An excellent pair of articles published here recently by Mike Lynch (Beyond Peak Capacity and Group of 67 People Ticketed on Algonquin) resurrected some memories from the 1970s and ’80s, when avid (or zealous, rabid, insatiable … just pick one) hikers like me lived in constant fear that access to the mountains would soon be restricted. That anxiety was based on frequent newspaper headlines touting plans to alleviate trail damage attributed to hordes of newcomers to the Adirondacks.
Like now, the problems back then were intensified by successful efforts aimed at raising public awareness about the wonders within the mountains, and thus boost the region’s tourism-based economy. The result: more people, more spending, and greater profits, but also more boots on the ground, more worn trails, and more poop in the woods. The problems intensified so quickly that organizations and politicians offered all sorts of solutions, most of which left hikers fearful that the freedom to roam would be restricted.
I lived along the Canadian border in northern Clinton County at the time, 90 minutes from Keene Valley. Already I had been making the trip twice a week for years to hike and climb. Imagine starting at St. Huberts early in the morning (you could park near the tennis courts back then), spending six to eight hours hiking, and not seeing another soul all day. Or climbing Giant Mountain, including side trails, and not encountering anyone. It was glorious! The key was focusing on weekdays and working the 4 pm-to-midnight shift. Foregoing sleep was worth a high that lingered well into the next day.
In the 1970s, all the talk about hiking permits and closing off parts of the Adirondacks was scary, and more than a little depressing. But something needed to be done to preserve places (mountain peaks and the most popular trails) that were taking a beating. Requiring hiking permits for the High Peaks was perhaps the most common proposal, but don’t confuse common with popular, for most hikers hated the idea.
Still, it was proposed many times, and was even part of legislation prepared in 1977 by Assemblyman Glen Harris. An estimated 85,000 hikers used the High Peaks area each year, a situation that was unsustainable without some sort of control measures. Said Harris: “Participating in the summer rush-hour traffic of 85,000 hikers can hardly be a ‘wilderness experience.’ The trails on Mt. Marcy and Algonquin are already badly eroded, strewn with litter…. To reverse this trend, I am drafting legislation to be considered at the next session that will require a use permit, or season ‘passport,’ for anyone desiring to climb and camp out in the High Peaks. Hopefully, some of the crowds will disperse to other equally beautiful areas of the Adirondacks…. Obviously, I do not advocate charging a fee for ‘a walk in the woods’ or hiking in other less-used areas of the Adirondacks. But the situation on more than 200 miles of trails in the High Peaks is unique and can no longer be ignored.”
In 1979, the DEC director of lands and forests, Norm Van Valkenburgh, suggested that “indirect management policies” might work much better than direct actions like hiking permits. “One idea that I have to reduce use is to create a ‘friction’ to the hiker—something to get in his way…. By neglecting the maintenance of trails, we could reduce usage.” The theory was that only the most dedicated hikers would endure hardships that were added to make movement more difficult. Examples included “lengthening trails, removal of bridges, and closing some trails.”
In 1985, the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution asking the state to develop a system of fees charged to hikers and canoeists to cover the cost of maintaining the most popular (overused) trails. The proposed price for a license was $5, but fishermen and hunters would be exempt because they already paid license fees to the state.
Despite all those scary proposals (and if you passionately loved hiking, climbing, and canoeing in the Adirondacks, those were scary ideas), what worked was education. Rangers advised hikers on good practices, and also gleaned information from them that helped shape future policies. The Adirondack Mountain Club spent those decades educating the public on how to behave and use proper etiquette in the woods, resulting in measurable improvements. During the giardia outbreak of 1984, when it was realized that cases of infamous “beaver fever” were on the rise because of poor sanitation practiced by campers (yes, ingesting water tainted with human excrement was making many people ill), the Adirondack 46ers purchased 10,000 trowels, which were handed out to campers on their way into the woods, along with brochures provided by the AMC with information on how to help curb the illness. The short version of those instructions on handling human waste was provided by Dave Slingerland, a DEC ranger, who put it succinctly: “You gotta bury it.”
