Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Improving Public Access to the Adirondack Forest Preserve

Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Improving Public Access to the Adirondack Forest Preserve

Article excerpt


The public's right to use and enjoy New York's state-owned lands in the Adirondack Park has little meaning when the public has no practical means of accessing the resource. (1) This situation occurs in areas of the Park where the State Land Manager restricts access or where the only practical method for reaching state land is along routes that cross private property. While this Article considers the role of the state in preventing public access to state-owned land, it primarily focuses on the role of private parties. When private land is the barrier, the public is left with the choice of either not enjoying those public lands or trespassing on private property in order to do so. Conflicts arise between private landowners and the general public who wish to enjoy wilderness areas that are not accessible without crossing privately-owned land. (2) In New York, if Adirondack landowners place posted signs on their property and trails, the public is prevented from traversing their land and, therefore, may be prevented from experiencing the State Forest Preserve land lying just out of reach. Private landowners should not have the power to prevent the public from enjoying the natural resources to which they are entitled.

Although New York has taken innovative steps to protect the integrity of its northern forests and to protect public recreation in these areas, New York must take further action to fully protect the public's right to use and enjoy pristine wilderness areas. Section II will examine the history of the Adirondack Park, and the Forest Preserve within, to establish that the public does have a right, although not unlimited, to recreation in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. The public's recreational rights on Forest Preserve lands must be identified in order to determine the extent of activities that may be properly permitted on private lands that potentially provide access to the Forest Preserve. Private lands should not be required to bear any more activity than what would be allowed on Forest Preserve lands. Next, Section III will review trespass laws and discuss the problem of decreasing public access. Finally, Section IV will review possible actions to protect the public's access to the Adirondack Forest Preserve while also considering the impact on private property interests. Potential solutions include using eminent domain or easements to acquire the necessary public access. In addition, New York's judicial doctrine or trespass laws could be revisited to create an exception that allows public citizens to cross private property for the purpose of accessing landlocked parcels of the Adirondack Park.


The Forest Preserve, along with a Forest Commission, was first created by statute in 1885. (3) The Forest Preserve is comprised of any lands owned by the state within specific counties in the Adirondack region of New York. (4) It was inside this same territory where the legislature created the Adirondack Park, whose broad-sweeping definition encompasses "all lands located in the [F]orest [P]reserve counties of the Adirondacks within the [Park's] boundaries." (5) The scope of the Forest Preserve is both broader and narrower than the scope of the Adirondack Park. The Forest Preserve is broader in the sense that some Forest Preserve lands lie outside the boundaries of the Adirondack Park. (6) On the other hand, the Forest Preserve is also narrower than the Adirondack Park because private land is part of the Adirondack Park, but it is not Forest Preserve. (7)

New York's Adirondack Park is one of the most magnificent land preserves in the world. (8) The Park is "greater in size than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Park combined." (9) The roughly six-million acre Adirondack Park, established in 1892, is a unique creation in the United States because the Park consists of nearly three million acres of private land, as well as 2. …

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