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Colton area ATV/UTV proponents praise land claims settlement

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COLTON — A decades-long land settlement among the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, New York state and St. Lawrence County drew praise from all-terrain-vehicle supporters who will be affected by the eventual deal.

Representatives from the three parties signed a memorandum of understanding Wednesday that outlines terms of a settlement agreement that would provide the tribe an opportunity to return identified lands to its reservation and provide the county and local governments significant economic benefits in return.

Also under the agreement, the state is required to assist the county and the town of Colton in obtaining the required designation to allow ATV use on a short portion of Route 56 as part of the countywide multiuse trail.

“We’re very excited for this opportunity, and it is a big step for the multiuse trails system,” St. Lawrence County Trails Coordinator Debbie A. Christy said.

Sunday Rock ATV Club Secretary Mary Long also had a positive reaction to the news.

“I support getting any support we can get. It’s a terrible thing that Colton only has the one place, Long Pond easement, that ATVs can ride on,” she said. “We are all responsible riders in our club and this is a great step.”

County legislators, on behalf of the county’s Trail Advisory Board, agreed to seek a $70,000 grant for the replacement of a bridge in Dead Creek, South Colton, at a finance committee meeting in late March.

The bridge is at the center of the county’s multiuse recreational trail. Without the connector, the trail system essentially would not exist in St. Lawrence County.

In 2013, efforts were made to connect trail heads from Franklin and Lewis counties all the way into South Colton, including St. Lawrence County. Because the center crossing at the bridge was not connected to the trails, the opening of roads to ATV use was voided.

“The bridge on Route 56, there was no way to cross the water. This land claim allows us to cross, and that’s how important it is,” Ms. Christy said. “We wouldn’t have been able to connect through St. Lawrence County. It will connect from Franklin to Lewis to St. Lawrence County.

“Basically (the settlement) means we will use the bridge on state Route 56 in South Colton. ... We just feel that it will be a big draw in regional tourism. So this bridge in the center is definitely what we needed,” Ms. Christy said.

Colton Dirt Dogs ATV Club President Daniel Murphy was thrilled with the announcement. “The positive impact that the state and county feel the ATV community will have on small businesses in Northern New York is evidenced by the inclusion of the ATV provisions in the settlement,” Mr. Murphy said. “This will be a huge win, not only for ATV enthusiasts, but for all residents of Colton and South Colton, and we could not be happier.”

The town of Colton passed a local law in August opening several roads for ATV use, but that law was rescinded four months later after six Colton residents appealed the decision in an Article 78 proceeding in state Supreme Court.

The law gave ATVs access to parts of Morgan Road, Windmill Road and Cold Brook Drive, equaling 2.95 miles. The route connects two trails that exist for off-road ATV traffic, according to town officials.

The Article 78 appeal alleged that the town board failed to satisfy the statutory standards for opening town roads to all-terrain vehicles and also that the local law was arbitrary and capricious.

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