APA taking comments on the stretches of motor routes in a big part of the park
By Gwendolyn Craig
More than 160 comments have rolled in over the Adirondack Park Agency’s half-century conundrum managing the number of miles and use of roads in wild forest, a land classification that makes up more than half of state-owned lands in the park. Feedback ranges from environmental groups’ worries that the APA is trying to shirk its own policies, to disability rights activists’ request for access, to local governments’ concerns that roads could be closed.
The public comment period, which ends July 12, kicked off in May when agency staff told the board it needs to interpret a guideline in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan about the miles of road in wild forest lands, if roads accessible only to people with disabilities should be part of that and what is a “material increase.”
Send comments to Megan Phillips, Deputy Director for Planning, Adirondack Park Agency, P.O. Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977, (518) 891-4050 or to SLMP_UMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov.
Wild forest is one of the land classifications that permits “a somewhat higher degree of human use” than the most remote of the land classifications, “while retaining an essentially wild character.” It is the largest percentage of state land in the park at 1.32 million acres.
“Public use of motor vehicles will not be encouraged and there will not be any material increase in the mileage of roads and snowmobile trails open to motorized use by the public in wild forest areas that conformed to the master plan at the time of its original adoption in 1972.”Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, wild forest basic guideline no. 4
The APA and Department of Environmental Conservation are under a consent decree to open about 26.4 miles of roads for people with disabilities, following a July 2001 court settlement in the matter of Galusha vs. the DEC. Theodore Galusha, of Warrensburg, sued the state under the Americans with Disabilities Act for not allowing motorized access to parts of the forest preserve. About 21.56 miles of those roads have been outlined for people with disabilities after that settlement. An additional 16.5 miles, beyond the requirements outlined in the Galusha settlement, have been approved but are not yet opened.
Based on the comments received so far, environmentalists believe those roads only accessible to people with disabilities should be included in the overall road count, while local government groups and disability rights activists say they should not. Groups like Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve and Adirondack Wilderness Advocates say even if the roads are only open to specific people, they are still impacted by motorized use and should be counted.
Mark Schachner, attorney for the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages and Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, said his research shows about 1,000 individuals in the state hold the permits necessary to access CP3 routes, short for Commissioner’s Policy No. 3, created to address the Galusha settlement. He said “an infinitesimal portion of New Yorkers have access. We suggest that, under these circumstances, there is no rational legal, factual or practical support for inclusion of these roads in the overall calculation.”
Margaret Goldberg, president and CEO of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, wrote supporting an option where CP3 roads are not included. “This allows for the necessary and appropriate disability access,” she said. “Mileage should increase in proportion to the expansion to equitably provide accessibility to those additional areas for the disability community. Notably, doing so would do no harm to the environment and have no adverse impact.”
One of the members of APA and DEC’s Accessibility Advisory Committee commented, asking for the board to solicit the input of more people with disabilities before making its decision. Kathryn Carroll, a lawyer and staff member at the Association of Aging in New York and a council member of the New York State Independent Living Council, said the APA has done “tremendous work” to increase accessibility, but has not done so with any input from its own accessibility advisory committee.
Carroll said the options the APA has put forth over road mileage count “make assumptions about access we cannot afford to perpetuate for the sake of disabled New Yorkers, a population increasing in number all the time.” The CP3 routes require individuals to apply for permits and often require logistical and physical assistance to maneuver around gates and other barriers.
“CP3 is flawed,” Carroll wrote. “A cap on what can be made more accessible via a road is also counter to the purpose of the ADA. A ceiling on access is not acceptable.”
Environmental groups believe the APA and DEC have already allowed for too many roads in wild forest lands. They also submitted comments saying that the way APA is reviewing its options is flawed.
Bill Ingersoll, co-founder of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, wrote “there is the embarrassing fact that the agency has been making a habit of approving all these new trails and roads without considering the overall impact, vis-à-vis whether there has been a material increase in the amount of motorized recreation throughout the Forest Preserve.”
In a form letter sent by multiple Protect the Adirondacks members, the group suggested “no material increase” would be more in the order of 2-3%. That would mean existing roads would need to be closed.
Dave Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, said the APA and DEC are focused on miles of road and not on “motorized uses.” The APA should be looking at motorized use on conservation easements, too, he said. Others pointed out the same concern.
“Capping mileage doesn’t necessarily discourage use,” wrote Todd Miller, of Vermontville.
Another concern for environmentalists is the APA’s consideration of 2008 guidance it issued on snowmobile trails. Back then, it considered a “material increase” of snowmobile trails in the park to be about 15%. The board will have to decide if it wants to use the same standard for wild forest roads.
Most of the commenters balked at the 15%. Even Schachner said the number and the snowmobile policy “seems to have been somewhat randomly derived without specific basis in law, rule or regulation and we do not really see any ‘magic’ to application of that number.”
“Ask your boss for a 15% raise in your salary and see what happens,” Ingersoll quipped. “Look up 2022 inflation rate that may cost Joe Biden his job, which is nowhere near 15%. All of APA’s suggested alternatives are a mockery of real-world math.”
APA spokesman Keith McKeever said the board will not deliberate the wild forest roads questions at its July meeting, but APA and the DEC will present public comments at a future meeting. There is no legal time clock ticking for the board to make a decision.
When asked why the board was taking on these 50-year-old questions now, McKeever pointed to an amendment to the management plan for Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest. In 2018, the board adopted a resolution that states the agency and DEC are interpreting the road mileage in wild forest and “once finalized by the Agency, will apply to all Wild Forest” unit management plans.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the resolution of the Galusha lawsuit. It was settled. This story has also been updated to clarify the CP3 mileage approved.