Monday, August 29, 2016

As 46er Ranks Grow, Summits Take A Beating

adk 46rThe Adirondack Forty-Sixers organization has seen a record number of people joining its ranks in recent years. Started in 1925, the club now has 9,425 members—more than a third of whom joined over the last ten years.

The club is open to hikers who have climbed its list of forty-six High Peaks, most of which top four thousand feet. It has seen a record number of new members each year since 2009. Last year, 606 hikers joined.

Forty-Sixers President Brian Hoody said the club hasn’t done much to market itself. He suspects the rise in membership reflects a general interest in hiking-oriented clubs.

“The club itself hasn’t really changed since its inception. It’s basically the same peaks, the same kinds of rules,” he said. “I don’t know why the sudden interest in the club, but people are finding us in droves.”

The club has always put a value on outdoor education and trail work, and Hoody said it is trying to make sure that new members heed Leave No Trace principles to protect natural resources in the backcountry. The club is updating its website and posting educational links on its Facebook page. It also plans to station volunteers at the Cascade Mountain trailhead—and possibly others—in the near future to educate hikers.

Fran Shumway, an at-large director of the club, said the trailhead volunteers will work in cooperation with summit stewards. They will teach hikers about rules and regulations, make sure they’re prepared, and remind them to carry their trash out of the woods. “People need to leave things the way they found them, or better than they found them,” Shumway said.

A consequence of the increased interest in hiking all of the High Peaks is that herd paths on the so-called trail-less peaks are seeing more foot traffic. The herd paths are not marked, but Forty-Sixer volunteers maintain them. Hoody said parts of some paths, such as those on Seymour and Cliff, need to be rerouted. The club also plans to meet with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to discuss erosion near the summit of Panther Mountain, one of the trail-less peaks.

“What we’re seeing up near the summit is an entire sloughing off of the vegetation from people scrambling off the top,” said DEC Forester Tate Connor. “So that’s something I’m going to look at.”

The list of the forty-six High Peaks dates back to the club’s founding. At that time, it was thought all exceeded four thousand feet. Later surveys found that four of the peaks are below that altitude. In addition, one peak not on the list was found to reach four thousand feet. The club, however, sticks with its traditional list.

This story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.


Mike Lynch

Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues.

Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine.

From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake.

Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at mike@adirondackexplorer.org.




67 Responses

  1. Lakechamplain says:

    Hooray for Mike Lynch for ‘highlighting’ one very big cause of the problem, that problem being that we’re loving the heart of the Adirondack’s mountains to death.
    I’m a 46er from way back, triple digit which means early 70’s. This should not be taken to mean that I’m an old coot pining for the good old days who wants to shut off the mts. to future generations. I’ve paid my dues for the most part over the years but have never attended 46er annual meetings.
    From the mid 90’s to when I retired in 2013 I pretty much took a hiatus from hiking due to myriad factors in my life. The last 3 years I’ve hiked on a regular basis, with a major concession to age that my range, both in distance and height of climb, has been scaled back. I mention this gap in my hiking because it gave me a perspective when trekking over trails I’d done years before how much has changed.
    And change it has. Yeah, I know, you can look it up and list numerous quotes from the 70’s and after from people bemoaning the increase in hikers over the years and wondering what are we going to do about it.
    What I’ve noticed in comparison to the past is that the steady increase in hiker traffic, especially in the high peaks areas and the 46 peak,s are that the trails are simply being worn down to bedrock. More and more trails have become like stream beds; I like to call them ‘rocks and roots’, from a combination of hikers and natural erosion as precipitation seeks the easiest route downhill. The Adk. Mt. Club’s pro crew, along with countless volunteer groups from the ADK Mt. Club and the 46ers and others do valiant work to repair damaged trails and in many cases(Jay Mt., Hurricane Mt. for example) re-route the trails, but at their current levels they are fighting a losing battle. More pro crews are desperately needed(and btw, for Pete’s sake, let them use chainsaws!). That of course means more money.
    But what I suggest is that the 46er organization, which I am a current and proud member, be DE-ACTIVATED. Set a date of a few years down the road when it will no longer record or recognize people who’ve climbed the 43(+3 that aren’t 4,000′).
    Keep a record of the thousands who’ve done ‘it’ over the years and cherish their heritage. But the organization has not only outlived it’s purpose but it is one of the main factors contributing to the ever-increasing numbers of hikers drawn to the High Peaks area.
    Secondly, have professional crews construct modern trails up the ‘trailess’ peaks, which as we all know, aren’t really trailess any more; the many herd paths up them have for years caused more environmental damage to these peaks than is worth the supposed enhancement of the challenge to bag these peaks. And while they’re at it, consider constructing many more trails up lesser peaks to disperse the legions of hikers who are concentrated by this organizations’ once lofty but by now antiquated goal of ascending these peaks.
    I won’t address how to put any sort of limits on the numbers of hikers allowed on trails or in the most popular spots because that’s another whole set of problems. But we might all remember the phrase not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
    The gorgeous mountains of our Adirondacks simply cannot sustain the erosive effects of more and more hikers, a great number of whom are drawn to 46 peaks because of the Adirondack 46ers. I’m not suggesting doing away with this organization, just redefining its purpose and its goals.

