Whiteface upgrades move through APA review process

RAY BROOK — The Adirondack Park Agency is currently accepting public comments on proposed amendments to the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center Unit Management Plan, which call for the widening of ski trails, creation of new trails and construction of a new ski lift. Comments are being accepted until April 11.

Michael Pratt, CEO of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which manages Whiteface, presented the draft UMP to the APA board at its meeting last Thursday, nearly five months after ORDA first presented the UMP amendments to the agency board.

Back 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 changes

The new UMP proposes new connector trails between existing ski trails, widening some existing trails, a new lift from the Bear Den Lodge to the Legacy Lodge, expansion of the New York Ski Educational Foundation Building, and new hiking and mountain biking trails.

The new biking trails would connect the Whiteface mountain biking system with the Wilmington Wild Forest trail system.

The proposed ski race trail widening is ORDA’s priority, according to Whiteface Manager Aaron Kellett, in anticipation of the 2023 FISU World University Games. Kellett said international skiing events are changing their trail standards, and Whiteface is looking to keep up. Kellett added that the new connector trails would help lower-level skiers stay in the areas most appropriate for their ability, using that same reasoning for the proposed lift.

Trail construction wouldn’t start until after the state Department of Environmental Conservation releases its revised tree cutting policy, according to ORDA’s general counsel, Michelle Crew. Each trail would be sited, designed and approved through the DEC’s Work Plan process, and Crew said that process would determine just how many trees needed to be cut. The proposed UMP currently projects that nearly 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, Article 14 compliance, tree cutting, 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 UMP proposes prohibiting tree cutting above an elevation of 2,800 feet between May 15 and Aug. 1, when the birds are most active in the area. Bicknell’s Thrush migrates south every winter. ORDA Sustainability and Environmental Compliance Officer Emma Lamy said that two of the proposed connector trails are above 2,800 feet in elevation, though neither are located in Spruce Fir habitats, where Bicknell’s Thrush likes to nest. Lamy said ORDA had received a letter of support from Northern New York Audubon saying those mitigation measures would be sufficient to protect the birds.

Crew addressed concerns over tree cutting being a violation of Article 14 of the state constitution. She said the new trails would add .25 miles to the overall mileage on Whiteface, and ORDA plans to abandon .32 miles in previously approved trails that were never constructed. Whiteface is allotted 25 miles of trail systems in the state constitution, and Lamy said there are 22.74 miles of trails, including previously approved trails that haven’t been constructed. The proposed trails would reduce that mileage, Crew said. She said that all proposed tree cutting is in relation to constructing the trails accounted for under the constitution.

Additions, losses

Pratt said ORDA added two new management actions to the proposal as a result of its public comment period. The authority wants to install a prefabricated restroom 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 the Bear Den Lodge and the main parking lot of Whiteface.

While ORDA is moving ahead with its UMP amendments, other authority projects are on hold. The APA’s regulatory committee announced at the agency board’s March 10 meeting that ORDA would postpone “indefinitely” the construction of a previously-approved multilevel parking garage and a two-level addition to the southwest corridor of the USA Arena. Those projects were approved by the APA in 2020.

The regulatory committee also announced that it had recently received an application from ORDA to build 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 rink.

Public comments

The APA’s public comment period is looking for input on how the proposed UMP amendments conform to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, viewable at https://apa.ny.gov/Documents/Laws_Regs/APSLMP.pdf.

People can view the draft UMP online at https://www.apa.ny.gov/Mailing/2022/03/stateLand.htm.

Comments can be e-mailed to SLMP_UMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov. Public comments can also be sent by mail to Megan Phillips, Deputy Director Planning, Adirondack Park Agency, P.O. Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977.


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