Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Crowded Peaks: Hiking Cascade With 500 Other People

I hiked Cascade Mountain from the Route 73 trailhead on Saturday September 16th. I went to see the crowds, the condition of the trail, and the general scene of what is believed to be the most popular High Peaks hiking trail. In 2015, over 33,000 people signed in at the trailhead register. In 2016, over 42,000 people are believed to have hiked the summit. Near the top there is now an electronic counter.

My whole trip took about five hours in the middle of the day. Many passed me by on the hike up and many others were hiking down the mountain during my ascent. I stayed on the summit about 90 minutes, which was gloriously sunny with the lightest of breezes. On the summit I counted people twice, with each count topping 100.

As I drove to Cascade Mountain, I passed the trailhead to Giant Mountain at Chapel Pond, which was mobbed with a long line of cars parked on both sides of the road. At the lower trailhead to Giant, both parking lots were full and cars were parked on both sides of the road for a long ways. Before climbing Cascade I drove into the Adirondack Loj Road to check out the chaos of a beautiful September Saturday. Forest Ranger Scott Van Laer had set up a traffic stop at the junction with the South Meadow Road, where he talked with hikers and campers, directing people on where to park, which through his efforts was orderly. He chatted with people about their preparedness, asked hikers about things like whether they had a map and proper clothing, explained the rules, and informed them on where they could obtain needed supplies.

At that time, around 10:30 am, the ADK lot at Heart Lake was already full and I counted over 200 cars parked on the side of the road from ADK to South Meadow Road, approximately 1 mile. Many people were walking on the road towards Heart Lake to access a trailhead. Van Laer routed other hikers and campers to park along the South Meadow Road and to access the High Peaks through the fire road to Marcy Dam. While it struck me as an odd thing to see a Forest Ranger at a traffic stop, with emergency lights flashing from the Ranger Truck and Van Laer standing with an orange cone, as I observed the scene it seemed an effective interdiction, given the chronic shortage of Rangers, to provide coherence to a scene that could otherwise be overrun, chaotic and dangerous.

At the base of the Cascade Mountain trailhead, the Adirondack 46ers had set up a tent and table with educational materials. The table was manned by three volunteers who all wore official-looking shirts with shoulder patches. They provided Leave No Trace materials, educated people about Forest Preserve rules, provided trash bags, showed people how to dispose of human waste, and told them where the privies were located at the base of the mountain and in one location near the summit. I watched as the three 46ers volunteers engaged hikers and from my time watching and chatting with them I saw most hikers pause and listen. The 46ers did this work through an agreement with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and their outreach at Cascade Mountain is seen as a possible prototype for an expanded effort to other popular High Peaks trailheads in the future, such as Giant Mountain, a station at Marcy Dam, among others.

On the summit of Cascade there was a Summit Steward from the program jointly administered by The Nature Conservancy-Adirondack Mountain Club-DEC. I talked to the Steward, who was friendly and enthusiastic. Though Cascade Mountain does not have the rare alpine summit vegetation of 16 other High Peaks, it does have erosion problems and the Steward educated people about how the enjoy a High Peaks summit in a way that does no harm.

I walked slowly up the mountain and took scores of pictures. I came away impressed with the overall condition of the trail. Clearly, a ton of work had been done in the past few years to build waterbars. Many of the waterbars were lined with rocks on the topside, which makes them more durable and easier for hikers to step over. There was a waterbar practically every 50 feet for the first half of the trail. While I hiked on a clear dry day, most of the Cascade Mountain trail did not appear to function as a stream channel, like many other trails to mountain summits in the Adirondacks, as water was effectively shed from the trail at regular and multiple locations.

The overall condition of the trail for the lower two-thirds was very good. I hiked with a tape measure and took a lot of measurements. The trail up Cascade is an official “Trunk Trail” and as such in the High Peaks Wilderness Area Unit Management Plan, it’s supposed to have a trail tread (the center trail area where people walk) of 18-26 inches and a cleared area (an area brushed out of trees and branches) of 6 feet. In some places the worn trail tread width was narrow 2-3 feet, and for long stretches the trail was surprisingly narrow, while in other places the worn tread was 6-10 feet or more.