Those same groups and others educated the public on many topics: alpine summits and how to preserve them; the importance of carrying out trash; and the rewards of seeking out many of the lesser-used sections of the Adirondacks, like the Five Ponds Wilderness Area, Cranberry Lake Wild Forest, and Pepperbox Wilderness.
Areas like those became my salvation, for despite the positive outcomes of many educational programs, and great progress in preserving the trail system, I was hooked on the solitude and wilderness feel of those all-day trips without encountering other hikers. The solutions for me were lesser-known peaks of all sizes, canoeing in quiet places, and bushwhacking. On those outings, seeing 67 people over the course of a year was unheard of, let alone in a single group. Those quiet trips of long ago are treasured memories.
Photos: Headlines, top to bottom: Lake Placid News, 1985; Lake Placid News, 1979; Adirondack Daily Enterprise, 1985; Adirondack Daily Enterprise, 1984
I’ve seen problems about overuse in the Adirondacks before. Some of the suggestions I’ve seen include ‘hardening’ trails to keep them from turning into herd paths. This can be done by essentially making the trail a continuous path of stone/gravel, large flat rock slabs where practical. Done with proper attention to drainage, it makes the paths usable even when there’s lots of rain, and you don’t get people widening the trail to get around puddles. It also makes it easier to keep people on the paths.
I’ve seen reports that in Switzerland trails above the tree line are paved, to preserve Alpine plant life and because of the even heavier traffic they get. Maybe this isn’t a ‘pure’ wilderness experience, but neither is ‘loving’ the outdoors to death.
Education is always good – but it has to keep up with the times. If the Internet is attracting hordes of people to the High Peaks and elsewhere, then the Internet is the place to put some effort. Between the state and the various groups that support the Adirondacks, a combination of more resources and coordinated efforts couldn’t hurt. If search engines like Google could feature links to websites on how to hike the Adirondacks safely and sustainably whenever someone searches for Adirondack trail info, that could help a lot. There are always paid links that show up for any search – this might be something to pursue.
Giving DEC, Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation, and other agencies more money for staff and basic upkeep wouldn’t hurt either. This kind of stuff is not as sexy as announcing new land acquisitions or new facilities – but it’s essential. It would be nice to see more headlines about established parks, trails, etc. getting rehabbed and upgraded. Too many politicians just want their names attached to something new and exciting – what we already have needs care too.
Everyone agrees DEC staff and budget, particularly Operations and Rangers staff and budget, needs to increase. I thought the environmental protection group leaders agreed too. I just learned that the environmental protection group leaders will not support pending legislation to mandate ranger staff levels be tied to increasing state land levels because that legislation only adresses the ranger staff levels. This info is from a lead person involved with this legislation. This seems very short sighted. Take what you can get.
Yes, Willie Janeway, ED of the Adk Council told me he feels any increase within the DEC needs to be comprehensive and not just for the ranger force. I understand his perspective, especially since he is a former regional director but the truth is not all DEC items are equal, in terms of what I would call “critical fill” criteria. The Forest Ranger force is the most critical in terms of public safety, stewardship and resource protection of the Forest Preserve.
I was told it is leaders of three ADK protection groups are not willing to support the legislation, not just the one group. Sad.
Three! That is surprising. Willie and Neil seem to move in lockstep any more so not surprised ADK would fail to support it but I would be disappointed if ADK Wild and Protect didn’t.
Paving heavily used trails, or those in sensitive places is something I’ve thought of as well. I seriously doubt this rather obvious solution would be considered suitable by hiking groups who believe dirt (mud when wet) or natural rock formations are the only materials suitable for hiking trails.
When I read the SLMP, I actually saw nothing which said hiking trails cannot be paved, but only that they can be constructed in Wilderness areas. That leads me to believe the idea that hiking trails must be natural ground is merely an assumption.
With the restrictions on motors, hardening with gravel or blacktop would be problematic in the HPW – at least at a distance from trailheads.
We also know the state can do whatever it wants to do – if it wants to do it badly enough.
One thing not mentioned in this article is the revenue received from a fee system could possibly help more enforcement if applicated properly.
I agree. Nothing new with this discussion. The only thing that has changed is many more users, more land to patrol, and fewer Rangers. In 40 years we still will be discussing it unless we do something different. Many suggestions have been brought up. Some may work, some may not, but certainly none will work if the status quo is maintained by doing nothing. Shame on us.
