Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pete Nelson: Don’t Overreact to High Peaks Use

Overuse in portions of the High Peaks is a real and growing problem, exacerbated by trends in social media and the expanding desire to count-off summits.  It has been documented extensively here in the Almanack.  But in the last few weeks these discussions have reached a rolling boil with a bit too much hyperbole for me.   A range of ideas has been raised, a number of them falling under the general concept of limiting access to the High Peaks, including permit systems, licensing schemes, daily caps and so on.  Some of these limiting suggestions have been accompanied by exclusionary rhetoric with which I strongly disagree, along the lines of “Why are we trying to get more people here?” or “I like my (town, street, access) the way it is, without all the visitors.”  I agree that increasing use in parts of the High Peaks is a real issue, and I have written about various aspects of the problem for several years.  But the exclusionary sentiments I’m starting to hear are where I draw the line.

I hold there are three Adirondack principles that must never be compromised:  one, the Forest Preserve must be protected to the greatest extent possible, especially that land which is classified as Wilderness; two, the Forest Preserve belongs to everyone and we all have an equal right to use it subject to laws and regulations that protect and preserve it; three, freedom of access, with no gates, permits or fences is a fundamental quality of the Park.  The quintessentially Adirondack capacity to park one’s car along the road and simply walk into well-protected, unencumbered public land and hike where one pleases, is essential to the experience of this remarkable place.  If this place becomes like other parks we’ll lose one of the most important parts of our unique and globally significant relationship to the natural world, which is that very freedom and the enlightened personal responsibility that develops with it.

Part of the human condition is a willingness to sacrifice principles under pressure: “desperate times call for desperate measures.” So let’s not overstate the pressure on the High Peaks, lest we take foolish steps that compromise these Adirondack principles.  Threats to parts of High Peaks from overuse and misuse need a vigilant response, as always.  But it is a mistake to paint the entire region with the same broad brush (much less the rest of the Adirondack Park, so much of which see relatively little use).

We should recognize a few facts.  First, conditions in the High Peaks are vastly better than they were forty years ago.  By and large we’re doing the right things, despite a deficit in human resources.  Second, the problem is limited to only a few places, hardly the High Peaks as a whole.  Where the problem spikes it can be severe: Cascade, Marcy from Adirondack Loj, Algonquin, Giant at the Ridge Trail, and a handful more.  But most of the High Peaks region reasonably absorbs the use it gets.  Overuse is also highly dependent upon both weather and the calendar: even in the height of summer, week days can be blissfully peaceful.  Third, the problem is often conflated with parking issues which, though obviously related, are fundamentally different problems.  To my thinking parking problems comprise a more pervasive challenge, encompassing the entire Route 73 corridor from the Ausable Club to Adirondack Loj Road.

I have been hiking a lot in the High Peaks lately, partly to test my thinking on this issue.  Certainly parking has been an occasional headache.  But the hiking has by and large been the same experience as the last forty years – save that the trails are better constructed and litter and garbage are greatly reduced from the “heydays” of the 1970’s and early 80’s.  Just a few days ago I hiked the Cascade System as far as Porter Mountain.  Granted, I did not start from the Cascade Pass trail head, a departure point I would give my first born to avoid.  Instead, I entered at the Blueberry trail head and exited at the Garden via Little Porter.  On this nine mile loop, during a beautiful July day, I saw exactly no one until Porter, and no one afterward until reaching the Garden.  Hiking part of the Brothers trail twice, also in the last month, resulted in only two meetings with other hikers.  A Roaring Brook/Giant Nubble/Washbowl foray on a misty day met no one.  A weekend foray from Upper Works was typically busy, little different than thirty years ago and hardly overrun.  Finally there was a magnificent loop over Dial and Nippletop to Indian Head and out via Gill Brook with my niece and nephew.  Like most kids they hope for true wild adventures, not ascents riddled with the sudden appearance of other hikers who injure perceptions with their clean shoes and smart phones.  Hence they were quite excited to record the following encounters: four humans (all serious back country hikers), six deer, one fox or similar-sized creature and one distinctly unafraid bear (who we met on the open rock of Indian Head, of all places). “That’s two-to-one for animals!” announced my nephew excitedly, who was still coming down from his first bona fide bear encounter.

