Thursday, September 1, 2016

Recreational Pressure: More Money, More Partners Needed For DEC

Cascade Mountain outside Lake Placid by Mike LynchReporting in the Adirondack Explorer and Adirondack Almanack shows the challenges facing the state as it tries to keep up with recreational pressures in parts of the Adirondacks. It also points to strategies that can help us preserve the natural character of the region and still serve the hundreds of thousands of visitors the Park attracts each year. Driving both the problems and the innovative responses are financial constraints. Overall, the story is at once disheartening and encouraging.

Staffing at the state Department of Environmental Conservation has not recovered to adequate levels following cutbacks from 2008 through 2010. Those staff cuts led to a notorious dismissal of Commissioner Alexander Grannis in the midst of a fiscal crisis in 2010. Grannis’s offense was to tell the governor the department was “hanging by a thread.” He said budget cuts would leave the department unable to fulfill its various missions statewide. Recovery from that fiscal crisis has not brought DEC staffing back to what’s needed. In the Adirondacks, the consequence is that a corps of forest rangers and field staff is stretched thin at a time when their services are needed more than ever.

Mike Lynch’s articles describing heavy use of the High Peaks demonstrates the conditions confronting DEC. The number of hikers registering at the popular Cascade Mountain trail has more than doubled in the past decade, reaching more than thirty-three thousand last year. Other well-known routes like those to the summits of Giant Mountain and Mount Marcy experience heavy use that has grown rapidly in the past ten years.

The impact of this use, from trail degradation to litter and waste, from dangerously congested parking areas to the increase in search and rescues, are all documented. Rangers are doing their best to educate and guide hikers, enforce regulations, and save lives. Sometimes they are called on to begin one arduous and dangerous rescue effort having just completed another one. They’re overextended and they need help.

The most direct form of help would be a commitment from the governor and DEC leadership to bolster the ranks of field staff in the Adirondacks. That should take place as soon as possible. But that alone would not be enough. What’s also needed is the continued growth in the collaborative efforts that have helped fill the gap in the past decade.

There are many success stories. The nonprofit Ausable River Association has funded the placement of portable toilets at busy trailheads on Route 73, while DEC is adding privies along busy High Peaks trails. The Adirondack Mountain Club and the Nature Conservancy, both nonprofits, partner with DEC to station summit stewards on popular peaks. The stewards act as friendly educators, guiding people away from fragile vegetation and talking about Leave No Trace principles.

This most recent issue of the Adirondack Explorer also includes articles describing fire towers on Hurricane and Stillwater mountains. While DEC oversaw restoration of these historic towers, volunteer friends groups helped fund and provide labor for the work.

This friends group model can work on more projects throughout the Park, helping extend DEC’s reach while maintaining its responsibility for oversight of the Forest Preserve. DEC can help develop this potential by designating a high-level staffer to publicize success, identify new projects, and coordinate with local volunteers—to be a champion of collaboration.

Local governments and other state agencies can also help DEC. A longstanding example of this is how Hamilton County communities kept open access to the Moose River Plains. When DEC said it would close the access road during the 2010 fiscal crisis, town crews stepped in.

A work group at this summer’s Common Ground Alliance meeting discovered another example of how local governments can pitch in: use local highway crews to plow and maintain trailhead parking to improve access for winter recreation. DEC officials in the discussion said the department is open to such arrangements and can make it easy for local governments to satisfy such concerns as insurance coverage.

One problem that requires urgent attention is the dangerous traffic situation at some High Peaks trailheads. Use has overwhelmed the parking capacity along Route 73 at the Cascade/Pitchoff parking areas, the Giant Mountain trailheads, and local streets in Keene Valley. With traffic moving at highway speeds on Route 73, drivers come to sudden stops, make U-turns, or even back up as they maneuver for parking spots. Families with children and groups of hikers emerge from between cars and cross the highway to reach their trail.

