Despite ban, riders continue to abuse trails in the Forest Preserve, though the extent of the problem is debated.
Unfortunately, I have to watch where I step. The trail is full of deep and muddy ruts, the ugly kind that can ruin your boots. It takes some of the fun out of hiking.
Muddy ruts are commonplace in parts of the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest, the Independence River Wild Forest, and many other tracts of the forever-wild Forest Preserve. Usually, they have been created by all-terrain vehicles.
Seven years after the state Department of Environmental Conservation banned ATVs from state land in the Adirondacks and Catskills to stop “illegal and inappropriate ATV use … and to ensure that the resources of the Forest Preserve are protected,” trails are still being chewed up by the four-wheel vehicles.
To size up the problem and get a handle on current trends, this spring I visited more than a dozen trails that a 2003 report by the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks or guidebooks had identified as having significant ATV damage. Despite the ban, enacted a year after the release of the RCPA report, two-thirds of the trails showed continued signs of abuse, with some trails churned into a muddy mess.
“There is still absolutely a large amount of trespass going on,” said Peter Bauer, the main author of the RCPA report, titled “Rutted and Ruined.” (Bauer has since left the RCPA to become executive director of the Fund for Lake George.)
DEC officials acknowledge that ATV trespass still occurs, but they contend that the problem is mostly under control. “All in all, the department does not see ATV trespass as a large-spread problem in the Forest Preserve,” said spokeswoman Lori Severino.
In the last five years, Severino said, DEC forest rangers and conservation officers have issued 132 tickets for illegal use of motor vehicles on state land.
That’s not enough, in the view of the Adirondack Council. Based on anecdotal evidence, “we think we are seeing more trespass,” said John Sheehan, the council’s spokesman. “Generally, where [ATVs] have been they’ve driven out other users because of the rutting, the noise, the disturbance.”
Scott Lorey, the council’s legislative director, suggested that DEC may not be aware of the extent of the problem because of cuts in staff. “They have a lot less boots on the ground to do enforcement,” he said.
But Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said he believes that ATV trespass in the Forest Preserve has abated over the past decade. “We still have a problem in a lot of areas, but in some of the areas where it was endemic, it has gotten better,” he said. “There has been more enforcement from DEC.”
Given the size of the Park (5.8 million acres) and its hundreds of trails, no one can say for sure whether ATV trespass is trending up or down. But the Explorer investigation found ruts, erosion, and other damage on public lands across the southern and western Adirondacks. Affected trails include Glasgow Pond Trail in the Ferris Lake Wild Forest, Irving Pond Trail in Shaker Mountain Wild Forest, Big Otter Lake West Trail in the Independence River Wild Forest, and Bear Creek Trail in the Black River Wild Forest.
ATV trespass seems to be more common in Wild Forest Areas than in Wilderness Areas. Most Wild Forest Areas are on the more populated fringes of the Park, and many are crisscrossed by old logging roads and snowmobile trails that ATV riders use to access the forest.
“If a snowmobile can get through, an ATV will find its way there,” Sheehan said.
Indeed, a 2003 study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, “All-Terrain Vehicles in the Adirondacks,” found that much of the trespass occurs on snowmobile trails. “Many of these trails traverse poorly drained or highly erosive soils, and many pass through wetlands,” the report said. “These factors make snowmobile trails highly susceptible to environmental damage by illegal ATV use.”
Snowmobile trails, of course, are designed for use in winter, when wetlands are frozen. When ATVs run through wet places in other seasons, the study said, “the trail gets wider and wider as the trail becomes increasingly muddy. Future users circumvent the wet areas, in many cases creating new trails, damaging vegetation and opening up new areas to abuse.”
ATVs also run through streams, muddying waters. Other environmental consequences of ATV trespass include the destruction of plants, the washing of soil into streams, the compaction of soil, and air pollution. And then there’s the noise, which studies say increases the stress on wildlife (not to mention ruining the wild experience for hikers).
As their name implies, all-terrain vehicles are designed to go virtually anywhere, including places that pickup trucks and jeeps can’t manage. Legally, though, ATVs can go almost nowhere—and that’s one cause of the trespass problem.