The other dominant feature in the trail was work in the trail tread area to build stone staircases and to harden sections to elevate the hiker from the ground, allow water to flow through the rocks, and stabilize the trail corridor. In many places, downed trees were placed alongside the trail in piles to narrow the trail. In some places, trail sides saw lines of larger rocks placed to narrow the trail.

The top third of the Cascade Mountain Trail appeared to me to have seen less work than the lower two-thirds. In some places the trail was worn down to bedrock and with thinner soils there are fewer options for trail builders. The trenches with bedrock bottoms seemed about the best that could be done. Whereas some of the rock stair cases in the lower sections had herd paths in the trees alongside them, likely from hikers skittish about wet or icy rocks, the thick high elevation krumholz trees largely prevented hikers from hiking off trail. Near the top, some stretches used elevated boardwalks through wet areas. Although the boards were dry and easy to cross, I watched people use the herd paths around them.

In July, I hiked Santanoni Mountain and found that trail to be in terrible condition, literally from beginning to end. Just awful. The trail to the summit of Santanoni, or to “Times Square” between Santanoni and Panther Mountain, is a herd path and while it is marked it is not maintained. The lower section of the trail to Bradley Pond is an official trail and it’s a mess. Washed out bridges stand dilapidated and the trail is nearly continuously wet. Waterbars are scarce and erosion is prevalent. Little maintenance was evident at the time I hiked it.

Though I realize that far fewer people hike to Bradley Pond than hike Cascade Mountain, the work that was done on Cascade showed what could be done given proper investment and resources. My experiences in Hamilton County hiking on trails up mountains far less popular than the High Peaks is that most of those trails are more like the trail to Bradley Pond than Cascade. For example, the trail up Cascade Mountain is infinitely better than the trails up Blue Mountain or Snowy Mountain.

What about litter? What about the horror stories of human feces in the trail? On my trip, I picked up one band-aid and that was the only litter I saw. There were some minute decayed white paper remnants in the trail, but not many. I saw no feces. I saw no trash.

What I did see was a lot of seemingly happy and friendly people; akin to happy hordes I’ve encountered going to a pro baseball game or a rock concert. In other places where I encounter hordes of people these days, such as a mall in Plattsburgh or Albany, when forced to go there, or a big box store, or when I go to the State Capitol on a busy legislative day and it’s filled with protestors and staffers and state employees, I don’t get happy vibes from these busy places. I got a happy vibe from everybody on the Cascade Mountain trail.

As I mentioned earlier, in my time on the summit I counted over 100 people at two points. At times the number of selfie sticks rivaled the number of hiking poles. People were spread out in small and large groups, taking pictures, napping, sunning, eating, talking, and pointing out things in the surrounding views. Chatter was constant, but it hardly disrupted or disturbed the beauty of the summit.

Cascade Mountain provides a stunning 360-degree panoramic view. It’s a great view than can be obtained with a relatively easy hike. Young parents had kids in backpacks. One young mother carried her 5-month-old in a frontpack. There were people clearly much older than me (I’m 55) and many much younger. There were families, a group from North Country School, a church group, lots of couples of all ages, college kids, a group from Fort Drum, many groups of millennials, and a high number of groups of women of different ages. I saw about two dozen dogs, mostly all leashed, though a few people hiked with their dogs off leash. Everybody I saw appeared to be day-hikers as no one carried equipment for camping, and some even hiked with no packs of any kind.

Given the horror stories of human feces in the trail and hundreds of hikers out of control on Cascade Mountain I was expecting a far different experience. I was expecting to document a disaster where natural resources were being degraded and where the user experience was poor. I came away with far different and positive impressions on both scores.