I’ll admit these experiences are anecdotal, but they are corroborated by two High Peaks experts with whom I shared the gist of this column.   The High Peaks are simply not being overrun as a whole.  Still, where overuse is a problem, it’s a big problem, so what should we do?  In a sentence: hire more State employees, especially Forest Rangers.

High Peaks Wilderness management does need to be addressed and there are some obvious improvements to be made, thus like many environmental advocates I favor reopening the Unit Management Plan and pulling together a broad group of stakeholders in a planning process.  But by and large the existing regulations and policies are adequate.  What is needed is not more bureaucracy, nor new regulations meant to limit access, but more Forest Rangers, stewards, trail builders and educators to enlighten visitors, patrol the back country and, as needed, enforce existing laws.  That means securing a commitment from the Governor to adequately staff this world class hiking destination.

This must be matched by a State commitment to provide educational facilities, signage, on-line resources and programs.  Kudos to the Adirondack Mountain Club and other groups for their educational work, but it needs to be a State priority.  My own proposal to reroute the Cascade trails and place a State-run educational facility at Mt. Van Hoevenberg ran a few weeks ago in the Almanack.

Finally, parking issues on the Route 73 corridor must be an immediate priority.  Not only is parking a headache for visitors and residents alike, but Cascade Pass and the Giant Ridge trail head are tragedies waiting to happen.  This effort cannot be limited to parking problems only: a systems management approach on transportation issues as a whole is dearly needed.  Some movement on this topic is beginning, but as we proceed we must not allow parking problems in our communities to falsely lead us to call for curtailed access on the trails.

All three of these things will take money, but the Governor has been in an Adirondack giving mood of late, pledging tens of millions of dollars for various projects.  Off-hand, I can’t think of more important priorities, so I’d say appropriate political pressure is called for.

In the final analysis, for me this is more than an economic or wilderness preservation issue: this is an issue of fairness, privilege and a perspective bigger than that we see only from inside the Park.  From my porch, awash in the privilege of living here, I look directly upon the summit of Cascade, with its hordes of visitors.  Who am I to say they shouldn’t climb it?

Last weekend my wife Amy and I hiked Ampersand, another heavily-frequented summit.  We shared the summit with perhaps thirty folks and passed as many during our descent. Most had kids or dogs and, yes, shoes that were far too clean considering the drenched condition of the trail.   Sure, we winced at the trail erosion, which Amy tried to counter with cheery encouragements to get muddy.  Ampersand’s magnificent old growth forest notwithstanding, we certainly didn’t have a wilderness experience.  But many of the folks we saw certainly did.  Consequently, I wanted every one of them there.  People can be taught to rock hop and stay in the middle of trails.  They can learn to dig proper cat holes and recognize that what they leave in the forest doesn’t magically disappear.  These things are only a small part of what they learn, which chiefly is to love and cherish places like the Adirondacks.  That’s an affection of global importance in these times and we owe it to the people willing to seek it.

Some claim that the time has come where we must choose between Wilderness protection, which we must do, and allowing the experience of hiking in that Wilderness to be available to all who would seek it, which we also must do.  I’m not buying it.   Not yet.

Photo: Cascade and Porter from the Nelson porch


Pete Nelson

Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.

When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.

Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.




44 Responses

  1. Bob Meyer says:

    “In a sentence: hire more State employees, especially Forest Rangers.”
    Spot on Pete!

  2. James Bullard says:

    Many years ago, when I was maintaining Feldspar lean-to, I wrote a piece in Adirondack magazine in which I proposed an annual hiking license for the High peaks but I see no reason it couldn’t apply to the entire park. It would serve two functions, 1) it would raise funds for more staff and trail maintenance and 2) the process of obtaining the license is an opportunity to educate people about hiking etiquette, LNT, etc. I still think it is a good idea, especially for the High Peaks. The process should be like getting a hunting or fishing license, easy and inexpensive. I don’t think requiring hikers to contribute to the cost of trail work or learning how to behave in the woods is an unreasonable infringement on our freedom to use public land.

