Getting 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.