Local-government officials, the state police, and others must work with DEC to find a solution to this. It won’t be easy because there are physical limitations on where parking can be added as well as important aesthetic and environmental concerns. Keene now operates a trailhead shuttle to relieve the parking pressure. A more extensive shuttle service serving critical areas could be an answer if hikers could be induced to use it. DEC has said it plans to work with other agencies to address this issue. This needs to be a high priority. It feels like it’s only a matter of time before there will be a tragic accident in one of these locations.

The lesson of the last ten or more years is that there is no one answer to providing adequate safety and environmental protection in the Forest Preserve. Greater staffing of DEC is part of the answer. But so are the creative ways that others can lend the department a hand.

Photo: Cascade Mountain outside Lake Placid (photo by Mike Lynch).

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.


Tom Woodman

Tom Woodman has been publisher of the Adirondack Explorer since 2008.

Prior to that he was managing editor of the (Schenectady) Daily Gazette, the newspaper where he worked for 27 years in positions that also included reporter, editorial writer and Sunday editor.

He lives in Keene, with his wife Jeannie.





53 Responses

  1. Debbie McNair says:

    Running shuttles is a very good idea. Safer parking, more sanitary body elimination facilities, and refuse disposal.

  2. Debbie McNair says:

    Running shuttles would make trail heads safer, would provide facilities for human elimination, educational opportunities, and. A central location to deposit waste and trash. If budget is tight, perhaps those who are up in arms about these problems can mobilize, volunteer to train and assign stewards to these parking areas.

  3. James Landry says:

    sounds better then an article from canadian visitors

    you inprouved

  4. Justin Farrell says:

    Make people pay for a hiking permit, instead of the free for all it is now. Or let’s just keep going over these over-use issues over & over & over again.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      A permit system requires far more infrastructure and personnel to manage. A licensing system is far less costly to implement and maintain. You can fast track implementation by borrowing from the sportsman licensing system. Not all areas would require a “backcountry license”, only those which have been identified as having characteristics which require an above average level of skill or equipment to access and/or exhibits signs of stress from overuse. Areas can be added, removed, or modified as needed on an annual basis as is done with the hunting and fishing harvest regulations. It would be the responsibility of the license holder to know and adhere to these regulations and to show their license to anyone who asks to see it just as a hunting, fishing, or trapping license requires. It should cost somewhere around 50 dollars.

      • Justin Farrell says:

        Make perfect sense to me.

        • M.P. Heller says:

          Me too, but there are a lot of out of state and out of country individuals who have been getting something for nothing for a long time who are very vocal about keeping things the way they are regardless of the stress on the environment or the cost to NYS taxpayers.

  5. Larry Roth says:

    One way to reduce parking pressure in the high peaks is to make it possible for people to get there without cars. Shuttle services make sense – and the shuttle boarding points in Keene and elsewhere could also be used to control numbers in the high peaks. Make those into check-in points where group size can be monitored, and groups redirected away from trails already crowded. They can also be used for information stops, where people can be instructed in trail rules and pick up flyers, etc.

    Restoring full passenger service from Utica all the way to Lake Placid on the rail line would also reduce car traffic, and the stations would also make good control points.

    At some point the Governor has to be convinced that building new trails and setting aside land is useless if the state won’t provide the staff and resources to take care of the resources already out there. It’s a cheap way to get headlines as an environmentalist, but it’s a long term recipe for really bad outcomes.

  6. Lorraine Duvall Lorraine Duvall says:

    DOT needs to be a part of the solution. I am surprised a major accident has not occurred along Route 73 with the hikers for Giant, swimmers and boaters at Chapel Pond, and the rock climbers at Chapel cliffs — while cars wiz by at 60 MPH on their way to and from I-87. Caution signs would help. And speed limits.

