Morning Read: 4-wheeler “SNIRT” rally in Tug Hill-Lewis County draws fire

Source: Youtube via Adirondack Almanack

ATVs have been growing wildly in popularity the last decade and enthusiasts have been organizing more clubs and rallies in an effort to boost their sport.

But one of the biggest North Country events, the “SNIRT” gathering in Lewis County and the Tug HIll is drawing increasing fire for what critics (and some participants) describe as unsafe, and lawless behavior.

The Watertown Daily Times reports that the event last Saturday attracted roughly 3,000 riders, but also produced at least three accidents and a laundry list of citations.

Police agencies did a good job of coordinated enforcement, [Lewis County Sheriff’s Department parks and recreation officer Michael] Leviker said.

However, the event’s widespread nature made that difficult, parking along some back roads left driving lanes narrow and some snow-covered seasonal roads were essentially impossible to patrol, he said.

“There are some things that need to be looked at,” Mr. Leviker said.

The Adirondack Almanack quotes a letter from DEC Division of Lands and Forests Director Rob Davies, chastising organizers for riding in inappropriate areas.

“While we appreciate the efforts you have made to maintain some control over participants, enforcement personnel have reported considerable problems associated with encroachment/trespass on private and public lands and Vehicle and Traffic Law violations including drinking and driving.”

Davies may be responding to Youtube videos from past years that appear to show ATV riders ignoring private property boundaries, and roaring through wetlands.

Here’s an example from SNIRT RUN 2010 that really has to be seen to be believed.

And in this video, a SNIRT participant brags about trying to flee from a police officers trying to enforce traffic rules.

“Thought we could out run em,” he writes, in the accompanying Youtube text.

“Was headed for the trail (almost made it) and got blocked right in front of Tuh Hill Inn Hook & Ladder.   Coulda went around but they had us.”

While talking with DEC officers, the rider jokes that stop signs are “stoptional.”

This event has also come under fire from at least one green group — the Adirondack Council has urged organizers to keep the SNIRT event in the Tug Hill region, out of the Adirondack Park.

Here’s Council executive director Brian Houseal, quoted in the Watertown Daily Times.

“[I]f you continue to refuse to abide by state law or to conduct the required environmental review, the Adirondack Council will be placed in an untenable position. We will be forced to consider seeking a court order to stop the event in the future, in an effort to prevent further damage to the forests and wetlands of the Adirondack Park.”

I’d particularly like to hear thoughts about this from 4-wheel enthusiasts.  These videos in particular — taken by riders themselves — are pretty brutal.

You can see people drinking, speeding, riding recklessly, plowing through wetlands, bragging about lawlessness, and all during an organized event.  What does this say about the sport and its future?  As always, comments welcome.

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74 Comments on “Morning Read: 4-wheeler “SNIRT” rally in Tug Hill-Lewis County draws fire”

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  1. Paul says:

    This discussion has been very interesting. One thing that is very clear with this crowd, if you are going to try and criticize or even mention the type of damage caused by hikers and paddlers you will be chastised. Even if you do it while strongly criticizing the obvious damage caused to the environment by the misuse of ATV’s. This is probably one of the reasons that we have such a divide amongst the different factions in the Adirondack debate. One thing that both the “motorized” and “non-motorized” factions share is an inability to understand the others point of view. They also both pretend (or are oblivious) to what they are doing much of the time. That was made clear in some of the videos shared. There were the loony guys in the ATVs tearing up the wetland, and there were the loony guys stomping the alpine vegetation in the video that Jim shared. Both have to stop what they are doing or the Adirondacks will never survive the way we would all like to see it for future generations.

  2. Walker says:

    Paul, I think that saying you were “chastised” is a bit hyper-sensitive. You said “when I saw the part about the guys crossing a ‘posted wetland’ I could not help but see that this is very similar to what Phil Brown and the Adirondack Explorer (and you Brian) were doing on their trip up posted waters on Shingle Shanty Brook.”

    Your comparison was called “ludicrous”, and it clearly was. Had you said in that post “the damage done by thousands of hikers or paddlers is very similar to what dozens of ATVs do, _that_ would not have been a ludicrous statement. But the only “chastisement” I can find in this thread is Brian chastising KHL for his “shooting people” jest.

    Note that once the comparison was stated in terms thousands of hikers or paddlers, the subject was discussed seriously. You can’t put out an absurd comparison and expect not to be called on it.

  3. Paul says:

    Walker, I agree with you on some points. My point regarding the ATV crossing into the posted area and Phil and other paddlers crossing posted signs on Shingle Shanty brook had NOTHING to do with environmental damage. Where did you get that from?

