ADK conservation and advocacy work has been important in the protection of New York State public lands. The celebration of Neil Woodworth’s thirty years of service at ADK presents an opportunity to reflect on some of the more important victories during that time.
Balsam Lake Mt. and Article XIV, Catskill Park
In the early 1990s, ADK became involved in a critically important case which established that foot-trail building in the Forest Preserve was not prohibited by Article XIV, the forever wild clause, of the New York State Constitution. In Balsam Lake Anglers Club v. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Anglers Club challenged the Unit Management Plan (UMP) for the Balsam Lake Mountain Wild Forest because it proposed cutting seedlings, saplings, and trees to build several small trailhead parking areas, primitive campsites, and new and rerouted cross-country ski trails. The Angler’s Club took the position that the tree cutting violated Article XIV.
ADK and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference supported DEC as friends of the court, contending that the forever wild clause does not prohibit an immaterial degree of tree cutting for foot trails, and that foot trails are compatible with the wild forest character of the Forest Preserve, being necessary for public use and for resource protection.
The justices of the court agreed with ADK, clearly interpreting the phrase “forever kept as wild forest lands” of Article XIV to mean that any proposed use of the Forest Preserve must be compatible or in harmony with its wild forest character and that tree cutting to provide recreational access is permissible only if it is immaterial and not substantial.1 The decision also created thresholds of tree-cutting which constitute the Article XIV prohibition of the “removal or destruction of timber.”
A Paddler’s Paradise, Adirondack Park
Northern Forest Lands Council
One of ADK’s greatest contributions to the Adirondack Forest Preserve was our advocacy work to re-establish public access to the great paddle ways of the northern Adirondacks. This work was greatly helped by Woodworth’s participation on the Northern Forest Lands Council, which brought him in contact with the leadership and land managers of hundreds of thousands of acres of paper company lands, including the holdings of Finch Pruyn, Domtar, International Paper, and Champion International. At ADK’s urging, the state purchased many of ADK’s top priorities that focused on restoring public access to river corridors and paddle routes that had been shut down for over one hundred years.
In the 1970s, ADK’s Paul Jamieson wrote an article for Adirondac titled “Lapsed Paradise,” in which he described the lost paddle ways of the Adirondacks and called for their return. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Woodworth helped lobby to make that happen by recommending state acquisitions and easements that now provide public access to many northern Adirondack rivers, including the St. Regis, Deer, Jordan, Grass, and Raquette. Most recently that work has resulted in the acquisition of the Essex Chain Lakes Complex and the Boreas Ponds Tract.
William C. Whitney Wilderness
In the late 1990s, ADK’s advocacy work helped block the development of Little Tupper Lake into waterfront hotel and camp resorts, ensuring the protection of over 14,000 acres including Little Tupper Lake and Lake Lila. In 1996, with the help of ADK’s advocacy, these lands and waterways were established as the William C. Whitney Wilderness. Additional acquired easements from Woodworth’s work with forest products companies and the state helped create the extensive wilderness paddle experience available in this wilderness area and the adjacent Forest Preserve and easement areas.
In 2000, New York State reached a settlement in Adirondack League Club v. Sierra Club et al (the Moose River Case). Five Sierra Club paddlers, in June of 1991, entered the South Branch of the Moose River from Forest Preserve land at Rock Dam. After a twelve-mile journey, the paddlers left the river at a public campsite in the hamlet of McKeever. The disputed part of their trip was a section of the river that flows through the private lands of the Adirondack League Club (ALC).
The ALC sued the paddlers for trespass, and New York State and ADK intervened. A court of appeals ruling in this landmark case decided that recreational use, including canoeing, can be considered when determining if a waterway is navigable-in-fact and is thus a public waterway. The settlement currently provides recreational access to the disputed section of the Moose River above a designated water level.
In January 2010, ADK and Protect the Adirondacks filed a lawsuit against the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regarding management actions of these agencies in the Five Ponds Wilderness Area. DEC had failed to follow the management actions approved in the Bog River Complex UMP, which directed DEC to adopt regulations that would prohibit the use of floatplanes on Lows Lake.