    • Boreasfisher says:

      Very good observations…and I hope there will be sensible traffic control plans for the trail access and parking lot proposals along Blue Ridge Road as the Boreas Ponds become more fully used. It will not help to take the strain off one area only to see an adjoining one fall victim to the same problems. Route 2 has an abundance of high speed logging and grading vehicle traffic. Parking lots for hikers, kayakers, horse enthusiasts, snowmobilers, and others along these areas will need to be protected from this constant traffic. The police are under equipped to enforce the speed limits in these areas and it is already a problem for local residents and visitors.

  7. Marco says:

    Well, normally I am not in favor of any type of regulation. The High Peaks are over used. We get people from all over the world in the ADK’s, most of these head for the High Peaks, as one example. I do not visit there anymore. WAY too many people for the quiet, nature lover I have become in my golden years.

    In the High Peaks, a restricted size limit of 6 on groups (a lean-to full of people,) more outhouses and privies, and, a registration process for ALL hikers(SAR) will help. Perhaps an administrative fee per registration would allow the DEC to supply more people to check registrations and issue fines AND immediate removal from the area will help. Issued by the state-online, and/or at various sports stores, much like a fishing license. And provide a check list for essential items like bear canisters. Most people need a 5 minute “last minute” stop, anyway. This will help defray any cost and provide an avenue to distribute basic training materials.

    • Taras says:

      For the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness area, the maximum group size for day use is 15 and 8 for overnight. There’s a long list of regulations and guidelines (nicely categorized here: http://www.adkforum.com/showthread.php?t=23488) to protect resources.

      They’re only words on paper if there aren’t enough available rangers to enforce them.

      More box-toilets have been installed because there’s plenty of evidence hikers fail to bury their feces. Now that they’ve been installed, they haven’t been universally successful in breaking bad old habits. Cascade is a magnet for the under-informed and its new toilet (close to the summit) was surrounded by toilet-paper. It’s evidence that perhaps some found the box-toilet to be too unpleasant and chose to relieve themselves nearby and above-ground. Similarly, I accidentally walked in on a child in full-squat, next to one of the two new outhouses near Cascade’s trail-register, urinating on the ground. Her mother was nearby (I had seen her moments before) but I couldn’t tell if she was in the outhouse or in the woods.

      See? A mountain of education is needed, before people even set foot on the path, to ensure there’ll be progress. I have high hopes for the planned introduction of “trailhead stewards” (modeled along the lines of the summit steward program).

      A usage fee or parking fee could help to defray costs. An annual pass would be appreciated, especially by local residents. The passes (usage or parking) could be sold at local ships or purchased online. Fairly straightforward stuff and trailhead stewards could check for passes. Of course, to be truly effective, you need rangers patrolling the backcountry. Otherwise, it doesn’t take a genius to find an unmonitored entrypoint into the High Peaks.

  8. Deb says:

    It’s all about the cost to play. There needs to be a pass and or permit fee to help cover costs to maintain(trail maintenance,parking,shuttles,enforcement). We can’t expect tax payers and dot to cover costs. The people enjoying these areas need to cover costs! Other states are charging Recreation passes and permits!

    https://www.wta.org/hiking-info/passes

  9. Paul says:

    This idea of filling shuttle buses with hikers and dropping them all of en mass at the trail-head sounds like it might lead to some of the same problems we saw with the article on buses earlier this week?

  10. tim-brunswick says:

    “Paying to use the ADK’s?” good idea and already out there in the form of a Habitat Stamp, which hikers, paddlers, bikers and many other groups have lost sight of and largely ignore. Probably many folks don’t even know about the Habitat Stamp because NYS DEC has done a terrible job of marketing it and has focused largely on those that buy hunting/fishing licenses. In truth we all enjoy the outdoors and generally for many who frequent these comment forums it’s a great form of relaxation at a very reasonable price.

    Frankly as a hiker, paddler and sportsman, I’ve been gladly paying all my life with the purchase of hunting, fishing licenses, volunteer work when DEC stocks streams, etc, etc.