    • Boreas says:

      Lake,

      I agree 100%. I finished in the 80s, and many years ago I suggested to the president to cap membership at 5000. I received a rather curt letter in reply, so I stopped paying my dues and am no longer a member. I too am not against the club, as it does recognize its obligation to provide trail stewardship.

      In the 90s I started hiking a lot less in the HPW because of the sheer number of people on the trails and peaks – many of them aspiring 46rs. But I must admit, even if the 46rs capped membership or even dissolved, another club would likely pop up to take its place. It is human nature to set goals and finish them. It is a shame that this goal-oriented society can’t shift toward more sustainable goals.

    • Taras says:

      Ceasing to record 46ers won’t achieve the desired result. The genie is out of the bottle and there’s no putting it back in.

      If not the ADK 46ers then some other organization will step in and maintain the “tradition”. It’ll become a game of whack-a-mole.

      Besides, there are hiking challenges that have no official recognition or governing body, yet people pursue them (ADK Hundred Highest, Single-Season Winter 46er, ADK Grid, etc). They don’t get their name recorded anywhere and there’s no award for the achievement. Completion is the only reward.

  2. Todd Eastman says:

    Repairing, maintaining, and re-routing trails needs to be done throughout the High Peaks. While the idea of reducing user numbers makes sense to some, the High Peaks offer challenges and views the lower country can’t compete with.

    The ADK, the 46ers, and scads of other organizations have brought the wonderful blending of physical challenge and nature to thousands of NYS residents and visitors from the US, Canada, and throughout the World. Think of places like this as portals into outdoor adventures.

    Americans should adjust their expectations when visiting places like the High Peaks where crowds are common and visit the many less crowded areas when they want a quiet communion with nature.

    • Boreas says:

      Todd,

      Simply adjusting our expectations isn’t going to protect the trails and summits. Certainly we need trail repair and re-routing – we have needed it for 40-50 years. When is it going to happen? How is it going to get done? Who will pay for this – NY taxpayers alone? Out of state users get a free pass?

      This issue shouldn’t be looked at as simply a hiking problem – it is also a preservation problem. Summits are being trampled. Wet areas are becoming hog wallows. Steep trails are becoming waterslides. We need discussion and action, not just head-shaking and giving the HPW up as a loss. I feel we should look at all of the options – however distasteful they may be.

      • Todd Eastman says:

        Bore,

        This has happened since the 1960’s hiking boom (in my experience). Trails have been pounded out forever and every decade or two a big push towards trail maintenance with good results.

        Now that the State has not maintained this resource to a level that could meet the recreational needs of NYS residents and visitors is a major problem. Perhaps slapping a CWA lawsuit on the DEC for failing to protect water quality might get the State’s attention!

        I would far rather see the appropriate number of trail workers out working in the High Peaks than to see more truck-tied heat packing rangers writing tickets.

        BTW many of the summits are better now than they were decades ago prior to the inception of the Summit Stewards.

        Get used to more people or go wander around in the Pepperbox if the crowds are something you have outgrown. What is wild to the newly minted High Peaks hiker is old hat to the grizzled veteran. Don’t forget how you arrived at the point you are with the skills and experiences you have had…

        … I bet that first time over Gothics is still etched in your memory.

        • Boreas says:

          It was horrible – a through hike of the Great Range with full packs in hot weather. But I managed to make it down the cable without killing myself.

        • Taras says:

          According to a certain ranger, they’re “truck tied” by command … and it’s not universally seen as the best use of their talents. They’re stationed in the front country to be available for SAR incidents at the drop of a hat (and not a 3-hour walk from their truck).

          I’d like to see an increase in the number of “heat packing” rangers, enough to have them patrol the backcountry and get a chance to fulfill their calling of protecting resources.

      • Boreas says:

        Just to hitchhike on that thought, I also feel it would be a good idea to set up a revolving list of mandatory closures on all but the trunk trails. This would be a 1-2 year closure where maintenance, re-routing, and reseeding/planting would be done and the environment given a bit of a break. The idea being that every 10-15 years, most every trail would be shut down, re-evaluated for improvements, and given a break from the hordes.

        • Todd Eastman says:

          You are showing your colors when you label visitors interested in hiking as the “hordes.”

          Good luck operating closures without huge policing…

        • Paul says:

          I don’t think you can solve this by limiting the number of trails. That will make the impact on the remaining trails worse. You can do it but you have to limit the number of hikers. Look at a place like Baxter in Maine. They limit hikers on Katahdin by how they manage parking and camping reservations:

          http://baxterstateparkauthority.com/reservation/index.htm

          There they can and do close trails but they can do that because they have control over the number of people using them.

          • Boreas says:

            Paul,

            This problem cannot be solved by any one remedy – or perhaps at all. I am just throwing out suggestions that may help – as unsavory as they may be.

            • Paul says:

              Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it is unsavory at all. Some trail closures are probably necessary or will be at some point. I am just saying that w/o the ability to limit the number of hikers trail closures would make the remaining open trails degrade even more quickly. You are going to have more hikers on fewer trails. Have not been in the HPW in awhile. This story actually makes me want to get over there and see how bad this really is for myself. I guess I will be part of the problem!

        • Taras says:

          How would this revolving closure list work exactly?

          You’re suggesting something like closing interstates. The traffic doesn’t abate, it gets redirected to other roads (potentially to their detriment).

          Most trails in the High Peaks run along the fall-line so most end up looking like brook beds. Ideally they should be hardened or rerouted to minimize erosion.

