BRASHER FALLS - The use of all-terrain vehicles in the Brasher State Forest dominated a Wednesday evening open house meeting hosted by the Department of Environmental to discuss future management of state lands within the St. Lawrence flatlands Unit.
DEC officials suggested that ATV riders who had misued the privilege of riding in the state forest prompted agency officials to close trails down, but they said they were willing to work with ATV riders and groups to consider reopening some of them to traffic. We had a continuing problem with use of ATVs despite the trails, which forced DEC officials to close them because of the illegal use, Region 6 Regional Forester David Smith told the approximately 60 people who gathered in the St. Lawrence Central School auditorium for the meeting.
But there could be changes as part of a strategic plan that has yet to be adopted, DEC Bureau Chief of Public Lands Robert Messenger said.
He said the plan has been held up through several administrations in Albany, most recently while officials deal with the hydrofracking issue.
The policy was put out for public review, Mr. Smith said, but then got set aside for various reasons such as the change in governors.
At one point nobody wanted to contemplate ATVs on state lands, Mr. Messenger said.
But now, he said, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens are willing to look at allowing some usage as a way to provide economic development to communities. And if that worked out, he said they could discuss expanding the number of trails.
Its already been written as a draft, Mr. Smith
This is a start, Mr. Messenger said. It should be a relatively short wait at this point. Theyre interested in doing it.
Whatever DEC officials decide for an ATV usage policy in state forests, it will need to comply with the New York State Strategic Plan for State Forest management, Forester Aaron Graves said.
The local UMP (unit management plan) needs to follow the guidelines set forth in the larger plan, he said.
He said Wednesdays meeting was the second step in the UMP process. The first step was to inventory what they had, such as facilities, natural resources and historical resources in the unit.
With that done, they were now ready to solicit public input, he said.
This is the first step in that process. We are in the early process of writing the plan, Mr. Graves said.
One person who said he was affiliated with a recreational trail group in Franklin County said ATV clubs have worked with DEC in the past and were willing to work with them again if trails were opened. He said he was speaking as an ATV owner and ATV dealer as well, and noted that he appreciated the DEC willing to listen to their comments when in the past he said they had been ignored.
I think the fact that the DEC is here tells us theyre willing to listen and willing to do what some want to do, he said.
He said, as an ATV dealer, he receives visits from individuals interested in purchasing a vehicle, and their question is always, Where can we ride?
We get that question all the time from a lot of different people from a lot of age groups, the speaker said.
He noted that other counties where ATV riders were allowed on the trails saw an increase in money coming in to the community.
Listen to all the people with an open mind when it comes to land use. I think if you open up more land prosperity will follow that, he said.
Joyce McCarthy said there was no common sense in closing the roads. She said she and other ATV riders were willing to do their part to ensure the environment was kept safe.
Were environmentalists. We want to see things grow. We want to place to look nice and to be stewards for future generations, she said.
Another speaker said he was very discouraged about the way DEC went along with the ATV policy.
He said the first UMP meeting was held in 2001, and no progress had been made since.
Eleven years ago. Where we are now? Having another UMP meeting. Were not gaining anything, he said, suggesting some DEC officials present at Wednesdays meeting would be retired before anything came to fruition.
He also shared his concern that the DEC representatives had no ties to the local community to understand the importance of ATV usage.
Anybody here born in Brasher besides myself? he asked them.
Getting no response, he said, See what I mean? They dont care about us.
Although peoples comments and concerns were taken down by DEC officials for the record, Walt Paul suggested those in the audience were sharing their discouragement with the wrong group. I know its easy to shoot the messenger. Your beef is not with the people in this room. Your beef is with the environmental groups, who he said have a strong hold on policy makers, particularly members of the Assembly in Albany.
They have a lot of money for the cause, Mr. Paul said. Land use decisions are political decisions.
He said DEC representatives at the meeting dont have the power to make that happen, and he suggested they get connected to your politicians and get connected to social media such as Facebook and Twitter to share the message.
Walt is right on the money and luckily hes on our side. He speaks the truth on all levels. We all need to be involved with the political arm, St. Lawrence County Legislator Anthony J. Arquiett, D-Helena, said.
Unfortunately, people outside the region make decisions on our behalf.
This time they should listen to the people in the region, Mr. Paul said, and the development of the unit management plan based on their input was a start.
You better watch out for that and you better weigh in, he said.
A second meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon Saturday in the Madrid-Waddington Central School auditorium.