The Adirondacks are the state’s top destination for snowmobilers, who have long dreamed of a more complete trail system in the area that would make it easier to travel from town to town on the motorized sleds.
Now those dreams are a step closer to reality.
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state will acquire 69,000 acres throughout the Adirondacks — the largest addition to the state forest preserve in 117 years. The agreement will enable the state to expand its snowmobile trails in the Adirondacks by building a trail connection between Newcomb and North Hudson, which will link to snowmobile networks to the west through Long Lake and Indian Lake, and to the east through the communities around Lake Champlain.
“We’re very pleased,” said Dominic Jacangelo, executive director of the New York State Snowmobile Association.
The association is completing an economic study of snowmobiling in New York state. The study, which began in 2010, is in draft form and won’t be released until fall, but Jacangelo said it details the winter sport’s growing popularity and economic benefits, particularly to small Adirondack communities, while also assessing the impact of the recession on an activity that requires a piece of machinery that costs $9,000 to $10,000.
According to Jacangelo, the average snowmobiler makes seven overnight stays a season, spending $450 on lodging, plus food and other items, during each stay.
The study focused on snowmobiler activity during 2010 and 2011, gathering information through a random mailing and an online survey, asking questions about equipment purchases and other types of purchases, such as second homes, preferred snowmobiling destinations and household information, such as how many family members snowmobile.
Last winter was a down year for snowmobiling, mainly because of the lack of snow. Jacangelo said that the one place snowmobilers could go was the Adirondacks, where the conditions weren’t exactly great, but snowmobiling was at least possible. He noted that in 2011 there were 135,000 registered snowmobilers, compared to 90,000 in 2012 — a decline he attributed to the poor conditions. Snowmobilers must register each year; registrations expire in August.
With the exception of 2012, snowmobiling has been on the rise, Jacangelo said. In 1998, there were about 90,000 snowmobilers registered in the state; by 2010 there were 127,000.
Much of the growth occurred during the 1990s, when “life was good,” he said.
“There was very low unemployment, people felt confident about their economic situations. They were willing to take a loan on a sled. New sled sales were through the roof. When we got to 2007, there was a clear slide in new sled sales. People were not that comfortable laying out $10,000 for a sled.”
Last year’s decline in registrations also had a direct impact on the state’s snowmobile trail maintenance fund. Registration fees help fund maintenance and the drop could result in a much smaller fund; Jacangelo said that in a typical year, the fund has about $4.3 million in it, but that this year that figure is likely to be $2.3 million.
“It’s a concern,” Jacangelo said. “But if it snows, snowmobilers will be out there, and things will get back to normal.”
The acquisition announced last week by the state was of land previously owned by the Glens Falls-based paper company Finch Paper (formerly Finch, Pruyn) and the environmental group the Nature Conservancy. Much of the land is concentrated within the central lake and tourist region of the Adirondack Park in the towns of Newcomb, Indian Lake, North Hudson and Minerva. The $49.8 million purchase will be paid for over the course of five years, through the state Environmental Protection Fund.
According to the DEC, the acquisition complements the state’s 2010 acquisition of 89,000 acres of conservation easements on former Finch lands. The agency expects that the more recent acquisition will fill trail gaps between Newcomb and North Hudson and other linkages with approximately 20 miles of trail, creating a contiguous 75 miles.
“These new and free snowmobile community connectors are important for the winter economy of the Adirondacks,” said Emily DeSantis, director of public information for the Department of Environmental Conservation, in an email.
Jacangelo said that the New York State Snowmobile Association would prefer that the state acquire land via conservation easements — a voluntary agreement between landowner and government that protects property from development while also allowing the landowner to retain ownership. He said that easements come with fewer limitations on trail width and the type of machines that can be used to groom snowmobile trails.
“Our members prefer wider trails groomed with [larger equipment],” Jacangelo said. But he noted that the DEC does allow larger equipment to be used to build trails that connect communities, and that the new snowmobile trails might fall into that category.
Jim Rolf, trail coordinator for the association, said connector trails are nine feet wide, while other types of trails tend to be narrower. He said the organization is waiting to learn more about where exactly the trails will go and how big they will be.
In the Capital Region, the land acquisition will open up four tracts of land in northern Saratoga County and Fulton County that were identified as having high recreational value by their communities. The Thousand Acre Swamp Tract in Edinburg provides habitat for moose and other wildlife and can also serve as a snowmobile connector trail linking the area to the popular Mulleyville snowmobile trail system, with thousands of miles of trails in Porter Corners, Greenfield and Corinth.
DEC plans to work with local governments and other stakeholders to open the lands for public use. According to the agency, the more remote, interior areas suitable for back-country activities will likely be classified as wilderness, while the more accessible areas will be classified as wild forest.