In 2011, the Albany County Supreme Court annulled the APA’s decision to ignore its prior classification of Lows Lake as Wilderness, and to allow the continued use of floatplanes in the Wilderness Area in violation of the UMP. This was a critical victory in ensuring that lakes, ponds, and rivers are protected from motorized use in Wilderness areas. The decision also provides guidance for APA and DEC in classifying and managing Adirondack waterbodies.
Hunter Mt., Catskill Park
In 1996, Hunter Mt., at 4040 feet the second highest peak in the Catskill Park, was threatened with development by expansion of the Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl. A proposed constitutional amendment would have leased twenty-five miles of trails and provided rights to develop up to 500 acres of the Hunter Mt. summit. The proposal would have affected over 2,000 acres of intermingled and adjoining Forest Preserve. There were many reasons for ADK to join the fight to defeat the proposed amendment: the project threatened the habitat of the rare Bicknell’s thrush; fisher had recently been reestablished on the mountain; and 49,000 acres of Hunter Mt. and surrounding peaks had been specifically purchased in 1921 for the protection of the Esopus and Schoharie Creek watersheds.
ADK worked with other environmental organizations to persuade New York State Assembly members to oppose the proposed project and the amendment. ADK and the other conservation groups were also able to convince DEC Deputy Commissioner Gary Spielman to issue a letter raising questions about the impact of the project’s expansion on the Forest Preserve and about the proposed withdrawal of a billion gallons of water for snow-making from Schoharie Creek, an important source of water for New York City. The letter and the advocacy efforts of ADK and other groups created enough pressure to stop the legislation proposing the project.
Schunnemunk State Park
In 2001, over 3,000 acres of the the eight-mile-long, 1700-foot ridge of Schunnemunk Mt. became a New York State Park. ADK and the New York–New Jersey Trail Conference advocated for the new park and Governor Pataki embraced the idea.
Woodworth recalls sitting with the governor’s staff describing the beauty and recreational value of different sections of the mountain. Governor Pataki walked in from the next room, from which he had apparently been listening, and said, “Why not buy the whole thing?!” The acquisition was made with the help of the Open Space Institute which preserved the lands until the state was able to acquire the park using the Environmental Protection Fund. Today the park hosts twenty miles of hiking on eight marked trails.
Allegany State Park
In May 1996, after ADK advocacy around the Allegany State Park Master Plan, Governor Pataki and the commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) decided to ban commercial logging as an option on any of the lands of the 67,000-acre park. Twenty-four percent of the park was also protected with a “natural succession” classification, which provided a “forever wild” level of protection for old-growth lands.
Prior to developing his decision on the park, the governor called Woodworth to discuss issues and allowed him to outline ADK’s arguments against the original plan. The governor made a commitment to keep Allegany and the rest of New York’s larger state parks free from logging. This was a critical precedent in that OPRHP and New York State Senate studies had proposed timber management for other parks, such as Letchworth, Harriman, Bear Mountain, and Minnewaska, if the Allegany plan had succeeded.
Oil and Gas Drilling
The victory at Allegany in the 1990s provided a foundation for the battle against oil and gas drilling which was to come fifteen years later as companies drilling south of the border in the Allegheny National Forest began to move north, claiming subsurface rights and developing plans to drill in Allegany State Park. Fortunately, ADK had a strong ally in New York State Senator Catherine Young, who recognized Allegany as a critical natural area in her district and who would do all in her power to protect the park.
Senator Young introduced two pieces of legislation to protect the park. One created surface protection regulations and the other provided for sunsetting claimed subsurface rights if the alleged owners could not clearly prove ownership within two years of the law taking effect. The legislation worked. Subsurface rights could not be proved by would-be drillers and the subsurface rights reverted to New York State.
Several years later, in December 2014, ADK’s work on battling oil and gas drilling in Allegany State Park and high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) across the state paid off when New York State announced a ban on HVHF. Using a Lighthawk Flight over the Allegheny National Forest, ADK provided photographic evidence to DEC of the devastation to forest lands caused by unconventional oil and gas drilling. The pictures helped persuade New York State agency decision-makers that HVHF should not be permitted on public lands or ultimately anywhere in New York State.
Sterling Forest State Park
In 1993, Sterling Forest was threatened with a massive mixed residential and commercial development. In May 1996, after three years of advocacy work by a coalition of groups including ADK, the governors of New York and New Jersey came to an agreement with the owner of the 15,570-acre forest to purchase the lands for $55 million. ADK provided important legal expertise and advocacy that resulted in the establishment of Sterling Forest State Park in 1998.