    As it is anglers frequently can’t even get a parking spot in the very parking easement areas near stream because paddlers who don’t pay a red cent have already taken the spaces! Many of these easements were negotiated long ago by sportsman groups. As an all around outdoors person, I would love to see hikers, paddlers and bikers start paying their share. They certainly whine enough, so how about stepping up to the plate and putting some $$ where their mouth is.

    Thank you

    • Boreas says:

      t-b,

      As a frequent buyer of Habitat Stamps and Trail Supporter stamps, my problem has been is that it isn’t directed anywhere specific. Perhaps if they had more specific stamps – ADK Trails, Catskill Access, Hunting habitat, etc. it would be more effective. But yes, virtually no one buys them because no one knows about them. I feel currently that Habitat Stamp funds end up buying more hunting lands and access – assuming it doesn’t just get dumped into the general pot. I am not even sure if Trail Supporter stamps are still offered.

      I would like to see a Ranger Fund both as a stamp and as a donation option on NYS tax returns. But only if it is a dedicated fund. Disabled Access stamps would be another good option.

      • John Warren John Warren says:

        The Almanack promotes the NYS Trails Supporter Patch at the bottom of every Conditions Report – I’ve often wondered why they don’t do more with that.

        It’s supposedly available for $5 at all outlets where sporting licenses are sold, on-line and via telephone at 1-866-933-2257.

        The proceeds help maintain and enhance non-motorized trails throughout New York State. There should be one for the Adirondacks, Catskills, High Peaks, St.Regis Canoe Area, etc. And they should cost $10 each.

  11. Deb says:

    I have never heard about the Habitat Stamp and am going to check into this. I also volunteer clearing all types of trails.
    Thank you

  12. Hans Erdman says:

    Back in the mid-1980s, the New York State Federation of Search and Rescue Teams sponsored a volunteer trail patrol program that allowed uniformed, trained SAR volunteers to hike some of the busiest trails in the Adirondacks, including the trail from the Loj to Marcy Dam and Lake Colden, Johns Brook Trail and Indian Pass. At a time when there were only about a half-dozen SAR teams in the state, none within the Blue Line, the patrol program allowed the volunteers to become familiar with the High Peaks area, be on hand to assist on searches, rescues and evacuations, as well as assist, educate and inform trail users. (We even helped evac an Assistant Forest Ranger with a sprained ankle.) The program was supervised by High Peaks Forest Rangers Peter Fish and David Ames, with guidance from then manager of The Mountaineer, Jim Wagner, and lasted about four years until interest waned in the Federation and the leadership changed. Under the concept of “preventive search and rescue”, it might be an idea worth revisiting with the Federation and the local Adirondack SAR teams.

  13. Boreas says:

    I wonder if a NYS High Peaks Visitor Center type thing could be instituted at/near the Cascade trailhead – similar to the Loj store. It wouldn’t need to be a full-blown VIC, but just a small education center (with maps and compasses for sale!) with a volunteer or DEC staff. It could even show 10 minute educational videos at several kiosks. Another one around Keene Valley would be good as well – like The Garden or near the Airport Shuttle. And as several have suggested, in Frontier Town. And yes, they would have rest rooms…

    Keep in mind, there always seems to be money in the budget to buy/build new stuff because it makes politicians look good.

    • Scott van Laer scottvanlaer says:

      In the early 90’s there was a bit of controversy or public feud between ADK and Adirondack Council during the planning phase of the High Peaks UMP when, I believe it was at a Forest Preserve advisory committee meeting, it was suggested the LOJ should sell out their property to the state in favor of a visitors center at the Mt. Van Hovenberg facility with a shuttle service. Many of these ideas have been kicked around for quite some time. Remember the larger parking at South Meadows rd and facility that was proposed there? I even so a blue print for that once. Remember South Meadows was going to be abandoned? I still think a feasibility study for a High Peaks National Park is in order. Much has changed since it was considered 50 years ago.

