Biking isn’t allowed in the High Tor Wildlife Management Area. But people told the state Department of Environmental Conservation in Naples this month they want biking permitted in the DEC’s latest plan for area. A number of bikers spoke up. Some people also wanted biking allowed because of a trail students and families use that connects the village of Naples to Naples Community Park on Route 245.

The DEC is taking public comment on a draft, 10-year plan for more than 8,700 acres of state forest and wildlife management area called the Canandaigua Highlands. The property includes the Italy Hill State Forest and High Tor Wildlife Management Area in the towns of Italy, Jerusalem, Naples, Middlesex, South Bristol and Naples in Yates and Ontario counties.

Gretchen Cicora, DEC senior forester, reviewed key points of the plan. The DEC is looking to improve access to the property, manage vegetation such as native grasslands and woodlands, control exotic species, and preserve historical and archaeological resources. Plans to improve access include adding and improving entrance points and handicapped access.

“Invasive species, that is the biggest elephant in the room. We have no idea what will come our way,” said Cicora.

But most questions and comments at a public information session at Naples High School on Oct. 3 centered on the biking issue for High Tor.

Hiking, hunting and fishing are the most popular recreational uses in High Tor, said Mike Wasilco, DEC regional wildlife manager who answered most of the questions.

One man who said he has been biking for years said he was “shocked” to see the plan bans bikes from trails in High Tor.

“We are a tourism economy and mountain biking is part of that. Outdoor recreation is a draw,” said Naples Mayor Brian Schenk.

People asked why DEC doesn’t permit biking. Wasilco said the activity doesn’t fit as a wildlife-friendly recreation. Wasilco said hikers go at a slower pace and with biking, animals can be in harm’s way.

One biker said he has never even hit a squirrel and deer and other wildlife he sees while biking get out of the way. Wasilco said bikes can run over small creatures like amphibians and not know it.

Some pressed the DEC for data that shows biking hurts wildlife and flies in the face of hiking and other permitted recreation. “What wildlife and habitat is impacted by mountain biking?” asked Schenk. “Did the DEC do a review?”

 “There was no special review for that,” said Wasilco. He added that “multiple studies show that increased activity impacts habitats and wildlife.” High Tor trails are used for hiking, hunting, bird-watching and photography and those activities fit wildlife management, Wasilco said. He said DEC funding for managing High Tor depends on activities compatible with wildlife.

Others asked what people needed to do to add biking trails to the plan. Wasilco said they should send the DEC a map of where they want the bike trails.

Peter Landre, another biker who spoke, said he volunteers with trail maintenance in the area. He mentioned the use of a biking trail on Stid Hill, which is in the Bristol Hills but not part of Canandaigua Highlands. Landre said that bikers and hikers are interested in connecting trails throughout the region. He offered to work with other volunteers to come up with a trail plan for High Tor that would fit all recreational uses.

Public comments on the draft plan will be taken until this Nov. 4. In addition to comments received at the meetings, written comments may be sent to r8.ump@dec.ny.gov or NYSDEC, 7291 Coon Rd. Bath, NY 14810.

Comments will be weighed against law, regulations, DEC Commissioner’s directives and other public comments before changes are made to the draft plan. Questions and/or comments will be included in the final document.

The final document is expected to be completed in early 2020.