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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Adirondack snowmobile-trail lawsuit dismissed

snowmobile trail

Peter Bauer measures a snowmobile trail near Newcomb. Photo by Mike Lynch.

A state judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Department of Environmental Conservation’s construction of “community connector” snowmobile trails in the Forest Preserve.

Protect the Adirondacks argued that the trails—up to twelve feet wide on curves and graded smooth—violated Article 14 of the state constitution, which declares that the Preserve “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.”

Protect contended that the snowmobile trails detracted from the wild-forest character of the Preserve and required the cutting of an unconstitutional number of trees.

In a decision dated December 1, acting State Supreme Court Justice Gerald W. Connolly disagreed with both arguments.

The community-connector trails, he wrote, “are no more out of harmony with forest lands in their wild state than the foot, horse and bicycle trails throughout the Preserve.”

Connolly also found that the amount of trees to be cut for the trails did not violate the standard set forth in earlier court decisions.

DEC considers only trees greater than three inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) when estimating the number of trees to be cut for a trail. Protect contended that smaller trees are ecologically important and should be counted as well—which would greatly inflate the number.

Connolly, however, said DEC’s method of counting trees is “not improper” and is in keeping with earlier court cases.

Peter Bauer, the executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said he was disappointed with the decision but doesn’t know whether the organization will appeal it.

“We put on a case that showed there were around a thousand trees cut down for each mile of snowmobile trail constructed and that intact forest areas were turned into grass lawns,” Bauer said in an email. “We thought that this was proof that these lands were not forever kept as wild forest lands and that tree cutting exceeded past precedents for what was allowable. The judge disagreed.”

DEC plans to build a number of community-connector trails throughout the Adirondack Park to facilitate snowmobile travel between hamlets.

Click here to read an earlier article from the Adirondack Explorer on the court case.

Click the link below to read Connolly’s decision.

Snowmobile decision

Phil Brown

Phil Brown has been editing the Adirondack Explorer since 1999. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important. You can follow his adventures and his musings on the Adirondacks in the Explorer and on this blog.

16 Responses

  1. Pete Newell says:

    This is as it should be and is good news. The fact is that snowmobile trails occupy only a fraction of a percent of land and do not detract from the overall character of wild forest lands. Some might be ‘improved’ beyond a mere foot trail, but take a look at the ‘foot trails’ up any popular mountain and tell me that they look at all natural. Sometimes they are 20 foot wide muddy rocky ditches. Article 14 does not say that forest preserve lands shall be made in to “wilderness.” In fact the word “wilderness” is only used once in a sentence which says “The legislature shall further provide for the acquisition of lands and waters, including improvements thereon and any interest therein, OUTSIDE THE FOREST PRESERVE COUNTIES, and the dedication of properties so acquired or now owned, which because of their natural beauty, wilderness character, or geological, ecological or historical significance, shall be preserved and administered for the use and enjoyment of the people” so it does not even apply to the Adirondack forest preserve. Article 14 does not define wilderness or “the remote interior” of wild forest lands. The latter term was in fact made up just a few years ago to further restrict where snowmobile trails could be.

  2. Aaron says:

    Finally, a win for local communities and winter tourism outside of the 9N/73 corridor.

  3. Charles Carnes says:

    Good news for a change. These trails are so small in relation to the park. Good for locals and tourism and jobs.

  4. SCOTT S THOMPSON says:

    Thank goodness, a decision that is so important for the people trying to earn a living in the Adirondacks. Now if sanity could prevail on THE ADIRONDACK TRAVEL CORRIDOR Old Forge to Lake Placid advancing to a year round, very promotable,recreational trail.
    How about connecting Beaver River to the world?

  5. Jesse grant says:

    Why sell snowmobiles if you can’t even use them? If anything this should raise awareness to making room for dirtbiking in the summer so we can legally drive our dirtbikes and not get in trouble for owning one with absolutely no trails or anywhere to go… same concept why sell the shit if you can’t use it

    • Colvin says:

      Snowmobiles are benign to the environment compared to dirtbikes and ATVs. Snowmobiles stay confined to trails and travel on snow and ice, creating rleatively small disturbance of the surface of the ground. Dirtbikes and ATVs travel on bare gound and the trails on which they travel require constant, intensive, expensive maintenance. But ATVers and dirtbikers don’t stay on any legal trails; they are attracted like magnets to environmentally sensitive adjacent off-trail areas–streambeds, wetlands, mud pits, steep slopes that easily erode, etc. Once impacted, these sensitive areas are very difficult and expensive to restore, and impacts to these areas take many, many, many years to restore naturally. Also, dirtbikes and ATVs are used in the summer months, when conflicts with other user groups are more likely that in winter months, when non-motorized users are fewer in number. Why buy it if you can’t use it?