    • Bruce says:

      Boreas,

      I read a recent article about using our marvelous electronic devices in the back country. We as a society, pay big money for convenience and I doubt these days maps and compasses would be a money-making proposition. Having a map and compass available is one thing, but knowing how to use them is something else again.

      GPS units can be a big help, but then you have the problem of “dead spots”, and the more important one occurs when the battery dies at an inopportune moment.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for map and compass, and the only thing I’ve used a hand-held GPS for was Geocaching. If you can call it that, there is one bright side to things like 67 people being on the peak or trail together. If the weather shuts down, there’s a good chance someone will know the way out.

      • Boreas says:

        Bruce,

        The maps & compasses for sale wasn’t intended to make money. It was intended to save money on S&R. The idea is primarily to get newbies thinking before they go into an alien environment – and perhaps even give them a vacation from their smart phones for a day.

    • Boreas says:

      Does anyone recall where the old parking area was for Cascade before they closed the old, steep trail and re-routed it in the mid-70s? If I recall correctly, that route was too steep and eroded, but offered views of the namesake cascade. I believe it came up to the col between Cascade & Porter from the NE.

  14. Craig Catalano says:

    I have lived in Saranac Lake my entire life. I agree that many places in the Adirondacks are overused and under maintained. But when you push tourism what do you expect.

    Environmental groups want more land to be included for recreational activities, but who will maintain it?

    I have watched my village sink in population because of the lack of good paying jobs. It’s time to give native Adirondacks good paying jobs to maintain and protect the place they call home

  15. Dan says:

    The Habitat Stamp and Trails Patch are great programs that are much underserved. Should they see a spike in contributions, perhaps they could be directed towards certain projects, but not likely DEC personnel in their current forms. If that’s what you desire, I say good luck with that. We in the hunting/fishing/trapping community who do pay for our privileges and pursue them in ethical and legal means would love to see a boost in DEC staffing. The numbers of law enforcement and especially, biologists, are a fragment of what they were a decade ago. This has affected everything for the sportsmen from fish stocking to catching poachers. We’re all in the same boat here. The good news is that the Academy just graduated a new class of Forest Rangers and ECO’s this week.

  16. Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

    Tim-Brunswick:

    Take a comfortable seat. Get a cup of your favorite beverage. Take a relaxing breath.

    Ready? I agree with you.

    If sportsmen and women can pay license fees for their recreation, so can other kinds of users. I think it’s time for a serious proposal to do just that, but for now at least, only in the High Peaks and the Giant Wilderness.

    My preference would be MP’s plan. He’s right that licensing is a better choice than a permit system (by the way, MP, I finally came to Eagle Bay to see you, and failed because you’re not there any more – where’d you go?). But it’s not just a matter of less overhead, administration and more flexibility, as MP pointed out. It also preserves one of our greatest assets: freedom of access. Here one can simply walk into the woods, hike and make camp, just as in the days of lore. No registration, fee, quiz, etc . This is a highly valued feature of our Park; remember how well the tag system from a few years back didn’t work.

    Having to procure a license – a process that could involve a demonstration of basic knowledge of the rules and regulations and a signed commitment to follow back country principles, for example – does not subtract from the allure of this as an open, wild place. Nor does having to produce a license if requested by a Ranger. I love the revenue stream, the check on unfettered behavior, the ability to change conditions of the license as warranted. I love that those who don’t want to bother can go hike near Piseco or Indian Lake or Cranberry Lake or any other part of the Park that needs, deserves and can absorb more use. Licensing also gets more people into retail outlets, where they can buy something else. It’s hard for me to see a downside.

    As for shuttle services, you already know I’m an advocate, wanting an extensive one at Frontier Town. Technology is about to change the shuttle game forever, in a way that is perfect for a distributed, rural area where people want autonomy much like they get from a personal car. We’d best start planning to get on board that ride!

    • M.P. Heller says:

      I’m around Pete. I’ll shoot you an email and we can meet up somewhere.

