Two trip leaders were ticketed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation Saturday after their group of 67 people drew attention on the trail to Algonquin Peak in the High Peaks Wilderness, according to the DEC. One of the men who says he was one of the leaders now says he is receiving death threats.
A forest ranger charged a 34-year-old Quebec man, who organized the trip, with exceeding the High Peaks Wilderness day-use group-size limit and guiding without a license. A 27-year-old Quebec woman was also charged with guiding without a license. The DEC has not provided the Almanack with the names of those charged in this incident.
Each charge is a violation with a maximum possible penalty of a $250 fine and 15 days in jail. In the High Peaks Wilderness, DEC regulation prohibits groups of more than 15 people from hiking or more than 8 people camping.
One of the leaders of the trip now says he is receiving threatening emails, including two from people who said they would kill him if he returned to the Adirondacks.
“(Another) two people just wrote me (that) I should go to jail for my whole life, and I would be better dead than alive for what (I) did,” he said.
The man said he has “learned his lesson” and that he flabbergasted by the amount of attention the incident has received.
“With just one mistake, my career for hiking will be ruined,” he said.
The man, who asked not to be identified because of the threats he and his family are receiving, said he was just an employee following directions from a travel agency and that the group of 67 was split into six groups of 10 to 12 people each. There were two paid leaders and four volunteer ones. He said the groups were separated by about a mile on the trail on the way up, with three groups going back down the way they came and the other three taking the trail toward Lake Colden on the other side of the mountain. Numerous commenters have reported seeing the large group together on the summit.
The leader has received many emails and comments from people angry about the group size. The topic has drawn a lot of attention on the Almanack and various Facebook pages.
According to the DEC, two buses from Quebec dropped off 67 people at the Adirondak Loj trailhead. The incident was reported to a forest ranger who worked with assistant forest rangers and summit stewards to locate the group. No one in the group registered at the trailhead.
“These regulations were developed to protect the trails and natural resources of the High Peaks Wilderness and to help ensure a good quality experience for all users,” according to a DEC statement about the tickets. “The regulation adheres to Leave No Trace principles.”
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.
The Van Hoevenberg Trailhead, which starts near Adirondak Loj, is perhaps the most popular trailhead in the Park. Trails off it lead to Mount Marcy, Algonquin and other destinations in the Eastern High Peaks. Last year, 53,423 people signed the trail register — a 62 percent increase from 2005.
The increase in usage has come with problems associated with hikers not adhering to “Leave No Trace” principles by doing things such as hiking in large groups and leaving behind garbage. There have been numerous reports of hikers defecating too close to trails and directly on them.
Hiker Jilly McKissick said in an post in an Adirondack hiking Facebook group that she hiked Algonquin and Iroquois Saturday and found unsanitary trail conditions that same day.
“The amount of human (poop) on the trail was unreal. Disgusting,” McKissick said in the Facebook post. “On the way to Iroquois there was poop literally in the middle of the path! Before anyone feels the need to say ‘stop talking about poop’, let me say that it needs to be talked about it is a seriously health safety issue, and really people WTF! Another negative point was the amount of people on the trail…”
The male leader said that wasn’t from his group.
“We never pooped on the way,” he said. “It was already there.”
DEC and other groups have been trying to address this concern by installing more privies near summits, and the AuSable River Association led a campaign to install Porta-Johns near numerous trailheads along state Route 73, including Cascade Mountain.
Several people interviewed by the Almanack have said that DEC lacks the proper staffing levels to properly manage the High Peaks Wilderness. Forest Ranger Scott VanLaer commented on the Almanack about that topic.
“The Forest Ranger staffing levels are completely inadequate for the High Peaks district,” he said. “We have evolved into a emergency response team because of the incredible volume of incidents and now the mere possibility of these incidents. If you review the Forest Rangers annual reports and look through the statistics there is significant evidence to support this conclusion…..miles hiked, campsites inspected, tickets written, public presentations made, have all dropped, some significantly. The high volume of rescue means more rangers are kept in the front country (their truck) so they can respond because we never know where the emergency will occur. We always had some rangers in that type of response mode but now it requires most of us to do so, especially on a Saturday. That is also when Stewardship and public interactions would be the most effective and we just can’t accomplish it now.”
The annual Division of Forest Protection reports show that the Adirondack High Peaks region (referred to as Zone C) contains 365,581 acres of state land (mostly Forest Preserve) and 12,581 acres of conservation easements. It says the land is patrolled by six forest rangers, three seasonal assistant forest rangers and one lieutenant.
Much of the High Peak forest rangers’ time is absorbed by search and rescue missions. Last year, 100 of the state’s 275 missions took place here. In addition, many of these rescues are time consuming because of the remote nature of the landscape. The 100 rescues are double the amount that took place in 2006.
As a result, DEC zone C forest rangers have had less time to patrol the backcountry and deal with the crowds. In fact, last year they issued the fewest tickets and arrests in the state of any ranger district. They recorded just 30 of the 2,847 tickets and arrests statewide.
The Division of Forest Protection shows that forest rangers in Zone C took part in no training events or public presentations last year. The report says there were 27,074 attendees statewide at these events, putting in 1,441 hours.
Adirondack Mountain Club Education Director Julia Goren told the Almanack previously that the DEC needs more staffing in the High Peaks area.
“The state funding hasn’t increased,” Goren said. “They’ve still got the same number of caretakers. They’ve got fewer assistant forest rangers than they used to have. They have rangers that have even more territory and even less time to be out there. Foresters, with ever more land that they are supposed to be managing, writing management plans.”
The Adirondack Mountain Club’s Facebook page reported that more than 1,000 people signed the Adirondak Loj trailhead Saturday. That trailhead leads to Eastern High Peaks trails, such as Mount Marcy and Algonquin.
Photo: McIntyre Range, which includes Algonquin Peak.
This story was updated and expanded on Wednesday, August 31, to include information from the 34-year-old Quebec man who was one of the trip leaders, forest ranger Scott VanLaer, Adirondack Mountain Club Education Director Julia Goren, and background on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s workforce based on info from the agency’s Division of Forest Protection report.