on mechanized use stated by the Wilderness Act diminish their ability to enjoy the wilderness.”
Washburn said organizations such as Adirondack Adaptive Adventures (he sits on its board) can help the disabled access and enjoy wild lands where motors are banned.
Furthermore, he said the Forest Preserve contains dozens of lakes where floatplanes are allowed.
As mentioned, we’ll run a fuller account in the Explorer, with opinions from both sides.
Incidentally, the plaintiffs’ lawyer is Matt Norfolk of Lake Placid, who defended Jim McCulley after he was ticketed for driving a pickup truck on an old woods road in the Sentinel Range Wilderness. Norfolk won that case.