The 12.8 mile snowmobile trail connecting the communities of Inlet and Raquette Lake through the Moose River Plains will be open for its first full snowmobile season despite a lawsuit that states the construction and maintenance of the trail violates the State’s Constitution and State law.
The Seventh Lake Mountain Multiple Use Trail, which runs from the Limekiln Lake-Cedar River Road to the Sagamore Road in Raquette Lake, was officially opened last February as a community connector trail.
It is joined with the current Moose River Plains Wild Forest trail system that connects to Newcomb in Essex County and Old Forge in Herkimer County.
At the time it was described by the DEC as “the most significant trail project to be undertaken in the Central Adirondacks in decades.”
This multi-use trail doubles as a hiking and biking trail.
It is the first in a number of proposed community connector trails throughout the Adirondacks meant to enhance recreation and connect tourism-dependent communities.
A lawsuit was filed in April by Protect the Adirondacks against the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation challenging the construction of the trail and other community connector trails.
The suit alleged that significant tree cutting and excessive trail width violated the “Forever Wild” clause of the State Constitution.
The lawsuit also claimed that the use of tracked motor vehicles, such as a snowcat, for grooming on trails in Wild Forest areas violates rules and regulations for motorized vehicles under the Adirondack State Land Master Plan.
In August, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the lawsuit was untimely since the Seventh Lake Mountain trail had already been completed and others had not yet started, but left the door open for a renewal following a change in circumstances.
The ruling rejected the DEC’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.
Since then, Protect the Adirondacks and the State have filed papers regarding the use of tracked motor vehicles on Forest Preserve lands.
The NYS Snowmobile Association filed an affidavit providing an “expert view regarding the necessity of using snow grooming vehicles.”
Mitch Lee, head of the Inlet Parks & Buildings Department, is concerned for the toll on groomers having to use anything other than a tracked motor vehicle to groom the amount of trails.
“As it is, using the snowcat is an all day affair,” Lee said.
There is no date set for a decision.
The construction of the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail was approved in the 2011 Moose River Plains Wild Forest Unit Manage-ment Plan along with the closure of 46 miles of snowmobile trails which existed in the more remote areas of this Wild Forest Unit.
In addition, 15,000 acres of Moose River Plains Wild Forest lands were reclassified as Wilderness to create the new Little Moose Wilderness area and approximately two miles of road were closed to motor vehicle access within this Wild Forest.
Applauding the efforts at the time were the NYS Snowmobile Association and William Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Supervisors. At the opening of the trail, APA Chairperson Lani Ulrich said, “We mark the culmination of longstanding efforts among state agencies, local governments and stakeholder groups to link the communities of the Western Adirondacks to a statewide trail system.”
In defending the lawsuit, Protect the Adirondacks states that “This lawsuit is not seeking to prohibit all snowmobile use in the Forest Preserve. It is not seeking to prohibit all use of motor vehicles in the Forest Preserve. This lawsuit concerns only what we believe are the illegal ways the State has chosen to build and groom snowmobile trails.”
Lee said he worries that the lawsuit will make trail stewards reluctant to get involved in signing up to adopt a natural resource if they could become liable as part of a lawsuit because of their stewardship practices.