Public comment sought on snowmobile trail plan
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Daily Gazette September 14, 2009 Public comment sought on snowmobile trail plan BY STEPHEN WILLIAMS Gazette Reporter A proposal now before the Adirondack Park Agency is reviving the debate between environmentalists and snowmobile riders over plans to build new snowmobile trails on state- owned Adirondack forest lands. The agency is soliciting public comment on a proposal to declare that the major changes in snowmobile trail policy it approved in 2006 are consistent with the state’s Adirondack land use master plan, assuming newly proposed guidelines are followed. APA and Department of Environmental Conservation staff are recommending a finding that the two plans are consistent, but environmental groups don’t agree. “We believe the park agency can’t in good conscience do that,” said John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, a leading environmental group. The proposal before the agency carries out the plan for maintaining the current cap of 848 miles of snowmobile trails on state land, but moving trails out of the interior of state forest and creating new connector trails between communities. Those trails would generally run as close as practical to roads or other motorized routes. The new connector trails could be as much as nine feet wide, and 12 feet wide on curves. One change from earlier discussions being proposed by the park agency would limit the size of trail- grooming equipment. APA spokesman Keith McKeever said the agency has tried to craft an acceptable compromise with the guidelines, recognizing the safety needs on snowmobile trails and concerns about the environmental impact on trails. The 2006 plan “was a framework document, and this is more nuts and bolts,” McKeever said. The Adirondack Council considers the proposed new trails to be “snowmobile highways,” Sheehan said. The council’s position is consistent with what it said when the snowmobile trail plan was proposed in 2006. “There was definitely an effort to say that snowmobilers could degrade the experience in the Adirondacks,” Sheehan said. Snowmobilers are generally supportive of implementing the new guidelines. “A lot of these trails are already in place, and it’s just a matter of maintaining them,” said James P. Jennings of Long Lake, executive director of the 70,000-member New York State Snowmobile Association. Jennings said there are 128,000 snowmobiles registered in New York, and snowmobiling contributes nearly $1 billion to the New York state economy — much of that in the Adirondacks, where riders provide restaurants and other businesses with winter activity. “As many people here in the Adirondacks say, snowmobilers are what keep the lights on in the winter,” Jennings said, citing a statement by Hamilton County’s tourism director. Sheehan said the Adirondack Council believes such major changes in the trail system can’t be permitted without amending the state land use master plan, which he said would require holding public hearings around the state. The park agency will be taking public comment through Sept. 30, and the park agency board could make a decision at its Oct. 8-9 meeting in Ray Brook. If the agency concluded the land use plan and snowmobile trail plan are consistent, the Adirondack Council may take the issue to court, Sheehan said. Information on the proposal that is before the park agency is available on its Web site at www.apa.state.ny.us. Written comments may be directed by Sept. 30 to James Connelly, deputy director for planning at the Adirondack Park Agency, Box 99, Ray Brook, N.Y. 12977.