APA OK Whiteface Mountain Trail Extension, with some caveats

The projects are presented in a Whiteface Mountain Unit Management Plan Amendmenta document decided by the APA in accordance with its rules and regulations in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

The APA board passed the amendment unanimously on Friday, with member Ken Lynch absent.

The approval came despite legal concerns raised by Protect the Adirondacks. The environmental group argues that a wider ski run exceeds the mountain limits set in the state constitution and that mountain biking and hiking trails are also constitutionally questionable.

Chris Cooper, the APA’s attorney, said the agency defers to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Olympic Regional Development Authority on constitutional issues.

APA spokesman Keith McKeever said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos must approve the board’s recommendation to approve the amendment before the ORDA submits its work plans to the DEC.

Whiteface Mountain manager Aaron Kellet said the downhill ski runs are ORDA’s top priority as Lake Placid hosts the World University Games in 2023.

Protect the Adirondacks and a few other commenters were not supportive of ORDA’s five-phase plan to expand existing hiking and mountain biking trails that would connect to Wilmington’s wilderness forest. Protect also questioned the lack of information on tree felling in the amendment. ORDA plans to cut about 10,000 trees 1 inch in diameter or larger, but the authority does not say how many it will cut for bike paths and hiking trails.

Matt McNamara, an APA planner, said those trails will be built using DEC’s trail tips, which McNamara says will be released later this summer. The DEC was meeting with local groups on new trail guidelines address a Court of Appeal decision that certain snowmobile trails the DEC building in the park violated the state constitution by excessively cutting trees.

A DEC spokesperson told the Adirondack Explorer that the trail stewardship task force will present its proposed policies “to the public through a full and transparent public consultation process.”

APA board member Zoe Smith asked McNamara and Cooper if the board was asked to review ORDA’s plans to comply with policies that have yet to be developed. Cooper said Thursday that the APA is responsible for deciding whether the amendment is consistent with the master plan. Cooper said the wording of the amendment says ORDA should wait to build bike paths and hiking trails until DEC develops trail guidelines. The APA will also need to review the proposed trail wayfinding, Cooper said, and make sure it also conforms to the master plan.

“So yeah, there are two parts here going on,” Cooper said, adding that he was comfortable endorsing the UMP amendment that way.

Smith said Thursday she was still trying to reconcile summer trails in the amendment. DEC attorney Molly Breslin said hiking and mountain biking are traditional activities throughout the forest reserve and the ORDA facilities are unique.

McNamara also addressed public comments questioning the lack of plans for alpine skiing in his amendment. ORDA received more than 50 comments on alpine skiing in a previous review. McNamara said there is no specific requirement in the Adirondack Park State Lands Master Plan for ORDA to offer uphill skiing.

APA President John Ernst asked if there were special trails for uphill skiing.

“Isn’t that something that can co-exist with the setup you have?” Ernest said.

Kellet said 15 to 30 alpine skiers use Whiteface three days a week. Kellet said it’s currently working “quite well,” but expressed reluctance to expand the opportunities. The same staff that oversee the mountain for regular downhill skiing also oversee the uphill skiing. Their day starts around 5 a.m. and ends around 6 p.m., Kellet said.

“We’re doing our best right now to manage it with the resources we have,” Kellet said. “As we move forward, we try to solicit volunteers who want to support it and who need to be certified by a ski patrol. The main thing is how we are going to save someone. The argument is that they (uphill skiers) almost never get hurt, but they do get hurt.

A version of this story was first published by AdirondackExplorer.org.

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