Anyone who missed the June 26 edition of New York Outdoor News is probably unaware of the controversy surrounding the chairman of the APA board, Curt Stiles, and his decision to open a locked gate to gain access this spring to a public camping area at Lake Lila.
The gate was closed for early season maintenance, but Stiles and three others, not wanting to hoof it the 5-plus miles to Lake Lila, decided to first summon the aid of a state forest ranger to open the gate and then, when one could not be found, root around for a hidden key.
They conveniently located one under a rock by the gate - as the story goes, left there by a property owner, and Stiles proceeded to drive down the dirt road. The road is a public easement through private property that winds into picturesque Lake Lila - part of the Whitney Preserve purchased by the state a decade ago.
The group was later found by a forest ranger, and while no tickets were issued, many are calling the move hypocritical by a man who has consistently come out in favor of restricting motorized access to public lands in the Adirondack Park.
New York Outdoor News Editor Steve Piatt is one such person. Piatt blasted Stiles in a June 26 editorial - even going so far as comparing his hypocrisy with that of former governor and attorney general Eliot Spitzer.
Piatt pointed out Stiles was the lone Adirondack Park resident on the APA board who voted against continued float plane access to Lows Lake.
He said many speculate Stiles didn't "find" a key to the gate, but rather was provided one by someone at the state.
"But beyond that, consider: a guy who plays a lead role in deciding who goes where and how within remote areas of the park, who has time and time again taken firm stances against motorized access, 'finds' a key to a gate, helps himself and then drives into an area which at the time - the gate is opened later in the year - was closed to motorized access," Piatt wrote. "This is a guy who should be taking the parking spot furthest away from any trailhead, who should be following park regulations to a T and, when in doubt, erring on the side of caution."
I have to agree strongly with Piatt's sentiment - the difference is, Spitzer took responsibility for his actions - Stiles has done no such thing.
No apology. No admission of wrongdoing whatsoever.
It is no wonder the division between the Adirondack Park Agency and Adirondack residents exists, when you have people in power positions at the APA believing they are entitled to something the rest of us are not.
I have left my vehicle at many a locked gate and walked - with my kids for that matter - to a lake or pond whose access had been cut off due to poor road conditions. I like to think our forest rangers have a pretty solid reason for doing this, like the road could pose a hazard to those unaware of its condition.
When a gate is locked, the road is closed to motorized access. Period.
Would you drive around a barricaded road which had been closed because of an accident or natural disaster not knowing of the peril that may lay ahead?
Apparently, Mr. Stiles would. And, those who work with him would no doubt defend his honor, which is exactly what happened here.
When asked if Stiles had broken any law, the APA and DEC determined he had not, because the road he accessed was a private road on which the state holds a conservation easement.
Interestingly, there are a number of similar easements held by the state where gates block access during certain times of the year.
Perkins Clearing in Arietta is one such location that comes to mind. Does this determination by the DEC mean the general public has the right to drive under or around that gate when it is closed for road maintenance?
Dangerous precedent, if you ask me.
So, next time you encounter a locked gate accessing a state conservation easement, leave no rock overturned in your quest to get through.
I'm going to go out on a limb here, however, and say when law enforcement approaches you, the outcome will be a shade different than what Mr. Stiles experienced.
John Gereau is managing editor of Denton Publications and an avid outdoorsman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org