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Adirondack Council Sues to Overturn Local Law that Created Illegal All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Trail

"Trail" Would Use Miles of Roads in Violation of State Law and Threaten Forest Preserve

CANTON, N.Y. -- The Adirondack Council today filed a lawsuit in NYS Supreme Court seeking to overturn a town law that authorized an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trail that violates state Vehicle and Traffic Law and endangers adjacent public “forever wild” Forest Preserve lands, the organization said.

Town of Clare Resolution #4 for 2019 authorized the use of a long stretch of road as an ATV trail, which is not allowed under state law. The road runs through and past state lands where trespasses by ATVs have caused damage.

“We are troubled to have to bring this lawsuit. We believe this trail system will be found to be illegal, just as the similar systems in the Town of Forestport and in Lewis County were found to be illegal, when we sued to overturn those,” said William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council, a not-for-profit organization that defends the Forest Preserve and its constitutional protections. “The Clare law uses a long section of automobile roadway as part of the trail. There is no attempt to connect legal trails or riding areas to one another. That is required for the use of even a short section of road.”

Janeway noted that the ATV trail system through the Town of Clare uses 10.75 miles of the Tooley Pond Road. The road runs through both private lands and a section of the Forest Preserve known as the Grass River Wild Forest.

The town resolution made Tooley Pond Road part of a larger, St. Lawrence County Trail Network. Prior to filing its suit, the Adirondack Council and others had urged the county not to jeopardize the network by using unlawful sections of roadway for its network inside the Adirondack Park.

The so-called trail is designed to connect to highways in other towns, with no identified off-road trail connection for over 26 miles inside the Adirondack Park, he noted. The courts have clearly ruled that opening a road to ATVs to connect to another road violates Vehicle and Traffic Law section 2405 A Town can only open a road that is connecting to an adjacent “off road trail” or ATV “area.” Another road, or segment of road, does not satisfy this legal requirement, he said.

“We don’t understand why we have to keep fighting this same battle over and over again. We don’t want to keep wasting our time and money, and local taxpayers’ time and money, to reargue the same points,” Janeway said. “But we have no choice. If the state Department of Environmental Conservation will not do its job we will defend the Forest Preserve, stand up for the law and prevent destruction of the park’s priceless natural resources.”

Janeway said the facts and the law being applied are all too familiar.

“We succeeded in overturning an unlawful trail system in the Town of Forestport in part because of the potential for harm to adjacent Forest Preserve lands,” Janeway said. “We are pleased that the courts have recognized that a lack of boundaries and lack of enforcement personnel can invite ATV trespass on to off-limits locations such as this.”

This spring, the Adirondack Council issued a report Wrong Way: How New York State Can Course-Correct on ATV Use calling for action to address the misuse of ATVs.

The report explains that there is a state policy against ATV use on the Forest Preserve, but no coordinated law enforcement effort. Lax safety standards and authorization for children as young as 10 to operate their own ATVs makes them unsafe for use alongside cars and trucks, the report noted. Forest Rangers report that damage and vandalism by illegal off-road vehicle riders is their toughest enforcement challenge, the report said.  

The state Forest Rangers’ annual reports call misuse of ATVs the most problematic enforcement issue they face.

At the time the report was issued, Forest Ranger Scott van Laer of the New York State Forest Ranger Benevolent Association said “ATV violations are the largest source of citations issued by the Ranger Force today.” 

Janeway explained that “ATVs have their place in this Park on private lands, farms, construction sites and logging operations, but as an off-road recreational vehicle, they are in the wrong place on public roads.  With rare exceptions, they don’t belong on state-owned Forest Preserve either, unless used for search and rescue, for actions relating to the management of the natural resources, or in providing access for persons with a disabilities.” 

The Council’s lawsuit states that Clare’s town law “violates both the letter and intent of New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law Article 48-c and the New York State Constitution.  New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 2405 prohibits municipalities from opening highways for use by ATV s, with the exception of where it has determined that ‘it is otherwise impossible for ATVs to gain access to areas and trails adjacent to the highway.’ No such showing has been made, as there are no ‘trails’ or ‘areas’ adjacent to the highway.”

The suit continues: “All Terrain Vehicles are explicitly excluded from the definition of "motor vehicle" under Vehicle and Traffic Law, which specifies those vehicles that are otherwise permitted to be driven on highways in New York. (Vehicle and Traffic Law § 125) The restrictive language in Vehicle and Traffic Law § 2405 limits a governmental agency's authority to designate a highway for ATV use only where it is otherwise impossible to gain access to trails or areas adjacent to the highway…”

“In order [the town of Clare] to have properly complied with Vehicle & Traffic Law 2405, it must have made a "determination" that it is otherwise "impossible for ATVs to gain access to the areas or trails adjacent to the highway" to which they seek access prior to designating these

highways for ATV use. A mere recital by a municipality in its local law that it has undertaken the necessary "determination" that it is otherwise impossible for ATV's to gain access to trails is insufficient.”

The suit cites as precedent for this interpretation a 2007 case in which the state sued to close trails in the Town of Horicon, and a 2004 case filed by a local landowner against the Town of Colton. Horicon, Warren County, and Colton, St. Lawrence County, are both inside the Adirondack Park, as is Clare.

The Council also petitioned the court to award it costs and attorney’s fees if its lawsuit succeeds.

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, and vibrant communities. 

The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action to ensure the legacy of the Adirondack Park is safeguarded for future generations. Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.

For more information:

John Sheehan, Director of Communications, 518-441-1340

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, Oct. 7, 2019

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