In the News  Archive

Snowmobilers mobilize at Schroon Lake Boreas hearing

The Sun Community News
November 29, 2016

by Pete DeMola

SCHROON LAKE — Plaid outweighed green last week at Schroon Lake Central as the Adirondack Park Agency hosted the latest public hearing as part of the classification process for Boreas Ponds, the newly acquired parcel of state land located in the central Adirondacks.

Local sporting groups, snowmobilers and business leaders said it is critical to allow as much recreational use as possible on the tract in order to accommodate aging sportsmen and to facilitate recreation that will aid the local economy.

Many speakers endorsed Alternative 1, which cleaves the parcel in two, allowing a split between Wild Forest and Wilderness.

Three other Adirondack Park Agency-proposed alternatives offer varying divides between the Wilderness-Wild Forest split, with each adding more wilderness than the last.

“This area would be a great area for snowmobiles because we have no work there,” said Ray Buckholts, of the New York State Snowmobile Association (NYSSA).

Prior to the session, which packed the gymnasium last Monday, Access the Adirondacks rolled out a list of 34 sportsmen organizations who supported their preferred alternative for the 20,543-acre parcel, purchased by the state last May.

The endorsements, said the coalition, are intended as a counterweight against those offered by BeWildNY, a coalition of green groups who support more restrictive uses.

Buckholts said snowmobilers are good environmental stewards who want to use existing roads to minimize environmental impact, including a proposed snowmobile connector track between Minerva and Newcomb.

But other alternatives would require cutting new trails through the woods, said Adirondack Local Government Review Board President Fred Monroe.

“We don’t want to destroy the environment, that’s not our thing,” said Tom Hudon, of the Crown Point-based Adirondack Trail Riders. “A lot of us are conservationists as well.”

Hudon supports Alternative 1, which would allow for snowmobiling around the perimeter of Boreas Ponds to White Lily Pond and continuing on and back to the so-called Four Corners and along Gulf Brook Road.

Advocates also argue connector trails — including the proposed route that would connect the Five Towns — are a critical lynchpin to a statewide snowmobile system, necessary to link southern areas to their North Country counterparts.

“Everything outside the road will stay exactly how it is today,” said Dominic Jacangelo, executive director of NYSSA.

The snowmobiling industry, he said, generates $868 million of economic activity annually, and one in three of those rides occur within the Blue Line.

Members of the organization, which represents 230 clubs across the state, also fish, hike, hunt, canoe and kayak when they visit, Jacangelo said.

“Snowmobilers bring a lot of money,” said Bonnie Best, treasurer of the Grafton Trail Blazers. “They’re good for the economy.”

The Adirondack Council, a member of BeWildNY, supports limited snowmobiling via an expanded High Peaks Wilderness area, said Executive Director Willie Janeway.

Under all alternatives, there are different ways of routing snowmobiles from North Hudson to Newcomb, he said.

Instead of using existing roads, BeWildNY’s plan calls for the trail to be located further south, largely paralleling Blue Ridge Road.

From east to west, between 3 and 4 miles of new trail would have to be cut, which the Adirondack Council doesn’t necessarily dispute.

“We do support a snowmobile connector trail,” Janeway said.

But, he said, the record does need to be corrected on how many miles of road exist on the parcel.

Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer, despite filing court injunctions to halt progress on DEC-approved snowmobile connector trails, agrees with Access’ proposal to use existing roadways.

The construction of new trails takes down between 500 to 1,000 trees per mile, he said.

“It makes no sense to keep Gulf Brook Road open to motor vehicles and not use it for a snowmobile trail, and cut a new snowmobile trail somewhere else,” Bauer said.

Protect is against all four APA proposals, calling the options akin to “hanging a Van Gogh painting on a telephone post.”

Retired Forest Ranger Peter Fish said mankind always leaves an imprint on nature, which can range from the “long smell of exhaust” and grease slicks from snowmobiles to disintegrated hiking paths trammeled by overuse.

“I am an utter and complete Wilderness advocate,” Fish said. “There is no such thing as a wheel that is not destructive.”
Wilderness advocates also said the Adirondack Park hosts plenty of places where snowmobiling and motorized recreation is available — including within close proximity to Boreas.

Just eight of the 100 biggest lakes in the Adirondack Park are motor-free, said Tyler Socash.

“When Access the Adirondacks talks about balance, they are obtuse on how accessible the Adirondacks already is,” Socash said.

Business leaders at the four-hour hearing presented a mixed portrait of the local economy.

Roger Friedman marveled at the packed auditorium — the same room in which he received his high school diploma 50 years ago.
But class sizes have dwindled since then, said the local realtor. And the community is struggling.