I do not think that the people who hiked Cascade Mountain with me on September 16th were seeking an experience of solitude or of wilderness. It occurred to me that for some the abundance of people on the trail made it a safe place to go in their minds. I did talk to people who were aspiring 46ers and Cascade and Porter Mountains were numbers 1 and 2 in their quests. If one is seeking solitude or wilderness there are myriad places in the Adirondacks where that can be obtained. The Cascade Mountain experience as it stands now in 2017 is that of a popular hike, one likely to be shared with hundreds of other people on any given day, and one that provides a stunning view, one of the best in the Northeast US, from a beautiful mountaintop. A lot of work had clearly gone into the trail to make it durable and safe for hikers as well as to protect the natural resources. As I hiked I thought of that narrow corridor snaking up the mountain trod by tens of thousands of feet day after week after month and the vast forests on both sides that scarcely ever sees a single human footstep.

Perhaps I hiked Cascade Mountain on a good day, maybe even the best day. Perhaps on a day when a thousand people summit instead of 500 it’s different. Perhaps on days when the 46ers are not at the base educating people, and the Summit Steward is not doing the same on the summit, things go terribly awry. Perhaps when the trail is wet and muddy these conditions lessen the experience for the hiker and have negative impacts to natural resources. But despite these questions I found the combination of public education at the base and summit and extensive trail work evident on the Cascade Mountain trail to be things worth replicating on other highly popular trails in the High Peaks.

My main takeaway is that large numbers of hikers can be accommodated and both the experience of the hiker and the natural resources of the High Peaks can be protected. In my mind, the High Peaks suffers not from overcrowding and overuse, but from chronic under-investment. The trail to Bradley Pond doesn’t suffer from overuse; it suffers from a lack of investment plain and simple. Lack of investment in Forest Rangers, trail work, and public education. The trail up Cascade, which while it would certainly benefit from further trail upgrades, has clearly seen significant investment, both public and private, in public education and trail maintenance, and shows not only what can be done, but what must be done in other locations.

In the High Peaks, we’re in the throes of a historic increase in public use; a major step change is clearly underway. Public use on the Cascade Mountain trail is close to triple what it was 20 years ago. The state needs to get serious about comprehensive stewardship of the High Peaks. The increase in hiking in the Adirondacks is to be welcomed, but much more needs to be done to make sure that a terrific experience is provided for hikers and that the natural resources are protected.

Related Stories

Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife and two children, enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Twitter.

76 Responses

  1. Pete Nelson says:

    Amen, Peter. I’m with you all the way. Let’s take advantage of the good parts of having happy people experiencing Cascade. The excellent trail work, port-a-johns and especially the educational efforts of volunteers at the trail head and summit stewards up top is a huge part of the equation. But as you say, there is chronic under-investment by NY State. The State needs to fund appropriate staff and educational facilities, not simply rely on the good will of hiking groups and volunteers. The scale of use at Cascade demands a serious investment in educational assets.


      • drdirt says:

        NOPE ,..,., we have all this volunteer action in response to the lack of taxpayer funding. The wonderful celebration on Cascade by Peter and all the other hikers was aided by the voluntary pitching in by all of us concerned with this expetience..,,..,, don’t doubt the resourcefullness of us north country folk, and stop begging for everyone to pay more taxes when an article such as this proves the opposite! .,.,,. this forum concentrates attention on the areas of the Park that need improvement, and the volunteer groups who educate and perform boots on the ground service can expect voluntary donations to increase .,.,., keep up the good work everyone; don’t call on Cuomo, pitch in your own time.

        • Taras says:

          I’ve volunteered my time for ADK 46er trail maintenance in the past and do whatever I can during my hikes (like collect litter, dismantle illegal campfires, brush-in bypass trails,advise hikers to avoid using them, etc).

          HOWEVER, it’s not enough. On your way to Cascade, you only have to turn right to Porter and you’ll see what I mean. Give neophyte hikers the slightest reason, like mud or slick slopes, and they’ll avoid perceived “hurdles” by creating bypass trails that expand erosion. Brushing-in these bypasses is a stop-gap measure; it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.

          The long-term solution is to harden the trail so there’s no need to seek bypasses. However, volunteer organizations cannot unilaterally choose to re-route trails, add ladders and bridges, etc. The DEC must approve major revisions and that takes their time and planning plus funding for materials and air-lifting them deep into the backcountry. Depending on the project’s scale, the labor can be paid professional crews or volunteers.

