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Stockholm reviewing recommendations for St. Lawrence Flatlands management plan

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WINTHROP - Stockholm town officials are reviewing a recommendation from a member of the town’s Economic Development Committee that would support the establishment of non-motorized trails in the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s unit management plan for the St. Lawrence Flatlands.

The St. Lawrence Flatlands includes approximately 12 parcels in northern St. Lawrence County and a neighboring portion of Franklin County, with most of the forest land in the town of Brasher. But the flatlands also extends to the Buckton State Forest and the Southville State Forest in the town of Stockholm.

ATV usage in the Brasher State Forest was the hot button topic when the DEC held an open house in late June to discuss future 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 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 that June 20 meeting.

The town of Stockholm’s Economic Development Committee has expressed an interest in developing the St. Regis River for fishing and paddling and the roads and trails for mountain biking. The committee has been reviewing the models established by the Raquette River Greenway Corridor and the Whitewater Park on the Grasse River, Stockholm resident and economic development committee member Robin McClellan pointed out.

“The main hue and cry at that meeting (open house) was ATVs. There was no one else at that meeting,” Mr. McClellan said, suggesting town officials shouldn’t be opposed to ATV trail access as long as it doesn’t compromise safety and habitat protection.

But since the state only reviews its unit management plans once a decade and sometimes just once every 20 or 30 years, Mr. McClellan said the town board should also be looking at other possible uses as well for the hundreds of acres of state forest land in the area.

He provided town officials with a draft of some of his thoughts on the unit management plan and asked for feedback so the town of Stockholm could submit recommendations to the DEC.

“These represent mostly my ideas. I’m interested in what you feel about it,” Mr. McClellan said.

His draft proposal calls on state officials to scrutinize their designation of multi-use trails.

“Over the past 30 years, the state has been experimenting with multi-use trails where hikers and cross country skiers share the trail with ATVs and snowmobiles. There has been some success in this approach, but there are also significant problems,” he wrote in the draft he submitted to the town board.

Mr. McClellan said the state currently has a default 55 mph speed limit for snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, a speed that he suggested was unsafe for skiers and hikers using those same multi-use trails.

The Stockholm resident is suggesting town officials recommend that some trails be dedicated to snowmobile and ATV use - particularly those connector trails that have been identified as part of a multi-county motorized vehicle network. But those multi-use trails should have lower speed limits.

He also recommended town officials consider supporting the establishment of non-motorized trails in the St. Lawrence Flatlands.

“Safety aside, the non-motorized experience is very different with peace and quiet a key component,” he wrote in his proposal. “Since non-motorized trail use moves at a much slower pace having long, uninterrupted stretches is less important. It makes sense to locate these trails in state forests that are more isolated from each other, such as the Southville State Forest.”

He suggested the town board also recommend supporting longer, uninterrupted non-motorized trails in other state forestland in the flatland as well.

His proposal noted the goal of management of the flatlands should be sustainable use while preserving the resource for future generations, making setting aside portions of the forest for different uses ranging from timber management to habitat protection a priority.

Stockholm Town Supervisor Clark Decker said the Southville State Forest has become a haven for walkers from spring to fall and for cross country skiers in the winter.

He urged Councilman Matthew White, West Stockholm, to solicit input from residents in that portion of the township about support for making some trails Southville Forest off limits for motorized vehicles.

“When there is snow on the ground, I don’t think there is a day you when you go by there and don’t see somebody skiing,” Mr. McClellan concurred.

He urged town officials to take time to review his proposal.

“The multi-use trails work well for snowmobilers, not so much for skiers,” he said.

The board agreed to table the issue for a month to review Mr. McClellan’s recommendations.

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