APA considers wild forest road mileage limits, public comment open
By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondack Park Agency has a major task 50 years in the making—interpreting a cap on the miles of road in wild forest lands and whether to include trails only accessible to people with disabilities in that number. The board’s decision on what constitutes a road and what is considered a “material increase” could impact what roads remain in existing and future state land acquisitions.
Jerry Delaney, president of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, warned APA members of how complicated and important the matter, particularly for communities. He stressed transparency and thoughtfulness before the agency made decisions.
“I don’t think any of you really realize what the sentiment is outside this agency on access to state lands. It’s not simple, and truthfully, this is going to be one of those cases where nobody is happy, but I hope you’re going to get to a place where it’s grudgingly accepted by all.”— Jerry Delaney, president of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board
The agency is sending the information on wild forest roads out for a 60-day public comment period and is also looking at hosting a public informational session. The agency does not have a specific timeline for making its decision.
Megan Phillips, the APA’s deputy director of planning and Josh Clague, the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s coordinator for the Adirondacks, presented the crux before the APA on Thursday and Friday.
Wild forest is a land classification in the Adirondacks that discourages public use of motor vehicles. According to the APA’s rules and regulations in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, “there will not be any material increase in the mileage of roads and snowmobile trails open to motorized use by the public in wild forest areas that conformed to the master plan at the time of its original adoption in 1972.” APA and DEC staff were not sure whether the “no material increase” for roads included future land acquisitions.
Phillips said the board has to decide three things:
- What was the existing mileage of roads in wild forest in 1972 and what is the existing mileage today?
- What constitutes a material increase in road mileage?
- Do paths that are open only to people with disabilities meet the definition of a road in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and therefore require inclusion in the total wild forest road mileage?
The paths for people with disabilities are known as CP3 mileage, short for Commissioner’s Policy No. 3. That policy came about after a July 2001 court decision in the matter of Galusha vs. the DEC. Theodore Galusha, of Warrensburg, sued the DEC under the Americans with Disabilities Act arguing that the state was violating his and others’ civil rights for not allowing motorized access to parts of the Forest Preserve. A consent decree required the state to open 26.4 miles of CP3 trails and currently the state has 21.56 miles, Clague said. There are about 16.5 miles of CP3 trails authorized by the DEC and APA, but have not yet been opened.
Piecing together old records, Clague and Phillips said the estimated miles of roads in 1972 is 211.6, and 206.6 miles presently. If CP3 miles were included, the number would be 244.7 miles of road in wild forest.
View the APA’s presentation in the slides above. View the full packet of materials at https://apa.ny.gov/Mailing/2022/05/stateLand.htm.
The agency will collect comments through July 11. Send comments to Megan Phillips, Deputy Director for Planning, Adirondack Park Agency, P.O. Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977, (518) 891-4050 or to SLMP_UMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov.
If the APA determines that CP3 mileage meets the definition of a road, then the agency could have to shut down existing roads. Delaney said it is the review board’s opinion that CP3 roads are not the same as traditional roads because the access is limited.
Another consideration for the board is past precedent around snowmobile trails.
While the APA has avoided determining the number of miles of road there are on wild forest, it did adopt a resolution making the interpretation for snowmobile trails. In 1972 there were 740 miles of snowmobile trails and anything 14.7% greater would be considered a “material increase,” the APA decided in 2008.
The board will have to determine if it wants to apply the same standard for roads. APA could choose a different percentage cap for roads, but that would make it inconsistent with snowmobile trails. Phillips presented the table below to show the different “no material increase” possibilities the board could consider.
DEC Region 5 Director Joseph Zalewski said thousands of acres have been added to the Forest Preserve since the Galusha case and wondered if the APA could use a different metric like allocating a certain number of miles per 1,000 acres as roads.
Brad Austin, APA member representing Empire State Development, suggested the information go to a public forum in addition to the public comment period. APA member Zoe Smith and APA Chairman John Ernst agreed. APA Executive Director Barbara Rice said she and staff will work on a webinar or in-person meeting.
The board voted unanimously to send the information to a 60-day public comment.