    • Paul says:

      A license? Seems like you don’t want to exclude “foreign’ visitors” from the best areas that will promote protection of the park? I don’t want to take an exam when I am going out west to visit a place like arches? Just limit the users and the problem goes away.

      • Paul says:

        I have promoted this idea myself in the past. I have changed my mind. It seems like the problem is too many users.

      • Boreas says:

        Paul,

        Last time I was at Arches, there were people climbing on the arches. Sandstone is pretty sensitive to erosion. The problem didn’t seem to be overuse, but rather lack of education and abuse. You can’t expect visitors to arrive with knowledge and respect for the specific environment. Why not limit the users to ones that have received basic education?

  17. Boreas says:

    Wow! What a difference a thread makes! Every time I have mentioned a licensing plan – even the recent bus fiasco – virtually all the feedback I received was negative. Nonetheless, I still believe it is well overdue and necessary – especially for more sensitive regions like the HPW. It generates a modest cash flow, imparts basic backcountry concepts and knowledge to all backcountry users, makes licensees aware of localized restrictions and prohibitions, and hopefully will reduce the workload on over-tasked DEC personnel.

    The advantage of licensing vs. day/site permitting is that it doesn’t require more patrolling to enforce. As in hunting/fishing licensing, it is primarily an honor/risk system. You take a risk of hunting or fishing without a license. You may get away with it once or twice, but you will likely get caught eventually and lose your license and pay a fine or even jail time for real abuses. You are expected to be able to produce your license at any time, but in reality, it rarely happens. It has worked exceedingly well across the country for a century now, and has helped fund and protect resources.

    Another option would be adding additional tag(s) to the license for more specialized activities such as rock-climbing, winter use, paddling, etc. which require more specialized knowledge by the user. Lastly, this license could be rolled in with hunting and fishing licenses with a slightly reduced cost for combined licenses.

    The basic infrastructure exists for licensing and doesn’t require a massive workforce to implement. I don’t see the downside. If a license can be procured via smartphone at a trailhead or nearby town, it should not impact casual users much more than buying trail food. It needn’t be onerous – a license could be good for several years. Trail updates and regulation changes could be emailed/mailed immediately to all licensees – so they would have the info before planning a trip.

    My only personal stipulation would be that non-NYS residents would pay more (to offset taxation on residents) just as with hunting/fishing licenses.

    I don’t see much of a downside.

    • Boreas says:

      One final thought – the backcountry licensing process should include numerous references to newbies to perhaps begin their backcountry excursions with a licensed guide. These suggestions should also be at every trailhead and on every brochure and NYS website. Licensed guides seem to be becoming replaced increasingly by smart phones, and this could indeed be a tragedy – both literally and figuratively.

    • Hans Erdman says:

      We don’t have a full trail pass system in Minnesota yet, but Wisconsin does have one in place and enforced by Conservation Wardens, Park Rangers and Forest Officers, and required on all state trails. In MN we DO have a state ski pass system (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/skipass/index.html) also enforced by Conservation Officers and Park Rangers, which is required on all cross-country ski trails that receive grant-in-aid funding. (We also have a similar system for ATV, snowmobile and horse trail users.) The pass system pays for trail maintenance, grooming, trail facilities (campsites, rest areas, latrines, etc.) and yes, enforcement. When I was a ranger (retired last year) I often had people tell me “I have been buying these every year for ## years, and this is the first time anyone has ever checked me.” It’s not really that intrusive.
      Up north, in the Superior National Forest we have the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, one of the most heavily used federal Wilderness Areas in the country. The maximum group size in the BWCA is nine people and four watercraft. You may not exceed either limit at any time or at any place in the BWCA, including portages, campsites, or waterways, and it is enforced by Forest LEOs, Wilderness Rangers, state Conservation Officers and county Sheriff’s Deputies. Overnight permits are dispersed through a lottery system, with open permits available by reservation or on a first-come basis, if the daily quota has not been reached. Day permits are regulated, available at each entry point for free, but require exiting the wilderness before sunset.
      I know the NYS Forest Rangers are over-burdened, under-staffed and spread out way too thin. Sadly, it has always been that way, and the Assistant Forest Ranger ranks are much smaller than when I lived in New York. A permitting system, which has been bandied about since I was in the High Peaks back in the 1980’s, seems like the most logical way to protect the resource, but I believe that the state is doing a resource a huge disservice by emphasizing one part of the Adirondacks over the rest. Emphasizing other areas could reduce impact on the trails and peaks of the High Peaks, and potentially also reduce the search and rescue burden on the rangers.