I was one of those suggesting a “hiking license” back in the ’80s that would cost more for out-of-staters than residents. I got a lot of flack over that idea from Canadians in particular, but I still think it is a good idea. As pointed out in the article, hunters and fishermen pay to pursue their activities. I don’t see why hikers shouldn’t and the annual purchase of a license to hike in the High Peaks (or even the Park as a whole) would be an opportunity inform hikers of changes in rules as well as basic hiking etiquette. The fee would fund the cost of licenses and brochures as well as trail maintenance.
…and more enforcement.
I agree. But advocates for the idea in Albany will need to be found first. Doesn’t seem likely with this administration pushing for tourism it can’t even support.
Re trails in Switzerland:
I’ve hiked there many times since the 1980s. Perhaps the biggest point is that Switzerland doesn’t have Adirondack mud; trails don’t erode there like they do here. There’s not the same need for major maintenance.
Some trails are blasted across almost vertical cliffs, like near Pilatus. There are steel ladders up cliffs like on the Haute Route. Often, trails are mere paint marks. The white-blue-white “Alpine routes” are really scary. People have fallen off of non-technical walking trails like around Pilatus and died.
Another difference is that some mountains have cable cars and many have huts. I’ve often thought that having one or two places here where you could hike up and get lunch might be nice. If Whiteface had better trails up it, that would be a start.
Van Valkenburgh: “One idea that I have to reduce use is to create a ‘friction’ to the hiker—something to get in his way…. By neglecting the maintenance of trails, we could reduce usage.”
Gee what an idea. Intentionally ignore the problem and hope it goes away while still being paid. I’m pretty sure that’s the Region 5 management mantra.
Here we are. 35 years later. It’s only become exponentially worse. Great plan.
I agree. You can’t have a trail and simply choose not maintain it. If you don’t want people to use it, officially close it, hide it, and pull down the markers.
Another failed concept was the Passive use limit, keeping parking lots small, the thinking that when people showed up, if the lot was full they would go else where. I have seen hundreds of people over the years willing to walk a mile down the Loj rd to hike Mt. Jo even after I suggest similar mtns like, Baker, Owls Head, Baxter, Cobble Hill, that they could drive right to base and see a few hundred less people.
Every year I think more about the Forest Preserve in the greater High Peaks area becoming a National Park for obvious reasons. The big difference I see between the EHPWA and the standard National Park experience is that here it is all back country use. At most National Parks the greatest use is along roads, visitor centers, carefully crafted vistas, etc.. The Adk park model has private enterprise filling some of this demand but I don’t the general public feels this way and it just doesn’t have the same cache as the brand the National Park system has developed. I equate Lake Placid more like Estes than any park type experience.
Perhaps the HPW could be thought of more as a Nat. Monument and not a Nat. Park. A smaller area with intense use. Think civil war battlefields and geological features. It is certainly a unique situation with a resource requiring unique management.
Perhaps, I am not sure the answer or even that I endorse the idea, I just know the more National Parks I go to and the more I see what is happening here the stronger I feel that it should considered and studied.
Yes, after the expansion of the HPW into the largest thing in the East, it could be a candidate for a National Monument within it’s existing boundaries. It is unique. And our Adk style of managing it is not working well despite many years of trying.
The 1960’s proposal for a National Park covered a far larger area, including towns like Indian Lake, Blue and so on. All the land would have been taken, all signs of existing buildings removed. That freaked out people. It was defeated and the APA was created. Here is a link to the original proposal: http://apa.ny.gov/Mailing/2012/06/StateLand/NPS%20National%20Park%20Proposal.pdf
The odd thing about our Park is people live here. Not so in Naitonal Parks. Not so in Central Park or any city Park. But it is true here although I imagine most visitors find it hard to figure out ‘where the Park is” because it isn’t like any other Park they have been in.
Yes I think something much smaller. Pete Nelson had a fun article about it a couple of years ago https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2014/11/what-would-an-adirondack-national-park-look-like.html
I’m not at all a fan of handing control over to the federal government. We have plenty of resources available to us here in NYS without involving Washington. We just need to better apply those resources.
