JOHNSBURG, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Last May, Adirondack Park advocacy group Protect the Adirondacks scored a big victory over a decade in the making. Now, they’re still waiting for that victory to bear actual fruit to restore over 25 miles of torn-up parkland.

Last Wednesday, February 16, Protect the Adirondacks took the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to court—not for the first time—over roughly 25 miles of snowmobile trails that were deemed unconstitutional last year. They were the first parts of a plan by the DEC to create 300 miles of new trails in total and cut around 1,000 trees per mile to do so.

Now, the pair of organizations have been told to embark on a plan of action that will fix the project, which Protect the Adirondacks has called unconstitutional since before last May; before they first sued the DEC in 2013; and all the way back to the project’s first proposal, dating back to 2001.

“Rocks were removed. Roots were removed. There was a significant grading on turns,” described Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer. “All of this was far different than a narrow foot trail, that’s usually 12 to 18 inches wide and goes up hills, between trees.”

The group won an injunction in 2016, which stopped any further trail work past the 25 or so miles that had been cut at that time. That includes the 12-mile Seventh Lake Mountain Trail, which runs to Racquette Lake from the town of Inlet, in Hamilton County. It also includes many portions of trail that were never completed, where smoothed-down paths 9-to-12 feet wide sit abandoned, cut into the forest.

A Court of Appeals deemed the trails unconstitutional last May, citing Article 14 of the New York State Constitution, due to the sheer number of trees uprooted, as well as the amount of Adirondack Park altered from its natural, wild state by the project. Now, nine months later, the problem is that nothing has been done to rehabilitate the strips of bare land left behind.

“Our experiences over the last two months showed us that the state fundamentally was not dealing honestly with the reality and the substance of the Court of Appeals decision,” Bauer said. “The state didn’t feel any responsibility to restore the forest to a natural, intact forest. They didn’t feel any responsibility to close the trails that were clearly found to be illegal. They didn’t feel any responsibility to reclaim the natural habitat of the area.”

Protect the Adirondacks spent those two months as part of a working group created by the DEC, per order from the court case. The group’s purpose was to look at the full scope of issues on trails around the Adirondack Park, and create a new manual of standards for trail creation and cultivation.

However, Bauer says the DEC claimed that the ruling contained grey areas. Officials said they didn’t feel there had been any kind of instruction on what to actually do to fix the trails.

“They were attempting to say, for instance, ‘We don’t buy this stuff, that all trees have protections. We don’t buy this stuff, that a 1-inch tree has constitutional protection, even though it may be 75 years old. We don’t buy it.'”

But Bauer does. At a February 1 State Legislature hearing on the state’s environmental conservation budget, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos claimed that the only snowmobile trails currently in use are those historic in nature, predating the lawsuit.

Bauer says that no trail built as a result of the initial project should count in that statement. “That’s not the case,” he said. “And so, after finishing up our ninth year of this, we went back to the court.”

After some legal technicalities, Protect the Adirondacks and the DEC ended up back before New York State Supreme Court earlier this month. The judgment was clear: The trails are unconstitutional, and there have to be real, tangible consequences. The two groups have been ordered to figure out how to move forward together. If they can’t, they can petition the court, and the judge will get more directly involved.

That leaves the two groups out of the court, and in the process of communicating. On Bauer’s side, that means creating a list of demands for how to rehabilitate 27 miles of torn-up Adirondack Park. These include closing the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail—which is only used for snowmobiling and isn’t the only (or most trafficked) trail connecting the regions at its two respective ends. For some, like an unfinished Newcomb-Minerva trail that was started from both sides but never met in the middle, the group’s desired solution is replanting and reforestation. Once those trees are planted, Bauer would like to see the new saplings monitored to ensure proper growth.

When approached by NEWS10 for a response, DEC said: “DEC believes we are fully in compliance with the Court’s decision and is engaged in a public stakeholder process for future trail development.” No mention was given of future plans for the trails.

In the meantime, the Seventh Lake Mountain Trail is open, and identifiable on snowmobiler resources and maps for those seeking trails. It’s a Class 2 snowmobile trail, one of dozens in the Adirondack Park. Most others simply use existing roads that get snowed over in the winter. Those roads provide countless miles of trail that don’t impinge on local wildlife.

Bauer doesn’t know how the DEC will take the list of objectives his group is putting together for the future of the illegal trails. Protect the Adirondacks has seen multiple administrations at the DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency and hasn’t liked what they have seen.

“They have never dealt honestly with this issue,” Bauer said. “They have always put their big thumbs on the scales, pushing for the outcome that they wanted; and the outcome that they wanted was to build an expansive, class-2, community connector, extra-wide snowmobile system through the preserve. That’s what they wanted. We’ve said for over 20 years that this violates the constitution, but they just kept going.”