Over the past decade, the number of ATVs registered in New York State has grown to 126,779, an increase of thirty thousand. The eleven counties wholly or partially in the Adirondack Park account for 26,354 registrations, or 20 percent of the total (down from a peak of twenty-nine thousand in 2004). Some of those ATVs belong to farmers who use them for chores. Many belong to hunters. But some are owned by people best described as “thrill-seekers,” the folks that manufacturers such as Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Suzuki target with much of their advertising. Yet after spending anywhere from $6,000 to more than $10,000 on a new ATV, the owner will be hard-pressed to find a lawful place to ride.
Not only is the Forest Preserve off limits, but so is most state land outside the Park. Most private landowners also do not welcome ATV riders because of liability worries and environmental concerns. Generally, public highways are closed to ATVs, though towns have the discretion to open stretches of town roads to allow riders to reach legal trails.
One ATV advocate suggests that riders may be trespassing on state trails out of sheer resentment. “New York has created its own monster with this, by taking registration fees and giving people no place to ride,” said Bob Deitz, ATV trail coordinator for Lewis County.
In 2007, Lewis County approved a plan to develop four hundred miles of ATV trails, mostly on county-owned forestland. The county approached DEC about using old logging roads and truck trails in the Forest Preserve but was rebuffed. “We were told flat out that they would not open their truck trails for our county trail system,” Deitz said.
An economic development consultant, Camoin Associates of Saratoga Springs, estimated that the direct and indirect economic benefit of ATV users in the Tug Hill region of the state—which includes Lewis County—amounts to about $35 million annually.
Deitz said the county trail network has been successful, with more than 2,200 permits issued to riders. Because of the trails, there are more ATVs in the area now, and some illegal use does occur, a state forest ranger in Lowville acknowledged.
The Lewis County project has been successful enough that other counties, including St. Lawrence and Franklin, are looking at establishing trail systems that might take some of the pressure off the Forest Preserve—or perhaps lead to more calls to open state land to ATVs.
Deitz believes the old dirt roads in the Forest Preserve should be open to ATVs. He said riders probably would be willing to pay fees to help maintain and repair trails.
“These roads were built to allow forest access, fire breaks, and aid in safety for search and rescue,” Dietz said. “They are hardened travel ways that would greatly help the local communities with recreational tourism. Remember that everything does damage, and with the proper funding mechanism in place, and someone to monitor and manage the trails, any damage done can be remediated.”
Without access to state land, Deitz said, Lewis County ATV riders sometimes must ride for miles on public roads to move between county trails. Using trails on state land would be safer, he said.
In response, Severino said DEC has no plans to reconsider its ban on ATVs from the Forest Preserve. Generally, she said, DEC does not patrol trails in search of trespassers, but it does respond to complaints. When the department gets a complaint, it may initiate patrols or block access with a steel gate, boulders, or other barrier.
Although barriers can be effective, they are not foolproof. At Haskell Road in the southern Adirondacks, ATV riders simply drive around a steel gate. At Irving Pond, near Caroga Lake, a gate prevented ATVs from entering a foot trail, but a mile farther on, the trail merged with a snowmobile trail that has been ripped up by fat-tired traffic.
“Some unauthorized ATV use still does occur, but when reported by the public to DEC, our forest rangers and ECOs [environmental conservation officers] make every effort to identify the parties involved, issue tickets, and stop this illegal activity,” Severino said.
She said some of the 132 tickets issued by DEC over the last five years may have been issued to drivers of pickup trucks or jeeps. The maximum fine is $250, but probably few violators receive the maximum. “What happens is local judges will throw the tickets out,” Bauer said.
Bauer believes the “Rutted and Ruined” report raised awareness of the environmental damage caused by ATVs and helped goad DEC into banning the machines from the Preserve. And that, he said, is a big improvement.
“Is there ATV use in the Forest Preserve?” he asked. “Oh, absolutely. But it’s illegal now.” n
I think all hiking trails should be closed also. The erosion of all the foot trails I’ve seen are all as bad as any trails used by ATV’s. THIS IS A FACT.
Terry, if you want to debate the issue at hand, then do so. Do not make up false “facts”.
Foot and bike traffic doesn’t do anywhere near as much damage.
In the high peaks thevtrails are shredded from foot traffic. The damage over the last 30 years is tremendous.
Starr Cole says
After thousands of dollars in initial expense, NYS DOT requires us to register and insure our ATV’s as motor vehicles, requires the use of a helmet and gives us no place to ride. How about those of us who do respect the laws and are simply looking for the same outdoor enjoyment? Just designate somewhere for us to use some of OUR tax funded state, county and town land. Your regulations are merely exacerbating a problem that doesn’t need to exist.