Yes. Hikers, out-doormen in general, are a hardy lot. Put any obstacles before them and conquering that obstacle becomes a matter of pride. It didn’t and really doesn’t work all that well. Lengthening trails helps somewhat. But, older trails with the shortcuts they offer seem to attract as much business.
Yes, in the 70’s and 80’s I was against regulation of any form. I was wrong. Now I see it as one possible salvation for the Eastern High Peaks area. Human waste, trash, and just plain old garbage litter the area. The rest of the ADK’s, in general, is NOT like that. I hate to think that these are the mental pictures people are carrying away with them. And, this is NOT the ADK’s as I remember them. We are NOT talking 85k people! More like 4 times that number because people don’t bother signing trail registers…takes too long in a ten person line.
Other states have fairly strict quota’s on the number of people allowed in certain areas. The problem is bad in our EHP’s, now. Let’s do something before it gets worse. Permits, licensing, materials restrictions (map, compass, bear ball) , hardened trail areas, etc will all require money and enforcement. A rule is not a rule without enforcing it, to many. And, a fee must be charged to pay for these changes.
A 6 person lean-to with more than 12 people in it, a plot of ground staked with tents like a trailer park, when I hike into Panther Gorge for a weekend, and have difficulty finding a place to camp, there *is* a problem. And it needs a REAL and rather drastic correction.
Here’s one possibility I haven’t seen mentioned, in an attempt to passively reduce the number of visitors, ban camping in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Area (EHPWA).
Bonus is a reduction of habituated bears because there’s no human-delivered food available for pilfering.
It will also reduce a few others violations I’ve seen like illegal campfires in the EHPWA, bags of trash deposited next to privies (or in privies), abandoned tents and other overnight gear, and illegal camping.
Cost of implementation is creating a new regulation. Policing it is basically “backpack profiling” at the trailhead. DEC AFRs stationed at Marcy Dam and Lake Colden only need to listen for activity around supper/breakfast time to know there’s illegal camping nearby. Sound travels well on quiet evenings and mornings.
All 46 peaks are day-hikes (I and many others have done them without camping). If you can’t do that, then you need to up your game or hike the many other peaks in the Adirondack Park.
Detractors of the idea may complain camping is part of the outdoor experience. Fine but the same can be said of campfires and they’ve been banned in the EHPWA for a long time. Anyone wishing to camp and have a fire can choose the rest of the Adirondack Park.
Interesting. More violations of existing regs come from day users. Camping is not as popular as it once was but the human/bear interaction would disappear, in the back country any way. It’s a big area to ban camping in.
I thought of the idea after comparing the condition of the designated campsites along Giant’s Washbowl (Giant Mt Wilderness) and Gill Brook (Dix Mt Wilderness), where fires are permitted, to campsites around heavily used Marcy Dam in the EHP (no fires).
The difference is striking. After decades of “amateur logging”, the woods around the Marcy Dam sites have recovered and the sites themselves are reasonably tidy and unscarred. In comparison, the other ones have a “human browse radius”; the woods stripped of fuel to feed the campfires. Several have substantial fire-pits ringed with makeshift benches and other trappings of woodcraft.
When I passed by the Santanoni Lean-to last fall, I found two discarded plastic tarps lying in a heap beside the lean-to. The fire-pit contained the charred remains of trash and the lean-to itself was surrounded by a sea of stumps. There was a saw hanging from a peg. I hid it.
There’s one designated site at the Washbowl that has been lost because someone felt it was the ideal location for a fire-pit. It was built next to a large boulder (ostensibly to reflect the heat) which is now a blackened wall. The woods, just a few footsteps from the sites, are streaked with TP.
All this to say, campers can have a “heavy footprint”. Many regulations and guidelines are written to minimize the specific impacts caused by camping. Here’s a nice categorized list and if one were ban camping in the EHP, about half the list becomes moot!
Day hikers are far from being low-impact saints and their impact is cumulative due to their larger numbers. Nevertheless, banning camping in the EHP is a near-effortless means of both reducing the number of visitors and eliminating a significant factor in resource degradation.