          Somewhere on the Internet, a highway-maintenance forum is wringing its hands over the deplorable state of the nation’s infrastructure and calling the glut of rush-hour traffic “the hordes”. 😉

          • Boreas says:

            Tara,

            I don’t know exactly. It wouldn’t have to even be entire trails necessarily. But many of the High Peaks are not loop trails – but rather branches off of a trunk trail. You would just close the trail to the summit for a year, do any required maintenance & planting, and just let the earth relax a bit. As long as the schedule is laid out well in advance, people should be able to plan around the closures. No different than if there was a major slide or blowdown to be cleared up.

            • Taras says:

              Borea,

              Pardon me for asking but have you stepped foot on a High Peaks trail in the last, say, 5 years? They look like brook beds. Much as they did when I first walked on them in 1979. Maintenance, planting and a year of R&R aren’t going to restore them. Major infrastructure changes are required like what was recently done to a portion of the Avalanche Pass Trail … and no closure was necessary.

              In addition, they don’t all need the same kind of remediation. It largely depends on slope angle, elevation (different flora at higher elevations), usage level, drainage, etc. Some may look like hell but they don’t really need further attention. Why? Because there’s nothing left to erode and hikers are now treading on durable rock.

              Others keep widening, especially trails to easy, popular peaks frequented by beginners. Why? Because the newcomers either avoid mud/ice or aren’t comfortable scrambling up/down steep rock … so they bypass the “hard bits” by walking along the trail’s edge and creating “bypass trails”. These eventually erode as well and the trail widens.

              Giving High Peaks trails vacations and plants is not the prescription they need. Funding for extensive trail-hardening and minor rerouting is needed (as is currently being done on just a few trails) all while they remain open. Also use trailhead stewards to educate newcomers about the need to avoid creating bypass trails plus a host of other “good neighbor” tips to minimize their impact.

              • Boreas says:

                Well, all of those those things have been done to some extent over the last 50 years. How has it worked out so far? Repeating the same remedies will result in the same results. Just offering some different suggestions. What harm would there be in planned closings? Less harm than continued trampling for sure. Or are you looking at it as an inconvenience?

                • Taras says:

                  What’s been done in the last 50 years is what can be done on a shoestring budget. It’s not that existing remedies have failed, they have either been applied as well as can be expected with the available funding , or not all because of the lack of funding.

                  A lot of trail maintenance is done by volunteer trail workers. I’ve volunteered four times (not enough but that’s four times more than most) and its John Q. Public who clears the deadfall in spring, trims overhanging branches, cleans out gutters, rebuilds damaged footbridges, installs planking, etc. Volunteers also rebuild lean-tos. Major trail (re)construction and hardening is typically handled by professional trail crews. Any major change to a trail must be approved by the DEC.

                  Here’s a thought experiment:
                  Over the decades, there’s been little money to make significant improvements to the trails. Accordingly, any technique that costs little money would’ve been used to rehabilitate trails. If giving trails a rest-period was effective, they would’ve employed it many years ago. They never did.

                  If you know for a fact this technique has been used somewhere with great success, you should contact the chief DEC Forester and convince him to try it.

                  FWIW, a closed trail is no inconvenience to me.

                  • Boreas says:

                    You are preaching to the choir. I know well the amount volunteer work that goes into maintenance because I too have done it.

                    I don’t know if the technique would work. I threw it out as an idea that ISN”T being done and possibly could work, or at least give wildlife a respite if not the soil. Nature typically responds well to lapses in abuse. Why not combine a closure with scheduled trail upgrades? What can it hurt to experiment with it?

                    • Taras says:

                      Because if your proposed theory worked, existing brook beds, already free of hiker traffic, would “recover” after a year. They don’t; they remain brook beds. It can take decades.

                      There are old trails in the High Peaks that have been closed for decades (I know of Twin Brooks and Colden from the east) and they’ve grown in and could be considered recovered. Re-opening them would be counter-productive because they either led through hopelessly wet areas or along the fall-line of a steep slope. Fresh traffic would return them to a sorry state in a hurry.

                      What’s being done now (trail-hardening and minor reroutes without closures) is adequate. It just needs to be extended on a broader scale but that takes bucks.

      • Bruce says:

        Boreas,

        Your comment about “out of state users get a free pass?” Do they really? How many out of state users come in for the day, then leave? They pay to stay overnight if they’re not camping in no-fee areas, they eat in local establishments, they buy gas, souvenirs, etc. They pay sales tax directly, and help pay other taxes indirectly.

        • Erok says:

          Boreas is not being inaccurate. Access to the Adirondacks should be open to all, regardless of citizenship or residency. It’s a unique resource that draws people from all over North America. But we New Yorkers already pay enough in taxes. If the state is to invest more money into managing the Park, it’s not unreasonable to charge out of staters a little more. That is already common state practice with hunting and fishing licenses. btw, I just came back from a 4 day trip in the St Regis canoe area. On put-in at the Little Clear parking lot, I counted 14 cars. Only 3 (4 counting me) had NY plates. The rest were VT, QC, MA, CT, PA, ON, RI and of course…NJ. Some may have been day-trippers overnighting in local lodging but it sure did seem like they were all camping (at n/c) in the backcountry. Open sites were difficult to find.
          Yes, license plates are a little obsession of mine 😉

        • Boreas says:

          Bruce,

          “Your comment about “out of state users get a free pass?””