    The point that you and others missed there was that opening those streams (and again maybe they are already open that is for the court to decide) to the thousands of paddlers that will follow in Phil’s wake will open those areas up to the damage that folks finally admitted yesterday was possible. Brian’s description of his trip into that area was a good example of what you can expect. A great example of the oblivion of some in this respect came from you with this comment: “Brian, there’s plenty of thigh deep mud in the Adirondacks that exists independent of anyone going through it.”. He was describing the damage you can get and you just dismissed it. I don’t know why you want to continue to ignore the impact? Makes no sense to me.

    But if you think that it takes thousands of hikers or paddlers to do the same damage as dozens of ATV’s I think you are continuing to delude yourself. Now when I say this I am talking about ATV’s being where they should be on a well designed trail or road not crossing a wetland like we saw in this video or many Adirondack hiking trails do with regularity. The damage that was described and shown in the videos by some (and what I described in Bog Pond which led to this comment “I’ve paddled the St. Regis area numerous times. The wetlands look healthy to me.”) was happening in what are considered “normal” uses. With that said I agree we are probably not comparing apples to apples.

  4. Walker says:

    Paul, you’re right, you didn’t explicitly mention environmental damage, but you did say that “this [the ATV yahoos’ action] is very similar to what Phil Brown” did on the Shingle Shanty. Given the context, to avoid having people think you were comparing the environmental damage from each activity, you’d have to have been real explicit.

    You refer to “the thousands of paddlers that will follow in Phil’s wake”. There is just no way that “thousands of paddlers” are going to do the Lila Traverse– it is nothing like the popular routes in the St. Regis Canoe Area or the Bog River trip to Low’s Lake.

    As for my ignoring the “damage” done by paddlers at canoe put-ins, I have seen that “damage” come and go, year by year, season by season. It’s not clear to me that it’s a very serious issue. Are there, as in the high peaks, species that are actually threatened by paddlers? I know Bog Pond well– in dry times there is a narrow water path maybe 100 feet long through the prolific plant life ending in a narrow muddy trough maybe 15 feet long. In high water, it is just a normal canoe put in. There is just no comparison to what is seen in the SNIRT video.

    You write “But if you think that it takes thousands of hikers or paddlers to do the same damage as dozens of ATV’s I think you are continuing to delude yourself. Now when I say this I am talking about ATV’s being where they should be on a well designed trail or road not crossing a wetland…” If you’re only going to recognize the damage cause by ATV’s that are where they should be, then you should compare that to damage by hikers that are where _they_ should be, and the dozens-to-thousands ratio still holds. So yes, I think these comparisons are apples-to-watermelons.

  5. Solidago says:

    Walker, my original semi-satirical comment had to do with the fact that the DEC and others are up in arms about the violation of property rights and the impact of recreation on a few hundred feet of posted wetlands, but apparently could absolutely care less about the two miles of private wetlands they are trying to ram a canoe route through. Their assumption seems to be that paddlers have absolutely no impact and nothing is more important than their recreational exploitation of that other area.

    The DEC takes years to draft UMPs for their own land, yet feel they should put their resources (OUR resources) behind casually ramming a two mile route through private property without the slightest consideration for the environmental consequences. Has the DEC confirmed that there aren’t any endangered species there that would be adversely affected? Where’s the environmental impact statement? Heck, have they even verified that the route is reasonably passable during the summer?

    The DEC’s utter disregard for anything but recreational exploitation of the Shingle Shanty area by paddlers has brought almost unanimous cheers from the paddling community and even some ‘environmental’ groups. Where’s the outcry from the Adirondack Council and other groups whose mission is supposedly to protect our natural heritage?

    As for numbers on the Shingle Shanty route, the state is suggesting that up to 2000 people might be interested in using it annually. That surely is an exaggeration to justify why the public “needs” this route, but Brian said that even with the more modest numbers that use the Lila Traverse, there’s some serious damage. And it doesn’t require hundreds of paddlers to bring in something like Purple Loosestrife, or diminish nesting success. I wonder how many paddlers know the difference between Cardinal Flower and Purple Loosestrife, or would care whether they saw one or the other in a wetland?

    Predictably these concerns will be dismissed by the same folks who are so outraged when it is other groups degrading the environment with their recreational activities.

  6. Paul says:

    Walker, I was comparing it to damage done by hikers that are “where_they_should be”. All the examples of trail damage shown in the videos are of hikers on DEC authorized trails in the Adirondacks. Did you even look at the video? The example that Brian gave (that you continue to downplay) was where the paddlers were supposed to be carrying the boats! Clearly the folks on the ATV’s were not where they should be. So yes maybe “apples-to-watermelons” is accurate.

    Look here if you need more, these are a DEC hiking trails:

    Walker, are you sure you have ever really been in the High Peaks?