The heavily used EHP has a history of being the first to acquire the most restrictive regulations (lower maximum elevation for camping, banning campfires, making bear-canisters obligatory, making the use of snowshoes obligatory, etc). Given its history, banning camping doesn’t seem all that extraordinary for the EHP.
Of course the flip side of this is to ban day use, since the majority of use and ECL violations are created by this group.
Sure any of the 46 can be done as a day hike. In fact, many peaks can be combined to be done in a single day, but is that immersion in the “Wilderness Experience” or is that pursuing another experience like becoming a member of a T-shirt club or simply being overly enthusiastic about fitness?
I don’t think that the “Wilderness Experience” can be truly appreciated on a day use only basis. Sure, for some a day hike up Cascade can be a frightening wild experience, but truly it’s a tame walk in the woods, often with dozens if not hundreds of other people. Compare that to a bushwhack of Redfield from Skylight Brook with an overnight, and we are now talking about something completely different.
If anything, limiting day users would be a way to mitigate trail damage more effectively than limiting overnight users. I don’t really support those types of limits. I think the license plan is the best available tool to help mitigation of some of the damage from overuse. Of course any licencing plan would have to contain specific language regarding how those funds would be used, and not left to fall down the rabbit hole of big government spending.
I think the assumption that the quality of one’s wilderness experience is directly proportional to time spent absorbing it … is just that, an assumption. From my own experience, I used to backpack but no longer do and feel no less connected to the backcountry.
Banning all use, including day-hiking, would be, to put it mildly, a tough sell.
Limiting day-use hikers would most certainly be more effective than limiting campers; there are far more day-hikers than backpackers. Of course, what you might cause is an upswing in backpackers … some who may happen to curtail their trip to …. one day. Now what? Force them back *into* the woods to stay their allotted time?!? /s
Limiting the number of any kind of backcountry visitor is the most effective at balancing the “locusts to crops” ratio. However, implementing such a scheme with a cash-strapped DEC, a ceiling on backcountry policing, and a land area with an infinite number of access points, is not a recipe for success.
Arguments that it will collect sufficient fees to defray its costs will have to be backed by some serious number-crunching studies. Basically one is saying, I’m setting a ceiling on the number of clients, charging the reduced number of clients a fee, and the proceeds will pay for a big chunk of building, operating, maintaining, and policing the system to … cap the market. Sure sounds like a government thing because no one would ever lend money if this were a presented as a “business plan”. /s
I don’t know what is involved to create a new DEC regulation. One would only need to look at the history of the campfire and bear-canister regulations to get a handle on the scope of the undertaking. I can’t imagine it’s anything as onerous as implementing a user-reducing permit system or even a hiker’s license (which I support and would buy).
Beaver fever. Giardia lombia. In a form of egg . Larva or criter (insect) from beaver feace. Peopl drinking contaminated water from beaver feaces will get ill. Water ingested. Depending of the stage of th gl. In form of egg. Frozen in ice cube will hatche in stomach. Turn into larva then in. Criter form. Depending of the stage on the insect. It takes to week to get back. Got to tell. Doctor you drank from stream. Bever ferver does not come from human e coli or coliform
Giardia lamblia is a protozoan parasite that is transmitted via contaminated food, water, or via poor hygiene, namely the fecal-oral route. Yes, it can be contracted by beavers, excreted in their feces, and contaminate sources of water. However, the same is true for most any mammal including humans, especially hikers and campers with poor hygiene. Beavers got a bad rap when symptoms of the infection were labeled “Beaver Fever”. Once you are infected and develop symptoms, you have “Giardiasis”.
Wherever you learned giardia is a larval “insect” that hatches from an egg is patently false. It is protozoa and travels outside a host as a cyst. See here for more information about its biology:
The CDC provides a good summary and answers common questions:
Symptoms may only appear 1-3 weeks after infection so patients may be unable to “connect the dots” and feel it may have been due to a recent “bad meal”. You’re absolutely right that patients should tell their doctor about drinking untreated water.
Some people infected with giardia are asymptomatic and, if they practice poor hygiene, may infect others.
My understanding is that virtually any affected organism can transmit the cysts – including dogs, humans, and beaver.