          Those aren’t my words. But others have said it.

          • Boreas says:

            Bruce,

            Oh, now I see where you got that. No, in that reference above, it was a question. I was talking about potential increased funding for possible staffing/infrastructure changes and who would pay for them. I was not stating that current OOS users get a free pass, but they do get a healthy discount by not paying NYS taxes. Many in-state users stay overnight, eat at the same restaurants, and buy the same gas as OOS residents. So NYS residents pay everything they do, unless we hike only where we live.

  3. Steve Olesen says:

    Saw the same piece on line. I don’t know that the 46ers a driving the increased traffic however. Likely the interest in climbing the tailless peaks but the overall increase in numbers is much larger than just the number of 46ers. The current marketing campaign to drive interest in NY and getting outside might also be a part of the increase and may illustrate how we should help our legislators understand what the overall (not just financial) impact of their policies really are. I think most of us that are interested in climbing the 46 are also interested in helping drive LNT and protection of those same areas. Good conversation.

    Steve Olesen – 8763

  4. Marco says:

    In simple terms, there are too many people in the ‘Peaks. This is one area that I would like to see strict regulations with everyone expecting to see a ranger at least twice per day.
    Example:: *Everyone* needs to apply for registration. Number in a group(2 or more) reduced to 6 (or five plus a leader) with no exceptions, ie a full lean-to. Limited access: Something like “No more than 400 groups and/or 4000 people at any one time.” They cannot enter any of the trails without one, even solo hikers, more or less getting people to plan a High Peaks hike. *Everyone* carries a bear canister. No exceptions because “We are sharing one with SoAndSo.” Everyone carries a map and compass. Expand the number of lean-tos and perform more erosion control on the trails. More outhouses/privies and more maintenance. Etc. The only answer to ANY violation is the entire group is required to leave, with that registration number noted by radio and trail escorts dispatched to “help” them make it out to the nearest trail head. (Yup, this could be inconvenient.) Yes, turn the whole area into a real managed “park.” I am sure the DEC would have no problems with funding this by a $10 non-refundable administrative fee per night per person. While this isn’t a problem in most of the ADK’s, the number of people in the ‘Peaks is indeed killing the natural beauty of the place.

  5. John Warren John Warren says:

    One thing the 46ers could do immediately would be to stop accepting climbs occurring during mud season when DEC is asking that hikers avoid hiking. It’s part of the by-laws that are being ignored.

    • Boreas says:

      JW,

      A very good suggestion. In the past, Grace could/would subtly admonish aspiring 46rs for poor choices in hiking plans. With Grace gone, canisters gone, and today’s online format, I don’t know how closely climbers are being followed. Plus, as many have said, damage isn’t only done by aspiring 46rs. When the weather turns nice in the flatlands, people want to go hiking up high, but they encounter a different world. I think select or blanket trail closures offer the best solution.

    • Taras says:

      There are two Mud Seasons. There’s the official one and the rest of the year! 🙂

      Seriously, the concept of a Mud Season is well meaning but somewhat farcical in the High Peaks. I hiked the Sewards in May and the trails conditions were *excellent*. Patchy ice, frozen ground, and just a little mud. I hiked the Sewards again last Saturday and they were laughably muddy (it rained on Thursday).

      August’s far larger crowds had churned everything, from the Ward Brook Truck Trail all the way to Emmons, into chocolate pudding. They also scraped down the sides wherever they attempted to avoid the deepest muck .. and that’s more destructive than re-churning the same hash. I wear trail-runners and I’m still cleaning out dirt from under my toenails! 😉

      Mud Season sounds good on paper but the “facts on the ground” show the trails get pulverized during and after any rainy weather. Muddy trails are a fact of High Peaks life.

  6. Bruce says:

    But wait, it’s all good…wilderness being used by hikers, isn’t that the plan? Judging from the letter and comments, is it really wilderness any more?” Vegetation, some of which takes hundreds of years to establish itself is disappearing and now we’re talking about building new trails. Where do we draw the line between a well-preserved wilderness and allowing reasonable vs. excessive use?

    In a recent article, it was suggested we need certain amenities to attract more people to places like Boreas Ponds…trails, their associated appurtenances and organized camping spots (lean-tos), even horseback or horse drawn guided trips. Hopefully more visitation in little-used areas will take some pressure off the high peaks, but if these places prove to be popular enough, they will likely suffer a less desirable fate of their own. I can already envision muddy, broken down banks from launching canoes in the best launch spots (probably close to the shortcut trail being proposed).

    • Boreas says:

      Bruce,

      Regarding the “new” trails to be built, I believe many they were talking about are properly routed replacement trails for old,erosion-prone non-switchback trails.

  7. Paul says:

    I am curious to know what the actual numerical facts are on the impact of the 46rs. Lots of them don’t even really hike these mountains anymore. My guess is that many have moved onto other things and just stay in for the heck of it. I don’t think that Herb Clark or the Marshall brothers are having much impact these days!

    • Boreas says:

      Paul,

      I would be too. Many people start and never finish the 46. Some people finish the 46 and never hike again. Others go on to the Winter 46, some start with the W46, others complete the 46 numerous times over. Others complete the W46 many times over. Many people climb the 46 and never report it. And many others are deceased.

