Forever Wild: Environmental group challenges new Adirondack snowmobile trails
When Matt Carter and some friends were looking for a place to snowmobile, they had one destination in mind. His group drove up from Maryland to the snowmobile capital of the northeast - Old Forge.
"The trails have been great so far, it's a little warm but we've probably run forty miles today so far," said Carter.
The network of trails crossing the central Adirondacks brings in a lot of money. A SUNY Potsdam study found snowmobilers spent $245 millions dollars each year in the Adirondacks. To bring in even more snowmobile tourism, the New York State DEC wants to open up 36 miles of new trails but a lawsuit put those plans on hold. The environmental group "Protect the Adirondacks" says the "Forever Wild" amendment added to the state constitution in 1894 does not allow the state to cut down the trees it would need for new 9 to 12 foot wide snowmobile trails.
"You could have a foot trail go through here and hardly take down any trees. You might take down a dozen trees a mile," said Protect the Adirondacks executive director Peter Bauer. "With a snowmobile trail, you are taking down a thousand a mile."
At the heart of the dispute is a simple yet complex legal question a judge will have to decide. Legally, what is a tree?
The state DEC says if a small tree is less than three inches in diameter it is generally considered a plant.
Bauer says in a dense forest like the Adirondacks, small trees are deceptively mature.
"We have many cases where we have documented trees that are only an inch or two in diameter but they are 60, or 70, or 80 years old because of the growing conditions in that spot," said Bauer.
The state already cut one new trail near Seventh Lake in the Adirondacks before a judge ordered a temporary halt to all work until the case is decided.
"There were 12,000 trees along this 12 mile trail that were taken down. Some of these trees started growing before Ben Franklin was born," said Bauer.
Snowmobilers say new trails provide necessary trail system connections without going over private property.
"It is providing people with a legal way to ride instead of going through people's farms. It is a great plan and I hope they keep it up and continue for years and years," said snowmobiler Dave Price from Maryland.
A court ruling in 1930 blocked the state from cutting down thousands of Adirondack park trees to construct a bobsled run for the 1932 Olympics.
The new lawsuit has frustrated many riders who say Bauer and Protect the Adirondacks have taken an extreme position.
"Just leave us alone and we will leave you alone," said Price.
Bauer says his group has no problem with existing snowmobile trails. He is concerned with the idea of removing thousands of trees.
"If people wanted a ten foot wide trail to rollerblade or skateboard, we would still be in court. This isn't about snowmobiling," said Bauer.
The trial over the Adirondack trees is set to go before a judge in Albany in the first week of March.