"I just pray to God that we can stay in business," says Jim Tanner of Tanner's Outdoor Sports in Speculator, voicing the fear of many business owners in southern Hamilton County who are concerned a change in snowmobile trails that could reduce snowmobile traffic in the village.
A plan by the state Department of Environmental Conservation would create a long trail through the woods between Speculator and Piseco, diverting snowmobile traffic that now follows smaller trails that run near Speculator's business district and state highways.
Snowmobiling is big business in Hamilton County. According to former Hamilton County Department of Economic Development and Tourism Director William Osborne, on a good weekend day, it's not at all unusual to see more than 1,000 snowmobiles in the Lake Pleasant-Speculator area.
Lake Pleasant Supervisor Neil McGovern who owns the Inn at Speculator, and other business owners are concerned about a state snowmobile trail plan.
Photo by Bill Trojan/The Leader-Herald
"Snowmobiling is beyond important - it's vital to us in terms of the impact on the economy," he said.
An unemployment rate that can be as low as 1 1/2 to 2 percent in the summer because of seasonal jobs catering to tourists skyrockets to double-digits in winter because there is little economic activity in the central core of the Adirondacks, he said.
"Snowmobiling is what literally keeps the lights on in Hamilton County from Christmastime through to the end of March," he said.
Betsy Bain, who owns the Oxbow Lake Motel, about eight miles from Speculator - far enough away that skiers from Oak Mountain don't stay at her establishment - said all her winter business is snowmobilers.
"We will lose about all our winter business" she said. "Honestly, it would devastate our business. There's no way we could survive."
The Department of Environmental Conservation designs Unit Management Plans that guide the public use of land, according to classification guidelines and the wild character of the land.
Lake Pleasant and Speculator are within the Jessup River Wild Forest Unit Management Plan, which calls for a 12-mile-long community connector trail from Speculator to Piseco.
Opening the trail would result in closing several smaller existing trails that form a network that allows users to travel to businesses along Routes 30 and 8. Lake Pleasant Supervisor Neil McGovern likened it to "a thruway with no on or off ramps."
"You need small local loop trails in combination with the larger community connector trails to make this area enticing to snowmobilers and to make people want to come here. You've got to have both," said Jonathan Lane, who owns Charlie John's market and the Speculator Department Store.
Lane is puzzled about the proposal for the new trail, when the existing ones could be improved to be wider and safe, he said.
The new trail also would cut off access to two large waterways - Lake Pleasant and Sacandaga Lake, Lane said.
"A lot of people have moved here over the years and bought residences on the lake because of lake access for snowmobiling and because they can hop out on the lake and get to anywhere in the trail network around here," he said.
McGovern, who owns The Inn at Speculator, said if the plan the state originally presented is put into place, his business would have to close in winter.
"They come here because it's some of the best free riding in the East. If you deny snowmobilers, they're like other tourists or outdoors people and they'll go where they're welcomed and where they can use their toys," he said, suggesting Vermont and its statewide trail system could claim some of upstate New York a $1 billion tourism industry.
"This is the economy. This is one of the things we've been talking to the lieutenant governor and others about, that we depend on tourism and we want them to acknowledge the fact that tourism is an economic development for us in the Adirondacks, and that has never been recognized before," said Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, who represents Hamilton County.
Sayward said consideration for the local issues should be first and foremost in the mind of the Department of Environmental Conservation. "The local people should have the largest say in any of these issues."
Tanner said although his business sells boats and bait and tackle in the summer, he can't survive on just one tourism season.
"It takes everything you have just to make ends meet up here," he said.
In March, representatives of the Department of Environmental Conservation met with residents and local officials to discuss the plan, but no further information has been provided about whether concerns are being addressed.
The Department of Environmental Conservation could not be reached to comment for this story.
James Rolf, statewide trails coordinator for the New York State Snowmobile Association, said his group is aware of the concern and will "closely with the local snowmobile clubs, residents, businesses and DEC staff to ensure that whatever is finally implemented serves both the Adirondack Park and our members well."
McGovern expects that any change to the trails would be several years away because of statewide fiscal problems. Sayward said budget cuts have affected the DEC, resulting in smaller staff to manage all the millions of acres of land in the Adirondacks.
"The leverage," said McGovern, " is that most of the trail cutting throughout New York state is done by members of the snowmobile clubs themselves under the DECs direction, and they're aware of the fact that there's no way we're going to help them cut them, just to cut our own throats."
Barbara Cook covers southern Hamilton County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.