  7. Bret4207 says:

    Some of the sheer arrogance and elitism displayed here is on the verge of ridiculous. Travel any area of the state hiking trails, especially in the high peaks, and tell me there’s no damage. Travel down the popular rafting routes and stop at areas like the Blue Ledges that used to be pristine and tell me they remain in that condition. Are there still ladders and bridges along Avalanche Pass? Hardly natural at all is it?

    This is simply a matter of degree and perception. I’m no fan of ATVs, don’t own, probably never will. But to paint them as some sort of ecological Armageddon while ignoring the far more widespread damage done by canoeists. kayakers and hikers is simply turning a blind eye. This is another reason the canoeists, kayakers and hikers should be paying to use the lands they harm, whatever the degree.

  8. Paul says:

    Places in the Adirondacks are probably headed in the direction of what we see here in Maine.

    As you can see due to the wet conditions they say that Katahdin may not be open for hiking until late May or early June:

    I also think they have a limit to the number of climbers that are allowed on the mountain each season. A back country camp permit is 20 bucks.

  9. Walker says:

    Paul, I’m no 46er, but I have climbed some very popular mts in the Adirondacks (Cascade, Porter, Noonmark, Big Slide, etc.) and I have never seen any trails like the ones shown in the photos. I checked out their site, and it was a good reminder that some of the conditions that I take as a given really _are_ a form of environmental damage. In most cases, that damage has taken decades to form, while one can imagine a dozen ATVs doing the same damage in a weekend, but still, I’ll grant you, the hiker’s damage is real enough.

    An interesting quote from that site, though, has it that “The following are typical examples showing the results of continued use of trails which are inappropriately located, have too great of a slope, suffer from tread compaction, soil displacement and erosion, have improper drainage measures, and routing through wet areas.” My point being that, on a properly built and maintained trail, hikers will do very little damage. Now, you could say the same of ATVs, but there is this difference: I think it is fair to say that if you give hikers a properly built and maintained trail, 99 of 100 will use it; the same cannot be said of 99% of ATV riders, and the ones that do go off trail will do far more damage than the off-trail hikers.

    But you’re right about this: thousands of hikers using badly designed trails over a long stretch of time can do some serious damage. Such trails should be closed and rebuilt.

  10. Jim McCulley says:

    Peter, the point is people who live in glass house shouldn’t throw stones.

  11. Jason says:

    Nice press release Mr. Sheenhan. ” Make no mistake. There is no more destructive form of recreation in the Adirondack Park today than ATV thrill-riding. “.

    Well then hiking is #2. Hikers being the only group allowed to summits of the High Peaks. The only group that could have destroyed the summits. And the impacts from the hiker are made out to be very minimal and actually quite wonderful.

    Have you seen Cascade lately?

    Where’s the concern for Cascade Sheehan?

  12. Walker says:

    Well, Jim, if us glass house hikers hadn’t opposed the use of ATVs in the Park, it’s safe to say we’d have substantial ATV damage _added_to_ the damage caused by hikers. ADK, ATIS and other groups work to harden hiking trails and repair damage– though clearly not enough. Did anyone from SNIRT try to clean up after their mud-fest?

    Incidentally, one aspect of the difference between hikers and ATVers that we haven’t dealt with here is noise. Hikers a hundred yards apart are generally completely unaware of each other. There’s more to ATV damage to the environment than just mud.

  13. Jim McCulley says:

    Please I have been at Marcy Dam camping it’s like a rock concert and at least the atv’s damage is not killing off endangered species. By the way I don’t ride atvs or care too. It’s just the usual environmental hyena, hypocrisy.

  14. Solidago says:

    Mr. Sheehan, it looks like your comment was added kind of late, but is appreciated nonetheless.

    If the Adirondack Council is opposed to Jim McCulley reviving dormant roads, I’d think it should be even more sternly opposed to the DEC and Phil Brown attempting to create recreational right-of-ways through protected wetlands without any consideration whatsoever of the environmental or other consequences. Wetlands, especially the navigationally marginal ones that paddlers are attempting to gain access to now, are far more sensitive and ecologically important than an old roadbed.

    Is the Adirondack Council going to help protect the environment and our natural heritage, or through its silence aid and abet the so called “environmental” groups whose primary interest is actually the recreational exploitation of it?

  15. Bret4207 says:

    Jim McCulley- very well said! This myth that hikers in our back country areas are all saints is pure hogwash.

  16. Paul says:

    “I think it is fair to say that if you give hikers a properly built and maintained trail, 99 of 100 will use it; the same cannot be said of 99% of ATV riders, and the ones that do go off trail will do far more damage than the off-trail hikers.”

