By Gwendolyn Craig
The Olympic Regional Development Authority’s plan for ski trail widening, new trails and a new lift from Bear Den to Legacy Lodge at Whiteface Mountain got the Adirondack Park Agency’s approval on Friday. New hiking and mountain biking trails were also approved at the Wilmington facility, with the caveat that they comply with tree-cutting guidance the state has yet to draft.
The projects are outlined in an amendment to the Whiteface Mountain Unit Management Plan, a document APA decided complies with its rules and regulations in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.
The APA board passed the amendment on Friday unanimously with member Ken Lynch absent.
The approval came despite legal concerns raised by Protect the Adirondacks. The environmental group contends that a wider ski trail exceeds the mountain’s limits set in the state constitution and that mountain biking and hiking trails are also constitutionally questionable.
Chris Cooper, the APA’s counsel, said the agency defers to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Olympic Regional Development Authority on constitutional issues.
Spokesman for the APA Keith McKeever said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos must sign off on the board’s recommendation to approve the amendment before ORDA submits their work plans to DEC.
Manager of Whiteface Mountain Aaron Kellet said the alpine ski trails are ORDA’s first priority because Lake Placid hosts the World University Games in 2023.
Protect the Adirondacks and a couple of other commenters were not in favor of ORDA’s five-phase plan to expand existing hiking and mountain biking trails that would connect to the Wilmington Wild Forest. Protect also questioned the amendment’s lack of information on tree cutting. ORDA plans to cut around 10,000 trees 1-inch diameter or greater, but the authority does not say how many it will cut for the biking and hiking trails.
Matt McNamara, a planner with APA, said those trails will be built using the DEC’s trail guidance, which McNamara said will be released later this summer. The DEC has been meeting with local groups on new trail guidelines to address a Court of Appeal’s ruling that some snowmobile trails the DEC was building in the park violated the state constitution because of excessive tree cutting.
A spokesperson for the DEC told the Adirondack Explorer the trail stewardship working group will present its draft policies “to the public through a full and transparent public comment process.”
APA board member Zoe Smith asked McNamara and Cooper if the board was being asked to review ORDA’s plans for compliance under policies that haven’t yet been developed. Cooper said on Thursday that the APA was charged with deciding if the amendment conforms with the master plan. Cooper said language in the amendment notes that ORDA must wait to build biking and hiking trails until the DEC develops trail guidance. The APA will also have to review the draft trail guidance, Cooper said, and ensure it is also in compliance with the master plan.
“So yes, there are two parts here that are happening,” Cooper said, adding he was comfortable with approving the UMP amendment that way.
Smith said on Thursday she was still trying to reconcile the summer trails in the amendment. Molly Breslin, an attorney for the DEC said hiking and mountain biking are traditional activities throughout the forest preserve and ORDA facilities were unique.
McNamara also addressed public comments questioning a lack of plans for uphill skiing in its amendment. ORDA received more than 50 comments about uphill skiing in an earlier review. McNamara said there is no specific requirement in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan for ORDA to offer uphill skiing.
APA Chairman John Ernst asked if there were special trails for uphill skiing.
“Isn’t it something that can coexist with the facility you’ve got?” Ernst said.
Kellet said 15 to 30 uphill skiers use Whiteface three days a week. Kellet said that currently works “pretty well,” but expressed reluctance to expand opportunities. The same staff that monitor the mountain for regular downhill skiing also monitor the uphill skiing. Their day starts around 5 a.m. and ends around 6 p.m., Kellet said.
“We’re doing our best right now to manage it with the resources we have,” Kellet said. “As we move forward, we’re trying to solicit volunteers that want to support it that need to be ski-patrolled certified. The core of it is how we’re going to rescue someone. The argument is that they (uphill skiers) hardly ever get hurt, but they do get hurt.”
Todd Eastman says
More word salad from the APA and the DEC…
Frank Krueger says
The trails at Whiteface are already too wide. It’s more fun and better skiing on narrower trails. The wide trails are exposed to the wind and become icy and hard. Often the wind blows the powder off the wide trails into the woods. There is also better visibility on more narrow trails making better and safer skiing in foggy conditions and precipitation.
Agree with you Frank. But keep in mind that it often seems that ORDA and Whiteface management view the Mountain as a ski racer training and racing facility rather than a recreational skier’s facility. This trail widening is being done to make the trails conform to FIS standards.
They’ll bend over backwards catering to a few hundred racers, while giving the tens of thousands of recreational skiers the shrug of the shoulders.
It’s a bit of Catch 22 situation to be sure.
Peter Bauer says
To be clear, as our submitted comment letter stated, Protect the Adirondacks believes that ORDA is managing the Whiteface Mountain alpine ski area within the limitations set by the two Article 14 Constitutional Amendments that set out ski trail mileages and trail widths. Because of those two amendments, ORDA can cut as many trees as it sees fit to maintain its ski trails as long as it does not go beyond stated mileage and widths in the amendments. These amendments allow ORDA to cut lots of trees in order to manage an alpine ski area.
Our concerns were about the high elevation hiking trails and mountainbike trails. These trails enjoy no exemptions from Article 14 through amendments, but must conform with Article 14 law. In the draft UMP for Whiteface, ORDA talked about very wide hiking and mountainbike trails that would require cutting of thousands of trees and using various crushed stone and other things to surface these trails. These plans raised Article 14 issues to us.
In the final plan, ORDA bowed to reality and said it would comply with new state trail standards once the DEC completes that work and releases these to the public. We do not see how the APA can make a decision about compliance with the State Land Master Plan for hiking trails or mountainbike trails without knowing the trail design, widths, and tree cutting. By approving this UMP without any information whatsoever about the issues above, the APA is basically saying that it will blindly trust ORDA and the DEC, thereby, once again, lazily failing to act as an independent agency that is responsible for holding the DEC, and ORDA, accountable.
Here’s the comment letter from Protect the Adirondacks: https://www.protectadks.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/220411-APA-Whiteface-UMP-Amendment.pdf
This is great news. Nice to see the investment in MTB!!!! Well done to everyone involved. Standby for the Pete Bauer suit.
Pete. Give and take. I am all for the protection efforts your agency has put forth but I promise more donations and support would be given if Protect the Adirondacks gave just a little bit back in terms of recreational activity. It is hard to support tax dollars used to acquire more and more land that won’t be used. Give a little ground and gain support for the broader picture. Land acquisition is an important part (I believe) of the big picture. Let’s get the general public behind more land grabs and offer something back. Mountain biking is growing in popularity and I don’t believe Protect the Daks wants growing opposition.
Tom Paine says
Your joking, right.