Posted on September 14th, 2009 Add a comment >>
The first time I hiked to Gull Lake in the Black River Wild Forest I was appalled at the damage to the trails caused by the illegal use of all-terrain vehicles. That was more than ten years ago. This past Sunday, I went for a morning run on these same trails and discovered that nothing has changed.
The photo above shows just one of numerous mud swales I encountered on my eight-mile jog. Not only do the machines create giant mud puddles, but they also double, triple, or quadruple the width of the trail in places.
It’s a shame, because these trails in the western Adirondacks are otherwise a pleasure to walk or jog. They’re mostly flat and follow old roads, ideal for people with kids or people who aren’t interested in climbing mountains.
Whatever the state is doing to protect the Forest Preserve from ATV trespass, it isn’t working in the Black River Wild Forest.
Posted on September 11th, 2009 4 comments Add a comment >>
The Adirondack Park Agency voted 6-4 Friday to classify most of Lows Lake and adjacent lands as Wilderness, despite objections from local politicians.
Under the proposal, which requires approval from the governor, Lows Lake west of Frying Pan Island will be designated Wilderness. The rest of the lake, which is much narrower, will be designated Primitive.
The two classifications do not differ much in their management guidelines. Both classifications forbid motorized use by the general public. In this case, the Primitive classification reflects a recognition that the eastern part of Lows Lake abuts private lands, access roads, and a large concrete dam, making it less wild.
The Boy Scouts, the major landowner on the eastern part of the lake, will continue to be allowed to to use motorboats. They can take their boats on any part of the lake, but they usually stick to the eastern part, shuttling Scouts to and from islands.
Although the full APA board voted Friday, it debated the proposal on Thursday afternoon. One of the biggest objections was that the APA would set a precedent by giving a state-land classification to a lake. In the past, it has classified only land.
APA Chairman Curt Stiles argued that the novelty of the proposal was no reason to vote against it. “If government never sets a precedent, it never moves forward,” he said.
But Fred Monroe of the Local Government Review Board, which has a non-voting seat on the APA, fears that it could lead to motorized-use restrictions on other lakes that are partially bordered by private land.”It’s not just that it establishes a precedent; it’s that it establishes a bad precedent,” he said.
Environmental activists also differed on the matter.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, favored the classification of the lake. Since the lakebed is owned by the state, he said, it is part of the Forest Preserve and should be treated as such. Dan Plumley of Protect the Adirondacks took a similar position.
But Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, argued that it was premature to classify the lake as Wilderness (even in part), given the adjoining private lands. He also noted that Lows Lake is created by a large dam.
“This is what upsets local governments,” Houseal said. “They see an artificial lake classified as Wilderness.”
Woodworth said he doubted the precedent would affect many other lakes. In many cases, if not most, the state is not the sole owner of the lakebed. He suspects the main reason local governments strenuously opposed the lake’s classification is that it will make it harder for the APA to reconsider its decision to ban floatplanes from landing.
Earlier this year, the agency voted to ban floatplanes from Lows Lake after 2011. The Wilderness and Primitive classifications reinforce this decision.
The proposal approved Friday was a revision of an earlier proposal to designate 12,700 acres, including the bed of Lows Lake, as Wilderness. The revised proposal, besides splitting the lake between Wilderness and Primitive, creates an Eastern Five Ponds Access Primitive Area that encompasses the region around the Lows Lake dam, including Hitchins Pond and the access roads. As its name indicates, this area will be classified as Primitive. The remaining land will be classified as Wilderness.
Woodworth said the vote will protect two wilderness canoe routes that include Lows Lake. One starts on the Bog River and ends on the Oswegatchie River. The other is a multiday loop that includes Little Tupper Lake, Lake Lila, Lows Lake, the Bog River, and Round Lake.
The proposal is expected to be approved by Gov. David Paterson. All three state officials on the APA voted for it. Joining them were Curt Stiles, Dick Booth, and James Townsend. Dissenting were Frank Mezzano, Leilani Ulrich, Arthur Lussi, and William Thomas–all residents of the Park. Stiles is the only other full-time Park resident on the board.
Posted on September 8th, 2009 Add a comment >>
State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis may have ruled in Jim McCulley’s favor in the Old Mountain Road dispute, but McCulley still wants him off the case.
McCulley’s lawyer, Matthew Norfolk of Lake Placid, filed a motion Tuesday asking Grannis to recuse himself for engaging in in “ex-parte” communications about the case with the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Park Agency, both of which are seeking permission to intervene in the legal controversy. They want Grannis to reconsider the decision.
This spring, Grannis ruled that the state never legally closed the Old Mountain Road, which runs between Keene and North Elba in the Sentinel Range Wilderness. He dismissed a ticket issued to McCulley for driving a pickup truck on part of the road.
After the decision, Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, and Curt Stiles, chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency, wrote letters to Grannis expressing concern that the ruling calls into question the status of other old roads in the public Forest Preserve.
Norfolk contends that he should have received copies of these letters. State law forbids communications between parties in a legal matter unless all parties are privy to them. Communications that violate this rule are referred to as “ex-parte” communications.
McCulley’s lawyer not only wants Grannis to recuse himself, but he also is demanding that the requests from the council and APA to join the proceeding be denied.
Grannis spokesman Yancey Roy declined to comment on the motion. APA spokesman Keith McKeever also said he could not comment immediately.
