RAY BROOK — The Adirondack Park Agency is now accepting public comments on proposed changes to the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center Unit Management Plan, which includes widening ski runs, creating new trails and the construction of a new ski lift. Comments are accepted until April 11.
Michael Pratt, CEO of the state’s Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates Whiteface, presented the UMP project to the APA board at its meeting last Thursday, nearly five months after that the ORDA presented for the first time the amendments of the UMP to the board of directors of the agency.
In October, Pratt said a Whiteface UMP amendment was last approved in 2018, but that “a lot has changed in the last three to four years” – including Lake Placid being named host of the upcoming 2023 World University Games and increased demand for outdoor recreation since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The new UMP features new connecting trails between existing ski trails, widening of some existing trails, a new lift from Bear Den Lodge to Legacy Lodge, expansion of the New York Ski Educational Foundation Building, and new ski trails. hiking and mountain biking.
The new bike paths would connect the Whiteface Mountain Bike System to the Wilmington Wild Forest Trail System.
The proposed widening of ski race tracks is ORDA’s top priority, according to Whiteface manager Aaron Kellett, ahead of the 2023 FISU World University Games. Kellett said international ski events are changing their track standards and Whiteface is looking to keep up. Kellett added that the new connecting runs would help lower level skiers stay in areas most appropriate to their ability, using the same reasoning for the proposed lift.
According to ORDA General Counsel Michelle Crew, construction of the trail will only begin after the state Department of Environmental Conservation releases its revised tree-cutting policy. Each trail would be laid out, designed and approved through the DEC work plan process, and Crew said that process would determine the number of trees to be cut. The proposed EMP currently foresees that around 10,000 trees would need to be cut for the proposed actions.
ORDA public comment period
During the Authority’s 42-day public comment period for the Amendments, ORDA received 49 comments related to Authority operations, Section 14 compliance, tree cutting, to hiking and biking, and a bird known as Bicknell’s thrush that the state identifies as a species of “special concern”.
To mitigate negative impacts on the Bicknell’s Thrush population, the new EMP proposes to prohibit the felling of trees above an elevation of 2,800 feet between May 15 and August 1, when the birds are most active in the region. The Bicknell’s Thrush migrates south each winter. ORDA’s sustainability and environmental compliance manager, Emma Lamy, said two of the proposed link trails are above 2,800 feet in elevation, although none are located in habitats of spruce and fir trees, where the Bicknell’s thrush likes to nest. Lamy said ORDA received a letter of support from Northern New York Audubon stating that these mitigations would be sufficient to protect the birds.
The crew raised concerns about the cutting of trees in violation of Article 14 of the state constitution. She said the new trails would add 0.25 miles to total mileage on Whiteface, and ORDA plans to drop 0.32 miles in previously approved trails that were never built. Whiteface is allocated 25 miles of trail systems in the state constitution, and Lamy said there are 22.74 miles of trails, including previously approved trails that have not been built. The proposed trails would reduce that mileage, Crew said. She said that all the proposed tree cuttings are related to the construction of the paths considered in the constitution.
Pratt said the ORDA added two new management measures to the proposal following its public comment period. The authority wants to install a prefabricated sanitary facility at the race finish building, which would be served by on-site wastewater treatment. ORDA also wants to support electric vehicles by installing charging stations at Bear Den Lodge and the main Whiteface parking lot.
As the ORDA moves forward with its UMP amendments, other drafts from the authority are pending. The APA’s Regulatory Committee announced at the March 10 board meeting that the ORDA would postpone “indefinitely” construction of a pre-approved multi-level parking garage and a two-level addition to the USA Arena’s Southwest Corridor. These projects were approved by the APA in 2020.
The Regulatory Committee also announced that it had recently received an application from ORDA for the construction of a 3,060 square foot storage and maintenance building in the parking area behind the 1980 rink, as well as a 397 square foot zamboni garage next to the 1932 skating rink.
The APA’s public comment period seeks feedback on how the UMP’s proposed changes align with the Adirondack Park State Lands Master Plan, available at https://apa.ny .gov/Documents/Laws_Regs/APSLMP.pdf.
People can view the UMP draft online at https://www.apa.ny.gov/Mailing/2022/03/stateLand.htm.
Comments can be emailed to [email protected] Public comments can also be mailed to Megan Phillips, Assistant Planning Manager, Adirondack Park Agency, PO Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977.