    • Boreas says:

      I agree, James.

    • Taras says:

      If the current hunting/fishing license serves as a model for a hiking license, I’m curious to know if it’s an effective means of educating hikers.

      Here’s the link for acquiring a NYS hunting or fishing license:
      https://decals.dec.ny.gov/DECALSCitizenWeb/loginregister.htm

      It explains you create an account, fill out a form, pay the fee, then print the license.

      I have no need to acquire either license so I’m unwilling to create an online account to experience the process of acquiring a hunting/fishing license. However, I am interested in discovering where’s the “educational part”?

      Can someone who has acquired either license elaborate on who the application process educate you?

      Is there a list of do’s and don’ts that you read and check off the “I have read and understood” box? Is there a quiz before you qualify for a license?

      • James Bullard says:

        Since I neither hunt or fish I don’t know what those procedures are, my argument was that requiring an annual license was an *opportunity* to educate people to proper hiking behavior. I was not suggesting that it should precisely follow the hunting/fishing model whatever that is. Perhaps, as Tony observed, it should be limited to those who are camping, but I suspect the bulk of trail damage is done by the casual day hikers rather than those who are sufficiently committed to outdoor activity that they are willing to sleep in the wilderness. I recognize that a lot of the work is done by volunteers (I was a lean-to adopter for 25 years) but I still think that the funds from a licensing system could be used to mitigate damage. There is only so much that volunteers can do.

        • Taras says:

          Others have pointed to the model of hiking/fishing license as a means of educating hikers. If this amounts to signing off to a list of bullet-points, I can’t say I have much hope in the effectiveness of hiking licenses.

          “I suspect the bulk of trail damage is done by the casual day hikers rather than those who are sufficiently committed to outdoor activity that they are willing to sleep in the wilderness”

          This has not been my experience; the act of camping doesn’t necessarily make any smarter. First, let’s frame this accurately and describe “campers” as day-hikers who also spend the night. In other words, they have the opportunity to make mistakes on the trail during the day *and* at the campsite in the evening.

          Last August, I met three groups of campers at Lake Arnold and all were in violation of several DEC regulations. One had a campfire underway. I instructed him to extinguish it and he did.

          Another was busy trying to hang food in a tree because he “brought more than fits in the canister” (there was nothing one could do to rectify this).

          A fresh pile of feces was at the edge of a campsite (there’s a nearby privy) but the campers were adamant it was not their doing. Nor their dog’s.

          A third group was camped illegally in a spot much too close to both the pond and the trail. I explained they could face a $250 penalty if spotted by a Ranger so it made sense to relocate now to a legal site. The retort was “Yeah but what’re the odds of a ranger coming by?” There’s no rationalizing with that attitude, so I left.

          I have other examples to offer but I think I’ve made my point. The act of “sleeping in the wilderness” doesn’t necessarily make one more conscious of one’s impacts.

          During the course of mapping the High Peaks area, I’ve encountered many examples of illegal and/or destructive behavior pointing exclusively to campers. They include food packaging (cans, mylar bags, etc) tossed in privies or beside them, the remains of illegal campfires (in sight of No Campfire signs), remnants of trash burnt in the illegal campfires, piles of poop and TP along the fringes of campsites, and camping less than the minimum permissible distance of 50 yards from water, lean-tos, and trails.

          Instituting camping permits for the High Peaks might be helpful. It is an opportunity to familiarize campers with their responsibilities to comply with the rules and leave the place better than they found it.

          • James Bullard says:

            As a 25 year veteran of lean-to adoption I have seen all that you describe and worse.

            “Instituting camping permits for the High Peaks might be helpful. It is an opportunity to familiarize campers with their responsibilities to comply with the rules and leave the place better than they found it.”

            That is exactly my point, it *is* an opportunity to educate hikers before they go into the woods. It could be as simple as a pamphlet that they are given when they apply for the hiking license/permit. And I grant that many will not read it or follow every rule even if they did read it but every hiker that it reaches is one less doing the things you describe. Doing nothing solves nothing.

