APA board calls for public comments
By Gwendolyn Craig
The Olympic Regional Development Authority showcased to the Adirondack Park Agency board the positive comments submitted thus far for its plans to widen ski trails and create new paths at Whiteface Mountain. ORDA officials including President and CEO Mike Pratt attended the APA’s virtual Thursday meeting to send their amendment proposal to a second public comment.
ORDA wants to widen some of its ski racing trails, create three new downhill ski trails for lower-level participants and build a new trail from Bear Den Lodge to the new Legacy Lodge. Aaron Kellett, general manager of Whiteface Mountain, also detailed plans for additional hiking and mountain biking trails that could connect with Wilmington Wild Forest. In total, the proposal would involve cutting thousands of trees.
Public comment collected through the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s review saw people concerned about the fate of a species the state lists as of “special concern,” the Bicknell’s thrush. But ORDA officials pointed to Northern New York Audubon’s comment letter suggesting the agency’s plans could make better habitat for the birds.
ORDA officials said they will avoid cutting trees above 2,800 feet from May 15 to Aug. 1, the typical breeding season of Bicknell’s thrush. Northern New York Audubon called those measures “sufficient to protect nesting birds.”
“The habitat changes, made outside the nesting period, to add a few, short hiking trails about 2800 feet may even add preferable edge habitat for nesting,” the organization wrote.
Michelle Crew, general counsel for ORDA, also addressed comments about the amount of tree-cutting for the ski, hiking and biking trails. Whiteface Mountain is part of state constitutional amendments that allow for up to 25 miles of ski trails.
Crew said ORDA’s total existing and currently approved mileage of ski trails is 22.74 miles. ORDA will not create trails beyond its constitutional cap, Crew said.
The widening of eight ski trails is of particular priority for ORDA with the 2023 World University Games scheduled for January.
ORDA included a slide thanking the New York Ski Educational Foundation, Northern New York Audubon and the Town of Wilmington for their support of its plans.
Crew said the mountain biking and hiking trails would be on pause. ORDA is a member of the DEC’s trail stewardship group, an advisory committee convened to develop tree-cutting policies following the state Court of Appeals’ decision that the DEC’s tree-cutting for some connector snowmobile trails was illegal. ORDA will site, design and seek approval of those trails once the DEC issues a revised tree-cutting policy.
Pratt said the public made comments that ORDA added to its proposal, too. One involved building a restroom facility at the race finishing building. The second is installing electric vehicle charging stations at Bear Den Lodge and at the main parking lots.
The APA board moved the plan to public comment, this time for reviewers to decide if it conforms to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, a set of guidelines and land classifications for all the state-owned land in the park. APA Board Member Art Lussi, an ORDA director, recused himself from the vote and Zoe Smith was absent.
The comment period will run from March 11 to April 11. Comments may be submitted to Megan Phillips, Deputy Director of Planning, P.O. Box 99, Ray Brook, NY, 12977 or to SLMP_UMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov.
DEC also seeks comments
The DEC is also asking for public feedback on its plans to build storage for boat decontamination equipment at day use areas and campgrounds. The pressure washing equipment is used to clean boats of aquatic invasive species before launching.
The department said most of its equipment is stored in temporary sheds. Moving has caused equipment damage and can be difficult and time-consuming, said Josh Houghton, natural resource planner with DEC. As a remedy, the DEC wants permission to build one-story buildings, a maximum of 320 square feet, at its 52 campground/day-use areas.
The APA board moved the change to a joint public comment period with the DEC.
Comments submitted to the department may be submitted to Josh Houghton, NYSDEC Bureau of Recreation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments on whether the department’s proposed changes conform with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan may be submitted to Megan Phillips, Deputy Director of Planning, P.O. Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977 or to SLMP_UMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov.