By Jack Miller
(Town of Lincoln, NY – Jan. 2012) In late November and early December, the Central Regional Office of the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYS Parks) issued permits to a local snowmobile club, TriValley Trail Riders, to destroy a 1.5-mile stretch of the Congressionally-authorized North Country National Scenic Trail in the Town of Lincoln. I use the term ‘destroy” quite literally. With apologies to Tacitus, “They created a wasteland and called it a multiple-use trail.”
I understand you (Madison County Courier) have published a press release from the Central Regional Office of the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation entitled Lehigh Valley Trail Improvements Opens Trail to More Users: Volunteer Efforts Promote Multi-Use Recreation to Madison County, Link to Oxbow Falls Park. The misrepresentations contained in this press release demand some explanations from this regional (10 counties, including Madison, Oneida, and Onondaga) office of a taxpayer-supported State agency.
The press release relates to “improvements” to a 1.5-mile portion, in the Town of Lincoln, of the NYS Parks-administered nine-plus miles of the Canastota-Cazenovia Trail Corridor. Under 5-year Revocable Permits from NYS Parks issued in 2001 and 2006 for development and maintenance of a hiking trail, volunteer membership of the Central New York Chapter of the North Country Trail Association devoted many hours of intensive labor to creation of a first-class foot trail, built to achieve the certification standards of the Congressionally-authorized 8-state (North Dakota to the eastern border of New York) North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST). It connected sections of the NCNST our chapter had already built (1997-2001) further south (up from the Finger Lakes Trail in Cortland and Chenango Counties) and further north (down from the Erie Canal Towpath Trail), constructed over private, county and DEC land. Some of you may know of it as the Madison County Link Trail.
Now, the particular 1.5 miles of trail in question in the NYS Parks press release was a particularly difficult stretch for our Chapter to build. Unlike other portions of the former Lehigh Valley RR corridor, where there were vestigial open areas, this was a totally overgrown 30-foot wide thickly-grown hedgerow, flanked on either side by privately owned open fields, requiring heroic efforts to hack out a four-foot-wide hiking treadway through the middle. But over a couple of years in the middle of the last decade, the Chapter did it.
Gates were emplaced at road crossings, trail markings and a trail register box were set up, and lilies were even planted along the verges making it a unique stretch of hiking trail. The NCTA was sufficiently impressed that in 2001 and again in 2008 they held their National Meeting in Madison County, in Cazenovia. Don’t hold your breath, after NYS Parks action, for them to do so again. Hey, I live in Syracuse; I’ve brought my wife out to hike the now-destroyed stretch of trail. But under its multiple-use redevelopment, I can have the same experience walking along East Genesee Street here in Syracuse. “Multiple-use” indeed!
What was a four-foot-wide treadway winding its way through woods is now a 16 to 24 feet wide straightaway. Three quarters of the trees on either side are gone, and I’m talking about living trees a foot or more in diameter. The root structure underlying the trail and hedgerow is gone as well, replaced by carefully graded dirt. Come spring thaw, in the absence of the root structure or any sub-base, it will be a quagmire. Not a problem for the snowmobilers, of course.
The press release quotes Jim Petreszyn, of the Madison County Planning Department, talking about the longtime goal of connecting the North Country Trail/Link Trail/Lehigh Valley Trail to Oxbow Falls County Park. The implication seems to be that the Special Permit issued by NYS Parks to TriValley Trail Riders will advance that goal. Not so. The potential connection between the trail and Oxbow Falls Park lies east of the stretch for which TriValley Trail Riders received their permit from NYS Parks, and the land between the trail and the County park is privately-owned and outside of NYS parks purview. The connection to Oxbow Falls is as near, and as far, from realization as it was prior to the issuance of the Special Permit by NYS Parks.
While Central Regional Office of NYS Parks “commended” in their press release our Chapter for its efforts in developments of the trail, they omit the fact that those efforts were directed, under the terms of their 2001 and 2006 permits, toward development of a hiking, not a “multiple-use” trail. It couldn’t very well have been otherwise, since that is what Congress, the National Parks Service, and the North Country Trail Association have authorized for the North Country National Scenic Trail. They also omit the fact that they failed to even notify our Chapter that they were contemplating issuing the permits to TriValley Trail Riders until after the latter had commenced working with their bulldozer and excavator.
I might mention that not-for-profit trail developers typically face the problem of assuaging the fears of landowners over which, or adjacent to which, their trail might pass, that the impacts of the trail will not be more than promised. Imagine the impression it leaves on landowners when, after a volunteer group assures them that the trail they are asking their blessing for will be for foot use (hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing) only, it suddenly becomes a motorized trail. “Bait and switch” is unbecoming, both for our Chapter and for NYS Parks. If NYS Parks expects cooperation from volunteer trail groups, it will need to begin giving this serious consideration.
The Central Regional Office of NYS Parks has relied heavily on the mantra of “multiple-use trail” in this case. I invite readers to visit Green Lakes, Verona Beach, or Chittenango Falls State Parks, to look at their trails and the segregation of uses thereon, and form their own impressions of how sincere and consistent that term’s application is here.
Professional trail planners know that successful multiple use trails require for-the-purpose design and appropriate setting. Calling what has transpired in the Town of Lincoln –one-size-fits-all, lowest common denominator design–a “multiple use trail” casts doubt on the competence and good faith of those at Central Regional Office of NYS Parks dealing with this issue.
Why then, has the Central Region Office of NYS Parks placed the interests of a snowmobile club over that of the group that built the hiking trail on the Parks-titled former railroad corridor? Under State law, snowmobile owners get a break on their registration fees if they belong to snowmobile clubs, and a hefty proportion of that registration fee goes back to the snowmobile club for snowmobile rail development and maintenance. NYS Parks is responsible for that rebate and county governments—in this case Madison County—has the burdensome, but remunerated, task of administrating the payments to their snowmobile clubs. This, arguably, is a sensible arrangement. It motivates non-club snowmobilers to join clubs where they, at least in theory, are more likely to snowmobile responsibly.
And, at least in Madison County, it has resulted in the development and maintenance of hundreds of miles of dedicated snowmobile trails (far more than the mileage of dedicated foot trails—whose organized proponents neither have the burden of registration fees nor the benefit of State subsidies). All well and good. But when the NYS Parks, county, snowmobile club relationship results in NYS Parks placing the interests of a snowmobile club above the legitimate and pre-existing interests of another trail group, the arrangement has been corrupted.
This is the situation we have now in the Town of Lincoln, Madison County, under the Central Regional Office of NYS Parks. It needs to be remedied.
Jack Miller is the president of the Central New York Chapter of the North Country Trail Association.