From: Erin DeMuth, Post-Star, Glens Falls, N.Y.
Published November 3, 2006 12:00 AM

Public Split on New Snowmobile Plan

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — Cheers and jeers, delight and outrage.


The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has been getting some of each since it unveiled a new Adirondack Snowmobile Plan in mid-October.


The plan, which seeks to preserve the park while supporting the winter sport, has drawn criticism from environmental groups like the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks. Snowmobilers and small-town officials, on the other hand, are generally supportive.


RCPA is particularly upset because it believes the DEC is refusing to admit that several key components of the plan would require changes to the document regulating management of Adirondack Park land. These changes, the organization insists, would have to be made before the components -- like mechanized grooming of certain trails -- can be enacted.


"Snowmobile groomers are bigger than a Ford Explorer. To allow these machines on trails is wrong and illegal," RCPA Executive Director Peter Bauer said in a prepared statement. "The state officials who wrote this report should be honest and tell the public that this can only be accomplished by an amendment to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan."


Bauer and his colleagues are also distraught about the related idea of a new snowmobile classification system that includes a community connector trail between towns that would be maintained at a greater width by the groomers.


"This plan seeks to create a network of de facto roads across the Adirondack Park and call them trails," Bauer said, adding that corridors mechanically maintained in swaths of 9 to 12 feet are more roads than trails.


RCPA is likewise concerned that expanding trails from the current 8-foot width will damage the environment. The organization's worry is only enhanced by its belief that the DEC has not seriously looked into the environmental impact of snowmobiles.


"The plan contains no meaningful information on the full range of impacts of snowmobile use on the forest preserve," Bauer said. "The Adirondack Park is the greatest natural resource area in the East and deserves an analysis of the impacts of snowmobiling on par with the effort undertaken in Yellowstone."


According to an RCPA release, the National Park Service performed a comprehensive study of the same issue for Yellowstone National Park. DEC spokesperson Kimberly Chupa, however, maintains that the suggested snowmobile plan will be in accordance with the state management plan, and will not encourage environmental degradation by using heavy equipment to create more -- drastically wider -- trails across the park.


There were two key changes made from the draft plan to final plan, Chupa explained. First, the proposed Class III community connector trail will be maintained to a 9-foot width versus the 12-foot width proposed in the draft plan. Second, the snowmobile plan will be implemented through the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan process, not an amendment to the master plan as proposed by the draft plan.


By choosing the process over the amendment, the Adirondack Park Agency will essentially have the final say in where and how the snowmobile plan is instituted.


This is the case because the APA develops unit management plans for individual parcels of park land through a public process, and everything in these individual plans -- including snowmobile recommendations -- must comply with the state plan.


"If the APA finds that the proposed trails are not in conformance with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, then the project would not move forward as originally presented," Chupa said. "The APA has a statutory role to make sure everything proposed in draft unit management plans are in conformance with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan."


Similarly, this process will protect the park from the explosive trail growth and proliferation RCPA fears.


"It has been determined that currently there are 840.97 miles of snowmobile trails on wild forest and primitive areas in the forest preserve," Chupa said. "The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan states that there shall not be a material increase in the miles of snowmobile trails in wild forest areas beyond the mileage that existed when the Master Plan was first developed in 1972."


Chupa also pointed out that the community connector trail will be established closer to the periphery of forest preserve land along transportation corridors, while other trails will be reconfigured away from interior wild areas.


The need for these recommendations, and for the Adirondack Snowmobile Plan itself, is based on the lack of an official document governing snowmobile movement in the forest preserve. "Snowmobile use in the Adirondack Park has evolved over the years to include a wide variety of trails on both private and public lands, but no overall plan has ever been put in place to steer future development of trails away from sensitive areas and into communities where they are desired," Chupa said in an e-mail statement.


The town of Newcomb is one community that expressed interest in the plan's benefits through its Town Supervisor George Cannon. "The plan recognized, for the first time, the economic impact that snowmobiling has on the communities in the Adirondacks," Cannon said in a prepared statement issued by the DEC. "The recognition of community connectors and the town-to-town networks that will eventually be developed should be a huge benefit to the Adirondack economy during the long winter months.


"Gov. Pataki and the DEC are to be commended for dealing with this important issue."


Mike Fazio, South Warren Snowmobile Club president, agrees. "I'm pretty happy with it. It gives us the recognition that I think we deserve -- it makes us part of the plan," he said. Fazio, like Cannon, believes the sport needed to be considered because of its monetary value to mountain towns that lose much of their tourist appeal during the cold, snowy months.


"The economic impact of snowmobiling is very important to the Adirondacks," Fazio said. "There's three or four (snowmobile) dealers I know that, if it's another bad winter, that could be it for them." "The last study that was done showed snowmobiling is around a $1 billion industry in New York state," he continued, adding that the statistic includes money spent on food, machines, gas and lodging.


Fazio, however, does have one concern with the DEC's plan. He's not sure encouraging snowmobile trail development on private land is the best way to reconfigure the routes available to riders. "Using private land is kinda like building a house on quick sand -- you never know if it's gonna be there," he said.


Private land also sparks environmental concerns for Fazio, who believes that if trails on private land are given and then taken away, the need to cut replacement trails somewhere else would be less than ideal for conservation.


For additional information on the Adirondack Snowmobile Plan, visit www.dec.state.ny.us.


Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services


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