“The Boreas Ponds offer a great economic opportunity for the region,” Friedman said. We can preserve it, but we must make it accessible for all people.”

Anything but full access, he said, would be “another nail in the coffin” for the local economy.

“If you live in this area like I have, you can literally hear the shrinkage,” Friedman said.

Schroon Lake Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tammy Brown said 68 percent of Schroon residents live under the poverty line, and it’s an ongoing struggle for businesses to stay open year-round.

“When you get to be our age — when you look at how to feed your family, and keep businesses running — that’s also very important,” Brown said.

Minerva Supervisor Steve McNally tied the decline directly to the increase in state land acquisitions.

“These small towns are in jeopardy,” he said. “With the state purchasing lands, the people have lost their livelihoods.”

But pro-Wilderness advocates said the economic picture was more complex, and said Wilderness buoys local economies, acting as a magnet for many, including young people who view the designation as a desirable magnet.

Planting permanent roots will revitalize an ailing economy, they argue, and will repopulate the school districts that are hemorrhaging students.

Samantha Brooks spoke of visiting the region from a young age.

A seasonal job led to a permanent full-time position, and a full Wilderness designation is paramount to that attraction for her and other potential transplants, she said.

Brooks said she couldn’t estimate how many times she has frequented local businesses after a long day on the hiking trail, including the Noonmark Diner in Keene Valley, the Lake Placid Pub and Stewarts in Long Lake.

“They will stop in your town to buy stuff,” Brooks said.

Pete Nelson, the co-founder of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates (AWA), said both sides needed to move past a debate he said has historically been “myopic and insular.”

“I think it’s an unfortunate debate, this specific debate,” Nelson said.

Nelson pitched the idea of leveraging Frontier Town, the abandoned theme park in North Hudson, as a gateway to a new Wildness High Peaks area.

Peer-reviewed studies of communities surrounding federally-protected land in the western U.S., he said, reveal when properly leveraged, the protected assets can be used as tools for economic development.

Economic profiles in communities near the National Park Service lands are similar to urban counties, he said.

That can happen here, he said, and development needn’t clash with full Wilderness protection.

“Let’s make a smarter debate,” Nelson said. “Let’s go somewhere that helps out towns — they need it.”

Chris Lincoln said he was torn between watching communities decline and allowing snowmobiling and mountain biking in ecologically-sensitive areas.

“I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think this is it,” he said.

AWA is calling for a full Wilderness classification, a concept that is not included in any of the four APA alternatives.

Checkered flannel outweighed the green t-shirts last week, and the hearing again saw a mobilization of those calling for support of that plan, many of them students and young professionals.

And while the sessions have largely been tranquil, one pro-Wilderness speaker who spoke out against snowmobiling was jeered and booed by the crowd after revealing he was from Michigan.

“You don’t understand because you’re from Michigan,” yelled a woman.

Another speaker lashed out against what he perceived as idealistic and naive attitudes, and said roads were necessary on a practical level to ensure public safety.

“It’s amazing how you people get hurt,” said Michael Carruso, citing DEC rescue reports. “It’s amazing how you fall and break bones and get carried out of there.

“You want to get rid of the roads? Great idea!”

That dynamic has been a constant push-pull during the sessions.

“Yes, you are the future of the Adirondacks, but only if you live and work in the Adirondack Park,” said Newcomb Supervisor Wes
Miga. “You may be the future, but we are the now.”

The hearing, which drew 89 scheduled speakers (although many left earlier) did upend some conventional narratives.

One disabled speaker endorsed the full Wilderness plan, an option that would close the Gulf Brook Road entirely to all but foot traffic.

The Adirondacks is now at a critical point, and a historic moment, said Joan Cunningham, of ADK Community Works, a Schroon Lake-based nonprofit.

An expanded High Peaks Wilderness would be the largest motor-free area east of the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, she said.

“Humans can co-exist and protect our beloved Adirondacks,” said Cunningham, who uses a motorized mobility device. “I choose not to access the Boreas Pond regions, but instead keep them as pristine as possible for my children and grandchildren to explore on foot.”

Dan Lynch owns 200 acres on both sides of Blue Ridge Road, making him one of the closest private property owners.

Lynch called for Alternative 2 (with several minor modifications) and said motorized use wouldn’t necessarily lead to an economic boost for the surrounding area.

“No motors, including electrics, should be allowed to operate on Boreas Ponds,” Lynch said.

Peter Hornbeck, owner of Hornbeck Boats on Trout Brook Road, said his customers are drawn to Wilderness, and that the classification isn’t necessarily “the kiss of death” to local merchants.

“Our economy is real good,” he said.

