In August of 1968, Edwin Ketchledge finished climbing the 46 high peaks of the Adirondacks and received his 46er number, #507. Dr. Ketchledge (“Ketch”) was no ordinary peak-bagger. He was a professor of botany at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, an active member of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), later a President of the 46ers, and a researcher very much interested in the fragile ecosystem found on the Adirondack High Peaks.
Dr. Ketchledge began experimenting ways to help the alpine ecosystem recover from trampling caused by hikers in 1967. His research began on the summits of Dix Mt. and Mt. Colden. He began by transplanting Deer’s hair sedge, one of the rare alpine species, to see if it could successfully colonize impacted areas. It could not.
His next work involved test plots with fertilizer, non-native grass seed, such as Kentucky bluegrass and Red fescue, and plots with both the fertilizer and the grass seed. Fertilized alpine soils did little, unfertilized non-native grasses sprouted and died, but fertilizer plus grass seed yielded success! These non-native sod patches were able to stabilize the soil, preventing further erosion, and allowing the alpine plants an opportunity to grow back. Non-native grass species were unable to survive the harsh alpine environment, and, over time the alpine species began to recover.
Ketch’s protection of the alpine zone did not end with these studies, however. In 1989, he gathered a group of individuals from ADK, the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (ANC), the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Adirondack Forty-Sixers, and other interested parties to talk about creating an educational presence on the summits. Out of this meeting, the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program was born.
The Summit Steward Program today is a partnership of ADK, the ANC, and the DEC. Its mission is to protect New York’s alpine habitat through education, trail work, and research. During this, the 25th year of the program, stewards spoke with over 28,000 climbers on the summits of Mt. Marcy, Algonquin, Wright, Cascade, and Colden, reminding hikers to stay on the rocks and off of the vegetation to protect this fragile ecosystem.
Ketch inspired many with his message of stewardship for the alpine summits. He introduced students, stewards, volunteers, and many hikers to the beauty and fragility of the alpine zone. Some got involved by carrying grass and fertilizer to the summits during his restoration efforts. Some became Summit Stewards, volunteers, or alpine researchers. Others simply chose to heed his message while above treeline and share it with others.
During the summer of 2014, two active ADK members and avid hikers who had been inspired by Dr. Ketchledge began a different kind of stewardship of the peaks. Long-term funding has been the Summit Steward Program’s greatest challenge. The #507 Fund for the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program was created to meet this need. Investment proceeds from the Fund will be used “in the field” to support the outdoor education, research and conservation efforts of the Summit Steward Program. The #507 Fund is hosted and managed by the Adirondack Foundation of Lake Placid, an accredited community foundation.
Like the Summit Steward Program itself, the #507 Fund has begun as a small, grassroots effort with a broad base of support from organizations (such as the Adirondack Forty-Sixers, Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, Adirondack Council) and individuals. As wilderness photographer and donor Brendan Wiltse writes, “Supporting the #507 Fund for the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Steward Program is to support the long-term health of our arctic alpine ecosystems.” In the short period of two months, thanks to the generosity of donors, the Fund has grown from $10,000 to over $42,000. Its goal is to reach $1 million dollars, allowing the Summit Steward Program to grow and better accomplish its work of protecting New York’s alpine habitat.
The Fund’s founders see the #507 Fund as a way of honoring Dr. Ketchledge and investing in the long-term future of the alpine summits. Dr. Ketchledge’s alpine protection work continues today, through the efforts of Summit Stewards and the hikers themselves, carefully choosing to avoid stepping on the alpine plants. As Ketch said, “’What lasts, what gives worth, is the respect we show for our fellow passengers and the reverence we exhibit and practice for the landscape, which continues.”
More information about the #507 Fund, including ways to give, can be found here: http://507fund.org/
Photo: Above, Dr. Ed Ketchledge and below, Summit Steward interacting with hikers on Cascade (both courtesy the ADK Summit Steward Program); Ketchledge quote from “The Man who saved the Mountain Tops” by Charles Hickey. Herald American, Sunday, October 27, 1996.