In the News  Archive

Mountain bike access to state land at issue

January 12, 2016


RAY BROOK — The Adirondack Park Agency is looking to add mountain bike access to at least two and maybe all Primitive Areas in the Adirondack Park.

Just a step less restrictive than a Wilderness land-use classification, Primitive Areas are smaller and some have preexisting structures that cannot be removed.

Now in the midst of public comment sessions, APA’s proposal offers several other options for major amendments to the State Land Master Plan.

One part of the ongoing discussion looks to allow mountain bike access in Primitive Areas of the Essex Chain Lakes Unit Management Plan.

APA has included a broader version that would permit it in all of the approximately 40 Primitive Areas inside the blue line.
In this region, there are 952 acres of Primitive Area in Clinton County; 7,740 acres in Essex County; and 7,796 in Franklin County.

The Adirondack Council is raising concern with the broader aspect of APA's proposal.

Executive Director William Janeway said in a news release that the council, local towns and the state had originally agreed to a plan to allow two small changes to the Master Plan, related only to Essex Chain and adjacent Pine Lake Primitive Areas.

Accomplishing those limited goals was supposed to be the focus of the proposed amendments,” he explained in the statement.

“Instead, the Park Agency proposed opening all Primitive Areas to mountain biking. (The amendments) also proposed allowing non-natural materials on all bridges in Primitive Areas, and wants permission to use motorized vehicles to maintain trails in all Primitive Areas."

“We agreed to a compromise on the Essex Chain roads and the Cedar River’s bridge restrictions that included a Primitive classification, prohibiting new motorized uses of the Essex Lakes themselves and the land immediately around them,” Janeway said.

“This was agreed to only after painstaking research and thorough discussion about the ability of these tracts to withstand additional recreation.

"These are supposed to be exceptions, not new standards," Janeway said.

"(Primitive land use amendments) are simply not going to be appropriate everywhere.”

APA typically adjusts land-use classification on an as-needed basis after extensive review of one parcel and any proposed new use.

The agency had, in fact, approved a resolution in 2013 to review mountain bike access as part of the Essex Chain land-use program.

But the broader step in this proposal would essentially redefine "Primitive Area."

“It’s very frustrating that state approval of an amendment to approve the mountain biking has been delayed when it should, after proper public review, be expedited,” Janeway said of the ongoing State Land Master Plan amendment procedure.

Acquired in late December 2012 from the Nature Conservancy, the 18,300-acre Essex Chain property was for decades owned by Finch, Pruyn and Co. as timberland.

Amendments to the Master Plan are necessary ahead of final steps to finish the Essex Chain Lakes Unit Management Plan prepared by the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Other environmental groups have taken legal action to send the entire Unit Management Plan back to APA and DEC for revision.

At Adirondack Wild, co-founder Dave Gibson said one charge in the lawsuit alleges that the UMP doesn't comply with State Land Master Plan regulation.

“We are citing violations of the State Land Master Plan as it currently exists,” he explained in an interview.

Court documents from Adirondack Wild and counterparts at Earth Justice and Protect the Adirondacks say the “Essex Chain UMP’s designation of approximately 9 miles of former logging roads in the Essex Chain Lakes and Pine Lake Primitive Area for bicycle use … violates the SLMP.”

Once APA completes its Master Plan amendment process, however, this one charge of the five-count lawsuit may change.

Much of the legal contention weighs on alleged violations of the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System Act, claiming APA and
DEC have no legal basis to build bridges for vehicles, in particular, for snowmobiles on state land.

“We are all for bicycling," Gibson said. "But we are looking at this as an entire (Forest Preserve) system. There’s no need to cancel out wilderness values in Primitive use areas.

“Forever Wild land-use classification sees plenty of opportunity for mountain biking: on easement lands, in Hamlet Areas, in Wild Forest and Administrative or Intensive Use Areas, such as the ski areas.”

Janeway said Wilderness and Primitive areas combined are less than 20 percent of the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park, about half of which is state-owned.

“The State Land Master Plan classifies land according to its level of sensitivity," he said. "For all Forest Preserve lands, the state’s first obligation is to protect natural resources.

"Public recreation is secondary.”

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