            • Taras says:

              Indeed doing nothing solves nothing except something *is* being done. Hiking organizations are promoting mitigating one’s impacts and funding summit stewards, and now trail stewards, to speak directly to the public and raise their awareness.

              If one models the proposed hiking license on the NYS fishing license, $50 annually would get you the right to hike in the High Peaks and a booklet containing the DEC’s regulations and guidelines.

              The hope is the $50 gets plowed back into maintaining the High Peaks infrastructure and that people read and follow the booklet’s rules. It’s a worth a try, I guess.

              • Boreas says:

                Taras,

                $50 annually would probably be too steep. $10-20 is more realistic. But you could have lifetime or 10-year increments as well. Also, see the link I posted for you below.

                • Taras says:

                  I just picked the amount shown for an annual fishing license.

                  Here’s a thought, combine the hiking license with a New Hampshire-style “HikeSafe” rescue insurance.
                  http://hikesafe.com/

                  Fifty bucks gets you a booklet of rules and regulations *and* rescue insurance for the High Peaks.

                  Oops! I think I tread on a subject worthy of a separate article. 🙂

      • adirondackjoe says:

        Why don’t you apply for a new York state hunting license and see the courses, fees and time involved to get one. If you want to hunt with gun and bow it takes a lot more time, effort and additional courses. It’s neither easy or inexpensive to get a NYS hunting license.

        • Taras says:

          I appreciate your suggestion but I have no use for a NYS hunting license. If I want to go hunting I can do it in my home province. All I wanted to know about was the educational component of the application process. I found a few answers here: http://www.adirondack.net/sporting/hunting/license/

          Clearly, acquiring a hunting license is much more than agreeing to abide by a list of do’s and don’ts. That a good thing.

          Having said that, the educational component, and application process, is much more than is needed for hiking. Both activities involve walking in the woods but one includes a weapon and the culling of animals (whose numbers are monitored). I don’t think that much education is necessary for casual hikers to mitigate their impacts.

          A fishing license includes a booklet describing NYS fishing regulations. This is a more reasonable application process for hiking.
          http://www.adirondack.net/sporting/fishing/license/

      • Boreas says:

        Taras,

        More info here:

        http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7860.html

        There are various safety courses and prerequisites shown that are required to purchase various licenses. Hunting is probably the most complicated. All licenses require the licensee to be familiar with the associated statewide and local regulations – typically a small booklet-worth. Some licenses require proof of passing basic safety courses (one-time) such as Gun Safety and Bow Safety.

  3. Boreas says:

    Pete,

    Usually we are not far off in our perspectives regarding the Park, but I am disagreement with you on several of your points above.

    1. Of course overcrowding is a phenomena based on time of the week. Many of us would prefer to hike mid-week, but we have jobs and school. So yes, someone with the luxury of going out any day of the week in the HPW may have a different perspective on the matter.

    2. While you feel that no limits should be put on people using the HPW, I feel that has been exactly the case with the insufficient parking situation at major trailheads. Visitor numbers are always going to be tempered by the availability of parking. Increase parking and what will happen?

    3. Hiring more Rangers is something virtually all of us agree on, except Albany. Sure, this administration could always try for another feather in their cap and increase HPW staffing numbers, but what about the next administration? If you can separate the need and staffing levels from politics and budget constraints then that is what we should do. But I don’t see it ever happening. Proper staffing will always be a struggle, and if you are wishing to rely on that staff to be the sole source to educate and protect the resource, I feel it will fail.

    So yes, many of us feel there is an overcrowding issue, and I don’t feel we are over-reacting. 40 years ago – the time frame you mentioned several times – is almost exactly the time frame I felt things were becoming crowded, and within 5-10 years, I basically stopped hiking in the HPW in warm weather for that reason. So in a way, one could say overcrowding actually places its own limits on who wants to hike the more popular areas of the HPW. When I see overfull parking areas, I know the trails are going to be crowded – at least to me. “Overcrowding” may not be a good term for the current situation because it means different things to different people. Kinda depends on how gregarious you are.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Boreas:

      Well, if we agreed on everything, it would mean I was kissing up or something. That’s no good!

