By Gwendolyn Craig
The fate of Adirondack Park trees and snowmobile trails could come back to court.
It has been nearly three months since the state’s highest court ruled some snowmobile trails both built and planned for the Adirondack Park were unconstitutional. Potential ways the state plans to move forward after that ruling, however, are not sitting well with Protect the Adirondacks, the plaintiff in the case.
Since the New York State Court of Appeals 4-2 ruling in favor of Protect, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency have said little about what the decision means for tree-cutting projects. The court ruling decided that the DEC and APA’s plans for building trails connecting North Hudson to Newcomb, Minerva and Indian Lake would violate the “forever wild” provision of the state constitution. The trails were to be 9 to 12 feet in width. Some of the trails have already been built.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect, said the DEC has so far refused to meet with his organization. The DEC did hold a forest preserve advisory committee meeting at the end of July, which Protect attended. At that meeting, Bauer said some of the department’s plans to address the court ruling appeared lawful, but he has concerns about others.
“We are assessing our options at this point, one of which could be going back to court,” Bauer said in an email to Adirondack Explorer.
At a July APA meeting, APA Executive Director Terry Martino said that DEC and APA will address and propose amendments to those unit management plans that include community connector snowmobile trails. Unit management plans are documents with natural resource assessments and public recreation opportunities for individual areas of the park. Once those amendments are proposed, they will be presented to the public for review.
Martino also said the APA and DEC will be updating its Snowmobile Trail Management Guidance “within the context of the court ruling to ensure compliance.”
Bauer said these steps appear to be in compliance with the court ruling.
Bauer and Protect want to see the DEC restore the approximately two dozen miles of connector snowmobile trails already built. At the advisory committee meeting, Bauer said there was talk that the DEC would retain those trails “and simply rename them” under a different classification.
“We’re also concerned about the DEC’s plans to dust off outdated snowmobile policies from the 1990s that allow for 12-foot-wide trails,” Bauer wrote.
MORE REACTIONS: Read commentary on this issue on our sister site, the Adirondack Almanack.
- Sabotaging Trail Deal Was No Way to Protect the Adirondacks
- “Staff should rely on this policy.” Really?
- Peter Bauer responds to Indian Lake Supervisor Brian Wells’ commentary
The DEC denied it is renaming any of the snowmobile trails in the case, but it is going back to a predecessor policy for constructing and maintaining snowmobile trails. The policy DEC noted was issued in 1998 for both the Adirondacks and Catskills, records show, though it had been rescinded in 2009 for the Adirondacks. The policy does allow for some 12-foot-wide snowmobile trails. The DEC said future snowmobile trails will be constructed using this policy.
As for what will happen with the community connector trails already built, the DEC said it is evaluating the trail conditions “to determine whether planting or other supplemental work might be necessary.” DEC added that the court did not require the DEC to evaluate these trails.
Other planned projects
The DEC is still deciding how to proceed with other projects involving tree-cutting, like some hiking trail projects in the park. Bauer had concerns with two new forest preserve projects including one in the Adirondacks and one in the Catskills. In the Adirondacks, the DEC plans to remove 655 trees in St. Lawrence County near the Bog River Dam for dam rehabilitation and expanded parking. DEC said the project does not involve a snowmobile trail and is in compliance with its lands and forests policy.
In the Catskills, DEC will remove 1,267 trees to relocate about six miles of the Long Path Trail in Ulster County. That will allow snowmobile use.
“These action(s) do not appear to us to comply with the Court of Appeals and lower court decisions and the fact record from the trial,” Bauer said.