  18. Taras says:

    The town’s marketing campaign to draw tourists, to its little corner of heaven, was a resounding success. In fact, it was so successful it qualified as a “Success Disaster”. They were now overrun with tourists who behaved like a plague of locusts. The town was in crisis.

    The mayor called an emergency meeting and proposed the idea of a tourist license. Visitors would have to pay a fee and agree to a code of behavior. The town council gave the mayor a standing ovation and the motion passed unanimously. With great enthusiasm, the council worked feverishly to generate the necessary paperwork and coach the town clerk.

    Several weeks after the system was already in operation, the mayor sent the following text message “Check visitors for tourist licenses” to the town’s lone cop.

    • Boreas says:

      Alas, the Lone Ranger found it was no more of a burden – as the hikers had registered tags or wristbands that were easily seen by trailhead and summit stewards as well as the Lone Ranger on his routine patrols. (Just as some states like PA require licenses color-coded by year to be displayed.) Also, the hikers who proudly displayed their tags taunted, chastised, and stoned the hikers who ignored the law. The Lone Ranger found he had to rescue fewer hikers because now they had basic backcountry knowledge before their first venture into the HPW. And lo there was peace in the Towne and mountains.

      • M.P. Heller says:

        Except for the something for nothing people. They became chagrined because their exploitation of the public resources at no cost and little concern to them came to a grinding halt. Their selfishness had been seen through in the license creation process, and their indignation at the idea that they too had a financial responsibility to the resources they use caused them to reconsider their self serving ways or find another hobby. The remainder of the community received the benefit of having a happier and healthier environment now that these people were gone and as a result spent more per capita due to the increased quality of life. The financial contributions of the “bad hats” who remained at home was more than offset by a healthier community and the better educated and prepared visitors who in the past avoided such poorly managed recreational facilities.

      • Taras says:

        Haha! We’ve all demonstrated our ability to write fanciful tales. 🙂

        My allegory was followed by Boreas’ sci-fi story of a lone, omnipresent entity in a world of fundamentalists who stone heretics for failing to wear the requisite amulet.

        M. P. Heller’s contribution to the genre of fantasy described a wondrous world where the masses are purged of selfishness and imbued with social consciousness through the simple magic of an annual fee.

        Since the beginning of this year, I’ve visited the High Peaks 20 times and hiked 57 peaks. In all that time I’ve met *one* DEC Ranger (on Sept 3rd, at the Loj’s trail-head) and *two* DEC AFRs (winter near Flowed Lands and in summer near JBL). http://www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/41120.html

        Over the course of this year in the High Peaks, I’ve observed (and witnessed) more violations of DEC regulations than I’ve seen DEC personnel. I have no problem paying for an annual hiking license. However, I doubt it will achieve the desired effect unless it comes with increased backcountry policing.

  19. Marco says:

    Yes. I would support a licensing plan. No more difficult that getting a sportsman license. Of course, there is a base fee for the license and a minor fee for hiking. I’ll ignore the overlap.

    Most out-of-state visitors would need one to hike anywhere. Since these visitors by definition are usually only around for a week or two, they end up paying a LOT more per trail mile than a NY citizen would. I still dislike regulation, though.

