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My Trip to Buttermilk, A Once-popular Spot

IS DEC PLANTING TREES TO REFOREST CAMPING AREAS?

Commercially Grown Trees Uprooted: A Protest?

By Carol W. LaGrasse

It was a lonely ride up the east side of the Hudson in Lake Luzerne and Warrensburg to the camping spots at Buttermilk on June 18. The dark, deserted area that once welcomed families to between fifty and one hundred picnic and camping areas was forbidding. About two decades ago, Niagara Mohawk had sold off the beautiful timberland and it came under the management of Warren County. The county, which people thought would be the permanent owner, soon promoted its new Hudson River Recreation Area as a place of summer joy. Children played on the "Bear Slide" at Buttermilk and families picnicked and camped.

The land soon passed to the State of New York, and the Department of Environmental Conservation, known as DEC, continued managing the recreational area, with families making their way to the shaded camping spots among the beautiful pines.

But times changed as the DEC philosophy hardened against family use of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. People began to find access difficult as DEC started to barricade camping and picnicking areas. The Buttermilk area received the focus of Ted Galusha of Warrensburg and other mobility handicapped individuals, who sued the DEC under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In July 2001 the group of litigators and DEC signed a consent agreement under the supervision of Federal Judge Lawrence Kahn, absolutely guaranteeing access to the forest preserve, including the Buttermilk area. To comply with the settlement, lists of existing roads in the forest preserves were drawn up, all to be kept open or reopened to motorized access, with the requirement that all of the camping and picnicking areas were to be accessible to this motorized access.

Buttermilk was the heart of the settlement, just as to this day it is engraved in Ted Galusha's heart, a place of countless respites that he spent alone with his family or with his circle of lifetime friends. Buttermilk is the ancestral home of a branch of his family. He once told me that his grandmother reminisced about thr Bear Slide, where she watched bears slide down the flat rocks as the water cascaded down.

But in spite of the court-supervised settlement, DEC placed boulders to block almost all the camping areas. The agency removed the picnic tables and outhouses, and wiped out the stone circles where fires could be safely built in the center of the clearings. Occasionally, Ted protested by dragging away the large rocks that blocked access to his favorite camping spot.

At the same time, DEC constructed one or two sterile, expensive openings for a few handicapped people to use. These spots had little space and required a permit and the use of a locked gate, foreclosing family gatherings and relegating the handicapped to a kind of twenty-first century apartheid of separate and unequal.

But this spring, a reliable source made me aware that the DEC was planting hundreds of trees all over the camping and picnicking areas. This was peculiarly familiar. I had seen what looked like the deliberate reforestation of beautiful, large camping and picnicking areas during a trip that Susan Allen and I took down to Shelving Rock on Lake George in Washington County. The commodious camping and picnicking areas were blocked with stones higher than my waist and the open, naturally grassy spots were dotted with new trees in a way that did not look like natural regeneration. All that remained for access to this beautiful area of state forest were a few slightly wider spots along the town road where a car or pickup could parallel park, somewhat like squeezing into a parking spot in Manhattan, and one parking spot for two cars in view of the lake.

After I reached the end of the long stretch of the Town of Lake Luzerne's bone-shaking two-lane, gravel road, where I had passed a number of empty, barricaded camp areas, I drove across a large clearing to the continuation of the road. The road became dirt, and was narrow and poorly maintained, only a single lane with large swales and rises. I had to cautiously maneuver the pickup truck. I stopped at a camping area on the right because it reminded me of a place where I had joined Ted and his friends three summers ago. Many fresh-looking uprooted young trees were spread out around the neglected clearing. The uprooted trees were mainly balsam fir "Christmas trees" varying from about four to five feet tall. Every tree was healthy, except for being cut off above the root, which lay nearby on the ground beside the hole from which it had obviously been removed.

Every tree that I saw was surprising in a single respect: Its root was balled, as though it had been purchased at a significant cost from a commercial source, rather than being merely a seedling like those the state distributes. Instead of the trees being merely "heeled in," which is customary with reforestation, a proper hole had been dug for each tree.

Not being particularly comfortable in the deserted area, where I had not seen one soul since entering the forest preserve a good distance below the large clearing, I retraced my route after taking some photos of the trees that were lying on the ground and of DEC signs forbidding people from enjoying the camping spot.

But I couldn't help recalling the Adirondack Park Agency's meeting at its headquarters near lake Placid not long ago where a DEC official reported to the APA commissioners that the "problems" at the Hudson River Recreation area had been eliminated. He explained: the campsites have been closed except for two. No commissioner Complained about the incosistency of DEC's action with its settlement of the Galusha lawsuit.

The longer I live in the Adirondacks, the more I marvel at how seemingly decent human beings like the staff at DEC can execute such repressive, anti-family, even anti-human, work assignments. And how can an agency that is routinely too financially strapped to handle maintenance and staffing have the funds to purchase and plant hundreds of landscape-quality young trees for no other discernible purpose than to foreclose enjoyment of the forest preserve?

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