In the next issue of the Adirondack Explorer, we plan to publish an article by Adam Federman on the implications of the Old Mountain Road decision on the state Forest Preserve.
Federman notes that probably hundreds of old roads crisscross the Preserve. As a result of the Old Mountain Road case, observers are asking whether towns could reopen these roads to snowmobiles and/or other motor vehicles.
Any attempt to open these roads is sure to put the state Department of Environmental Conservation in the crossfire between local governments and environmental groups.
Remember Crane Pond Road? The dirt lane penetrates nearly two miles into the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness, ending at Crane Pond. Since motorized use is forbidden in Wilderness Areas, DEC placed boulders across the road in 1989 to blockade it.
The closure enraged local residents and became a cause celebre. In 1990, a group of men wearing masks removed the boulders and vowed to keep the road open. Members of Earth First, a radical environmental group, later pitched tents at the start of road to keep out vehicles.
This set up a confrontation between the Earth Firsters and locals who wanted to keep the road open. Jack LaDuke, who was there as a reporter for WCAX-TV, recalls that Warrensburg Supervisor Maynard Baker was among those who approached the encampment.
“Out of the corner of my eye I saw some commotion,” LaDuke told me today. “Baker and this other fellow were going at it. It was a very short encounter. Baker threw a punch and hit the fellow, it appeared to me on the chin, and he went down.” The Earth Firsters left soon afterward.
LaDuke’s footage later aired on a 60 Minutes piece about violence against environmentalists.
I went to Crane Pond Road on a gray, chilly day a few weeks ago to take photographs for Federman’s story. There is still an American flag hanging from a tree near the boundary of the Wilderness Area. Just where the road crosses into state land I noticed a boulder with spray-painted letters. I scraped off the moss and to reveal what they said: “Adirondack Homeland.”
There were no signs either indicating that this was the boundary of a Wilderness Area or forbidding motor vehicles. In fact, I wasn’t sure this was the boundary when I first drove up the road. I went as far as the trailhead for Goose Pond and hiked the rest of the way to Crane Pond. I saw three pickups parked along the road, including one at Crane Pond.
John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, argues that DEC is obligated by the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan to close the road. “It was closed [initially] by a legal action,” he said. “It was reopened by an act of vandalism.”
But the agency has no desire to open this can of worms.
When I asked why the road remains open, DEC spokesman Yancey Roy sent this e-mailed response: “When the controversy became public some years ago, the administration at the time decided to delay any action on the road until some future date. All subsequent administrations have continued to follow that policy.”