      My thoughts on licensing are in another comment below.

      1. I’m not making suggestions as to which days to hike, I’m merely making observations from anecdotal experience, which included hikes on a variety of days of the week. I reject the idea that the day-of-week hiked has anything to do with luxury. There is a tremendous range of work schedules and availability in the world and I wouldn’t presume to know which reflected luxuries in any given case. For example, for many local businesses in the park, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the closest anyone gets to weekends and the only real chance to hike in the summer. At any rate, all this is irrelevant to the larger issue.

      2. I agree with you on this. Parking deserves another column (and a lot more than that). Stay tuned: there is work going on that would potentially link transportation carrying capacity to recreational carrying capacity. I’m not in favor of creating more parking (except at Cascade); I’m in favor of better parking systems and alternatives, which is complicated but really important.

      3. We don’t disagree here either. Again, this needs another column! I’ve been thinking about this and without getting into it too much I imagine a staffing formula, related to usage and other factors, that’s put into legislation.

      Your last paragraph is an implicit result of the approach I favor. Too busy? Go elsewhere. As I said, you’ll not be finding me on the main Cascade trail any time soon. But in my experience, the great majority of routes in the High Peaks offer wonderful experiences, busier but cleaner and in better condition than 40 years ago.

      Pete

  4. tomphilo@cox.net says:

    Right on,Pete!!!

  5. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Ah…at last…the hikers/bikers/paddlers and all others who’ve been getting a free ride using State “resources” might have to pay their share as hunters, anglers & trappers have been paying for over a 100 years in this State and many others.

    Kinda like a “Resource Permit”….OMG!!

    Taking it further why not a required training program to make sure they know the basics of back-country travel/survival and “care” for the resource??

    It’s about time, but I highly doubt it will happen.

  6. Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

    Boreas, James, Tim, etc:

    I’m a no on permits (which of course was tried once, to crashing failure), but not necessarily a licensing system. I’ve toyed with that and even written about it before. I think it has a lot to recommend it, and it does tie into the education piece. It also would provide dedicated (we hope) funds for the Park. It could generate revenue for local businesses. I’m not opposed to it, it certainly doesn’t limit access in the way that concerns me, nor is it exclusionary (if implemented correctly).

    Some conversations with State folks have suggested that it would be unwieldy to mange, given the nature of the Adirondacks. A park-wide version does compromise the freedom to just walk into the woods. But a High Peaks/Giant-only version might help, especially with a policy of targeted enforcement (Loj yes, New Russia no).

    If a well-thought-out, feasible proposal was made for the High Peaks and Giant, I’d very possibly support it.

  7. Dave Olbert says:

    Great article Peter, couldn’t agree more. A DEC online interactive licensing program with a fee attached would be a great addition to the education movement.

  8. Eileen says:

    I totally agree with this commentary. My husband and I visited the Adirondacks last week as we have for many many years. I was born and raised there, but now live elsewhere. For the first time I felt unwanted, not by the business owners, but what the business owners were telling me. I was dismayed at how the town had deteriorated in the past years. I was told the town I grew up in and stayed in on vacation no longer wants “tourists”, but homeowners only. I saw signs stating “The Adirondacks are not a park, we live here, we work here”.
    I think it must be the same for any community that sees a dramatic increase in population during the summer.
    I agree that more rangers are needed in the problem areas. We hiked the Boreas Ponds, not another person in sight, up or out.
    We will continue to vacation in the Adirondacks. We will continue to be respectful of its beauty and delicate balance of human vs nature.

    • Pete Nelson P says:

      A very thoughtful comment. Thank you, Eileen.

    • frank w says:

      here is my two cents on what you experienced, since I live in a “tourist town”

      what you experienced is the new norm and the new attitude locals are throwing out there and they are not being shy about it

      I will generalize here: Many tourists do not know how to behave themselves, they go on vacation and throw all common sense out the window. They become very demanding and some of their requests are completely unreasonable. The shear numbers of people appearing for a few months at a time is overwhelming, traffic, basic tasks (grocery stores) all have to be planned out and mitigated by local.