Over twenty years later, in 2014, Sterling Forest came under threat again with proposed development of a casino and resort complex in the heart of the park. The park represents a critical watershed for northern New Jersey, and a highly valuable recreation area for the Hudson Valley and greater New York City area. The park also serves as critical habitat for nesting and migratory birds and as an Important Bird Area (IBA); it is an internationally recognized bird conservation area.
ADK staff and members sent over 1,500 letters to the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board and to Governor Andrew Cuomo to protect Sterling Forest. ADK pointed out that deed restrictions on the lands proposed for development would limit development plans. ADK also described how the land from Harriman State Park that would be needed to construct a Thruway exit to the casino would be subject to the Public Trust Doctrine, which requires legislative approval for park land to be used for non-park purposes. ADK was ready to strongly oppose any such legislative approval. In December 2014, the Gaming Facility Location Board announced its decision not to move forward with the proposed development.
Bethpage State Park
In 1997, the last 250 acres of undeveloped forested land in Bethpage State Park (eastern Nassau County) was in the sights of the OPRHP commissioner, Bernadette Castro, who wanted to convert the forest into another golf course (the park already had five developed courses). The forested area contained the Long Island Greenbelt Trail and other popular hiking trails. After an extensive advocacy effort by ADK and its Long Island Chapter, and other member organizations of the Bethpage Trail Users Coalition, OPRHP dropped the proposal.
Zoar Valley Unique Area
In July 2007, Governor Spitzer signed legislation dedicating the Zoar Valley Unique Area to the State Nature and Historical Preserve. The legislation provided a “forever wild” level of protection for 1,492 acres, more than half of the total acreage of Zoar Valley, which spans the border of Erie and Cattaraugus Counties in western New York. Since 2003, ADK staff and members, including the Niagara Frontier Chapter, had advocated for extra protection for the sensitive area, which includes over seven miles of gorges along Cattaraugus Creek and its tributaries. ADK members had noticed trees marked for a logging operation and initiated the advocacy efforts to protect the beautiful, unique, and irreplaceable Zoar Valley.
Brooktrout Lake, Adirondack Park
Brooktrout Lake, located in the Little Moose Wilderness in the southwestern Adirondacks, is one of the many lakes within the Blue Line that have seen recovery from acidification caused by acid rain. Brooktrout Lake, a thin-till lake without much to buffer it against acidic precipitation, was unable to support brook trout populations in the 1980s. Today the lake has recovered to the point where brook trout can once again survive in its water.
ADK was part of the recovery of this lake and all of the other waters suffering from acid precipitation throughout the Adirondacks. In 2007, ADK filed a legal action in the federal courts to challenge changes in New Source Review (NSR) provisions which are also contained in the more recent Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) proposal of the Trump Administration. The industry’s objective then (and now) was to allow coal-burning power plants to evade the NSR requirement to install flue gas scrubbers, precipitators, and other air pollution control equipment when owners of these plants proposed to make major service life extensions. ADK won at every level, including the U.S. Supreme Court, and as a result of this successful defense of the NSR requirements, pollution control equipment was installed on a number of coal-burning plants, many plants were shut down and replaced by natural gas-powered generating plants, and some plants were retrofitted to burn natural gas. The effect was to reduce acid deposition particulate matter and smog.
These represent just a few of the many battles over the past thirty years. Others include the removal of military ordnance from Storm King Mt., the designation of Minnewaska as a park preserve, protection of Mattison Hollow of the Taconic Crest Trail System from logging, kayak access on Peconic Bay, protection of the Ninham Mt. fire tower, and protection of Stewart State Forest.
1 (Neil Woodworth, Recreational Use of the Forest Preserve Under the Forever Wild Clause in Celebrating the Constitutional Protection of the Forest Preserve 1894-1994, Papers Presented at the Silver Bay Symposium Lake George September 30, 1994, pages 34-35)
This article will appear in the November-December edition of the Adirondac available November 1. Members will be able to view the magazine in their Members Area on the website. Non-members can purchase the magazine in our online shop.
–Cathy Pedler, Director of Government Relations and Conservation
Neil Woodworth contributed to this article.