The problem, “Starr,” is that your selfish idea of “outdoor enjoyment”wrecks the peace and scenary for people hiking, fishing, or otherwise trying to experience nature, what you call “outdoors.” See, it doesn’t work both ways, hikers can quiety pass through without creating a huge disturbance (noise, dust, mud – you know, all the side-effects of your ATV “enjoyment”), whereas your ridiculously loud and obtrusive machine ruins the natural environment for everyone else. ATV’s should be limited to private lands, including special ATV or motorcross parks, far removed from residential areas.
Dan..you say that “Starr” is selfish with her idea of outdoor enjoyment…aren’t you equally selfish with your idea..You are not realizing that different people enjoy and want different experiences. Isn’t there room for both… places where ATV’s are allowed..with registration and trail fees used to maintain those trail areas, and places where ATV’s are not allowed… Hikers, Fisherman etc..can avoid these areas if it bothers them…there will be plenty of other areas they can use that would be off limits to ATVs.. (I am a year round resident of the Adirondack Park and I don’t own an ATV.. my thoughts are simply that there is enough land to accommodate multi use … and separate multi use!)
As a disabled combat vet, in or on a motorized vehicle is my only way to get around the outdoors. I ride a polaris ace that polaris installed hand controls in for me. You people who can walk can go anywhere. All i want is equal treatment and the legal right to use trails in the state i live.
“After thousands of dollars in initial expense”
That’s your problem ………No one held a gun to your head
You don’t buy a boat if you live in the desert …..of course you would probably demand a lake be built …just you bought a boat
No one held a gun to your head and said to hike in the adirondacks. Go hike a beach or something if you are selfish…
Uh nony moose says
Why is this not up to the local municipalities? Give the locals a voice! I would like to see the turn out for a vote on this issue. Do it by town, or county…. DEC land in St. Lawrence County barely gets used at all now. This is the motivation behind the ‘multi-use trail system’–the County recognizes the community need for public ATV trails. Every county in the NC should join in…. The trails in ‘Rutted and Ruined’ needed maintenance, not closure.
I hike, hunt, and ride ATV…I feel it is an issue of respect of our parks and outdoors in general..I do that. most do…..Some city slickers my not like the looks of us riding well go to blazes…I pay more in fee’s hunting and such to our parkland than you ever will….New york will not let me ride legally in there parks so I register my vehicles in Pa…do the same…Pa lets us ride..government doesn’t care anyway they just want money.well you get none from my quad…..Paul
If hikers and riders are both paying for maintenance then both have a right to enjoy the park. I do both, and i fully admit that when i hike, i like it quiet and atv’s are annoying. but when im on the quad i like it loud and fast. i do find myself more self-righteous when hiking though, as does whoever wrote this article. First, lets get one thing straight atv’s do not “create mud”…dirt and water create mud. they can leave ruts and pool the water but by doing that u will create dryer tracks on both sides of the pool…in this situation u don’t need to get rid of atv’s, u need to put a log bridge on the side, or add a gravel drain. i tink the trails should be divided up for both parties convenience…its annoying to slow down for hikers crossing a mud hole, and its annoying to listen to atv’s when you’re hunting. Also, “adds stress to wildlife”, is that what they said? ROFL, now u speak snake/bear/squirrell. My advice to everyone here is to be humble and not self righteous, everyone has the right to enjoy the parks in the way they choose as long as it’s under control. peace
Actually, both in terms of plain common sense, and in terms of the law, everyone does not have “the right to enjoy the parks in the way they choose as long as it’s under control” because one person’s sense of being “under control” is another person’s sense of complete mayhem and chaos. That’s why we have laws, ATV riders should learn to obey them, if they can find the time between waving their “don’t tread on me” flags and ripping up what otherwise used to be peaceful adirondack trails. It’s not about inconveniencing squirrels, it’s about ruining the experience for people who want to experience peace, quiet, and nature. Of which the ear-splitting sound and huge “rooster tails” of dirt, dust, and mud kicked up by ATV’s has no place.
You realize its a big park and not every area gets hiked, right?