      People have become so isolated in their homes, neighborhoods,and daily life that they have forgotten how to interact with strangers. It’s very confusing for “us people” who interact with strangers daily. Some people are now so oblivious that they need an app to make things happen.

      People bring lots of stress with them on vacation. Be leave it. Vacations entail being in a strange place and spending lots of money that some people may or may not be able to afford. Family dynamics change for that short period of time expectations are always very high and you get let down occasionally.

      Others jump head on into a physical activities while on vacation. Many of them are fresh off the couch and finding out their limits really fast in a bad way sometimes. They then expect to goto the store purchase high dollar equipment hoping that will solve their problem.

      BTW, as it has been mentioned 90% of the people are only on 10% of the trails out there. Most people don’t get more than a mile or two from a trail head either.

  9. Bruce says:

    I’m with Tim and Boreas on this one. The state spends what, many thousands (or millions) of dollars each year on providing hunting and fishing resources, a healthy portion of which is paid for by license sales. I get the feeling that many consider hiking a non-consuming activity, but is it really?

    As pointed out, some trails in the HP are in deplorable (consumed, if you will) condition, I believe work is going on right now to correct some of it. Who pays for this, the taxpayer who would never think of hiking these trails, or the users? National parks have permit systems for use of backcountry areas for two reasons…to control the number of users at any one time, and so staff knows where people are likely to be in case they have to look for them. Some of these areas are heavily used, and some not.

    In popular National Forest recreation areas around where I live, there are parking fees, collected generally on the honor system. There are ways around it, but most people pay. When these fees were proposed, you should have heard people howl.

  10. Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

    Wait, hold the presses! Almanack regulars, take note! I quote:

    “I’m with Tim and Boreas on this one.”

    How about that? There’s hope for the world yet.

    Thanks, Bruce.

    Pete

  11. Mike Jankowski says:

    I now live in Austin, TX, and we have similar overcrowding issues at all the area parks. Now Hamilton Pool park restricts how many a day can go, and you have to reserve it months or weeks in advance.
    We have huge issues with an influx of people burdening every resource we have here. People want no more newcomers. That won’t happen. The Adirondacks are a Haven, open to all, and like Austin, a place many want to experience. But being Chicken Little will only make it worse.

  12. James Fox Jim Fox says:

    Licenses … perhaps. More Forest Rangers … definitely!

  13. Tim says:

    Another insightful article, Pete. Thank you.
    I have another concern: the new helicopter tours operating out of Lake Placid. A photo has been going around of their helicopter flying perhaps 50 feet over Duck Hole, in the heart of wilderness. I spoke with the photographer and he said the pilot claimed someone was signaling the helicopter but ran away when they came down. The photographer saw no one at Duck Hole for 2 hours before and 2 hours after the aircraft appeared. Their website shows them flying low over other parts of the Park.
    The tourist plane, also out of Lake Placid, has been an annoyance for years but the helicopter is much louder and flies much lower.
    I believe a no-fly zone should be implemented, just like there is for the Grand Canyon. Don’t even get me started about drones!

  14. Paul says:

    What is the data. How many hikers in the HPW during the seventy and eighties “heydays”? How many hikers now with the heyday over? What is the data?

    Here is what I am afraid you will get for promoting this as much as possible.

    In Baxter State Park where Appalachian Trail Hikers need to get a permit to climb Katahdin here is some of what they are seeing.

    Over the last 25 years they have seen a 9% annual increase in the number of hikers. 9% every year. And in 2015-2016 they saw a 23% increase. Social media? Maybe. The heyday there is now.

    If we see anything like even the normal annual increase seems to me like you will have a problem that is more than just a few dangerous parking areas. And Ampersand is one of those. With parking for the middle Saranac beach and the overused mountain in the same place it is a recipe for disaster.

