Groups urge ruling in favor of a balanced approach between preservation and public access
Albany, NY—February 2, 2021—The Open Space Institute (OSI) and ADK (Adirondack Mountain Club) have moved to jointly file an Amicus Brief in support of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in a case that would severely limit trail creation and maintenance within the Adirondack Park (Protect the Adirondacks! Inc. v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) et al.). A copy of the submitted OSI/ADK brief will be available upon its formal acceptance by the New York State Court of Appeals.
In moving to file their brief, OSI and ADK stressed the critical need to keep the Forest Preserve land open, welcoming, and safe for all who venture to it through proper trail development and maintenance, asserting that the intent of the protected land was not to sequester it, but rather to preserve it for the people and the public’s enjoyment.
The case hinges on the assertion that certain trail building by the DEC violates the “forever wild” provision in the New York State Constitution. The petitioners argue that existing limitation on Forest Preserve timber removal should extend beyond the established definition of trees larger than three inches in diameter to include all trees, no matter how small.
After a lower court judge ruled against the challenge on this point, the decision was appealed to the Appellate Division which overturned the lower court’s ruling, eschewing the historical definition of timber and casting uncertainty on what degree of tree removal, if any, is now permitted within the Forest Preserve.
Siding with the DEC, OSI and ADK argue that the Appellate Division decision is overreaching and will result in uncertain interpretation of allowable tree removal, substantially limiting public access in the Forest Preserve and robbing the public of the experience and simple enjoyment of nature.
OSI and ADK, which have long supported proper stewardship of conserved land, thoughtful trail development, and responsible recreation, called for the New York State Court of Appeals to reverse the Appellate Division and adhere to long established court precedents and the legislative intent behind the “forever wild” provision, striking a more balanced approach for forest preservation and public access.
“As we work to improve and expand appreciation and support for our state’s natural resources and protected land, we must do more to safely and responsibly welcome the public onto our state’s most majestic and inspiring outdoor destinations,” said Kim Elliman, OSI president and CEO. “Placing severe limitations on trail construction and maintenance within the Forest Preserve would forever put these places off-limits to the public. A proper balance must be struck to protect the land and make it inviting to the public. We are pleased to submit this brief with ADK and thank them for their partnership.”
“The Adirondack Park is in dire need of improved hiking trails. Our current network needs to be revamped to meet modern standards for trail design, which focus on minimizing erosion, protecting surrounding vegetation, and maintaining hiker safety,” Michael Barrett, ADK Executive Director. “This lawsuit started with snowmobile trails but has spilled over into other forms of recreation that require sustainably built trails to ensure a safe and low-impact backcountry experience. As such, we are submitting an amicus brief with Open Space Institute to share the broad impact this lawsuit has on the Adirondack Park’s diverse array of recreational opportunities.”
ADK’s Trail Coordinator Andrew Hamlin added, “A number of ADK’s planned hiking trail building and maintenance projects have stalled due to this ongoing issue. These projects are important to maintaining a balance between environmental protection and recreational access. When trail work is restricted, trails become more difficult to navigate, which leads to lost hikers and more impacts outside of the trail corridor.”
The Open Space Institute protects land for clean water, public enjoyment, wildlife habitat, and to fight climate change and mitigate its effects. Founded in 1974 to protect significant landscapes in New York State, OSI has grown and partnered in the protection of 2.3 million acres in the eastern United States and southern Canada.
ADK works to protect New York’s wild lands and waters by promoting responsible outdoor recreation and building a statewide constituency of land stewardship advocates. Based out of the Adirondack Park in New York State, ADK is a leader in providing outdoor education, promoting responsible recreation, and organizing stewardship experiences. Since 1922, the organization has worked to increase access to the backcountry by building trails, conserving natural areas, and developing a stewardship community that supports the ethical and safe use of New York’s outdoor spaces. A member and volunteer-supported organization, ADK reaches across New York through its 27 chapters to inspire people to enjoy the outdoors ethically.