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September 1, 2006

Update on the St. Lawrence County ATV Trail Plan

Tom Ortmeyer and Gene Kaczka

For several years, a committee chaired by St. Lawrence County legislator Alex MacKinnon has been developing a plan for an ATV trail system in the county. Tom Ortmeyer has represented the Laurentian Chapter on this committee since its inception. Others on the committee included members of county ATV clubs, county legislator Tom Grow, several county employees, and John Gibb from DEC. An organization of the county’s ATV clubs recently presented plans for an initial pilot section of trail in the Parishville and Pierrepont areas. This was followed by a tour of the proposed area by committee members. Following the presentation of this plan and the tour, the chapter executive committee developed and approved the following position on the plan.

Adirondack Mountain Club Laurentian Chapter Executive Committee position on the St. Lawrence ATV Committee Proposal

June 22, 2006

The Laurentian Chapter would like to thank St. Lawrence County for having the opportunity to participate in this discussion on ATV use. We believe that the goal of providing an ATV touring trail in the county is worthwhile. It is also agreed that this trail will need to be selected, constructed, and maintained so as to minimize the impact on the forest lands. We also believe that the plan should address issues of ATV use on areas of the county forest which are not designated as ATV trails. We believe the plan should provide standards for physically blocking trail use when it is necessary. Perhaps most importantly, the plan needs to include a realistic and workable enforcement plan.

With regard to the trails in the Parishville-Russell Turnpike area that were recently proposed, we take the following position.

  1. We concur that the county forests 30 and 31 (located on the river side of River Road near Postwood Park) should not contain ATV trails, and should be posted as closed to motorized vehicles. If this area effectively closed to motorized vehicles, we would be interested in participating in a community effort to restore the hiking and skiing trails that have been damaged in forest 31.
  2. We oppose designating ATV trails on trails marked for other uses, including hiking, skiing, or bicycling. There will certainly be points at which these trails will cross. It may be necessary to locate these adjacent to each other for short distances—for example, along a forest road where a ski trail is currently sited, and it is not feasible to construct a separate ski trail in that area. These crossings and co-locations should be kept to a minimum.
  3. We oppose locating ATV trails in County Forests 33,19,26,27, and 28. These county forest parcels are a part of the Stone Valley Cooperative Trail System, established in the 1980’s. The Stone Valley Trail system was proposed and accepted as a non-motorized trail system, and it has become a popular site for hiking and other uses as it has developed. We are not convinced that the size of the county forests in this area would allow an attractive ATV trail which is separate from the existing hiking, skiing, and bicycling trails.
  4. We have concern about the ATV trail proposed for county forests 32(?) and 35(?). Regarding these parcels (located on the east side of River Road across from the parcels 30 and 31) it does appear that this parcel is of sufficient size and structure to support both ATV trails as well as the existing hiking and skiing trails. However, we have concern about this parcel for several reasons.
    1. First, the current ATV trail proposal includes significant sections that coincide with the existing hiking trails, in sections where the trail has been constructed and is not located on a forest road. These locations of the proposed trail are problematic.
    2. The parcel includes significant wetlands where there has been ATV traffic in the past. Steps would need to be taken to discourage ATV use of these areas.
    3. There are more residences in the area of these forests than is the case with other parcels, increasing the chance that there will be differences of opinion about the trail use here.
    Our preference would be that ATV trails are not established in these particular parcels.
  5. The ultimate goal of this committee is to develop an ATV touring corridor trail which spans the county and links to other trails. We believe that in the long term, the better location for this corridor trail is along the French Hill Road, linking Parishville to South Colton. This route will provide several advantages over siting the corridor trail along the Russell Turnpike and Lenny Road, by avoiding highway sections, avoiding more populated areas, and providing better access to both state and county forest parcels.

We believe that the incorporation of these five points will lead to an improved ATV trail plan that is both more maintainable and less controversial than would otherwise be the case.

Finally, we believe that the recent Tug Hill report provides a good assessment of both the benefits and challenges which will be faced in the development of this trail system. In particular, we believe that the recommendation of this report to incorporate best practices learned in successful trails such as the TrailPass, Hatfield-McCoy, and the state of Maine will help to ensure the success of the proposed system. It should be understood by all parties that this initial plan is a pilot plan, with the future of the trail system being based on the results of this initial implementation.

The county committee developed a plan based on these and other inputs. This plan was presented a resolution to the County Finance Committee on July 31. The resolution can be found at http://www.co.st-lawrence.ny.us/MeetInfo.htm, in the 8/7 Board Meeting Agenda. The county committee endorsed the idea of this trial trail system. The plan was then forwarded to the county planning committee, who conducted a SEQR review of the plan. The SEQR review was negative, indicated that a full environmental review is not needed. This report is available at the county legislature office, where it was posted on August 21. There is a 30 day period for public comment, which will end September 20. Information on this report has been posted on the chapter web site.

We believe that the proposal has significant benefits in that it calls for closing the following county forest parcels to ATV traffic: 19, 26, 27, 28 on the Lenny Road in the Town of Colton (and part of the Stone Valley cooperative trail area), and 30, 31, and most of 35, in the Towns of Pierrepont and Parishville. These parcels are located along the River Road near Hannawa Falls. This will also allow the county to more effectively deal with garbage dumping issues in these areas. Parcel 32 in this area, plus Parcels 12, 14, 21, 9, 13, 37, 32, and a single trail in 35 would allow ATV use on posted trails.

The ATV clubs have argued that providing a well maintained and marked trail system for ATV touring will reduce the ATV trespass issues. This pilot plan is intended to demonstrate that this trail system concept will work. The ATV clubs have taken on a significant responsibility for maintenance and education if the pilot plan is approved. Its effective implementation will need the approval of the town boards involved as well as the county legislature.

The county committee as a whole recognizes that there is a significant and immediate need to address enforcement issues. Enforcing ATV trespass and misuse is difficult but not impossible under the current state laws. An update of state law is needed to address these issues, and this must be followed by a concerted effort from the law enforcement and judicial systems if we are to get to the point where ATV riding is to become an accepted and non-controversial form of outdoor recreation.

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