      In general, I would believe the W46rs have less trail impact/hiker than other 46rs. But I believe the most impact 46rs have is on the limited view peaks that are hiked just to be ticked off the checklist. Many casual hikers are not going to attempt Coughsachraga or the Seward Range just for the pleasure.

  8. Paul says:

    No dogs (on or off leash) should be allowed in the HPW. That is a simple measure that will stop some of the problem and does not have any impact on hikers (with the exception of them not getting harassed by poorly trained animals). Only in the HPW – hunting dogs should still be allowed in other Wilderness areas. That is a very small number of animals.

    • Taras says:

      What is the problem introduced by dogs in the HPWA?

      PS
      I’m not a dog owner but I’d like to know what problem they pose.

  9. Justin Farrell says:

    I think that some sort of land use permit/registration fee system for some of these high-use areas is not such a horrible idea, and would help curb some the ongoing issues in these areas that never seem to get any better. Not to mention it might help create more jobs & revenue for maintenance, education, & enforcement. Anything that is free for all, with way too many people doing it with little more than signing in & out of some silly trailhead register (which many people don’t even bother to do) is going to continue to have negative results.

    • Taras says:

      The permit system gets mentioned frequently and, on the surface, seems like a good tool for managing several issues. Yet it introduces its own challenges:

      The IT infrastructure to issue permits online doesn’t exist. Even the DEC’s own campground reservations system is farmed out to ReserveAmerica. The state would have to pay someone to invent and/or manage a permit system.

      The High Peaks have “porous borders”. Unlike Baxter State Park, which is remote and has two manned chokepoints, in the High Peaks you can park on the shoulder most anywhere and walk into the woods. Controlling the inflow of hikers is a thorny problem.

      Permits are worthless without policing. If people discover the odds of getting caught without one are nil, you just wasted a lot of time, effort, and money developing a permit system. So you’ll need to increase staffing to police the backcountry. It’ll have to be someone with the ability to issue citations so we’re talking about DEC rangers.

      Which brings us the crux: if you’re going to increase the number of rangers, then just skip the permit system and let them do their job in the backcountry, namely educating the public (with citations in extreme cases) and ensuring compliance with the many regulations designed to protect the resources.

      If we just want more money to be used for educational prohtams and the like, implement pay-parking at all trailheads. It’s much easier to collect fees in this manner as well as issue parking violations. Offer weekly and annual parking passes, like in the White Mountain National Forest, for a reasonable fee ($20/year and $5/week in the WMNF). As it stands, the free parking at Elk Lake, Round Pond, Chapel Pond, Roaring Brook, Roostercomb, Cascade, Seward, etc is just money left on the table.

      • Justin Farrell says:

        Thanks, Taras.
        I think we may have chatted about this recently over on the adkforum also, and although I do not disagree with your comments, I do think that a better permit/registration system of some sort would enable the DEC to keep a much better record on who is hiking what trails, who’s bushwhacking where, who’s climbing what, on which day, where they intend to camp, for how many days, etc, would hold people more accountable in the backcountry than the current free-for-all that it is now.
        Enough is enough! It seems obvious to me that trail registers, signs, LNT ethics, parking fees, and understaffed rangers & stewards are clearly not enough to make any positive change on these ongoing issues.

        • Taras says:

          Sure, but the answer isn’t a system that would need the resources of Homeland Security to work and would track people’s movements beyond what even the Customs and Border Protection does. NYS is going to pick up the tab for this human tagging and tracking project? Not likely.

          Collect parking fees at every trailhead and use it to fund increased staffing of rangers to patrol the backcountry. Virtually no new systems or infrastructure required.

          • Justin Farrell says:

            Thanks again for the reply.
            As a New York resident I would fully support a permit system for high-use areas in the Adirondack State Park, especially in the eastern High Peaks region where many of these overuse issues occur. Now this new story of a group of 67 Canadians who didn’t even bother signing in or out of the trail register, and all they received was a slap on the wrist… I’m sure they wouldn’t be in favor of a permit system either.

            • Boreas says:

              From the sound of it, the group’s buses didn’t even stick around to pay a parking fee…

            • Taras says:

              Oh no you didn’t! Your reply painted me with the same brush as “67 Canadians …who wouldn’t be in favor of a permit system either”. Wow! Now I know you’ll say anything to support the untenable idea of a permit system.

              First, it the ranger’s discretion who gets a citation (or not). A citation was not issued to all members of another oversized group, named the revelers involved in the Phelps keg incident; only the alleged organizer was fined. No precedent was set with the Canadian group.

              Second, the members of an organized group may be completely unaware of local laws and customs. This is not unusual. Travelers all over the world sign up with organized tours to locations they know nothing about. That’s why they’re going there with a tour. They’re counting on the tour’s leader to know the local laws and customs. That’s why the leaders get the citations.

              Third, that’s the length of the teeth of the DEC’s regulations. If you want more blood, lobby to have the penalties augmented. Don’t forget to ask for the hiring of more rangers to enforce the regulations and whatever punishment you feel won’t be a slap on the wrist.

              • Boreas says:

                Unaware of local laws and customs? Really? Not one of them could read English signage at the trailhead? None of them could understand a trail register, yet they were out to climb high peaks? I also don’t know of any customs that include defecating in the middle of a trail.

                From what I gather from this article, I feel it was a deliberate act and all share responsibility. But all they will end up sharing are $500 worth of fines.