          It has operated like this for years and the current state of High Peaks trails reflects the system’s efficacy. In other words, there’s room for improvement. Either the state invests more into the DEC or allows it to cede some trail-maintenance decisions to an association of volunteer organizations. If nothing changes, the rate of trail-decay will continue to outstrip existing efforts to control it.

          • Pete Nelson says:

            Thank you, Taras, well argued. I think volunteerism is at the top of American values, but that does not absolve the State of responsibility to step up.

        • Bob Meyer says:

          My yes was in response to Pete Nelson’s comment.
          You are presuming incorrectly that 1: I don’t value volunteerism 2: that I have not participated in volunteering in trail maintenance improvement and litter pickup in the Adirondacks and 3: that private initiative alone can do all the work necessary. DEC is understaffed and overworked. There needs to be more money for more man power for park maintenance and improvement. Folks who are against all any new taxes are like the folks who complain about too much big government but then say don’t touch my Medicare or Social Security. You can’t have it both ways.

  2. Jim says:

    Finally a refreshing realistic article, not the doom and gloom of the peaks being ruined by these hikers.

    • Boreas says:


      I think you missed part of the emphasis of the article. Cascade is the EXCEPTION WRT maintenance and infrastructure – not the rule. It shows what could be done across the HPW to harden trails, but isn’t being done due primarily to politics. It simply isn’t a priority in Albany. WE need to change their attitude.

  3. Bob Meyer says:

    thanks Peter. this is a very thoughtful piece.

  4. Craig Catalano says:

    In regards to your last paragraph, what do you suggest?

  5. Terry says:

    Great explanation of what should be in legislators’ crystal balls!!
    Let’s get started by having reasonably priced hiking permits for the state’s trails.
    Those monies will pay for the necessary educational staff and enforcement resources. The fishing and hunting/trapping folks would be good advocates for this idea.
    More education/more enforcement is truly necessary…..let’s not wait!

    • terry v says:

      There seem to be 2 Terry’s that post here.
      from now on I will post as Terry V.
      I love the fact that the trails are packed to the gills.
      The over crowding only effects a small percentage of trails
      You want solitude? Its all over the park.
      I find it funny that people B&M about the crowds when they were looking for solitude on Marcy in July

  6. Terry says:

    Great explanation of what should be in legislators’ crystal balls, Mr. Bauer!
    Let’s get started by having reasonably priced hiking permits for the state’s trails.
    Those monies will pay for the necessary educational staff and enforcement resources. The fishing and hunting/trapping folks would be good advocates for this idea.
    More education/more enforcement is truly necessary…..let’s not wait!

  7. Ron Konowitz says:

    Thank you for the kind words and thumbs up for the Volunteer 46er Trailhead Steward Program. This is the first year of this pilot program and so far we have received positive reviews from both the hiking public that we interact with at the Cascade Trailhead and the press. We ( 46ers ) are trying to give back to these Mountains we all love by helping educate and inspire those that come to visit the Adirondacks to both enjoy them safely and help protect this amazing resource.

    There is a similar start up program in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

  8. Paul says:

    Sounds like it is gaining in popularity like we have seen in the past with activities like fishing and hunting. Folks hike on private land too, just like folks fish and hunt on private land. All 3 of these activities require plenty of administration and maintenance. One of them has an educational requirement. Two require a payment even if you do it on your own land or land you lease. Never been a big fan of a “hiking license”, but there must be a way for all these folks that love it to pay for it just like sports men and women in NYS.

    We as hikers are not elite as some claim but we do think that others should pay the bills for our actual activity. Maybe that is why some make this false claim about hikers.

  9. Chris says:

    Thanks for doing this work! It 2as a lot of effort and gives a lot of really good information!

  10. Taras says:

    “In my mind, the High Peaks suffers not from overcrowding and overuse, but from chronic under-investment.”


    I was there the following day and spoke to Ron, Bill, Becky, and Tim at length as well as to Mary atop Cascade. Everybody is doing their very best to educate the masses and help minimize their impact on the resource. Only 260+ visitors on Sunday, so kind of a “slow day”. 🙂

    Kudos to all stewards for their infinite patience and cordiality. Two young men showed up late in the afternoon with nothing more than water bottles stuffed into back pockets. Ron reminded them it becomes dark at 7:20 PM. When asked if they hae flashlights, one replied yes … on their phones.
    Me: I look at the incongruous 46er cap he is wearing.
    Ron: He suggests they keep a close eye on the time.

