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Old Adirondack Road Reopened in Snowmobile Tug of War

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.

Albany Times Union

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.

Ed Palen, Adirondack Rock and River Guide Service.

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.


  1. Mcculley

    Dave it was a snowmobile trail long before it was ski trail. You are right thought there is a very easy compromise. The DEC should give snowmobilers the trail they were promised. There is room for all, with 3 million acres set aside, for skiing and all other activities. While a mere 500 acres set aside for snowmobiling it seems like they could find a spot for everyone. Mr. Palins comments are nothing more than fear mongering. Snowmobilers spend more time in hotels and motels and more money on thier sport than any other winter activity. Like the Crowne Plaza here in Lake Placid tells they rent our most expensive suites and spend money in our restaurants.

    • Redhawk

      Just curious about the “Snowmobilers spend more time in hotels and motels and more money on their sport than any other winter activity.”

      Do you have and can you post the amounts that the various groups spend and the source of those figures?

      Is there a place on the hotel and restaurant registers where someone checks off what their sport or activity is when they check in or out or pay their bills?

      How does the establishment know whether someone is a snowshoer, or skier, or ice climber, unless they carry their equipment in with them?

      Just curious as to where you cane up with that information.


      I do have to agree! There certainly is a compromise. Since snowmobilers delight in the exhileration of speed, you must not be able to easily take in all of the little details that more slowly-moving skiers can, and certainly not much more slowly-moving hikers can. Why then, must the snowmobile trails exist in some of the most beautiful portions of the park. Why can’t the snowmobile trails be in the flatlands, which are more suited for snowmobile travel, and where there is far less competition from hikers? This way we (the hikers) could have our beautful scenery, without the interaction, and you snowmobilers could have your trails all to yourselves. What would be the objections to this compromise?

    • Ed Palen (not Palin...thanks Sarah! )
      Ed Palen (not Palin...thanks Sarah! )05-28-2009

      For Mr. McCulley (who I’ve never met) to call my direct and honest response to a reporter’s question “fear mongering” tells me something about his personality and obvious agenda. I was in no way implying that the local economy would suffer due to the possible allowance of snow mobiles on the Old Mountain road (I really don’t know that answer). Instead, I was simply stating that my business would be hurt cause my clientelle prefer a quiet, non mechanized trail out their backdoor. This I do know for a fact and this is something Mr. McCulley can’t correct me on (although he may try at that). I started out believing Mr. Mcculley was a fair minded individual that sought a fair solution to a common but very difficult problem but the more I read his statements the more I doubt that fact…

      • Dave

        My apologies for getting your name wrong, Mr Palen! I corrected it in the article above.

      • szig

        ed,your business wont be hurt in fact it should you realize how many snowmobilers will want to stay there.

    • John Warren - Adirondack Almanack
      John Warren - Adirondack Almanack05-28-2009


      Your assertion that “it was a snowmobile trail long before it was ski trail” is dead wrong. You (or other snowmobilers) may have used it as a snowmobile trail in the late 1960s or early 1970s at best. The trail was used even before the 1932 Olympics.

      Feel free to read the short history I provided at Adirondack Almanack and comment there as well. You’ll also find a five part history of snowmobiling in the Adirondacks you may find of interest.

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