  15. Matthew Sedlak says:

    I know, I know, I know! All that I can say (or ask) is what are we preserving the wilderness for? If not for our own use, then why preserve it? This must be kept in mind. I don’t think John Muir was an altruistic person.
    I am a “tourist” of the ADK, but I am a tourist of the Catskills, the Appalachian Trail, the Colorado 14’ers, Texas 7000’s, and Vermont’s Long Trail as well. Some of these are “owned” by government entities, some by hiking clubs, some by many different entities. Maybe it’s time to get some heads together across the nation.

  16. Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

    I agree that there needs to be better day to day management of the numbers using the most popular trails. This should be a State responsibility as we can’t count on an everlasting supply of volunteers such as the ones now at the Cascade trailhead.

    As Pete said, parking is really a separate issue that will require coordination between DEC, DOT, and the State Police to first of all decide where to create new parking, to actually construct the new parking, and finally to enforce that hikers use the new and safer parking area even if a shuttle bus ride is needed to actually reach the trailhead. When the town of Keene started charging for parking at The Garden while also offering a shuttle bus from Marcy Field, use levels in the Johns Brook Valley actually went down. I suspect the same would happen at Cascade, even with just a short shuttle ride from Mount Van Hoevenberg. But that would only happen if there were enforcement to prevent parking after some limit had been reached in the existing pull-offs.

    Finally, I agree with Pete that a hiking license is not the way to go. Yes, it has the potential to raise funds and would, at first glance, equalize the difference between what sportsmen have to pay for their licenses. However, much of the trail and shelter maintenance now performed by volunteers or by paid crews supported in large part by private donations. For instance, to date many lean-tos have been completely rehabbed (and in some cases moved) all by volunteers from Lean2Rescue.

    I do think it is worth considering a camping permit with a fee amount and structure similar to a fishing license. This would pay for the staff necessary to manage on a day to day basis the maintenance necessary to sustain this more intensive use made of the woods. This would also be much easier to enforce since campers are “stationary targets” when it comes time to check. At the same time, I would propose that those with a sportsman’s license would not have to purchase a separate camping permit.

  17. Taras says:

    On Saturday, I hiked Allen for the tenth time since 2010. It was the first time I arrived to a (nearly) full parking lot. At 8:00 AM, I was the 34th person to sign in and, upon my return at 3:15 PM, noticed 5 additional people had signed in.

    Frankly, three-dozen hikers spread out over a nine-mile trail isn’t overcrowding. There are a busy High Peaks and then there’s the rest. When I arrived at the summit shortly before noon there were about a dozen hikers taking a break (mostly because one group contained 6 people). I’ve been on Allen alone or with no more than 2-3 other hikers. However, this was a warm Saturday in July so solitude shouldn’t be expected on a 46er peak.

    I met Ranger Del Jeffrey at the parking area and he explained most trail-heads were filled to capacity. I noticed cars parked along the shoulder of the road near the East River and Bradley Pond trailheads. Again, July, Saturday, good weather, it’s to be expected.

    Over the past seven years what I’ve noticed is needless trail-expansion caused by wayward hikers. Facing mud, or challenges above their skill-level, they seek easier routes around the “problem” and cause more erosion.

    When I explain how their actions damage the trail, most are receptive. I point out one should make an effort to walk only on durable surfaces and avoid the temptation of using bypasses. Most are completely oblivious to the notion they are causing the trail harm.

    The trails can withstand more traffic but, in another seven years, they’re likely to look much worse for wear if hikers continue to walk around things they deem too muddy or difficult. Visitors to the High Peaks must be taught how to protect the area … from themselves.

    If it takes a license to do this, so be it. However, my preference would be through the organizations (and online forums) that have, and continue to, promote hiking the High Peaks. They need to upsell the idea of hiking with minimal impact to the area you visit. If you damage the place you’ve come to admire, you not only cheapen your experience but the experience of future hikers.

  18. John Grasing says:

    We need hiker insurance for search and rescue and a permit too. Use the money for trail maintenance and better parking access. Compared the White Mountains, the trails in the ADK’s are not even maintained. For sake the of the search and rescue people alone, the trails need to be better.

