UPDATE (September 14, 2014):Â Since the original publication of this post, which pinned the high level of damage to the Gull Lake Trail on illegal All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) use, a source within the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) stated that ATV damage to the Gull Lake Trail was caused by DEC staff and search and rescue volunteers using ATVs during a July 2014 search. Here’s a news linkÂ about the successful search effort.Â DEC has not released any public plans for rehabilitation of this trail.
People who visited the Gull Lake Trail in the Black River Wild Forest area reported that ATV damage was extensive prior to the DEC search and rescue effort this summer.
This post has been edited to reflect the causes of damage to this trail from both illegal and legal ATV use. Protect the Adirondacks sees the damage to this trail as an good illustration as to why ATVs should never be allowed for public recreational use on the Forest Preserve.
A previous post reported on the vast damage to the Chub Pond Trail in the Black River Wild Forest Area from illegal All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) use. This post focuses on equally jarring damage from illegal ATV use to the Gull Lake Trail, also within the Black River Wild Forest and connected to the Chub Pond Trail. The damage to the Gull Lake Trail stems from illegal use of ATV riders trespassing on the Forest Preserve and from DEC personnel and volunteers using ATVs during a search and rescue operation in July 2014.
The Gull Lake Trail runs about 2.5 miles between the Chub Pond Trail to the Bear Creek Road. It traverses a variety of wetlands and classic mixed upland northern hardwood forest. The trail is poorly marked with little signage to inform the public that ATV riding is illegal. Many parts of the trail are heavily rutted and wetland areas are damaged. The trail has been widened in many areas by ATVs where the go around large mud holes.
Here is a map of the area where the Gull Lake Trail is located.
See PROTECT letter to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Adirondack Park Agency (APA) about the damage to the Gull Lake Trail.
The ATV damage to the western part of the Gull Lake Trail had all the signs of illegal trespass. ATV side-trails were visible around DEC gates. Signs were up stating no ATV use, but they are sometimes posted in places subject to illegal trespass. In many places these trails had been widened to 20-30 feet as ATV riders sought to avoid large mud holes. In places where the trail passed through a wetland, the narrow foot trail route of stepping stone and corduroy logs had been obliterated in a swamp of mud and deep ruts filled with a stew of thick green algae. In other places side trails had been created by ATVs leaving the trails altogether for an easier route around damaged areas. In many places, mud troughs several feet deep and wide were created from sustained use of ATVs crashing through them. These trails were difficult to hike and impossible to mountainbike in many places.
PROTECTÂ reported on extensive damage from illegal ATV use in a special report in 2003 and it’s highly unfortunate that in 2014 many of the places we catalogued in our report Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve have not seen improvements, but rather have deteriorated. The Gull Lake Trail was rutted and ruined in 2003 and this abuse continues in 2014. The “forever wild” Forest Preserve deserves better.
What the whole incident shows is that ATV use is wholly inappropriate for the Forest Preserve. Many are pushing for ATVs to be allowed for public recreational use on the Forest Preserve. Many are pushing for even bigger Utility Track Vehicles (UTVs) on the Forest Preserve.
Yet, if trails can be destroyed by ATV use under the supervision of DEC professional staff, nothing better illustrates why ATVs should never be allowed in the Forest Preserve for recreational use.
DEC will say that this was a matter of life and death. In this light, any damage to the Forest Preserve is irrelevant and inconsequential. I agree. Clearly search and rescue teams had to be transported as quickly and deeply into the Forest Preserve as possible at a point where every hour was critical. The longer one is lost, the greater the chances of severe injury or death.
The Adirondack environmental community has never opposed use of motor vehicles in the Forest Preserve during emergencies.
Yet, the residual ATV damage plainly evident today on these trails in the Black River Wild Forest area provides those of us who think about Forest Preserve management with a teachable moment. The lesson here is that recreational use of ATVs is incompatible with Forest Preserve protection and stewardship. These machines should only be used for emergency situations and should never be allowed for public recreational use.
Neither the DEC nor the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) have ever been able to muster the political courage to state that ATVs are prohibited on the Forest Preserve as a public management policy or to codify this policy in official rules and regulations. It’s high time that they do so.
PROTECT will continue its work to document the problems with ATV abuse of natural resources on the Forest Preserve.
Below are a series of pictures from an early September 2014 visit to the Gull Lake Trail in the Black River Wild Forest area.