My name is Carol W. LaGrasse. I am the president of the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., a nationwide organization based in Stony Creek, where I reside. Stony Creek is within the Blue Line of the Adirondack Park. The Property Rights Foundation of America is dedicated to the defense of private property rights in all their fullness guaranteed in the United States Constitution and to the preservation of the American tradition of private property ownership, which is fundamental to our freedom. I am a licensed professional engineer and a retired civil and environmental engineer. I am a retired Stony Creek Town Board Member.
The problem with government-owned forest land is that the wealthy environmental preservationist organizations and the elites who have access to government keep the land from being wisely used and managed so that all of the public can have access to it, not just a those who have the imprimatur of a select interest group. In the Adirondacks there has been a tradition of the wealthy keeping some of the large tracts of the back land to themselves, but the people have used the land extensively. Stony Creek, where I reside, never had such wealthy retreats. Instead, the less developed land was harvested for wood products and the hills and valleys were mainly covered with little villages and the intensive agriculture that supported the population. But at the turn of the twentieth century, the population started to decline. At the same time, the Blue Line of the so-called Adirondack "Park" kept expanding, following the exodus of people looking for better incomes and more comfortable lives elsewhere, until Stony Creek, once completely outside of the Blue Line, fell completely within it and one-half the land was acquired by the State, the rest onerously restricted a few decades later by the Adirondack Park Agency law. Now that people are migrating back into Stony Creek, the land is cut off from them.
The State land covers roads, foundations, cemeteries, and old stone walls. Yet, in the name of so-called "wilderness," there is little access to these lands. No trails lead to the top of the mountains accessible to the hardy from Stony Creek. No roads lead to Wilcox Lake. No picnic grounds serve families and children. No woods roads built by the State into State lands serve the elderly. Except for the Town Highways that the State has not blocked off, no roads into State lands serve the hunters who enjoy coming to the Stony Creek in the fall. No winter trails into State land serve snowmobiles. There isn't even a firebreak on State lands to protect the homes and people from the risk of catastrophic wildfire.
Why is this? The explanation has always been obvious, which is that the people controlling access to State lands and the management of these lands prefer that only their kind use the lands and that only their vision of the lands has significance. But usually this message is conveyed subtly. However, this winter, the former head of the DEC Division of Lands and Forests, Norm Van Valkenburgh, wrote an article that appeared in the extreme environmental preservationist magazine Adirondack Explorer voicing the real disdain that he felt toward recreational users of the Adirondack Forest Preserve, especially those who are not his kind of person, namely snowmobilers. Mr. Van Valkenburgh and another radical preservationist Clarence Petty were very instrumental in formulating the original State Land Use Master Plan. The plan allows very little access to the Forest Preserve, and extremely little access to motorized vehicles including snowmobiles. In the January/February 2004 issue of the radical Adirondack Explorer, former director of the DEC Division of Lands and Forests Van Valkenburgh recorded his objections to fireplaces, picnic tables, campgrounds, hookups for campers, and a host of other amenities for families visiting the Adirondack Forest Preserve. These amenities "profane the Forest Preserve landscape," he wrote.
His most extreme comments were reserved for snowmobiles.
"Back in those propitious days when my co-worker and mentor, Clarence Petty, and I were in a position to propose policy for the management and protection of the Forest Preserve, we often debated about snowmobiles. Our debate wasn't whether or not they should be permitted on the Forest Preserve; we were of a single mind about that," Van Valkenburgh wrote last month.
"Instead we debated how to get rid of them," he declared.
"I don't recall now who took which point of view, but one advocated land mines set at strategic locations along the snowmobile trails. Then other opted for piano wire stretched taught (sic) and chin high across the trails, preferably at the end of long, straight runs where a high speed could be expected," he wrote in the widely circulated magazine.
At best it was perverse humor to declare this in print. At worst, it voiced a demented wish. But, in any case, these words demonstrate the extreme prejudice and hostility to snowmobiles that was inherent in the State Land Use Master Plan.
With the new draft comprehensive plan, DEC is making some correction, but it is not enough. It doesn't take a civil engineer like myself to see that trails are too narrow and unsafe, and that they should not be one-way only. The narrow purpose of snowmobile trails for snowmobile use only is inadequate. Many other, very important needs and uses need to be served with the same investment.
As we enter a new century, I urge that DEC put aside the century-long record of its horrible provision of services related to the State Forest Preserve lands to Towns like Stony Creek. DEC has had a ravenous appetite for Stony Creek, like a vulture at a dying corpse. But our town did not die, and is flourishing. We deserve fair treatment after a century of mistreatment. So do the 100-odd other towns and villages within the Adirondack Blue Line.
DEC should reverse and repudiate the entire tenor of the State Land Use Master Plan, with its prejudice and hostility toward local people and the general public. DEC should take good faith affirmative action to erase all the biased, hostile policies that are inherent in the official master guide for the use of State-owned land and replace them with balanced policies that serve the local people and the public, instead of extreme special interests.
Open up the Forest Preserve lands to a variety of uses and measures to serve and protect the local people and the diversity of the public who have a right to access the Forest Preserve. Be a good citizen, not an enemy within our midst.