Pictured is a portion of the Newcomb to Minerva snowmobile trail that has been completed, seeded with grass seed and covered with hay.
RAY BROOK — Off-and-on construction of the multi-use Community Connector Trail on state Forest Preserve land between Newcomb and Minerva was stopped again last Friday.
An Appellate Court overturned the Albany Supreme Court decision that had restarted work on the trail mid-August.
In July, Protect the Adirondacks successfully won its first injunction from the Appellate Court against the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on planning and cutting on the 13.5 mile trail.
A month later, Albany Supreme Court Justice Gerald Connolly lifted the halt.
But last Friday, the Appellate Court granted a temporary stay of execution, pending a decision on Protect’s new appeal.
Protect first moved to stop the entire project last year, charging that DEC’s trail cutting violates the 14th “Forever Wild” Amendment of the state constitution.
The court told Protect then they had no evidence or independent analysis of numbers of trees cut.
“We had a field consultant out in the forest and we counted stumps. We estimated DEC is removing 15,000 trees in this project, and has cut about 7,500 — they’re half-way done,” Protect Executive Director Peter Bauer said in an interview last week.
Protect counted trees smaller than three inches in diameter, a method significantly different than the DEC’s.
“What we have found is that the state only counts trees three inches diameter or greater. Unfortunately, we think the judge erred in saying the trees less than three inches in diameter are ‘saplings’ or ‘seedlings,” Bauer said.
“Depending on the type of tree, species and habit, you can have a tree decades-old, biding its time waiting for an opportunity for an opening in the canopy. We plan to teach the court about the complexity of the forest and the importance of these smaller trees.”
In court papers, Protect charges DEC has also underestimated the number of large trees that need to be cut to complete the trail.
Mired in layers of litigation, the trail is supposed to be completed by fall 2017.
At DEC, Commissioner Basil Seggos said Connolly’s July decision allowing work to move forward acknowledged proper public planning.
“The court has correctly found that DEC’s actions to develop this snowmobile trail were constitutional,” Seggos said in a news release.
“DEC has worked carefully to develop this trail with minimal impact on Forest Preserve lands, and at the same time is eliminating other trails that are redundant, unsafe and intrude into more remote areas of the Forest Preserve.”
For Bauer and Protect, the number of trees being cut exacerbates what they consider a flawed plan.
“First off, they haven’t figured out a way to cross the Boreas River.
“Secondly, they are building a trail to nowhere. They still do not have agreements with private landowners to get the trail downtown to Minerva, to Sporty’s (Saloon) bar and Murdie’s Store. Snowmobiling is heavily a bar-to-bar experience in the Adirondacks. You have the bar in Newcomb, the bar in Indian Lake and the trails connect all of them,” Bauer said.
Bauer also says the definition of “multi-use” for the trail system is misleading.
“The application of ‘multi-use’ to define a trail is a sham in the Adirondacks. Nobody will use these trails for hiking,” he said, pointing to what he believes are problems with oversized water-bars on trails planted with grass.
“They are nearly impossible to ride a bike on and they’re not what the mountain biking community wants.
“These are 12-foot-wide clear-cuts through the forest. They say that they’re going to be attractive for horses, but they’re very steep in many places, they have lots of water bars and an uneven surface.”
SNOWMOBILERS SOUND OFF
Dominic Jacangelo is executive director of the New York State Snowmobile Association.
He says DEC’s construction is meant to support multiple use on the Connector Trail.
“The state wants them to be used in spring, summer and fall as well as winter.”
The water bars, for example, steer water away from the trail, he said.
“We’re not as concerned about the trails being wet,” Jacangelo said.
And not everyone wants to hike 20 miles on mountain trails into the back country, he added.
“These trails make access easier for many people.
“The other thing this construction exposes is the value of using existing roads for connector trails,” Jacangelo said, pointing to existing logging roads in Boreas Tract.
“It’s very clear there are good roads in Boreas. Use the road.”
As for lack of snow last winter and several years ago, Jacangelo, who is supervisor in the Town of Poestenkill, said the weather varies.
“Last year was unusual. The year before I rode right into April and up in that area. To use global warming is a marginal argument. Next winter could be the snowiest we’ve ever seen.
President of the Newcomb Snowmobile Club Eric Schreifels said he has seen people walking and hiking on what’s built of the trails this summer.
“Yes, it’s worth putting those trails in. People do use this in the summer, people hike it and people walk it. The trails are important for year-round opportunity and are designed to connect the towns together.”
Asked if snowmobiles travel bar-to-bar, Schreifels — who said he does not drink alcohol — says it is much the same as people in cars, driving from one bar to another.
And the Newcomb Snowmobile Club does its part to discourage drinking and riding, the president said.
“We try to see that and stop that ourselves. That’s a no-no from most of the guys that ride,” Schreifels said.
Bauer says counting on snowmobile business is a risky venture with the changing weather patterns.
“Newcomb, Minerva, Indian Lake, Long Lake and North Hudson get far less snow than Old Forge.
“Everybody says if we build snowmobile trails these communities will be able to build snowmobile tourism like Old Forge. And one of the things you need for successful snowmobiling is snow,” Bauer charged.
“There are many things that make snowmobiling successful in Old Forge, and one of those things is lake-effect snowfall.”
In Newcomb, Schreifels said snow depth is different every year.
“We had one bad year with little snow last year. The point is, we’ve had years without snow before, that’s nothing new,” Schreifels told the Sun.
“By putting those trails in, when we do get snow, it brings in new winter business and gives people a way to get into these towns.”
Schreifels said grooming and care of the winter trail surface is a cooperative effort between snowmobile clubs.
“The clubs maintain all of the trails themselves.”
For supervisors in towns being connected, the trail’s purpose would encourage year-round use.
Minerva Supervisor Stephen McNally sees opportunity emerging.
“It is opening up more recreation and more access for the people that live here,” McNally said.
“We have five towns working together on a vision to connect interior Adirondack towns with a four-season trail, providing a unique opportunity for tourism in this area,” McNally says.
“It will allow trails in Schroon Lake to connect Warren County trails, to Newcomb to Indian Lake and on to Old Forge. In winter, people from Newcomb can ride snowmobiles to Lake George and beyond.”
For Newcomb Town Supervisor Wes Miga, the trail also solidifies a shared vision of economic growth in the center of the Adirondack Park.
“It is part of an important connection to act as an economic stimulus between the five towns.
“It would be our preference to not have any litigation and to move forward with the original plan,” Miga said.
The Matter of Protect the Adirondacks v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 2137-13 continues to move ahead with a trial set in Albany County for March 2017, Bauer said.
But decisions made now or even next year will impact future legs of the planned Community Connector Trail, which required amendments in 2015 to DEC’s Unit Management Plans in the Camp Santanoni Historic Area, Harris Lake Intensive Use Area and Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest.
In North Hudson, Supervisor Ron Moore is watching as the state prepares to classify and develop recreational use of the newly purchased Boreas Tract.
“That Community Connector is critical to establishing our trails here,” he said.
“That one goes between Newcomb and Minerva with a leg that will eventually lead to North Hudson. It’s important that we are able to continue this.”