  6. Isaac Nelson says:

    Apparently this judge does not no what sound a horse, human, bicycle or snowmobile makes. Perhaps I’m just being insensitive and he is deaf. Or perhaps he is ignoring the fact that there is nothing “forever wild” in the context of forest preserve about a snowmobile at all.

    • Isaac Nelson says:

      *know

    • Colvin says:

      My understanding is that the lawsuit did not challenge the legality of snowmobiles in the Forest Preserve. That wasn’t an issue in the case. The issue was whether the snowmobile trails being constructed by the State were illegal. Looks like the court said that snowmobile trails aren’t much different from hiking trails.

  7. Neil McGovern says:

    Finally a reasoned and fair decision on the important recreational use of our State land. The regular …..and pervasive over reach by the “Protect” group continues to be a drag on the healthy outdoor uses of this special place.

  8. AgingUETiger says:

    How ridiculous does that photograph of Mr. Bauer look? These “anti-fun” groups are against snowmobiling, ATVing, hunting, gun ownership and this photo illustrates that they will go to any extreme to get these activities banned. After they were able to demonize ATV’s and get them banned on once opened dirt roads and trails in the Adirondacks and Tug Hill back in in the mid-2000’s and crushed a legitimate and economic benefit to those regions it is somewhat comforting to know that all is not lost and SOME reason and common sense is still afloat in Upstate New York.

  9. Four season ADKer says:

    As Pete Newell stated this is good news. I hike, bike and kayak (and snowmobile) all over the ADK and see 100 more times impact on the hiking trails, than on those trails used by snowmobiles. I believe you can have both. The majority of even semi-popular hiking trails are blown 15-30 ft wide at any appearance of mud/water and trampling of fauna and small trees is the norm. I am a firm believe in protecting the environment, but not shutting down the wilderness.Quite a bit of hypocrisy with some of these forever wild folks. Lets all work to share AND protect the lands of the ADK.

  10. Cal Stanton says:

    I don’t like calling out any particular person and holding them in a negative light on Social Media or any other setting, however, Peter Bauer is going to ruin the Adirondacks with these frivolous lawsuits. What happens if he is ever successful? Protect would be wise to remove him, and get an individual who will use the resources of this organization in a more responsible manner. Last I checked, hikers enjoy going out to to eat and having a comfortable place to stay just like snowmobilers do. If trails are not reclassified and safe for multiple uses, then we have no visitors. No visitors means no money, and then no sustainable business for small Adirondack towns. This lawsuit was reckless in every sense of the word, and Newcomb, Long Lake, Indian Lake, and Blue Mountain could have been adversely effected had Protect been successful.

  11. Boreaafisher says:

    As if the news weren’t bad enough at year end….few people appreciate quiet and solitude anymore. We’ve created a world of distraction that leaves people homeless and lost when they encounter silence and peace. The suit was based on a set of narrow definitions and never really challenged the legality of these damned machines being used in the Forest Preserve which some believed was not only a defect of the suit but a terrible precedent should the suit fail. Still, I praise the people who pushed the state to reconsider this gerrymandered breach of the public trust… They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Keep the faith, friends.

  12. Cal Stanton says:

    Thank you, Boreaafisher. I think everyone who has responded to this article understands what this lawsuit was. Thankfully, it’s over. The memory of it will be buried along with the bizarre picture of Pete Bauer sporting the fanny pack and bent measuring tape.
    The trails that exist currently are too narrow, and therefore deter some, (not all) snowmobilers from traveling to us from elsewhere. Those “damn” machines that you are referring to, bring a badly needed boost to the Adirondack economy during the dead of Winter.
    Indian Lake by itself, has lost The Market (formerly known as Tops, Wakely Lodge Golf Course, Adirondack Mountain Sports, and most recently the Lake Store. With the closing of the Newcomb House, there isn’t ONE place to go out and dine in Newcomb. No need to worry about the “Quiet, peace, and silence” you are looking for. It’s alive, here and well in the Adirondacks.
    Gerrymandering? I think your previous comment shows that you’re a champion of this lawsuit, and express regret that it wasn’t expanded.
    Gerrymanders in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

  13. Boreafisher says:

    Gerrymanders in glass houses…huh? It was only a matter of time before the legality of these Class II new trails would be tested. That’s axiomatic.

    While I agree with the need to strengthen local economies in the Adirondacks, not all activities that bring revenue are equal and should be encouraged. When the main argument in support of an activity in a sensitive area is that it contributes to the local economy, you have a problem, especially when it is enjoyed by a small group at the expense of others.

    I loved the presentation in Newcomb a year or so ago by a snowmobile advocate who also made a point of suggesting that a new trail not be constructed near his home. There’s plenty of hypocrisy to go around on this issue. I for one believe snowmobiles never should have been allowed in the FR on any existing public trail. But I also realize I am perhaps in the minority and the cow is out of the barn. Whatever the outcome of these deliberations, I respect the legal decisions.

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