    Like you said, the trail was neat as a pin; I saw no litter. Although some folks still have trouble when it comes to using the privy. Some of the squat-to-pee demographic continues to discard their used TP above ground.

    They’ve also done a huge amount of work brushing-in the bypass trails created by wayward hikers avoiding whatever it is they wish to avoid on the main trail (mud, steep slopes, big steps, etc). However, it’s a game of whack-a-mole because you brush-in one bypass and another develops to replace it (or someone reopens the same bypass). More public education is needed; they don’t understand how they’re ruining the trail through expansion.

    You didn’t take the trail to Porter? It looks more like the Bradley Pond Trail … anyway, one battle at a time!

  11. Jim McCulley says:

    Yet you sue over a snowmobile trail. Peter your group of 3 angry men and one wealthy woman are nothing but phoneys. We have been saying this for years and you have to know about it. Now you can’t hide it any longer you say something. You’re a consummate phony. The trees killed by footfall from hikers are far more than the 21,000 you whine about to create a snowmobile trail. Not to mention the toilet your user group has made out of these lol Wilderness areas.

    • Adirondack Native says:

      Jim, you act like a child. Grow up. You sound like a fool.

    • Boreas says:

      “The trees killed by footfall from hikers are far more than the 21,000 you whine about to create a snowmobile trail.”

      I would like to see the data to support this statement. But perhaps if we rebuilt all of our hiking trails to Class II snowmobile road specs and restricted usage to winter, we would better control the trail erosion.

  12. Tim says:

    Trail maintenance is key. I’ve hiked in other parts of this country and others with far more traffic and the trails are in good shape. Your comparison with the awful Santanoni trail is a perfect example.
    A permit/fee system will not solve the problem and it’s not necessary. I worked for the State for many years and money from a permit would not necessarily go to trail improvement–it would get sucked up somewhere else in the State bureauocracy. The money used to put up all those ridiculous I Love NY signs along the roads would have been much better spent in trail improvement.

    • Boreas says:


      So how do you recommend paying for the necessary trail reconstruction and maintenance that would allow/force users to pay a large portion of the cost? Or are you suggesting we hikers shouldn’t have to foot the bill, so to speak? If permitting/licensing fees won’t solve the problem, let’s hear your ideas. If you don’t have a suggestion, why shoot down other’s ideas because of bad bureaucratic management? If we are stupid enough to allow politicians to steal dedicated funds, shame on us for empowering them.

      • Tim says:

        I should know better than get into a debate with Boreas but….The State should do a better job of funding trail maintenance. If they (Cuomo?) can come up with millions to develop the old Frontier Town site, they can pay for trails. If it gets built, I doubt there would be an admission fee. We pay taxes for many things we don’t individually use. Hopefully, they are for the collective good. A healthy park is one of those things.
        That said, our elected officials should be pressured to provide funding. I know Dan Stec, for one, is an avid hiker and might be open to the idea.

        • Boreas says:


          I absolutely agree with you. As I have mentioned before, politicians always seem to manage to find money to buy and build because that gets votes. Maintaining and protecting what we have is not a sexy political issue and is often ignored. Legislators rarely see the effects of this neglect first hand, but they are always present for a ribbon-cutting. We just have to put their feet to the fire.

          My reply to you was meant to say, keep an open mind on all funding possibilities. Licensing and permitting are different tools for solving different types of problems. But at this stage, I do not feel anything should be dismissed out of hand until they are evaluated by DEC and Albany.

          At this stage we are just trying to wake somebody up in Albany! They don’t necessarily see overuse of resources as a problem as long as it brings tourism revenue into the area. But resources are not infinite.

    • Jim says:

      Spot on. A permit system is just another pile of money to be wasted.

      Just take a look at the state budget.

