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Is it legal to cut fallen trees that block hiking trails?

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  • #16
    My personal feelings on the matter are that people are not to be trusted and the DEC is ultimately responsible for what is happening on the lands that they have jurisdiction over.

    I will be happy to comply with what ever limitations and notifications they require.

    I was thinking of forming a club called the "Adirondack Silly Sawyers".
    Leave No Trace! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXO1uY0MvmQ
    ThereAndBack http://www.hikesafe.com/

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    • #17
      I am planning on cutting the trees with this

      https://silkysaws.com/silky-katanaboy-500-folding-saw/

      Leave No Trace! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXO1uY0MvmQ
      ThereAndBack http://www.hikesafe.com/

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    • #18
      Yes, as others have stated, trail maintenance is one of those things where good intentions can still lead to significant problems down the road if not paired with at least some skill. With regards to trail clearing, cutting blowdown is one thing- but it's easy to make the leap from cutting blowdown to side cutting live branches that have grown into the trail corridor. Proper pruning of live vegetation does require some careful considerations with regards to where to make the cut so as not to cause long lasting harm to the tree (somewhat counter-intuitively, it can sometimes be healthier for the tree in the long run to cut more than is minimally necessary to maintain the trail corridor). Additionally, the state has been successfully sued over tree cutting for the purposes of trail maintenance, so it's understandably a subject that current official attitudes towards may include some amount of wariness.

      It's unlikely that anyone will care if you cut out the occasional blowdown encountered while out hiking- provided that it is truly dead and down, and provided that you're using hand tools only (and not gas or electric powered saws). But if trail maintenance is specifically your goal and you intend to set out with the specific objective of clearing a trail, then yes, doing it right is absolutely the way to go- and that means getting permission from the DEC (among other considerations). This is typically facilitated through the DEC's Volunteer Stewardship Program.

      One huge advantage of going this route that no one has mentioned yet is that if you were to be injured while undertaking the agreed upon trail maintenance, you would be covered by the state's insurance. As per the information on the linked page:

      6. As volunteers in this Program, participants are provided with the same liability and workers compensation protection as salaried state employees, as long as they are acting within the scope and terms of the Agreement and comply with the Department's guidelines for use of volunteers.
      If you're interested in really going down the rabbit hole of trail maintenance skills and techniques, I'd suggest investing in the AMC's Complete Guide to Trail Building & Maintenance. The Appalachian Mountain Club is responsible for the initial development of many commonly-accepted methods of modern day trail maintenance, and in this case, they literally wrote the book on the subject.

      I believe that the DEC does also facilitate some hands-on training sessions for volunteer trail maintainers. This is definitely a good thing to ask about if you decide to explore the possibility of pursuing an official volunteer stewardship agreement.

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      • bikerhiker
        bikerhiker commented
        Editing a comment
        some really good points.
        And a quick google search for trail maintenance handbooks will give you a good sample of the online availability of this material. The FLT, the us dept of interior (i think?), and a few others i checked out all have similar methods of efficiently getting some great points across for trail maintenance. I think I said "hmmm" or "ahaaa" outloud a few times reading through them, explained from a maintenance point of view (instead of a hiker's point of view maybe) things start to make sense in terms of why.

    • #19
      It's definitely good that individual volunteers are covered by state liability and workers comp.

      It's worth noting, however, that volunteer organizations are NOT covered in any way by the state:

      "9) Liability Protection
      As volunteers, individual participants in the Program are provided with the same liability and workers compensation protection as salaried state employees, provided they are acting within the scope and terms of the Agreement, have completed the required forms and otherwise meet the requirements of New York State Public Officers Law § 17. This protection may also apply to individuals volunteering collectively as part of an informal group, but does not apply to an organization itself, whether or not formally incorporated, because it does not meet the definition of an employee under Public Officers Law § 17."

      and

      "10) Liability Insurance for Organizations
      Individual volunteers deemed State employees under State laws are provided with liability protection. However, the State is not legally authorized at this time to extend the same coverage/protection to organizations that may have members serving as volunteers or are organizing/overseeing volunteer efforts pursuant to a Volunteer Stewardship Volunteer Stewardship Program Agreement with the Department. As a result, any organization entering into a Volunteer Stewardship Agreement is responsible for obtaining the appropriate level of liability insurance coverage in the event of any claim or litigation arising from alleged acts or omissions relating to its activities undertaken within the scope of the Program and this Agreement."

      So if Bunchberry joins a club that has an approved VSA, as an individual he is covered. However, if he FORMS a club of his own, his club is NOT covered.

      So you have to be a little careful with this.

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      • #20
        I am not a lawyer just a guy who wants to be a sawyer but maybe this means...

        Lets say a person working with the ADK hurts himself working on state land at an ADK trail event.
        That person could sue the ADK. The state provides no coverage for that.

        Obviously I have no idea what this legal mombo jumbo really means but issues like this make me scratch my head at how one would create a club from scratch these days.....
        Leave No Trace! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXO1uY0MvmQ
        ThereAndBack http://www.hikesafe.com/

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        • tcd
          tcd commented
          Editing a comment
          "Lets say a person working with the ADK hurts himself working on state land at an ADK trail event.
          That person could sue the ADK. The state provides no coverage for that."

          That's correct. That's why most of the organizations that do any kind of VSA work have had to spend money on insurance policies.

