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ATV use takes spotlight at Brasher DEC forest management meeting

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BRASHER FALLS — The use of all-terrain vehicles in the Brasher State Forest dominated a Wednesday evening open house meeting hosted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to discuss management of state lands within the St. Lawrence flatlands unit.

DEC officials suggested that ATV riders who had misused the privilege of riding in the state forest prompted agency officials to close trails down, but 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 to close them, 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, said Robert Messenger, DEC public lands bureau chief.

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 use as a way to provide economic development to communities. And if that worked out, he said, they could discuss expanding the number of trails.

Whatever DEC officials decide for an ATV use policy in state forests, it will have to comply with the 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 Wednesday’s meeting was the second step in the UMP process. The first 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,” 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’s willingness to listen to their comments when in the past, he said, they had been ignored.

A second meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon Saturday in the Madrid-Waddington Central School auditorium.

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