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.
Enough with development dollars thrown at Whiteface (Lake Placid) and Gore (North Creek) which are both already major ski area that draw tourist business. How about some economic development in the smaller towns that are hurting? A relatively small investment compared to new trails at Whiteface or Gore could have a big impact. A key component of this would be simply finding a way to let the towns take advantage of the huge amount of state “park” land that hems them in. Also all the working timberlands on which we the people have purchased recreational easements. Snowmobile trails are the obvious example, but also cross country ski trails that can be groomed, mountain bike trails, etc.
I agree – taxpayer dollars could likely be better spent. Still waiting for the road into Boreas Ponds to fully open after the storm damage! ORDA has a lot of weight in Albany and I don’t see this changing. Part of the argument for more and better trails is trying to keep the State ski centers competitive with VT and other states, which makes sense.
Tom Paine says
Violating article 14 of the NYS constitution according to the lawsuit ruling. Cease and desist.
ORDA doesn’t provide much of a response on the issue (see bottom). Comments from the proposal:
Comment B1: Protect the Adirondacks has a number of concerns regarding the Olympic Regional Development
Authority’s (“ORDA”) newly proposed Draft Unit Management Plan (“UMP”) Amendment for the Whiteface
Mountain Intensive Use Area (the “UMP Amendment”). Protect the Adirondacks believes ORDA’s plans violate
Article 14 of the State Constitution, the forever wild clause, in a number of areas — new downhill mountain
bike trails, high elevation “lift-serviced hiking trails,” and “lift-serviced mountain bike trails.” We’re also
concerned about plans for new alpine ski trails and widening existing trails because it appears that ORDA is
close to the constitutional limits on ski trails.
Please find below PROTECT’s comments on a series of issues with the UMP Amendment.
ORDA’s Compliance with Article 14 at Whiteface Mountain: Our review of the UMP Amendment finds that
ORDA’s plans to build a downhill mountain biking trail network would violate the Constitution and its overall
alpine ski trail construction and widening plans would strain the UMP’s constitutional compliance. The
Whiteface Mountain Ski Center is on Forest Preserve land, which is protected under Article 14, Section 1 of the
NYS Constitution. The Ski Center was constructed, and operates to this day, under a 1941 constitutional
amendment that authorized construction of ski trails and “appurtenances thereto”, for the purpose of creating
a downhill ski area, which otherwise would have been prohibited by Article 14.The 1941 Whiteface
amendment did not authorize any other type of construction.
Article 14, Section 1, the forever wild provision, of the NYS Constitution is a covenant between the governed
and their government for the management of the Forest Preserve, one of the greatest public land systems in
the United States. Major decisions for the Forest Preserve are not to be made unilaterally by state government
leaders or state agencies, but are to be directly made by the People of the State of New York. Article 14,
Section 1 states “The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as
now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be
taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.”
Article 14, Section 1 was amended by the People of the State of New York in 1941 to authorize “constructing
and maintaining not more than twenty-five miles of ski trails thirty to two hundred feet wide, together with
appurtenances thereto, provided that no more than five miles of such trails shall be in excess of one hundred
twenty feet wide, on the north, east and northwest slopes of Whiteface Mountain in Essex County.” In 1987,
the People approved a second amendment that limits the total amount of trails at Whiteface that are more
than 120 feet wide, but less than 200 feet wide, to less than 5 miles.
When the People approved the amendment for the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in 1941, and approved the
1987 amendment, they did so to approve a downhill alpine ski area and not a summertime amusement park.
Response: ORDA has reviewed these comments and believes that the proposed management actions are
consistent with the authorization provided by Article 14 of the Constitution Furthermore, nothing in the
amendment precludes public access to Whiteface outside of the winter months.
Todd Eastman says
Every line of the proposal needs to be reviewed in detail so this doesn’t become just another carve-out from the guts of Art. 14.
As so much is purportedly based on the FIS homologation standards for race trails, it would make sense to begin pressuring the FIS to stop demanding specs that destroy the natural setting of the sites where sanctioned races are conducted.
plow boy says
Okay to slice up Whiteface but to make a snowmobile community connector trail
Oh my how could one get enough political pull(constitional amendment) for something that might pay some local folks bills is a green lobby political nightmare
Tom Paine says
You are correct. Article 14 issues are decided by the number of lawyers and political clout you have in the Albany cesspool. More lawyers, more clout, more money and you win. What an absolute charade.
Great to see ORDA embrace additional recreational activities. While I can respect the interest in preserving the forest I also believe without the correct infastructure more and more illegal trails would be built resulting in a much larger problem. I fully support the construction of a mountain bike trail network.