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GUEST ESSAY: Public has the right to hike to public land in High Peaks
Guest essay

GUEST ESSAY: Public has the right to hike to public land in High Peaks

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The trail through the private Ausable Club in Keene Valley leads to some of the most accessible and beautiful day hikes in all of the Adirondacks — to Rainbow Falls and to Noonmark and Round mountains. Both locals and tourists of all ages have used and enjoyed these wonderful trails since the 1800s. The easy walk to Rainbow Falls is about 6 1/2 miles down the dirt road.

“Some 450 people and their families are currently members of the Ausable Club, though only about a dozen live year-round in the immediate area,” wrote Sasha Goldstein in July 2016 in the Vermont-based publication “Seven Days.”

“The rest mainly visit from tony zip codes around the country and are considered powerful people. . . . New applicants, who must go through a rigorous vetting process, are placed on a wait list until a vacancy arises, according to club rules. Initiation fees today can cost more than $10,000 — plus an annual membership cost, depending on age, of some $4,000,” Goldstein wrote.

In 1978, The Ausable Club (officially known as the Adirondack Mountain Reserve), sold 9,000 acres in the to New York state for $744,880 (about $3,120,000 in current dollars).

As part of the agreement, the club deeded an easement to the state across the land of their clubhouse, golf course and private houses for access to purchased wilderness land (Essex County Clerk, Liber 660, p. 219).

The easement includes an explicit proviso that either party “with the consent of the other. . . to close said trails, paths, and roadways . . . or to limit such access whenever and to the extent necessary to protect such trails, paths, and roadways from undue adverse and environmental damage.”

The parking lot at the head of the trail on Ausable Club land holds about 70 vehicles. There is also a parking lot across the road and people have parked in designated areas on the shoulder of Route 73. To limit access during the pandemic, the club limited parking to 20 vehicles.

Now, the Ausable Club and the DEC want to limit access to 70 vehicles by reservation only, not allowing people to just walk into the trails to the mountains and waterfalls.

The DEC is claiming that this is being done to “help address public safety and the protection of the environment.” This new proposal will prevent people from taking day walks to Rainbow Falls and the mountains without planning two weeks ahead. And, once the parking limit is reached, no one else will be allowed to walk in.

This deal reeks of undue influence by the Ausable Club. It violates the intent of the easement. There are other ways of dealing with safety on Route 73 (like lowering the speed limit in the area, allowing drop-offs and pick-ups, or using the shuttle bus from Marcy Field).

These limits are not being imposed to protect “trails, paths, and roadways [within the reserve] from undue adverse and environmental damage.” There is no evidence of any undue adverse and environmental damage at the Ausable Club. Rather, it appears the club members don’t want to be disturbed by riffraff while playing golf.

The DEC needs to hold public hearings on this important issue. It does not have the inherent authority to significantly limit access to the trails by foot traffic through the Ausable Club. As far as I can tell, this dramatic action originated in Albany, not in Ray Brook. We need to learn the real reason the DEC is taking drastic action against the people who want to enjoy the Park. Who is friends with whom in Albany?

Mark Schneider is a lawyer in Plattsburgh who enjoys hiking but says he is not a 46er yet.

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