      Anyone know why we have a bottle deposit in NY? Nope, not about
      litter, the state make $300,000,000.00 YES Three hundred Million dollars off of it.

      Just another tax.

  13. @tourpro says:

    Lyon Mt over the weekend. It was a “poo-fest” from Parking to Summit and all around the firetower.

  14. Tony Goodwin says:

    Thank you Peter! What you said is pretty much what I have been saying since I was an ADK Ridge Runner in 1974 and ADK Trail Crew chief later in 1979. With a little education and a lot of trail work, the High Peaks can absorb the kind of use it now gets.
    As you noted, the crowds on Cascade were happy to be there and were not expecting to find “wilderness solitude”. I agree that many of them felt safer because of all the others around them.
    Now we can only hope that as many of these new hikers as possible become additional advocates for increased maintenance, education, and if necessary enforcement in the Adirondacks.

  15. Great article Peter, I totally get why the areas with the most use need to be prioritized. As everyone agrees the big problem is investment to make our trails world class. On our side of the mountains the trails are in horrible shape because we are on the paths less traveled. The educational initiatives at the trail-heads has obviously made a big difference and surely expansion of this practice will help. Now that the state has acquired most of the land it had its eyes on it’s time to invest in making all trails sustainable and functional.

  16. Ron Konowitz says:

    The 46 ers also have a Volunteer Trailwork Crew that has been in existence for the past 4 decades. The first TrailMaster was Jim Goodwin 46 er #24, who was asked by then 46 er President Dr. Edwin Ketchledge 46er #507 to organize and lead an ongoing trail maintenance group composed of members of the 46er Organization. For 40 years the 46ers have worked under the direction of the DEC on countless trail improvement projects!
    Around that same time Educational Outreach Programs such as the 46 er Outdoor Skills Workshop was begun as well as the Alpine Summit Seeding Program, and the 46er Trash Bag and 46er Trowel Initiative.
    Many Volunteer Organizations have been helping to maintain trails,leantos, and other facilities as well as helping educate Adirondack Forest Preserve visitors for decades.
    As is stated in the article, hopefully NYS will increase funding through whatever type of revenue seems to make the most sense to hire more Rangers, Foresters, and other DEC Personel with “boots on the ground” to help manage and maintain this amazing place.

    • Tad says:

      Thanks for pointing these things out Ron. As a 46er myself (#7131), every time I am on the trails I feel grateful to the 46er, ADK and DEC work crews that do so much to try to improve the experience for people like my daughter who is just starting her journey. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to volunteer my time but I do try to remember these crews (and the Summit Stewards) when it comes time to pay my dues. Thanks also to you and the other volunteers at the Cascade trailhead. I’m sure your efforts build awareness and contribute to the positive conditions on the trail.

  17. LakeChamplain says:

    Twas a nice article Peter, tho let me quibble with and reinforce a couple of points you made.

    After not hiking much for about 10 years, I got back into it after I retired 5 years ago. I note this because it gave me a bit of perspective of noting how some familiar trails had changed. My first climb was Jay Mt., after reading an article about the new trail that had just opened. And what a nice re-introduction to the joys of Adirondack hiking; a beautiful mt. with it’s open ridges and broad vistas, and for the first 2.5 miles, what I’ll call a ‘modern’ trail–that many posters above have mentioned–with switchbacks aplenty that offer two benefits, an easier hike(hey, I’m getting up there in years) and far LESS erosive effect. Of other peaks I’ve hiked since then the difference between trails that have been modified and/or re-routed and those that haven’t is startling. Hurricane from 9N is a good example. A friend and I hiked the old trail just a week before the new trail opened, and were both saddened and angered at how many, many boots had worn the trail down to bedrock and made parts of the trail a streamed. When we learned about the new trail we went back and simply put, enjoyed ascending this great mt. much more that the ‘old’ trail. Other trails I note as being modified are Lyon Mt., Baxter, and most recently Poke-O-Moonshine with a re-routed trail complete with many stairs that allow this still pretty much ‘straight-up’ ranger trail to withstand heavy hiker traffic.
    I agree with Peter also that all things considered Cascade’s trail from Rt. 73 has held up surprisingly well and benefitted from minor changes. Speaking of that trail however I felt Peter was a little too easy on the parking conundrum on Rt. 73. To put it bluntly, it’s a bit of a miracle that there hasn’t been a serious accident around that trailhead. It’s just a dangerous situation with a parking area off road needed.
    As to Santanoni and it’s ‘trail less brethren. I’ve posted here before about this but will try again. I’m a 46er who climbed those trail less peaks lo those many years ago, and took some pride in getting up them. But the sheer number of hikers wanting to become 46ers(and those achieving that goal: record numbers the last several years) has created a glaring need to officially petition the DEC to cut new, regular, modern trails on all the trail less peaks. After all, we all know they aren’t really ‘trail less’ and haven’t been for years. What they have are many, too many, herd paths, most of which become easily eroded because they were ‘made’ with a goal–get me to the top! I think this would be a radical move for the 46ers and show people that they do share a responsibility for helping to make hiking the high peaks so popular. And show they’ll put their money where their ideas are by sponsoring another trail crew or two, like they already to in conjunction with the ADK Mt. Club and DEC.

