Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Social Media Adds To Adirondack Summit Ills

The Trap Dike on Mount ColdenGetting information to visitors of the Adirondack Park has always been a challenge for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Unlike other state and national parks, the Adirondack Park lacks an entrance facility where visitors can pick up brochures, maps, or other handouts.

In the past, recreational users relied on local visitor centers, guidebooks and maps, guides and outfitters, and word-of-mouth for ideas on where to go and what to do. It took time to plan a trip. That changed with the rise of the internet. Now information can be found in just seconds or minutes from websites and social-media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The information explosion has had a number of impacts. One of them is that people are going to places that in the past saw few visitors. For example, DEC Forester Tate Connor says the herd path between Gray Peak and Mount Marcy sees more and more hikers even though DEC has tried to discourage its use.

“Years ago, it was all word of mouth,” Adirondack Forty-Sixer President Brian Hoody said. “To find out about a potential herd path or route to the summit, it may be years until you found out that maybe this is the way to go, [or] this may be the compass bearing you should use. That’s long gone. Maybe it started with the forums, because there was always a lot of good information on the forums, but now with social media you can even get it faster. Bam, ask a few questions and you’re ready to go.”

Adirondack Mountain Club Education Director Julia Goren said that while it’s good that more people are becoming interested in the Adirondacks, it’s troublesome that some are getting information from unreliable sources that don’t promote wilderness ethics or properly explain the dangers of adventures they are promoting.

On one weekend day this past July, Goren said, the summit stewards on Mount Colden reported that more people ascended the mountain via the Trap Dike—a steep, narrow canyon where a slip could result in death—than the traditional hiking trail. Goren said most were not prepared for such an outing.

“There were groups of people, five people in a group, one pack among them, all of them in sneakers, no rope, no approach shoes, nothing, because they read about it online and they thought it would be cool,” she said. “Part of the problem is everyone is an author. Everyone has the ability to publish their ideas.”

DEC spokesman Dave Winchell said another problem is that many groups that organize hikes via the internet aren’t aware of the Park rules and often break the group-size limit (fifteen for a day hike).

“We’ve seen pictures of hundreds of people on top of Ampersand, and they were all part of this [online meet-up] group,” he said. “It used to be the summer camps going in with large groups. Now you have these [online groups].”

Hiking behavior in the High Peaks has been a topic of discussion on social media and the Almanack in recent days, in part because an article, “Beyond Peak Capacity: A Boom in High Peaks Hikers,” raised a series of questions regarding the management of several High Peaks trails. Usage on trails, such as those leading to Algonquin Peak and Mount Marcy, has increased significantly in recent years and has resulted in some negative impacts. On Saturday, two leaders from a group of 67 were ticketed after hiking Algonquin Peak.

In an effort to educate the public about recreating in the backcountry, Winchell said the state is upping its presence on Facebook and Twitter. “In the past we’ve used the Forty-Sixers and Adirondack Mountain Club to help get our message out,” he said. “Now there’s a larger population out there that is not communicating through those outlets, so it’s becoming harder to reach out and educate people. We are looking at other methods. DEC has a Facebook account and Twitter account, so we’re looking at those to educate people.”

Photo of the Trap Dike on Mount Colden by Karen Stoltz/Vertical Perspectives.

A version of 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.




18 Responses

  1. Justin Farrell says:

    Interesting article, and I think it also applies to some of the other areas of the Adirondacks, not just the High Peaks.

  2. Larry Roth says:

    DEC plans for the rail line between Big Moose and Tupper Lake call for trail development keying off the line. The railroad can act as a gatekeeper to control party size, control where parties get dropped off to avoid crowds all going to the same place, and stations serve as de facto trailheads and information booths.

    Or at least that’s how it could be done, if the state would get its act together.

    • Bruce says:

      Larry,

      I don’t know about smaller trails, but it sounds to me like the main trail proposed for between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid will be for all comers, as it will be fairly large and I understand paved or surfaced in some manner.

      • Larry Roth says:

        Well, since the state plans to rip out the tracks between LP and TL, that question is moot. How much will be paved is still to be decided as far as I know.

        The Big Moose – Tupper Lake stretch goes through some of the more remote areas of the park, so access by rail with passenger train service has a lot of potential. The 1996 plan Governor Cuomo threw out called for that kind of development along the whole line.

  3. Linda says:

    Although I am no longer able to hike the High Peaks, I do belong to several Meetup groups. One is a hiking group and they often have hikes into the high peaks. Group leaders need to be responsible and limit the amount of people going on each trip and also to make sure each hiker has the proper equipment before going. Of course there is nothing stopping the ill prepared hiker from going it alone. Meetup is a good way to be introduced to activities, however rules and regulations should be taken into account!

  4. Boreas says:

    Try as they might to avoid the obvious, Albany needs to address the lack of Rangers. A good start would be to double the existing force, but to be really effective, triple it. If NYS wants to preserve the HPW while keeping people relatively safe, there is no substitute for authority and knowledge in the backcountry. Boots on the ground. HPW conditions and situations can change by the minute. A NYS social media website is just pissin’ in the wind – possibly even adding another layer of false security.