    The licensing would also effect all areas of the ADK’s, not just the over-used ones. In this sense it does not help with people limits. We still need a targeted system for reducing the number of people in the Eastern High Peaks. And, we need to educate the people going in. And, we need to make sure they are capable of minimal self rescue. Off Trail and Lost should not happen in the ‘Peaks. The area is crisscrossed with trails.

    So, given the two part problem, it seems like a no-brainer to me to add a fee for the Eastern High Peaks. Again, administered by the state/local shops. And hire the Rangers needed to patrol the area with the money collected. At the shop, disseminate any brochures on the high peaks, perhaps a basic map of trails & significant landmarks, and, a list of basic items needed. It needs this type of regulation. Other trails and hiking areas are also heavily used. These could be added as needed to a list such a system would allow. Anyway, it needs to be self funding.

    In some areas, a simple No Parking sign would work. Set these up before and after all trail pull-offs within 1/2mi of a trail head. This will have a dual effect of forcing fewer vehicles and people and eliminating most road hazards. The troopers will have a field day.

    • Taras says:

      The “No Parking” sign suggestion made me chuckle. For as long as I can remember, you couldn’t park on the last mile of Adirondack Loj Road because it lies on private property (owned by Adirondack Mountain Club)

      The last mile was lined with “No Parking” signs and the few people who tested the warning invariably received parking tickets. The closest legal parking was north of the bridge spanning the West Branch Ausable River.

      The town recently replaced the aging signs with new ones. However, they only marked the west side of the road. One version of this story is that they ran out of money to mark the east side.

      Anyway, it didn’t take long for the public to discover you could now park on the Loj’s doorstep without getting a ticket or even paying the Loj’s parking fee. On Saturday, the east side was lined with cars (as is now the norm) and even the posted *west* side had a few parked cars (what were they thinking?). The illegally parked cars all had tickets (evidence of continued enforcement).

      Give ’em an inch and they take the last mile. 😉

    • Boreas says:

      Marco,

      My initial thought for the license/permit wasn’t for all of NYS, but simply just for the HPW because it is the most sensitive, search & rescue prone, and over-used. There are numerous ways to institute something. One could even use the HPW as a trial for the rest of the state. But all things considered, the statewide approach for hiking on state land may be a better way to start, then add special stamps and regulations for select areas like HPW.

  20. Erok says:

    Let’s admit that the only viable solution must involve keeping a lot of people out of the High Peaks. In some respects, this is already happening as many of us more experienced and conscientious nature lovers increasingly avoid the Circus on RT 73. The sad part is, at risk of sounding elitist, I suspect most of us now staying away are the very people who should be there. This past winter, the ranger at Flowed Lands told me that, for 50% of all HP hikers, it’s their first time in the adirondacks (i’m going to guess that that is already a well known statistic here). Novices surely are the most likely abusers. (In March I did Marcy and happened upon a guy taking a bowel movement on the actual summit. It’s no fun scolding a grown man with his pants down, let me tell you. He plead ignorance of the rules, it was his first summit!). But without zealous enforcement, I doubt either a permit nor a license system alone would improve anything except add a revenue stream in a state notorious for using magical accounting to appropriate funds. At best, I envision the trails would then be littered with little slips of official looking paper and fancy brochures. But in the same vein as Tara observed above regarding LOJ parking, soon hikers will come to realize that they can get away with not buying a permit/license.

    The common refrain I hear from assistant rangers revolves around their frustration over NY’s appetite for lands, but not investing in people to manage them. I think only a multi-pronged approach would work:
    1. Close the major access points in HP to only shuttle drop-offs and pick-ups.
    2. All shuttle riders must purchase a license once a year and display it at all times in the backcountry.
    3. All licensing fees must be dedicated exclusively to funding HP rule enforcement with a focus on hiring and maintaining more field staff.

    The annual fee should be substantial and not a token sum. In a venue where users typically bring hundreds of dollars worth of gear (and rarely spend a dime at the destination), at least $50 seems reasonable. Heck, it would grieve me as much as anyone to pay it, but it just might make the High Peaks more appealing to you and I.

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