                • Taras says:

                  You’re telling me every New Yorker who ever hopped on a tour bus to ski at Mont-Tremblant either knew the park’s rules ahead of time or read them on the ski-lift? They arrive just as clueless as the sheep who were bused to the Loj.

                  Someone sees feces on the trail and in everyone’s mind it automatically means one of the group deposited it there. No one witnessed it.

                  Sure, it could’ve been one of them … or one of the hundreds of other hikers who visited the MacIntyre Range on that same day.

                  Before you throw the book at them for the crime of unlawful assembly, oh my, don’t forget the story has no input from anyone in the group. The picture is incomplete. As much as I hate when oversized, organized groups do this stuff, I’ll reserve judgement about the group’s complicity and simply applaud the DEC for making an example of the leaders.

                  • Boreas says:

                    Sounds reasonable. In this case I am guilty of making conclusions with circumstantial evidence combined with past personal experiences. My bad.

              • Justin Farrell says:

                Taras,
                Respectfully, I wasn’t trying to paint you with the same brush as the 67 Canadians. You seem like a good dude to me, but it also seems clear that you would not support a permit fee system, which IMHO would help alleviate some of the issues that you mention if enacted & applied accordingly & properly.
                – Justin

          • Boreas says:

            Taras,

            How do you propose collecting and enforcing parking fees at 100 scattered roadside parking areas around the HPW without any infrastructure?

            • Taras says:

              I know of 6 major trailheads, 14 secondary trailheads, and perhaps 10 truly minor ones (unmarked roadside pull-offs) that service the High Peaks. You’ll have to share that list of 100 with me.
              http://www.adkhighpeaks.com/wiki/AdirondackTrailheads

              Last time I was in the WMNY, they uses a steel drop-box installed in the parking area (small bin contained envelopes and passes). Alternately, you can buy weekly passes at local shops.

              Don’t quote me but I believe it’s NH Fish and Games that collects the completed envelopes (and issues parking tickets).

              Thirty drop-boxes is miniscule compared to the IT infrastructure required to issue and manage a permit system designed to track hikers and constrain backcountry traffic. If your tally of 100 entry points is correct, that’s 100 places to monitor the flow of hikers. Even my lower estimate of 30 spots is difficult to manage. You’ll need at least a platoon of rangers to … what? … check your “travel documents”?

              As I mentioned elsewhere, Maine’s Baxter State Park uses a permit system successfully because it has two entrance points, is physically remote, and is adequately staffed with rangers. People do sneak in but there are many reports of them being caught and fined. The High Peaks are ringed and crossed by roads and have dozens of official entry points not to mention an infinity of roadside access points (park car on shoulder, walk into the woods).

              Easy to support the notion of a permit system, costly to implement and ensure success in the High Peaks. Best to invest the money in more rangers and collect parking fees to defray costs.

              • Boreas says:

                Obviously I threw out the 100 number in the HPW off the top of my head. Whether 10 or 100, someone must be paid to pick up the money and enforce the parking. I think Cascade alone has 4-5 pullovers people can use. Should pullovers at picnic areas and vistas pay for parking as well? What about trailheads to areas that require only a 1-2 hour round trip? Those trailheads will need to be patrolled frequently to avoid scofflaws. I’m all for trailhead parking fees, but it will require manpower to collect and enforce. That was my point.

                And you keep mentioning simply adding more ranger staffing. I absolutely agree we need more, but who is going to pay for all of these rangers we require? NYS taxpayers alone? NYS legislators are willing to spend millions on land, but not on rangers to patrol it or funds to even keep up our current assets. Politics. Shabby DEC campgrounds and facilities are becoming more frequent. Access roads are in bad shape. The list goes on.

                Neither a permitting system, licensing system, or pay parking are going to get the legislators to pay for more rangers. It isn’t even administration related. Ranger numbers have not been keeping up with their assigned responsibilities for decades. We just keep handing them larger patrol areas and more responsibility, yet Albany’s pursetrings keeps them truck-bound. We know they cannot patrol trails from trucks, but Albany turns a deaf ear.

                • Taras says:

                  The nice thing about collecting parking fees and issuing parking tickets is that you don’t need to pay for the calibre of a ranger to perform this task.

                  Not much point in collecting fees from under-used places. The top 10-15 in the list I provided would do nicely. Of course, ADK Loj and Keene Valley (the Garden) are already collecting their own fees so scratch those off.

                  I’m not a resident of NYS so I’ll defer to your judgment regarding the feasibility of wresting funding for either rangers, parking fees, permits systems, etc. From what you say, we’re all whistling in the wind here because the state won’t fund squat.

                  And we’ve come full-circle and reconfirmed why trails are the way they are for the last 50 years.
                  No $$$.

                  • Boreas says:

                    Taras,

                    I did have a thought last nite that somewhat combines our ideas of education and revenue flow. Many beaches on the east coast have annual oversand vehicle passes for people who want to drive on the beach. Depending on the beach, they are reasonably priced or quite expensive. But getting one requires the applicant to watch a short video on beach driving safety and beach conservation. It also requires a quick inspection of the vehicle and the REQUIRED safety kit – shovel, jack plate, tow rope, etc. Then you get a vehicle sticker that expires on a set date and is color coded by year. The sticker makes it easy for a patrolling official to determine from a distance who is legal and who is not.