The buzz around Boreas, he said, is really helping his business, which employs six.

“We have seen a spurt of interest this year because of that property.”

Hornbeck, like many other speakers, urged the DEC to draft a proper Unit Management Plan following the classification to ensure environmental safeguards — including the use of parking lots as a management tool, which would open and close access on a seasonal basis.

Pete Finch, a member of the Barkeater Trails Alliance, called for more study on the relationship between the economy and recreational land use.

For years, people said Wilderness would be an economic driver, he said. But that hasn’t happened yet.

“To this point, it really hasn’t done much for local economies,” Finch said.

The increase in Wilderness areas, he said, has led to an overburden on trail systems.

“Literally thousands of people (are) at trailheads on a daily basis,” he said.

Infrastructure remains a sticking point. Wilderness advocates say man-made materials, including some 53 miles of roads, can fade back into the landscape, and that much of the Adirondack Park was once trammeled by man.

But advocates of Alternative 1, including state Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury), say existing infrastructure goes against the legal definition of Wilderness.

“These roads rival a lot of town roads in terms of their construction and their capability,” Stec said, noting the ponds themselves were artificially created by the construction of a dam.

Monroe, of the Adirondack Local Government Review Board, said the maps provided by the APA do not accurately convey the current road infrastructure, as well as culverts.

He said he has asked the agency for accurate maps, “but so far I haven’t seen them.”

Access mapped the parcel earlier this fall, and those findings are available upon request, Monroe said.

BeWildNY agreed that a broader inventory is necessary, and indicated discussion will continue after the public comment period ends on Dec. 30.

“That level of analysis needs to happen, and it hasn’t happened yet,” said Rocci Aguirre, director of conservation at the Adirondack Council.

Nearly the entire park was laid waste at one point, said Russ Hartung, and made barren from fires and logging.

“Increased access results in increased destruction — there’s no doubt about it,” said Hartung, a Saranac Lake art gallery owner.

But some said letting the structures be reclaimed by nature would pose undesired results.

Lukas Dobie, an engineer, said if the dam was allowed to deteriorate, it will jeopardize the wetlands, and possibly even result in state DEC enforcement action.

“I can’t believe people are talking about taking out the dams,” Dobie said. “The dam erosion would be unfathomable.”

Dave Reckahn said he fails to see how Wilderness will provide more water quality protection than any other safeguards in the wake of
High Peaks degradation, and warned against the loss of habitat in the event of a dam blowout.

Owing to the format of the hearings — comments were limited to three-minute segments without back-and-forth discussion — nods to opposing views have generally been limited to lip service, and the comments generally run along parallel paths.

But many officials tailored their comments to address concerns made in past hearings, including those in Ray Brook, Northville and Newcomb.

Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Farber said local governments have actually taken the lead in combatting invasive species.

“I don’t want that to get lost in these fights,” he said.

Farber added: “A Wilderness population by itself has not protected the High Peaks,” citing trampling, herd paths and overuse.
BeWildNY and Access attempted to clarify where they stood on motorized usage, particularly when it came to access for the disabled.

Access is against any land use classification that disallows access for the widest possible amount of people, and disagrees with BeWildNY over the best way to accommodate disabled visitors.

Wilderness and Wild Forest offer varying degrees of accommodation, including the use of the DEC’s CP3 parking spaces, which are prohibited under Wilderness.

BeWildNY says CP3 opens the doors to ATV usage; Access says that is not their intent.

“Permitting parking for the handicapped and bicycling around the perimeter of the ponds would not be permitted under a Wilderness classification,” said North Hudson Supervisor Ron Moore.

In a follow-up email, Moore wrote: “Again, we have not ever proposed the use of ATVs in any of the many meetings that we have had with the DEC, APA, or any of the other stakeholder groups.”

John Sheehan, a BeWildNY spokesman, says a Wilderness designation would not bar access.

“I think it’s important for everybody to know that a Wilderness designation is not an impediment to handicapped access to the area,” Sheehan said.

All that is required is a level path from LaBier Flow to Boreas Ponds, he said.

The hearing in Schroon was the final session held within the Adirondack Park.

A fifth hearing was held Monday in Rochester, and another is scheduled for Tuesday in Canton.

The final session is slated for Dec. 7 at DEC headquarters in Albany.

“This is very emotional to a lot of people,” said APA Deputy Director of Planning Kathy Regan. “Let’s continue this rapport and respect.”

Public comments will be accepted until Dec. 30.
Written comments can be sent to:
Kathleen D. Regan, Deputy Director, PlanningAdirondack Park Agency
PO Box 99
1133 State Route 86
Ray Brook, NY 12977

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