    • Larry Roth says:

      Well, all good politicians are supposed to be making government smaller these days – especially the work force. The consequence that government can’t do its job without people doesn’t matter to people who believe government can’t do anything anyway.

      • Boreas says:

        When DEC starts getting more search and recovery calls than search and rescue calls, perhaps politicians will take note. Perhaps not. From what I gather, the HPW rangers are now essentially a S&R team that is also expected to patrol the backcountry from their trucks in their spare time. Absurd…

    • Paul says:

      NYS does not have sufficient funds to do anything like double the number of forest rangers.

      What NYS needs to do as a start is to stop adding land to the Forest Preserve that it cannot properly manage.

      Then you can try and raise additional tax revenue to pay for additional management. Horse before the cart.

      These large tracts that are owned by very deep pocketed environmental groups should remain with them and they can continue to properly limit who has access in a manner that can be managed. For example they can continue the lease programs that they have that has limited use (along with generating revenue for maintenance) and kept the land and ponds as pristine as we all agree they are at this point.

      While they are doing this NYS can try and get its act together. That would be the smart – patient approach.

      • Boreas says:

        Not buying any more land is not going to change the fact that there aren’t enough Rangers now. Increasing patrolling and staffing is a necessity, not an option. Next time people are slapping Gov. Cuomo on the back for acquisitions and snowmobile trails, ask him where the Rangers are.

        • Paul says:

          But it is one way to stop making the problem worse. And it is easy and cheap. The state can’t do what you want them to do they don’t have the funds. They are using the money to buy more land rather than hire more rangers. Use the EPF for rangers, that would be a real shot for the local economy, those are all good Adirondack jobs. If you want this fixed people should stop the cheer leading for for additional Forest Preserve land. Something that every Adirondack green group out there is constantly doing.

          • Bruce says:

            Paul,

            Good point. After all, aren’t rangers an integral part of environmental protection? Are the Adirondack Park Rangers just spread around, or concentrated in the most heavily used areas, as they should be?

            It seems to me NY is more interested in acquiring land, and then waiting until popular areas are ruined to the point it will take years to recover, than getting ahead of the curve.

            The groups say, “let’s open it only to hikers”, but that begs the question: how well has that been doing in some of the high peak areas being talked about? I don’t believe it’s so much about the type of recreational use, as it is about sheer numbers generated by advertising and the cache of “being a 46er” for example, regardless of the media used.

    • Charlie S says:

      Money towards Tv advertising for tourism is more important than rangers Boreas.

  5. Taras says:

    To my knowledge there aren’t all that many active online communities (with significant membership) dedicated to hiking in the High Peaks.

    The granddaddy was vftt.org but it now focuses mostly on New England hiking.

    ADKForum.com covers a broad spectrum of Adirondack activities with a modest amount focused on High Peaks hiking.

    ADKHighPeaks.com is focused on High Peaks hiking. The ADKHighPeaks Foundation runs this forum and ADKForum.

    Aspiring46ers is a Facebook group (but is not associated with the ADK 46er organization) that is focused on hiking the High Peaks.

    Adirondack Four Thousand Footers is another Facebook group focused on hiking the High Peaks.

    What one can expect to find in an online community depends on the membership and the values and goals defined by the moderator(s). Most online hiking communities define taboo topics and behavior (typically religion, politics, personal attacks, harassment, etc). Insisting to discuss taboo topics will result in the deletion of the comments or expulsion of the individual.

    The breadth of taboo subjects depends on the moderator (the community’s de facto governor). At least one community has taken the controversial step of forbidding the discussion of certain topics relevant to the High Peaks. Members who persisted to discuss the outlawed issues (snowshoe regulations, post-holing, littering, mud, etc) has their comments expunged. A few members were either hounded out of the community by its membership or banned by the moderator.

    This isn’t unusual behavior for an online community (despite being eerily similar to real-life cults). However, it is odd for a hiking community to drive away (or expel) members who adamantly support LNT principles. One individual was drummed out for being a “trail nazi” due to his strident position that hikers ought to pack out their orange peels.

    Some members continue to discuss the issues but in a guarded manner to avoid appearing on the moderator’s radar. They disengage when resistance becomes ornery, in a diplomatic attempt to maintain the conversation on important topics (important to the well-being of the High Peaks).

    Like in the real world, some communities are better places to live than others where “better” is in the eye of the beholder.

  6. Charlie S says:

    “Part of the problem is everyone is an author. Everyone has the ability to publish their ideas.”

    Everyone an author? Please. They’re tweeters is what they are. Tweetie nerds.

  7. Charlie Stehlin says:

    140 characters? What does this mean?

    • Boreas says:

      Don’t quote me on this, but I believe a Tweet needs to be under 140 characters. As to how one “tweets”, I have no clue…

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