                    This could easily be applied to HPW trailhead parking permits. They would be available from DEC at Ray Brook and possibly 1-2 other DEC seasonal locations throughout the park. Obtaining one would require watching a short video on backcountry preparedness, trail etiquette, and regulation review. Cape Cod permits can be obtained for 1 week only or an annual permit. If you want it only for a day, you need to purchase a reasonably-priced weekly permit with the dates marked on the sticker and a serial number/bar code to deter counterfeiting.

                    Enforcement can easily be done by rangers, police, or simply local parking officials. No money needs to be collected on-site. Stickers are on both front & back bumpers, so the official can peruse an entire lot without needing to get out of the vehicle, except to issue a ticket.

                    This would accomplish both basic backcountry preparedness knowledge, at least for the vehicle owner, and start a modest revenue stream for enforcement, trail support, and parking upgrades.

                    Just spitballin’…

                    • Taras says:

                      Unless I misunderstood you, that applies only to the people wishing to drive on the beach. Everyone else who just wants to spend the day on the beach can park elsewhere. They walk to the beach without having to watch a training video. There are two ways to the beach and only one requires certification. However, you’re using the example to propose only one way to the woods and that’s via certification. It’s the Hiker License idea.

                      Whereas the car sticker idea identifies the vehicle’s driver as beach-certified, I don’t see how a sticker can identify all occupants of the vehicle as hiking-certified. I, the driver, may have been certified but not my companions.

                      Don’t get me wrong, it’s better than no training at all but I still prefer the idea of trailhead stewards. There’s no certification process but the steward can make direct contact with everyone at the trailhead. I honestly don’t know what ADK Mtn Club’s plan entails but it could include handouts of DEC regulations (in an easy to digest categorized fashion) a brief rundown of the major points, and a Q&A.

                      If we’re spitballin’ then how about offering an *optional* test where if you pass with a score of 90%+ you get certification. Next time you come to a trailhead, show your pass and skip the class. Shoot, make the certification test cost X dollars and award graduates a patch (everyone seems to like those things).

                  • Boreas says:

                    I don’t have a problem with trailhead stewards. I thought we were debating trailhead parking vs. licensure. I was just trying to combine the ideas.

                    No, it wouldn’t ensure all people in the vehicle were “trail-ready”, but at least one person would be. Wouldn’t that be an improvement?

                    Yes, one could simply walk to the trailhead and hike without a pass. But then they wouldn’t be contributing a vehicle to the crowded parking. I am also all for shuttles. As I said, there are a lot of things that can be done. Not one of them alone is the answer. We need to something that makes sense. If Albany doubled the Ranger force, it would probably do more good than anything. But I doubt I’ll live to see that.

                • Bruce says:

                  You know, the National Park system, as financially strapped as it is, manages to hire platoons of temporary workers during the busy summer season. They do all sorts of jobs, from mowing grass to manning visitor centers, to collecting money.

                  Since we’re basically talking about a 2 month window, it seems to me it wouldn’t cost that much to add temporary workers, rather than hire fully trained rangers.

      • Boreas says:

        The IT service for licensing does exist. That is how we currently get our hunting/fishing licenses. Online resources are cheaper than Rangers, but we should be investing in both.

        • Taras says:

          Apples and oranges. Hunting and fishing licenses don’t work like the proposed permit system to control the number of people entering on a daily basis. Now, if you were to propose a Hiking License, where you pay an annual fee and pass a competency test, that could be handled by the existing systems.

          Reality Check: I can’t imagine any politician, or local business, getting behind a plan that obliges visitors to get a license before they take a walk in the woods of the High Peaks region.

          • Boreas says:

            I agree the existing IT wouldn’t work for a day use permitting system. That wasn’t my idea. Mine was the hiking license.

            I agree about politicians and businesses not wanting licenses, but to solve problems such as this, business-as-usual paradigms will need to change. Businesses and politicians have no qualms with requiring hunting and fishing licenses, and should have no qualms about this – especially if it generates a small commission revenue stream with in-store sales. If you have any intentions of hiking in the HPW over the next year, you go online or local store kiosk, take the basic educational training, and get an inexpensive license. Just like hunting and fishing. It could be even done from a smartphone at a trailhead that has coverage in about 15 minutes. It would also be multilingual so all can understand the rules and responsibilities. The license would expire in 3-5 years. Hunters and anglers do it annually without a thought – it isn’t a major inconvenience. But it does require one to plan ahead. Ironically, that will likely be its downfall, since preparedness is what the educational aspect is trying to drive home BEFORE people enter the HPW.

            • Taras says:

              I’m OK with it but it’s only as good as the odds of being caught without one … and the penalty.

              Example:
              Campers must use a bear-canister in the Eastern High Peaks zone. If caught, the fine is $250.

              People still do it and are not caught. I’ve read reports of incidents this summer and, just over a week ago, I witnessed it myself at Lake Arnold (including an illegal campfire … another $250).

              The fact is there simply aren’t enough rangers available to enforce the existing laws. Adding on any new scheme that requires enforcement, to ensure efficacy, is likely to fare no better than what we have today.

              • Boreas says:

                All true. But here is a thought. I have been fishing in NYS for 40 years. I have been asked to see my license only twice. Yet I keep buying licenses. Am I just stupid? Am I afraid of paying a fine for not having one? Or is it because I believe in paying my fair share for the resource and opportunity to fish? I see no difference with hiking. But that’s me….

