Old Mountain Road, an abandoned road running between North Elba (Lake Placid area) and Keene, has been reopened by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The issue was forced after the president of a snowmobile club, James McCulley, intentionally drove his truck on the road, inducing a ticket. An administrative judge then ruled that the road had not been properly closed (it apparently never got the required public hearings) and the DEC’s Commisioner, Pete Grannis, had to drop the ticket.
At first glance this sure seems like an issue of legal and procedural technicalities. That stretch has been abandoned as a road since the 19th century – so along with wondering why the DEC didn’t “properly” close it in the first place, one has to wonder why this isn’t just a case of properly closing it now and being done with it. There is even a section of the Highway Law that would seem to allow just that.
But of course this issue is not, at its heart, one of just legal technicalities. It involves the struggle between those who support motorized recreation in wilderness settings and those who prefer to see them remain a little more… wild. Either for environmental reasons, or because that is how they prefer to experience them.
McCulley’s agenda is clear. He is looking to use Old Mountain Road to connect the Lake Placid area to the Keene area for snowmobile enthusiasts and expand the use of motorized recreation throughout the park.
This gives people here the legal avenue to reopen roads throughout the Adirondacks that the state illegally closed. Word is getting around already.
Overstatement or not, the possibility of this being precedent setting has to be a headache for the DEC and a mess for those trying to protect parts of the park from motorized use.
In a way, this is really just another version of the same tug of war that has played out in other wilderness areas, such as Yellowstone, and that you see take place in the Adirondacks in other forms, such as on Lows Lake. If you follow some of the discussions on Adirondack newspaper websites you’ll even find that a few people think this is a matter of class warfare. With the well-to-do skiers trying to hog the land and tell the working class snowmobilers where they can and can’t play. As if this is some battle between Bud Light Billy Bob from the boonies and Merlot drinking Francois from the big city. I have no doubt that this is, in some way, a battle of opposing world views, but I refuse to believe it can be boiled down to class, education or wealth.
Personally, I will never quite understand how someone can look at a peaceful area of wilderness and get the urge to go tearing through it on an ATV, snowmobile, Ski-Do, or loud motorized anything. However, I am sensitive to the reality that a lot of people do enjoy these activities, and that in the right setting they can be a heck of a lot of fun. I also realize that motorized enthusiasts bring a certain amount of business to Towns in the area. But the flip side of that is also true. As expressed by an owner of a guide service located near the end of the ‘road’:
My business would be hurt badly if it could be used by snowmobiles. All the people that come here, come here to get away from snowmobiles.
I’m sure I am just sharing my naivete here when I wonder why some alternative compromise can’t be reached. It would seem possible to somehow allow snowmobilers to link motorized trails between towns without having them roll through established cross country ski trails or ecologically sensitive land. I guess if there were an easy solution it would have been tried already.
One thing is for sure, it will be interesting to see how each side plays this out.