          This lack of coverage was not widely known until a few years ago. IIRC, there was an incident somewhere in western NY (maybe Alleghany State Forest?) where a volunteer trail worker was hurt and the resultant lawsuit taught that the sponsoring organization was exposed to liability. Of course, larger organizations like ADK already had insurance for a variety of reasons. But some smaller organization who had not realized this lack of coverage had to cancel trail work and scramble to fund raise and get insurance before they could start working again.

      • #21
        The ADK used to have trail clearing training sessions for volunteers that the DEC recognized. But the onset of Covid cancelled those that were then scheduled and I believe I heard the ADK is no longer planning to do more. The rules get so specific as to tell you which way to align the butts of discarded cut brush off the side of the trail.

        As a member of Lean2Rescue, I know the DEC and the L2R oorganization is very serious about every participant working on site having a VSA on file. On public state property where chainsaws are allowed, all users are required to be certified with a formal course in chainsaw use, as well as in blood borne pathogens.

        Carrying over to SAR, every volunteer is covered by NYS insurance and worker's comp, only after signing in on the form upon arrival at the incident command site.
        "Leave the beaten track behind occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do you will be certain to find something you have never seen before." - Alexander Graham Bell

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        • #22
          Originally posted by Nessmuk View Post
          The rules get so specific as to tell you which way to align the butts of discarded cut brush off the side of the trail.
          FWIW, this is a pretty well known rule of thumb in the trail maintenance world- where possible you toss cut branches with the cut end facing away from the trail. No one in their right mind is going to expect consistent, 100% compliance on this, but it's something you try to do as much as reasonably possible. Reason being that people do actually register complaints with the managing agency if they see "too many cut branches" on the side of the trail... and then that turns into being just one more thing that ties up the resources of that managing agency.

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          • #23
            This actually happened a few years ago. The value of having a VSA is obvious:

            A volunteer trail worker fell while walking out after a day of trail-clearing for an organization working under a VSA with the DEC. The organization's supervisors were trained in Wilderness First Aid and splinted the injury with Sam Splints (aluminum sheets). The injured person wanted to try walking out since he knew it would be hours before Forest Rangers would arrive. He made it most of the way to the trailhead but was carried out the rest of the way after the Ranger met the group. Multiple fractures were confirmed by the hospital ED.

            After DEC confirmed the volunteer's VSA registration form, the NYS Workers Comp group took over and paid for everything (X-rays, evaluation, surgery, rehab, PT, etc). Total cost was over $10,000.

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            • #24
              I hand cut and toss off the trail. Most of the people participating in this thread know enough not to block a water bar and can recognize a blocked side path.
              "The mountains are like a museum where the exhibits change every month" ...Ralph Ryndak, Catskill Explorer

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              • #25
                It amazes me how many people will step over or around a dead limb when a simple effort could ease the burden for themselves and all who pass. At times these obstacles are more difficult to pass than remove. It is possible to clear hundreds of sticks and branches off a trail without even slowing your pace using a small stick to flick them out of the way.

                There are two types of cooks in this world: Ones who clean and they go and ones that ignore the mess. Be the right cook.

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                • tcd
                  tcd commented
                  Editing a comment
                  I was also always amazed at this. But I have accepted it, and it informs my positions regarding trail maintenance. There is a pretty large cadre (certainly within DEC here in NY) that believes in a "fantasy version" of trail maintenance. Sadly, these folks are just stupid, and are denying current reality.

                  In the fantasy, trails are "classified" based on the "land classification" of the land they pass through (which 90% of hikers don't know about, or care about). In this fantasy, trails that pass through certain classes of land are supposed to "look like wilderness" meaning that trail maintenance is supposed to leave obstacles, mud holes, and lots of crap to trip over in the middle of the trail, so users can fantasize that they are some kind of "explorers." (Never mind that there is obviously a trail, which is a "work of man" and NOT "wilderness".)

                  Of course the outcome is that everyone just walks around all this stuff, widening and braiding the trail. The "land managers" then engage in a quixotic campaign to try to browbeat users into "walking straight through the mud" etc., etc., and so forth. Of course, the campaign has no useful effect, and the trails are a mess.

                  This is where DEC is currently stuck in NY. I don't expect a change, so when I do hike on trail, I clean it up as best I can. Those of us who can see clearly should try to help.
                  Last edited by tcd; 12-07-2022, 09:07 PM.

              • #26
                Originally posted by John H Swanson View Post
                It amazes me how many people will step over or around a dead limb when a simple effort could ease the burden for themselves and all who pass. At times these obstacles are more difficult to pass than remove. It is possible to clear hundreds of sticks and branches off a trail without even slowing your pace using a small stick to flick them out of the way.

                There are two types of cooks in this world: Ones who clean and they go and ones that ignore the mess. Be the right cook.
                I was with a trail crew on rhw Red Horse Trail with a Forest Ranger friend, who proclaimed to be the master of the trail "flick". Using a small stick, he would flick any fair sized sticks off the trail without ever missing a step. He said anyone could do this as they walked to help keep the trail clear.
                Last edited by Nessmuk; 12-07-2022, 04:59 PM.
                "Leave the beaten track behind occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do you will be certain to find something you have never seen before." - Alexander Graham Bell

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              • #27
                I've been tempted to create the Flick-A-Stick challenge!

                We do this all the time. The number of sticks we flick tells me that almost no one else does this.
                Tom Rankin - 5444W, etc., etc.

                Web Master - NY Forest Fire Lookout Association
                Member #0003 - ADKHP Foundation
                Volunteer - Balsam Lake Mountain
                Past President - Catskill 3500 Club
                CEO - Views And Brews

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