The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) has announced that Summit Stewards interacted with their 400,000th hiker last week. Summit Stewards are naturalists who work at the top of mountains in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks educating hikers in an effort to prevent them from walking on or otherwise damaging New York’s rarest plants, those of the alpine zone.
The program began in 1990 and will reach an estimated 28,000 hikers at the tops of Mt. Marcy, Algonquin, Wright, Colden, Cascade, Haystack, Giant, Gothics, Basin and Saddleback this year.
In addition to providing education, Summit Stewards also build rock walls and cairns to help keep hikers off these low-growing plants. Some of the alpine species they protect are so rare they exist in just a few places in the world.
The milestone was reached during a week of spectacular weather, which helps to draw larger crowds of less experienced hikers into the High Peaks. In addition to their conservation work, Summit Stewards also help educate hikers about how to respond to conditions, which can change rapidly in the mountains. They provide band aids and help walk out dehydrated or sick hikers who need assistance to get back down the mountain. This season they facilitated the helicopter rescue of three injured hikers and helped capture photos of six marriage proposals.
“Since 1990, 400,000 hikers have had a casual conversation with a Summit Steward on one of our high peaks and have chosen to walk on the rocks, rather than on the plants, in order to protect alpine vegetation. We’re absolutely astounded by this milestone number. There is no better way to protect these plants than by being up at the top where we can show people why it’s important to stay on the rocks and enlist their help. These plants wouldn’t exist on our Adirondack alpine summits today without hikers carefully choosing where to place their feet,” ADK Education Director Julia Goren said in an announcement sent to the press.
The High Peaks Summit Steward Program is a partnership of ADK, the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Photo provided: ADK Summit Steward Maddie Grant explaining ways to protect fragile alpine plants in the Adirondack High Peaks to hiker Kendra Ormerod.