Armed with posters, visual aids, videos and documents, Ted Galusha of Warrensburg was headed for local town Court Wednesday morning Oct. 10 to continue his fight to open up access to Adirondack woodlands. Ticketed this summer for driving a vehicle a matter of only yards into an camping area that he believes was illegally blocked off, he’s ready to go to jail to promote his cause. In 2001, Galusha won a federal lawsuit that was settled in an agreement that forced the state to open up over 100 miles of roads they closed and make $4.8 million in improvements to recreational areas to improve access for the disabled.
A local man who’s fought the state for decades for disabled access to recreational forest areas — and 11 years ago won a landmark federal case over the issue — is now pledging to go to jail if the state doesn’t live up to that court decision.
Ted Galusha of Warrensburg, who was ticketed this summer for “Disobeying a Sign” in the Hudson River Recreation Area, is headed for a showdown Wednesday Oct. 10 in Warrensburg Town Court.
Tuesday, he said he was ready to detail how the state Department of Environmental Conservation hasn’t complied with a consent decree in the 2001 court case that required the state to open up over 100 miles of roads to motorized use by the disabled and make about $4.8 million in improvements to campground facilities, picnic areas, parking lots, restrooms, showers and boat launches to accommodate those with mobility issues.
The federal suit, fought by Galusha and volunteer attorney Alvin Sabo, had charged that the the state had violated the civil rights of Galusha and other area residents with mobility issues — rights guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
At the time of the court decision, lawyers, state officials, environmental groups, and advocacy groups for the disabled all hailed the ensuing settlement as landmark agreement that would have national implications in assuring adequate access to forest lands and recreational facilities by citizens with disabilities.
But although the settlement called for the state to accomplish that long list of improvements within 18 months, much of it wasn’t completed five years later.
And now, Galusha has seen his own favorite camping spot DEC-managed Buttermilk area of the HRRA in Lake Luzerne have the number of campsites reduced, and its amenities for the disabled removed or degraded — even trees planted by the state in parking areas and former campsites, plus boulders blocking campsite entrances and picnicking areas.
While that 2001 lawsuit settlement called for improvements to many areas across the state, Galusha is focused at this point on the Hudson River Recreation area.
Where once Buttermilk had four outhouses, 15 picnic tables and more than 10 cooking grills, the grills and outhouses were removed, fires were prohibited, and access was blocked.
Where 85 or more campsites existed, only three universal access campsites remain after being downsized from 18 not long after the 2001 settlement, he said. All these campsites had featured accessible amenities including an outhouse, picnic table and fireplace.
During the last seven or so years, Galusha has occasionally dragged away the boulder barriers at Buttermilk. He’s posted a video on YouTube, in which he angrily challenges a forest ranger there to arrest him.
In 2006, he was ticketed for moving logs away from a dirt road so a disabled man could drive up to one of the campsites.
What’s occurred at Buttermilk, where his attention has been focused, seems almost like retribution, he said, for his lengthy fight to gain access. As part of the 2001 settlement, the judge mandated that Galusha was appointed to a state-funded watchdog post to assure DEC’s compliance to the court-ordered access changes and upgrades to recreational areas.
At Buttermilk, he said, full-featured outhouses built since the consent decree were removed and replaced by DEC with a few short, open toilets with no walls, roof or privacy if any other camper is anywhere near. The campsite fireplaces were torn apart and their rocks strewn in the woods, he added. Several pleasant campsites were turned back to nature, replaced by substandard ones in low-lying plots vulnerable to flooding, Galusha said.
One of the relocated campsites, Galusha said, was inappropriately situated near a leaning tree — which fell in a storm in early July 2010 and killed a 24-year-old woman asleep in a tent at the site. Galusha had been camping about a half-mile away. Since then, he’s blamed the relocation and shutdown of the campsites for her death.
DEC officials have told the media in recent years that their closure of roads, campsites and recreational areas has been due to lack of funds to adequately maintain and patrol them, a claim that Galusha disputes.
“They say they don’t have the money, but they just keep acquiring land and shut it down,” he said, referring to the recent state purchase of 69,000 acres of former Finch-Pryn lands for nearly $50 million. “The state should be putting some of that money to taking care of what they’ve already got and keep it open to the public.”
Armed with photos, detailed posters and video recordings of conditions at Buttermilk, and the nearby Bear Slides — places his family has enjoyed for generations — Galusha is ready to take the state to task again.
Eighteen years ago, he was in the same Warrensburg court for violating a DEC rule not to drive a vehicle into the campsites — the action that triggered the landmark suit and the settlement.
Tuesday, he said it has particularly angered him that DEC employees were empowered to drive their motorized vehicles over dirt and gravel roads they’ve blocked off not only to the public, but to people with disabilities, who they were ordered to accommodate through special access privileges.
‘The DEC’s attitude, is, ‘No people, no problem,’” he continued. “But chasing people out of the woods like they have is wrong.”
Galusha continued that camping in the woods is important to him, not only for relaxation, but for a sense of spiritual renewal — and he thinks the government shouldn’t be interfering with the rights of citizens to enjoy the experience.
“I personally need to get out in the woods,” he said. “It’s vital for people to connect with nature.” he added.