    I don’t see how any permit system would function or be implemented or enforced;
    these Adirondacks are too open and accessible, as opposed to most national parks.
    So as others on here including Peter Bauer have suggested lets design the trails to bear the heavy traffic and still not destroy what we are all trying to enjoy.

    • Mark f says:

      So maybe don’t call it a hiking permit. Call it a rescue license. If you have one and get hurt or lost and need ranger help to get out of trouble, no worries. If you don’t, and are found negligent or unprepared, then you get a bill for services rendered.

    • Boreas says:


      I agree that a permitting system may be fraught with problems with infrastructure and enforcement. IMO, licensing is a far more workable solution similar to current hunting/fishing/trapping/guide licensing. Permitting would likely be more driven toward restriction of numbers vs. licensing is geared toward safety, education. and wise usage of land and water resources without limiting usage. Two entirely different ideas. Hunting requires a license first, but there are additional permits that may be required for certain types of hunting. But the basic license requires firearm knowledge and safety, as well as basic knowledge of the game laws. A permitting system could also be added to a license for certain hiking/paddling activities, but again, with a different goal in mind. BUt I feel basic backcountry education and safety education are ultimately more important than simply controlling numbers with permits.

      • Terry says:

        Nice explanation, Boreas!! I do believe that licensing would work too….sort of ‘forces’ the education issue upon folks!

        • Jim S says:

          Licensing will get hikers to hike elsewhere.

          • Taras says:

            Licensing hasn’t driven away people who hunt and fish.

            Price it too high and, yes, it will get hikers to hike elsewhere. The Hike Safe program in New Hampshire (not a hiking license but effectively “rescue insurance”) is offered at an annual fee of $25/person or $35/family. That’s reasonable.

            • Jim S says:

              I would certainly pay almost any fee they come up with, however many people who are not obsessed with the Adirondacks like I am will not . With the governor’s plans to turn this area into “woodsy Disneyland” I don’t see a fee or licence being implemented any time soon. The last thing they are interested in is slowing down the revenue stream.

              • Boreas says:


                We just had a death in the HPW from someone who may have been turned away at the prospect of obtaining a license. I believe licensing will have no real negative effect on hikers, just as Taras mentions – it does not “drive away” sportsmen. However, if we can keep the casual tourist with improper gear or footwear from deciding at the spur of the moment they can hike or camp in the backcountry, then these are people that shouldn’t be there.

                Everyone agrees we no longer have the Ranger forces to babysit and educate ill-prepared people in the backcountry. I believe the onus should be on the person to know what they are doing in the HPW and probably in the entire Catskill and ADK parks. These aren’t the areas to learn on your own by trial-and-error experience. It can be deadly. A nominal fee and a quick online course is not likely to be a deal-breaker for hikers.

                • Jim S says:

                  I agree with everything you say 100%, except I am firm in my belief that many hikers will go elsewhere. How many, I have no clue.

        • Todd Eastman says:

          No license program unless funds are spent on specific High Peak issues…

          … rangers and trail maintenance.

          And total transparency on the use of funds!