    I doubt this is true but in the Adirondacks on public land this isn’t even an issue. ATV use is BANNED on Forest Preserve land, so if there is any damage caused by an ATV is it caused by one that is operating illegally. Their use has been banned partially through the efforts of environmental groups. One of their main arguments is that the machines were causing or could cause damage to the environment.

    Now it is pretty indisputable (although I am sure Walker will give it a shot) that the number one human produced threat to the environment from recreational use is hiking and other non-motorized recreation on Forest Preserve land that is classified as Wilderness, Primitive, or Canoe Area (as well as all other Wild Forest land away from public access areas). If there is damage there, and there is plenty, than it is almost exclusively caused by these non-motorized uses. Non-motorized recreation is all that is allowed in the vast vast majority of the Forest Preserve.

    Given that fact, do Environmental groups want to ban non-motorized recreation on these lands? Of course not. Their number one priority (like we see with these new disputes surrounding navigable-in-fact waters on private land) is RECREATIONAL ACCESS. The number two priority is probably the EXCLUSION of any motorized use from these same areas. The number three priority is probably opening up more land for public recreation. Somewhere way down the list is protection of the environment.

    If you were to see a ban on hiking in just the areas where alpine vegetation is under threat, even if that is only banning that use on less than 100 acres in the Adirondacks, I bet you would see a huge outcry from groups like the Adirondack Mountain Club. Walker I would have to imagine that a trail has got to have “too much of a slope” if it is on the top of any high peak??? But if you closed just this small area I think these folks wold probably start to understand what some of these other groups feel when they are banned from their favorite activities.

  17. Bret4207 says:

    Funny, we ban ATV’s, jeeps, float planes, airboats, etc. and we ban HORSES. Why? Other than a couple of horse designated trails a horse is looked at in the same light as an ATV. That makes about zero sense to me.

  18. Walker says:

    Paul, make sure you’re sitting down when you read this– I will grant you that virtually all of the human-caused environmental damage in the High Peaks is caused by foot traffic. Happy? It’s kinda a no brainer, since that’s the only form of recreation allowed there. I, for one, am all for whatever it takes to minimize it, up to and including, periodic trail closings, permit systems, whatever.

    As for all possible trails having too much slope when they’re in the high peaks, it must be you’ve never heard of a switch-back.

    Bret, horses weigh 800-1200 pounds, and they’re steel shod– they’re a lot rougher on a trail than a hiker. If you look at the trails that are open to horses, they’re a lot wider, flatter and are cleared to a greater height than a hiking trail, for pretty obvious reasons. If you tried to mix horse traffic with hikers on a typical hiking trail, you’d end up with a bunch of spooked horses and injured horses, riders and hikers, even ignoring the environmental damage from the seeds their manure would spread.

  19. Paul says:

    “As for all possible trails having too much slope when they’re in the high peaks, it must be you’ve never heard of a switch-back.”

    Cute. Yes, are those the things that are cut across by way more than 1 in 99 hikers in most places in the Adirondacks? You give your hiking friends way more credit than they sometimes deserve.

  20. Paul says:

    Walker, are you sure you have any idea what you are talking about. I have hiked in the Rockies with all kinds of horses around. No problem. Again you probably need to limit the number of folks in some of the other zoo like areas, Marcy Dam etc, to avoid problems.

    But I think your comment, yet again dissing another type of recreation outside of the hiking clan, tells the story. For some it all about hiking and hiking alone, and like you said above if that causes damage, so be it. We will try and minimize it but some activities should be banned and others must go on.

    Have a fun weekend!

  21. Walker says:

    Paul, in case you didn’t notice, the Rockies are different.

    And actually, I prefer paddling to hiking.

    Enjoy your motors.

  22. Paul says:

    Walker, I meant the horses around the hikers not the mountains. Problem with horses around here is that you probably have too many hikers in some places. Poor horses just can’t get a break!

    Have fun paddling (be careful the water is pretty cold right now), I have 2 canoes and one small 4 cycle motor boat that I use to get to my camp (kind of like your car if you have one) but thanks anyway.

  23. Bret4207 says:

    Walker, as a horseman I can see your post shows a complete lack of knowledge about riding and horse use. And, did I ever say horses and people should be using the same trails? Nope, I didn’t. You’re trying to defend something that is indefensible.

  24. Bret4207 says:

    Whoops, hit the button!

    Your argument is indefensible because if horses, ATVs, bike, etc. aren’t allowed because of the damage they’d do, them human foot traffic shouldn’t be allowed either since the damage they do is widespread and easily seen. The answer is to outlaw any human presence whatsoever. No people- no damage. Simple as that. Saying that 10K hikers should be allowed to trample our state lands ( for FREE I might add) while outlawing everything else makes no sense, unless of course you’re one of the “right thinking” elitists that considers himself the only one capable of making a sound judgment on how and who uses our lands.

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