By Gwendolyn Craig
A public foot traffic and conservation easement agreement shows trails on the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) can be closed by either the state or the land’s private owners to protect “from undue adverse environmental damage.”
The easements were filed with Essex County in June 1978, and are now subject to interpretation about implementing hiker limits on the reserve.
Trustees of the AMR are also members of the Ausable Club in Keene. They own the gateway to about a dozen High Peaks in the Adirondack Park, and have historically allowed the public to cross some of its land to hike them.
On Wednesday, Club President Roland Morris told Adirondack Explorer that after years of collecting visitor data, the club would test out hiking limits next year. It may try a pilot plan to limit use this Columbus Day weekend. A decision on that is expected soon.
“It’s forever wild and we need to protect the hiker experience; we need to protect the resource,” Morris said. “These are important for the current hiking public and for generations to come, and we’ve reached a point where at least in the AMR’s case we are seriously degrading the resource.”
Can the club close trails to the public without state approval?
According to the easement, the state and AMR — “with the consent of the other, which shall not unreasonably be withheld” — may close trails, paths or road and may deny access when there is environmental damage, a fire, drought or other disaster. They may also deny access if there is “a threat either to the public health, safety or welfare, or to the natural, aesthetic, scientific and educational resources” of the property.
In sum, the Ausable Club believes this means it has the right to impose limits to protect hikers and the reserve.
John Schuler, general manager of the club, emailed Adirondack Explorer the easements, adding that “it was put in place to continue the longstanding tradition of allowing access to the hiking community while providing the AMR the right to limit or close access as necessary to protect the resource.”
Wednesday evening the state Department of Environmental Conservation emailed Adirondack Explorer that it was exploring sustainable use efforts for Columbus Day weekend with the AMR. Thursday morning, a spokesperson said that was the only statement it would be providing at this time and declined to answer if the DEC was interpreting the easements in the same way as the club.
The easements were part of a grand state push for public access to more of the Adirondack Park. The Ausable Club originally owned more property. According to a New York Times article published in September 1977, the state purchased 9,311 acres, which included 11 High Peaks, to complete the public ownership of the 46 High Peaks. It cost the state $744,800, money from the 1972 Environmental Quality Bond Act.
Then-president of the Ausable Club William P. Dunham had called it a “sad day for the club.” It retained about 7,000 acres.
Less than a year later, the state and the club worked out the conservation and foot traffic easements on some of the club’s land. Schuler said those easements were donated to the state.