Press-Republican

March 1, 2013

Green group looks to sue over new trail

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — RAY BROOK — Days after the opening of a the new Adirondack snowmobile connector trail, environmentalists are looking to challenge its construction in court.

The lawsuit, if allowed by Appellate Court, would be directed at Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency planning and trail work.

The 12.8-mile connector in Moose River Plains Wild Forest links Inlet with Raquette Lake hamlets and is a multi-use trail designed to be open year-round.

‘BROAD SUPPORT’

The Unit Management Plan was completed by the State Department of Environmental Conservation in 2011 after public hearings and years of forestry inventory and planning.

As part of the plan, 46 miles of former snowmobile trails were closed. And another 15,000 acres of land were moved out of the Wild Forest unit into a new Moose River Wilderness area.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens heralded the opening of the new trail on Feb. 15 with an invitation for the public to bring snowmobiles.

“While there are a limited few who refuse to see the forest through the trees and how sustainable communities benefit both the Adirondack Park and the local economies, our many partners in this project demonstrate the broad-ranging support for this new trail,” Martens said in a statement.

“The construction of this important multiple-use trail could not have been accomplished without the many organizations and municipalities we work with in partnership as stewards of the public lands in the Adirondack Park,” he continued, commending his staff, APA staff and local leaders.

TREES LOST

But early this week, Protect the Adirondacks, an environmental group based in Lake George, announced its plan to sue to challenge the way the new trail was built and use of trail groomers to maintain the route in winter.

The green group says DEC cut down too many trees.

“DEC’s cutting of more than 2,200 trees over the 11.9 miles of the new Class II community connector snowmobile trail in (Moose River Plains) violated the State Constitution’s prohibition on tree cutting,” the statement said.

“We believe that the high number of trees removed violates the State Constitution,” Protect Chairman Chuck Clusen said in a news release.

“We’re not saying the state can never chop down a tree, but the work done on these new trails goes far beyond what is legal and acceptable.”

WILD FORESTLAND USE

The project is in state Wild Forest.

According to the State Land Master Plan, Wild Forest acres are “capable of withstanding higher levels of recreational use; convey less of a sense of remoteness and provide fewer outstanding opportunities for solitude for visitors, and therefore … are managed to provide opportunities for a greater variety of recreational activities and a higher intensity of recreational use.”

The 12.8 miles of new trail replaces 46 miles of snowmobile trails that used to wind through Moose River Plains.

It is part of a focused initiative put in motion several years ago to complete a sequence of snowmobile trails that “connect” Adirondack towns and communities.

LINKED COMMUNITIES

“Establishing this community connection multiple-use trail reflects Governor Andrew Cuomo and DEC’s vision to connect Adirondack communities to the Forest Preserve and to each other, providing recreational and economic benefits,” Martens said.

“We will continue to protect the natural resources of the Adirondacks while providing exceptional recreational and tourism opportunities for residents and visitors alike.”

The trail expands recreational access for the public to snowmobile, hike and bike in Hamilton County. 

APA Chairwoman Leilani Ulrich said the trail was built in accordance with state land-use regulation.

“Through a strong partnership, APA and DEC staff ensured the trail work was compliant with the (State Land Master Plan). This trail will provide local residents and tourists with a backcountry, recreational opportunity that is safe, enjoyable and environmentally sensitive to the unique resources of the Adirondack Park,” she said in a news release.

GROOMING ISSUE

Protect Executive Director Peter Bauer said the litigation does not challenge snowmobile use in the Adirondacks; it questions how the trail was built and would be maintained.

“If the new trails were built without significant tree cutting or alteration of the land and were only going to be groomed by a snowmobile with a drag, they would be legal,” he said in a statement.

“The entire premise of these new Class II ‘community connector’ trails is that they are being built like roads in order to accommodate large groomers. Only snowmobiles are supposed to be operated on trails. Groomers should only be operated on roads. That’s the crux of the issue.”

If Protect’s motion is approved in Appellate Court, the lawsuit would be filed in Albany Supreme Court.

DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said they are reviewing the lawsuit but “do not believe it has merit. Moreover, over the past six month, DEC and APA staff, together with the towns, the New York State Snowmobile Association and numerous local volunteers worked tirelessly to construct what is the most significant trail project to be undertaken in the Central Adirondacks in decades.

“While there are a limited few who refuse to see the forest through the trees and how sustainable communities benefit both the Adirondack Park and the local economies, our many partners in this project demonstrate the broad-ranging support for this new trail.”

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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