Ok, first of all there is NO such thing as “destroying or damaging nature by ATV’s Nature will always grow back, 2 just because you like to put on your daisy gays n walk through the forest like Goldie locks, doesn’t mean everyone else does, some people enjoy riding n getting muddy, n seeing nature on something that in my opinion beats “hiking” or “biking” or “crawling” through the woods ATV riding is not distructive were just into our own pastime, just like your into yours, we enjoy trails that it was perfectly designed to ride on just like you tree huggers like to skip through, were very sorry for your confusion but nature can only be destroyed by big business who cuts down millions of trees n builds huge paved roads,for their own profit most ATV riders actually take care of the trails they ride n enjoy nature the same as you but in different ways, but you can drill a 50ft wirde hole to China n within just a few years the hole is gone, Nature will always reclaim man and their inventions, so stop with the uptight rediculous, comments about ATV’s destroying ur precious nature, nature can not be destroyed by man forever, so relax the weird thing is half of you rediculous idiots ride on the same trails your crying about urselves, you hypocrites!
Useful info. Lucky me I found your website accidentally, and I am surprised why this accident didn’t took place in advance!
I bookmarked it.
Wow. I live in Wisconsin. A state that gains millions of dollars a year because of atv and utv tourism. We have areas in the nicolet national forest with hundreds of miles of trails that wind through the forest and some nice hilly turrain. It’s absolutely beautiful. Some of the towns here would not even exist anymore without this opportunity. The trails are well maintained. If nys doesn’t want ur money please visit Wisconsin. You will love it and we welcome you.
What is the name of the author?
Brian Dehart says
Absolutely retarded. Trails should be open to atvs. That muddy mess brings joy and visitors. Would bring much more then hiking. Look at pa, nh, vt trail systems.
Open adirondacks to all, forever wild doesn’t mean inaccessible to all. Foot traffic, bicycles, snowmobiles, horses and atv’ should be all allowed especially if there is a demand for it. Issue permits to Atv riders just like Harriman park issues boat permits to kayakers. Maybe It will help local economies with the boost in tourism.
Alden Faas says
New York State charges large fees in the form of vehicle registration with no permissible access on State Property is a violation of the New York state constitution and is immoral to its citizens
Alden Faas says
The only reason why this beautiful wilderness occurs is because our tax dollars enable that so therefore we do have rights to access these properties because guess what we the taxpayers are paying for it regardless of what you need your freaks think there are millions of Acres they can give us a portion of that to ride on
Mountain bikes tread width is about an inch. If a “mountain biker” cannot navigate around a mud pit instead of riding through the deepest part he is more of a danger than any atver. He should stay in his yard until he becomes a little better at riding and please steer clear of roads and pedestrians.
If you are not “watching your step” when you hike sir you are not hiking. If you cant steer your feet around an obstacle than “can ruin your boots” then take them off and stay home. You and your boots will be much safer.
An atv cannot hurt the earth beyond repair. Maintain the trails like you have to do on hiking and biking trails. If you have never seen ruts from mountain bike and hikers than you haven’t logged many miles on either. Tread lightly and respectfully and fight for your trails. This article is a bad joke, full of idiocy.
People drive around the gate at haskels rd because cars and trucks can drive that “road” but atvs cant, even though they are better suited for it. Hundreds of camps are back down that rd, along with access to miller park, where atvs are the only mode of travel. No one hikes the snowmobile trails. Where they are on private land, the owners ride the trails. They should be open to atv and sxs traffic. Through morehouse 65% of the sled trails are on private land, and we ride that land anyway.
sHERRY sWAIN says
trying to print this no luck!!!
Jeanne Mattison says
We need trails for ATV’s! My husband and I are senior citizens and have disabilities now that only an ATV would make possible for us to enjoy the Adirondacks – like we did when we were younger. People that have disabilities pay taxes but do not get to enjoy the beauty of the Woods in the Adirondacks because we can’t get to them.
Jayden Workman says
We need trails for the act riders to ride on if Ny would open trails for riders to ride on there would not be illegal riding and there would not be ruined hiking trails. I don’t feel bad for any hiking trails that have been ruined due to ny selfish money hogging ways. This is why this state sucks and don’t say “oh why don’t you just move then” the reason I stay here is cause my family is here and they matter to me so I stay. It would not be that hard to turn a few snowmobile trails into at trails and then u would only have trespassing be the selfish people who then do deserve a ticket till then ride on!!!