Marc Gerstman, the council’s lawyer, pointed out that the council was not a party to the case when Brian Houseal wrote his letter to Grannis. “There is no ex-parte issue here,” he said.
McCulley argues that DEC and the council have “an incestuous relationship” and that Houseal’s letter “planted a seed” in Grannis’s mind shortly before the council filed its request to intervene.
Posted on July 27th, 2009 2 comments Add a comment >>
Last Sunday, two friends and I paddled from Second Pond on the Saranac River to Oseetah Lake and then walked to the beach at Pine Pond for a swim. Although the weather was iffy throughout the afternoon (we got rained on twice, albeit briefly), the sun came out just as we returned to our canoes on Oseetah.
Pine Pond is a beautiful body of water that lies just inside the High Peaks Wilderness, where motorized recreation is forbidden. We were somewhat surprised to find an all-terrain vehicle and a golf cart at the pond.
But only somewhat surprised. The High Peaks Wilderness boundary is an old dirt road that runs for several miles from Averyville outside Lake Placid to Oseetah Lake. The road may be impassable to the family sedan, but not to ATVs. Just before the lake, there is a short spur that leads to Pine Pond. People can reach the spur by riding from Averyville or from camps on Oseetah.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has posted signs against vehicle use on the spur to the pond. The main road, though, lies within the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, and it’s uncertain whether it’s owned by the state or local towns, according to DEC spokesman David Winchell. In winter, the road is used as a snowmobile trail.
There has been talk of closing the road to vehicles, but Winchell says DEC will not decide what to do until it writes a management plan for the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. The plan has been in the works for years, so it’s anybody’s guess when it will be completed.
Jim McCulley, who won a legal fight with DEC over the ownership of another old road, predicts a firestorm if DEC tries to ban ATVs and other vehicles from the Oseetah Lake road. ”You want a fight?” he says. “Try closing that. All the local boys hunt in there.”
McCulley contends that the road is owned by the towns of North Elba and Harrietstown. In recent years, he adds, North Elba has used crushed tarmac to harden the surface. “They do some work on it nearly every year, just so there’s no question who owns it,” he said.
Winchell says DEC’s lawyers are researching the ownership issue.
Given the implications of the McCulley case, DEC lawyers may find themselves looking into the history of a lot of roads in the Adirondacks.
Posted on July 9th, 2009 2 comments Add a comment >>
Environmentalists worry that a snowmobiler’s victory in the Old Mountain Road case could lead to the opening of roads throughout the Forest Preserve to motorized use. So worried is the Adirondack Council that it has asked for permission to intervene in the case.
In May, Pete Grannis, the chief of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, dismissed a ticket issued to Jim McCulley, a Lake Placid resident who drove a snowmobile and then a truck on the Old Mountain Road in the Sentinel Range Wilderness. Grannis agreed with McCulley that the old road had never been legally abandoned by the local towns and therefore DEC had no right to ban motorized use. (The decision is attached below.)
John Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council, said the decision could affect hundreds of miles of old roads in the Forest Preserve. The council has asked permission to join a motion by DEC’s staff to clarify the decision.
“Our entire object is not to go after McCulley but to prevent problems from arising in other parts of the Preserve,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan said the council wants Grannis to overturn his own decision or modify it “to remove some of the erroneous interpretations of the law.” He argues that state law and legal precedents suggest that a road is legally abandoned if it has not been used as a road for a number of years.
The four-mile stretch of the Old Mountain Road in question–which runs from Keene to North Elba–has not been maintained for motorized use for many years (click to see its history). It is part of the Jackrabbit Ski Trail.
Soon after Grannis issued his decision, DEC’s own staff filed a motion asking for clarification (see attachment below). DEC attorney Randall Young says the staff believes the decision “misapprehended or misapplied” the law and needs to be clarified “to ensure proper care, custody, and control of the lands under the administration of the Department.”
McCulley’s attorney, Matthew Norfolk of Lake Placid, opposes both DEC’s motion and the council’s request to support the motion. In legal papers filed with the agency, Norfolk contends that “DEC staff are simply attempting to reargue points of law that were argued (over and over again) in the administrative proceeding.”
DEC spokesman Yancey Roy said Grannis probably will decide within a month or two whether to consider the request to clarify his ruling. If he does agree to reconsider it, the two sides would be asked to present arguments for and against modifying the decision.
Posted on April 21st, 2009 Add a comment >>
On one of our first warm days of spring, I rode my bike from Meacham Lake to St. Regis Falls and back again in a 40-mile loop. Soon after turning onto Red Tavern Road, I was passed by four riders on all-terrain vehicles coming from the opposite direction. I didn’t think much of it, but as I continued down the road, I was astounded by the number of ATVs I encountered. Altogether, I would see more than a hundred ATVs that day, either driving on the roads or parked outside bars. In St. Regis Falls, where I stopped for lunch at the Adirondack Cafe (good soup & sandwiches), I saw more ATVs than cars on the streets.
I had seen ATVs on rural roads before, but nothing like this. I was flabbergasted because I thought ATVers were prohibited from driving on public highways except for short distances to access trails. Was I mistaken? After my bike ride, I e-mailed the State Police to find out what the law says. I received the following reply: “Section 2403 of the NY State Vehicle and Traffic Law prohibits the operation of ATV’s on highways except to make a crossing, unless otherwise posted.”