Imagine how the High Peaks Wilderness would change if people were allowed to drive to Marcy Dam or Indian Pass. The Adirondack Park Agency raises this possibility in a legal brief filed last week in the long and convoluted dispute over the Old Mountain Road in the Sentinel Range Wilderness.
The Old Mountain Road is now used as a trail for hiking and cross-country skiing, but in May 2009 the state’s environmental conservation commissioner ruled that the route was never legally closed and thus, theoretically, could be reopened to motor vehicles.
If allowed to stand, the decision could be cited as a precedent for reopening other old roads in the Forest Preserve, according to the APA.
Jim McCulley, the president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, touched off the battle in 2005 when he drove his pickup truck onto Old Mountain Road. Motorized vehicles are not allowed in Wilderness Areas, but McCulley contended that the road had never been legally closed. He was ticketed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis agreed with McCulley and dismissed the ticket. But DEC’s staff, in a motion filed by DEC attorney Randall Young, contended that Grannis misinterpreted the law and asked for a clarification of the decision. Young is not seeking to reinstate McCulley’s ticket, but he has argued that Grannis’s ruling raises questions about the status of other roads in the Forest Preserve.
The APA sides with Young on this point. In its brief, the APA mentions the old truck trail to Marcy Dam and the trail through Indian Pass as two old roads at risk of being reopened to motor vehicles—both of which are in the High Peaks Wilderness.
“These are just two among many recreational trails that occupy the track of 19th century roads and are placed in question by the argument in the Commissioner’s [ruling],” the APA says.
The APA argues that Grannis’s ruling violates the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, which sets forth the rules for the management of Wilderness Areas. In essence, the APA contends, Grannis modified the master plan by altering the status of the road. The APA says only its board can modify the master plan.
The Adirondack Council also filed a brief in the case. The council also says the Grannis decision could lead to the reopening of roads in other parts of the Forest Preserve, endangering flora and fauna and damaging trails.
Click here to read a story in the Adirondack Explorer about the implications of the Grannis ruling.
The decision on whether to clarify the ruling lies with Administrative Law Judge Louis Alexander.
McCulley’s lawyer, Matt Norfolk of Lake Placid, said in his brief opposing the motion for clarification that his client will not recognize any order that alters the Grannis decision. “The motions for clarification and reconsideration … have made this particular administrative proceeding to be a spectacle of lawlessness and abuse of process,” Norfolk asserts.
Norfolk also contends that the APA filed its brief after the 5 p.m. deadline on March 18. In a letter to Alexander, he asks that the agency’s brief be rejected as untimely.
Click the links below the read the briefs filed by the APA, the Adirondack Council, and Norfolk.