For human feces to be the cause of an “infection”, the human who deposited said feces would have to be “infected” at the time their leavings contaminated a given area, so unless a bunch of infected humans are running around the mountains pooping in water sources I think we can safely dispense with some of the know-it-all rhetoric on this particular topic. It’s not really relevant to the licence/permit discussion anyways, unless of course the purpose of discussing this is to derail the larger conversation.
We didn’t bring it up. I was offering information to the person who did who seemed to indicate humans could not transmit it. Keep in mind, water runs downhill – especially in very thin soils. But it is part of backcountry knowledge (that seems to be sorely lacking) that IS germane to the conversation.
As far as DEC funding goes (and state funding in general (state parks etc.)) they have lots more to take care of than the Adirondack Forest Preserve. If they did have more rangers they would probably send them to places like long island to take care of beaches that are under severe threats as well. You think a bus load of tourists is a problem up here – you haven’t seen anything!
Very few of the “beaches” on Long Island are owned and administered by the DEC. The “public” beaches you are likely thinking of are patrolled by State Parks, County parks and the Feds.
The other issue with public beaches is that people don’t expect to find a pristine wilderness experience there. Beach-goers expect a “beach scene”. But the erosion, enforcement, and infrastructure issues are similar – at least on Montauk and State beaches.
Any politically acceptable solution has to have enough people who like it. Also, I’m more in favor of carrots than sticks. That’s why I propose adding facilities to Whiteface to attract people from the High Peaks. Those facilities might even serve other muscle-powered outdoor sports in addition to solo hiking. We give up, in one sense, one mountain and get to make the Marcy area less used.
I was under the impression Whiteface had a limited downhill mountain bike trail that was teamed with the gondola. I agree that Whiteface and Gore could be sacrificed for more intensive summer use since they are already special-purposed for skiing. Perhaps even a backcountry training area. But I doubt this would have much of an impact on the HPW situation.
In the meantime, what about self-policing in the hiking community? When out and about in the backcountry, would any of you feel comfortable dressing-down a rule breaker? Ever report violations to the DEC? Despite my visceral resistance to ever throwing a cell phone into my pack, I’ve considered the certain advantages of calling in misdeeds as they occur. One possible downside of that is, just as the DEC can be flooded with unwarranted “rescue” calls, overzealous scolds could likewise create more headaches than they solve. I don’t want to become like that guy who calls the police every time some kid steps on his lawn.
I wouldn’t be comfortable with it. The backcountry isn’t where I would want to make an enemy or get the crap kicked out of me. And some people carry handguns! People who do not follow rules are typically people who do not want to be told they are breaking them. And unless someone is wearing a badge, I wouldn’t be that comfortable with being chastised either.
I would say with existing staffing levels, it is probably best not to bother DEC other than with something extreme.
I’ve pointed out violations, many times, and have never had a bad experience. Never scold, simply inform. “If the ranger sees your unleashed dog you may be fined $250.” That usually elicits a “Thanks, I didn’t know!” If you phrase it as a way to avoid a fine, most people respond well.
Don’t expect compliance. You’re not law enforcement merely a concerned citizen. At the very least, they now know two things:
1. They violated a DEC regulation.
2. Other people read the signs posted at the trailheads.
You can report infractions to the DEC but don’t expect them to come running at the drop of a hat. That kind of response is typically reserved for injured or lost hikers.
I think I demanded compliance only once and (surprise) received it. They put out a campfire after I tersely explained it was illegal in the Eastern High Peaks and must be extinguished. “It’s a non-negotiable regulation.” Did they keep it out after my departure? Who knows.
I discovered someone setting up a bear-hang and explained canisters were mandatory in the EHP. They said they had one but the “extra stuff” didn’t fit in it. OK, some poor planning there but at least they were making an effort.
I watched someone in a group lob a pitch pit off a summit. I explained if just a fraction of the 150,000+ hikers did the same, the place would get littered with thousands of peach pits, nut shells, orange rinds, and other non-native items (that take months to biodegrade). That resonated with them and our conversation turned from LNT to other hiking topics. Eventually we hiked out together and had a few laughs along the way.
Most people simply don’t know the regulations and guidelines but are open to learning them. Those that actively seek to violate the regulations, well, the conversation will reveal them to you …and then it’s best to keep it short.
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