In the News  Archive

Road Warriors: One of the oldest Road Warriors: Adirondack feuds is raging once again

NCPR
August 10, 2015

Old Mountain Road. Is it a town road or is it part of the Jackrabbit Ski Trail and the forever wild forest preserve? Photo: Brian Mann

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State officials have re-opened one of the oldest legal battles in the Adirondacks, rekindling a feud that pits local government leaders and snowmobile activists against the DEC and environmental groups.

Last month, the Conservation Department abruptly declared that a historic route near Lake Placid that makes up a part of the Jackrabbit Ski trail will no longer be considered a town road. The decision to formally close the Old Mountain Road to motorized traffic is expected to spark a new court right that could set legal precedents for the entire Adirondack Park.

"What they've done is they created a firestorm," said Jim McCulley a long-time snowmobile activist who has clashed with state officials over the status of old Mountain Road since George Pataki was governor.

Is it a road or is it a trail through a state wilderness area?

The question is whether the DEC closed and eliminated this route and other town roads in the Adirondacks without following due process. McCulley is convinced that that happened. "I think it was very clear when the Adirondacks was formed that the legislature did not want the state to come in and close roads," he argued. "The DEC decided to ignore that."

This legal battle seemed to be settled in 2009 when then DEC Commissioner Peter Grannis essentially threw in the towel. The state paid Jim McCulley’s legal fees and agreed that the Old Mountain Road had not been legally abandoned. They also revoked a ticket that had been issued to McCulley for using the road.

That decision angered many environmentalists who pushed the DEC to reconsider. "We simply wanted the state to be able to determine whether motorized traffic would be allowed on certain sections of the forest preserve or not," said the Adirondack Council’s
John Sheehan speaking in 2011. "That's a decision that we believe should be made by those who own the forest preserve. That includes everybody in New York, not just the towns that happen to have the forest preserve within their political boundaries."

After half a decade, the fight over Adirondack Park roads rekindled

Despite those concerns, the DEC left Grannis’s decision in place for half a decade. McCulley says he was satisfied with his symbolic victory and thought the fight was over. "We haven't pushed the issue for snowmobiling or anything else. If they just would have let it roll and let it die, I wasn't going to press it, nobody was going to press this on Old Mountain Road. The case law would likely just have faded away and nobody would have caught it in terms of opening up other roads. Really I think the DEC just opened up a wound throughout the Adirondacks and people aren't happy."

The shift came in late July when outgoing DEC Commissioner Joe Martens abruptly reversed the earlier decision and again declared that Old Mountain Road was legally abandoned. In a July 22 document, Martens ruled that the three-and-a-half mile route behind Pitchoff Mountain would no longer be recognized as a town road.

I think the DEC just opened up a wound throughout the Adirondacks

That infuriated local officials including North Elba town supervisor Robi Politi, who told the Plattsburgh Press Republican that his road crews might begin work on the route. “Maybe we’ll open it up next week,” he told the newspaper.

McCulley says he plans to take the matter back to court and he expects to set a precedent that could affect hundreds of condemned roads across the Adirondacks. "There's over 300 roads that they've illegally closed," he said

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