Property Rights Foundation of America®

A State Snowmobile Plan & The Local Economy

Worth Commenting

By Carol W. LaGrasse

During June, the two state agencies that control land use policy within the Adirondack "Park" afforded the public an opportunity to comment on a portion of their plan to re-route many of the pre-existing snowmobile trails that traverse some of the three million acres of state-owned land in the region.

The plan that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) have designed and approved, respectively, is based on the enviros' conviction that snowmobiles are verboten because they are not propelled by human power, make too much noise for the sacred wilderness experience of more sensitive people to coexist, and require the maintenance of trails that are apparently too wide or could even require special trail grooming machinery. Therefore, the agencies have concluded that snowmobiles should not be allowed to continue to disrupt the inner forests and should instead be relegated to the edge of the forests, within one or two miles of important highways.

In addition, judging by the Jessup River area plan, the agencies have decided to eliminate spurs, even those on the periphery of the forest, to access the trails, as well as significant local connectors, including at the periphery of the forest, that serve as access to local communities. Furthermore, although there have been official public pronouncements to the contrary, snowmobiles that cross water bodies should generally be eliminated.

The very limited mileage of beautiful snowmobile trails through the deep forests along scenic routes will generally be closed and new trails will be constructed, with some of these having the virtue of connecting communities where there were not such continuous "connector" trails, as they are called. These connectors are being envisioned as a tourist attraction, but a lot is being taken away from the practicality and potential enjoyment of the trails while this single, oversimplified, broad claim of economic benefit is touted.

The potential impact of rerouting snowmobile trails in the sub-region (or DEC "unit") called the Jessup River Wild Forest on the economy of the Lake Pleasant area of Hamilton County is an example of how revisions that are portrayed as improvements to the snowmobile route are likely to have a negative economic impact on the local economy. Local opposition to this snowmobile plan was clearly expressed.

The proposed trail relocation would cut off the local population and businesses from the snowmobile system. For example, the elimination of the use of Oxbow Lake as part of the snowmobile trail system and the elimination of the Oxbow-Sacandaga Trail and the spur trails in the vicinity of Oxbow Lake would take away snowmobile recreation that residents and visitors in the comparatively densely populated area have enjoyed for thirty years.

The closures would dry up the snowmobile business that serves as the clientele for the very important Oxbow Inn on Route 8. Located in the town of Arietta just outside of Lake Pleasant, the Oxbow Inn is the only restaurant and motel on the long, lonely stretch of Route 8 between Speculator, at the intersection with Route 30, and the area at the western boundary of the Adirondack Park. There are no restaurants in the hamlet of Lake Pleasant, although the hamlet contains the county seat and the Lake Pleasant town hall.

The shorter, newly proposed snowmobile route would dead-end at the Piseco Community Hall, which has no practical purpose, according to James N. O'Rourke, a former Lake Pleasant supervisor.

DEC raises the issue of safety as a reason to eliminate snowmobile travel over lakes, yet in a statement before the APA meeting last year, the DEC spokesman said that snowmobile travel over lakes was not going to be foreclosed. Of course, there is no significant safety reason to stop the use of lakes for snowmobile travel. On the open water of lakes in the Adirondacks, boats sink, people drown, but boating is, of course, not forbidden. In fact, the most tippy boats — canoes and kayaks — are encouraged by the APA and DEC.

Snowmobile travel over lakes has less environmental impact than travel requiring woods trail clearing (if such an issue should even be raised, considering the incredibly small "impact" of snowmobile travel over either woods trails or lakes). Very little trail maintenance is necessary to use a lake for travel. Waterways are the most ancient highways and are still practical. Their use should be encouraged for vehicular travel.
Snowmobiling is an important part of the economy of the Lake Pleasant area and the rerouting would have a serious negative economic impact on the community.

The Adirondack Park Agency law calls for balance. Once-thriving Lake Pleasant has lost the great majority of its businesses since the jurisdiction of the APA came into effect, and is now a ghost of its former self. The proposed Jessup River area snowmobile trail plan would further this path of destruction.

The proposed plan should be revised to reflect the mandate for balance in the APA law.

All of the proposed trail closures for the Jessup River Wild Forest Unit Management Plan should be rejected.

June 30, 2010

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