Guest Column

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.





By martha

9 thoughts on “State Allowed Snowmobile Club to Destroy Walking Trail”
  1. First of all, in my five years of hiking this trail it was NEVER four foot wide! In fact many sections of this trail was so overgrown that I had a tough time getting through without a scratch. Three years ago I was diagnosed with Advanced Osteoarthritis. This condition required me to have both knees replaced with mobile bearing implants. I don’t let this hold me back for my enjoyment of hiking. I had the opportunity to hike this trail after the recent modifications that were made to allow snowmobiles upon the path. I must say I no longer cringe as I cross over the 2×6 boards that were used as bridges. The pipes that were buried make it much safer and easier to negotiate. I also love the fact that I no longer have to bob and weave my way through; it is much easier for me to just walk without the web of undergrowth. This trail was never a winding path, the only reason that it appeared to be is because it was grown in so badly that a person had to wind their way through the brush. It is a rail bed, and always has been so it is fairly straight. As for the comment you make about it being like walking down East Genesee Street in Syracuse, I must ask you. Where on east Genny Street can I hike and see the deer walking the same path, look out into farmland and enjoy the site of cattle and vast wilderness? There is NO comparison my friend! Give it time the plants will be back this summer, even the WILD lilies. I welcome the connection to Oxbow falls; I think that it would be a great addition. I also applaud the efforts of the State and County to make this trail accessible and enjoyable for ALL. I look forward to being able to hike this trail this winter as the snowmobilers will have a hard packed path to walk. I even am excited that I will now be able to ride my mountain bike on this path as well. I sure hope that readers do not get the wrong idea about us hikers. We are not all as bull headed as this gentleman and some of us truly do appreciate the efforts made forth by parks and the snowmobile club.
    Thank You
    Karl Yates

  2. Kyhicker thank you im glad you like the new wider trail. As for the coment that it will be a quagmire because all the root structur where removed the gentalman should think befor he speeks this is an old rail bed it is hard packed stone under the couple inches of compost that has formed over the years. Right now it might look alittle messy but by next fall the smaller vegitation will have grown back and it will be an absolutlu butifull area to walk, bike, snowmoile, ride horses, or do any othe outdoor activity you would llike and you wont have to worry about getting cut up by the berry bushes unles you want to step over to the side of the trail and grab a few to snack on along the way. I hope thare are more people that enjoy it than have a problem with it that make our efforts worthwhile.

  3. I wonder if there were any wetland permits obtained or if adjacent property owners were involved with the project? Yes, the vegetation will grow back, most likely non-native invasive species and other weeds, just wait and see.

    1. That is quite a bit of prognostication and unproven speculation shrouded as concern there Becs…

      Also, you assume that these permits were required, which is quite the red herring swimming upstream, don’t you think?

  4. The Tri Valley Trail riders did in fact destroy the trail. They took dozers and created a wasteland. Are they going to clean up the brush piled 15 feet high, and what about the state protected wetlands, and trout streams. The NYS Park service has a lot to answer to local residents. I don’t live on the old RR bed, but what about landowners who are going to have snowmobile riders going 10 feet in front of their houses at 2am in the morning. So, enjoy the trail the three months of the year you can enjoy it when there is snow, because the privacy and beauty of the area has changed in a pitiful manner.

    1. Steve,
      I am so sorry to hear that you feel that way about the recent improvements that were made to the old railbed. It is true that a bull dozer was used in the clearing process as well as 2 small track ho’s….which is nothing more intrusive than what was used by the Amry Corp of Engineers when the hiking group did work on the Northern section some 10-12 years ago.
      As for wet lands and trout streams. Great lengths were gone to so as not to disturb the trout stream but no state or federal wetlands were effected in this project.
      The bursh pile has been addressed and it will be an on-going project that was outlined in the original proposal. That proposal called for 2 to 3 years of trail clean up. The NCSTA has had 12 years to work on this particular section of trail with little or limited success. In fact the snowmobile clubs have acheived more in 2 months that in the history of the hiking club accomplished.
      On the issue of local landowners, yes they were contacted and landowners agreements were signed and forwarded to the State before any construction took place. The adjoining land owners were informed and some assisted in the completion of the first stage. One local landowner graciously donated the use of some of his land for the purpose of disposing of the brush you noted being 15 feet high.
      I think you have missed the point of clearing the trail….it was not for the sole use of snowmobilers. It was a joint project of local landowners, State Parks, the Local Horse club as well as the snowmobilers. There were 2 other snowmobile clubs involved in the project as well as Tri Valley. This project was completed so that everyone may enjoy the beauty of the railbed 365 days a year.
      I am very sorry that you feel that the work completed was “pitiful”. I should think that by next summer the undergrowth will return and in the next 2 to 3 years it will no longer be obvious that any work was done.
      Everyone needs to be patient at this point as it is January and not much vegitation grows this time of year.

  5. I’ve been on the trail since reconstruction…and not to hike. We keep our horses near the railroad bed and it has always been a beautiful place to ride..until you hit the sign with the X through the horse. We were not able to cross the road to continue our ride and were left to ride one short strip. It is still hikeable and will be just as beautiful in the spring. Nature repairs itself and will grow back vegetation to fill out the hedgerow. The snowmobile clubs being involved will just add more hands to help keep the trails in good condition. It is rare to see anyone cutting down branches or dragging downed trees in the trails. However, the snowmobile club does maintenance and keeps the trails safe for those on them. The trails will be a great asset in the warmer months for more people to be able to enjoy for many years. It was a great win for the multi-use trails. I congratulate them!

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