    If you really love the ADK’s you will be happy to pay.

    • Taras says:

      Yeah but the trails in the Whites don’t look that way because of revenue from the HikeSafe program (which is relatively new program) or hiking licenses (which they don’t have).

      The Appalachian Mountain Club is a fund-raising monster and plows lots of it back into extensive trail-maintenance (and marketing and hut operations and etc). In addition, the geology of the High Peaks and Whites is substantially different and plays an important role in water-retention, drainage, etc.

      Having said that, if you venture *outside* the popular hiking peaks (between Franconia Notch and Pinkham Notch) and go farther afield like Cabot, you’ll encounter trails more like in the Adirondacks (worn and muddy).

  19. Tim says:

    Having worked for SUNY for almost 30 years, I assure you there is no correlation between funds raised (hiking licenses, trail fees, etc.) and money back to the institution for maintenance, more rangers, etc.

  20. Paul says:

    So Pete the answer here is additional ranger staffing. Additional state funding that requires additional state revenue that will (most likely) have to come from current funding levels or will require increased taxation. This is all part of the myriad of other priorities the legislature has. Welcome to NYS!

    Additional lands are added to the forest preserve (paid for with state funds of course). All cheered on by the environmental lobby. That causes the forest rangers to have far too much land for them to manage.

    The problem here is simple. When these purchases were made the budgets did not include what costs would be associated with the required staffing. We saw the budgets in the documents they were a joke, nothing about more rangers. We need a parking lot here a gate there…

    If this was done properly we may not have acquired additional FP lands that we could not properly manage, or we would have made sure there was funding to pay for it.

    Ask for what you need when you are planning these things not later like we see here. Folks made this bed now they don’t understand why they have to sleep in it.

  21. Justin Farrell says:

    Let’s not forget about the numerous search & rescue efforts that continue to occur year round for hikers that don’t have enough proper gear and/or knowledge. I’m not sure how staffing more DEC personnel & volunteers would help prevent more S&R’s, but I can see how a license/permit system might.

  22. Matthew Cole says:

    Regarding the overcrowded parking areas and high traffic in the Rt. 73 corridor: why is no one raising the question of why there is so little public transportation?

    I’d suggest putting a park-and-ride with several hundred parking spaces at the existing “Welcome Centers” already on I-87 as well as expanding services at Marcy Airfield (to include services similar to those commonly found at interstate rest stops). Run several buses up and down the corridor, stopping at all the major trailheads and in each town. Make the bus completely free (unlike the current Marcy Airfield bus) with the purchase of the DEC’s “trail supporter” patch. Help pay for the bus with sharp fines for parking on the side of Rt-73 (which becomes one giant “no parking” zone).

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Agreed. Suggestions like this are what I mean by taking a systems approach to transportation issues along Rt 73.

  23. Dan says:

    Some interesting points in the article, and especially the discussion. Here’s a few more…

    1) Perhaps parking in the HPW should be addressed the way it recently has been in the popular Hogtown area along the east shore of Lake George. There is ample parking, but it is now restricted to the parking lots only, and not on the road. If you park on the road you are towed; simple as that. I’ve heard that a similar approach was recently taken on Floodwood Road?

    2) On the topic of funding, Part 1: If the state invests any money in the Adirondacks it should be on the main roadways. Many are a mess, or will be soon. Adding DEC staffing would also be nice, but that doesn’t seem to be a popular trend these days.

    3) On the topic of funding, Part 2: There’s an old saying that “Hunters pay for conservation” and it stems from the fact that money from hunting, fishing and trapping licenses are not only invested in supporting game species, but others as well. Along with re-investing license fees, some of which goes to DEC staffing, the state also gets kickbacks from Pittman-Robinson and Dingle-Johnson funding, which are Federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear that is returned to the states solely for the purpose of supporting fish and wildlife; both game and non-game species. The current administration has been using much of this funding ($28-million awarded this year) to purchase land outside the Adirondacks. Perhaps a similar tax on outdoor adventure gear in NY could address some of the financial issues discussed here?

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