  10. Ken Gluck says:

    I did panther peak on aug 15 and while the view was astounding, I commented in my trip report my disappointment in the erosion at the summit (my first trip there). certainly, improvements are costly and difficult to accomplish, but with the increased traffic is certainly is exposing the fragility of the peaks. perhaps a more aggressive fund raising/volunteer campaign for trail improvements?

  11. Peter C. says:

    I’m one of those who has hiked some “trailless” peaks this year in working to finish my 46, and I have been saddened by the amount of erosion. Granted, it’s important to get people out to experience wilderness; people who are then likely to become political supporters of open space. Otherwise, over time, the political support disappears, and so does the wilderness protection. And the eroded areas in the High Peaks are in reality just a very tiny fraction of the total acreage. And I don’t want to be someone who says “we should restrict the peaks, but not until after I finish my 46.” But still, it’s sad to see the damage.

    One thing that I have learned about this year, that I find appalling, is that a growing number of people are trying to finish their “grid”; that is, hiking each of the 46 peaks in each month of the year. Why??? By definition, that means hiking during mud season. That means hiking peaks like Cliff 12 times, with the resulting damage to that herdpath. I’m sure the 46ers don’t condone the “grid,” nor can the DEC ban it, but we as fellow hikers need to speak out against this mentality. Climbing the 46 once, or finishing the Fire Tower Challenge or the Adirondack Quest, allows us to see various parts of the park. And there’s nothing wrong with revisiting favorite parts multiple times. But let’s leave the excesses of living on “the grid” to the urban world.

    • Taras says:

      Peter,

      We hike the ADK Grid for the same reason you hike the ADK 46, because we can. Unlike the ADK 46, there’s no recognition or patch; it’s done for challenge and love of the mountains. The Grid subjects you to the challenges unique to each peak in the weather conditions of each month. I’ve done the four season version and I’m over 60% of the way through the 12-month version.

      Spending so much time in the High Peaks sensitizes you to the damage caused by our collective passage. You learn to minimize your impact and not do what the majority of new and intermediate hikers do, namely take shortcuts for convenience. You must walk through mud, You must stay on rock and off bypass trails. And much more. It’s the same advice given to all hikers, except when the going gets tough, they often fail to heed it and seek the easy way.

      There are two Mud Seasons in the High Peaks, The official one and the rest of the year. I had hiked the Sewards in May and the trail conditions were outstanding. Patchy ice, frozen ground, and a little mud in all the usual spots.

      I hiked them again last Saturday (August) two days after it had rained. The amount of mud I encountered made me laugh. It was chocolate pudding up and over Seward all the way to Emmons.

      The increased hiker traffic in August was also actively avoiding the wet, slippery rock and extensive mud wallows by using, or creating, bypass trails. Portions of the trail (leading to Seward from Ward Brook Truck Trail) had scrape marks along it perimeter indicating where people scrambled along the edges to avoid the soupy muck. It was far, far *worse* than anything I saw in May. Yet May was the official Mud Season.

      In the previous comment, Ken Gluck said he climbed Panther Peak and was dismayed by the erosion near its summit. Me to. When I was there, a few weeks ago, I went straight up and down the exposed rock. It’s steep and requires care but can be done. Most people don’t do this and that’s why the trails look the way they do.

      I greeted people ascending Panther and asked that they stay on the rock and explained why. They did. Most people simply aren’t aware of their impact.

      I’ve hiked the NE111 (115 highest peaks in the Northeast; it used to be 111) and Katahdin was my favorite but, hey, Maine! Far away! Comparatively speaking, the High Peaks are in my backyard and that’s where I spend my leisure hours.

      • Peter C. says:

        Taras, you say that you hike the “grid” because you can. There are many things that I can do, but I don’t for environmental or ethical reasons. With freedom comes responsibility. I can hike around mud and steep rocks, but like you I choose to hike through and not widen the trail. (I’m glad we agree on this.) I could live in a big house and drive a large gas-guzzling vehicle, but I don’t. I could choose to hike Cliff 12 times, once in each month including the wettest seasons, further damaging that herdpath, but I instead I chose to hike it once in August and don’t plan to go there again.

        There are many things to do in the Adirondacks other than climbing High Peaks. In a recent week near Lake Placid, I canoed, climbed a lower peak, hiked a near-level trail to a great view (Cobble Ledge),and yes I spent one day in the High Peaks. Others will make different choices, but I hope that more and more people will include environmental impacts as a priority in their decision-making processes. And I hope that evolution will lead people away from the idea of “grid” hiking.

        • Taras says:

          As you said, there are many things you can do and not do. That would also include *not* hiking the ADK 46. Yet you did, because you can.

          If you want to inflict the least damage to the trails, hike them in winter. I’ve done two winter rounds and I assure you the trails are well protected from damage by ice and compacted snow.

          Seeing that you’ve moralized about your choices, I’ll share mine: I’ve volunteered my time for trail maintenance, I collect other people’s trash, I remind people of DEC regulations they may have overlooked, I’ve instructed people to put out illegal campfires and refrain from walking on alpine vegetation (with success), I brush-in bypass trails, remove flagging, and demolish illegal cairns (blazing trails in the HPWA is illegal) and more. Many Gridders can claim much more than that.

          I believe we share common ground in hoping hikers “will include environmental impacts as a priority in their decision-making process”. However, that doesn’t mean hiking the Grid necessarily contradicts this goal.

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