Ted Galusha - How The NYS DEC Has Limited Residents ACcess to Campsites and Park Land

"Wins Access to State Lands for the Disabled" DEC: "Oh Really?", March 2011

Ted Galusha at locked gate

Ted Galusha is a 51 year old resident of Warrensburg, New York in the Adirondacks, an eighth generation native of the Adirondacks, an avid camper, and a disability rights advocate. He started camping in the Adirondacks as a child in a camping area known as “Buttermilk” along the Hudson River in the Town of Lake Luzerne.

He suffers from MS, is disabled and has spent many years in a wheelchair. He used motor vehicles to access lands owned by the State of New York, especially in the Buttermilk
camping area along the Hudson River.

In the 1990s, the state closed many of the more than 100 campsites in that area. Ted challenged those closures, using motor vehicles to access campsites. Over time, he was ticketed 15 times. He fought the tickets in local courts on the grounds that he required motor vehicles to access sites.

He organized a protest at Buttermilk which resulted in 12 participants receiving tickets from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC.) He brought a case against DEC in federal court under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and in 1998, after several years fighting in federal court, he was awarded a federal court injunction which directed the state to provide access to persons with disabilities, and which immediately opened campsites, roads and trails which were historically open to all.

On June 5, 2001, he was awarded a Consent Decree by U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Kahn, which required the sites to remain open. Subsequently, DEC closed most of the 100 sites in Buttermilk, closed access roads, and adopted special regulations for the area, which allow only about a half-dozen sites to remain open. DEC moved sites further into the woods, which made it nearly impossible for people in wheelchairs to access them.

Ted believes extreme environmental groups are behind the movement to prohibit public access by the less than able-bodied to state-owned properties in the Adirondacks.

After numerous negotiating sessions with Ted, state officials, and environmental groups, DEC developed a compromise document. The Governor signed the document at an elaborate ceremony in Lake Placid, New York.

Later, the state abandoned the policies in that document. DEC then developed a document known as Commissioner’s Policy Three (CP-3) to allow people with disabilities to obtain a special permit to use motor vehicles to access state facilities on state forest preserve. Ted believes CP-3 is meaningless because the state has closed most of the accessible roads on forest preserve lands, even some of the roads required by the consent decree to remain open. An example is in an area known as the Moose River Plains where DEC closed roads required to be left open by the Consent Decree, citing budgetary problems.

In the spring of 2010, DEC closed the Buttermilk Road, Stacy Clearing Road, Gabe Pond Road, and Lily Pond Road. Some of these roads were re-opened only after local governments
stepped up and agreed to maintain the roads. Others remain closed.

The Adirondack State Land Master Plan (SLMP) that provides rules for the management of state lands in the Adirondacks is required to be reviewed and updated every five years. It was required to be updated 7 times since it was first adopted in 1972, but has only been updated three times.

Ted believes DEC is in contempt of the federal Consent Order. Older campsites in the Buttermilk area had accessible outhouses and fireplaces. In the spring of 2010, DEC removed the accessible outhouses, destroyed the accessible fireplaces, and replaced the accessible outhouses with boxes with a hole on top, which stand two and a half feet high, have no walls or a roof, and some of which are within sight of campsites.

Ted has been provided with a key to a lock on a campsite road in the Buttermilk area closed by a gate. Only disabled persons may use the road for access, which means that Ted’s
friends and, even his wife, may not use a motor vehicle to visit him or bring him food. The sites are not “visitable.” The disabled, have access on paper, although the locations chosen by DEC are so remote and difficult to get to that access remains a problem. The roads have been closed to the public and only the disabled may drive on them.

On July 4th one year, just as families were sitting down to their dinners at their campsites, DEC Forest Rangers swarmed the area and ordered the families camping there to pack up and leave immediately, without finishing their dinners, even though some had been drinking. Some campers protested that they shouldn’t drive, because they had been drinking. The officers insisted that the campers leave immediately or they would be forcibly removed, and their vehicles towed. Police parked outside the camping area arrested some of the campers for DWI. It is hard to believe that this type of authoritarian behavior, though common in third world dictatorships, can exist in NYS.