  18. terry v says:

    One of the problems with a permit system that limits the amount of people is that those permits get grabbed up by scalpers and outfitters, who then resell them.
    Big problem out west with camping permits at popular National Parks
    Makes it unaffordable to a person with less $

  19. As an educator I was required to take several interactive online courses. Most had a series of short video clips to view. When completed you had to take a short quiz. After passing the test you could print out a certificate of completion. If DEC utilized this model on it’s website for each type of use and required users to possess this certificate while participating in their outdoor activity of choice Rangers could check to see if they fulfilled the requirement. The US Forest Service uses a similar process for permitted rafting groups on the Grand Canyon. Although you do not need to take a quiz after viewing the video clips the Ranger at the put-in checks your gear and administers a verbal quiz to the group before your departure.

    • Boreas says:


      Exactly! Certification and licensing are essentially the same – a means of forced education. Permitting is different. It typically requires little education but plenty of physical and human infrastructure to apply and enforce. It isn’t as important to strictly enforce licensing/certification as it is for permitting. Permitting is something to control campsite usage, trail usage, etc. and requires enforcement to avoid chaos.

      Many hikers would gladly do it voluntarily if the fees, instruction, and implementation are reasonable. The rest can be brought into the fold over time faced with the THREAT of being asked for their license at some point. Hunting and fishing license-holders are rarely asked to show their license, and both activities enjoy very high rates of compliance.

      I don’t feel licensing/certification should be viewed as a means to limit hiker numbers or to generate a revenue stream for trail/parking maintenance. I view it as more of a safety and educational opportunity that would help with many of the problems caused by high hiker numbers. Wouldn’t large numbers of educated hikers be preferable to large numbers of uninformed, unsafe hikers? Even if usage remained unchanged, it would be less of a burden on the resource and the Rangers. It is just one tool in a comprehensive plan to begin to solve these issues.

    • Taras says:

      I’d support an initiative to have hikers acquire an annual hiking license. It ought to be reasonably priced (not $1000 as suggested elsewhere here) and perhaps, as an incentive to get one, include coverage for rescue under the same terms and conditions of New Hampshire’s Hike Safe system. Otherwise, if you’re rescue is due to negligence or recklessness, you receive a bill for services rendered.

      It also needs to be part of an overall strategy, namely better communication, education, and policing.

      For communication, the DEC’s web-site needs improvement. Good luck finding a summary of guidelines and regulations for the very popular High Peaks region.

      Information, like a new hiking license, needs to be readily visible and, currently, it’s hard to find things. For example, here’s a categorized summary of Eastern High Peaks rules and regs that *ought* to be found on the DEC’s site (but are scattered all over the site):

      Posting key rules at trail-registers is the bare minimum but a bit too late in the game. The sign at Upper Works trailhead indicates you cannot camp above 3500 feet but that didn’t dissuade Alex Stevens (Wallface = ~3700 ft). I doubt a sign indicating “Must possess hiking license” would work any better. You have to know ahead of time and know the consequences of being caught without one (which circles back to more policing).

      The process of acquiring a hiking license will go a long way towards educating prospective hikers about the local rules and regs. However, you first need to know you must get one (discovering you need one at the trailhead is too late) so it will have to be promoted at least as well as current hunting and fishing licenses.

      More policing is needed than is currently available. Boreas has covered this better than I can ever describe it.

  20. George F. says:

    A permit system is the way to go.
    $1000 a year, a licenced guide $25,000, use the money to hire enforcement
    officers, fines are double the fee plus you have to then buy the permit.
    Use the money for tail work.
    Problem solved.

  21. LakeChamplain says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading all the ideas posted here and before on this site about some sort of system/procedure to put manageable limits on the ever-increasing number of outdoor enthusiasts drawn to the beauty of our massive state park, with the focal point seeming to be the high peaks area. As large and rugged as the Adirondack Mts. are, they are a finite resource that at some point cannot retain the natural features that make them so attractive in the first place. Simply put, the numbers of ‘boots on the trails’ is, or in some places already has, reaching the point where the wear and tear of so much traffic erodes the trails that increases damage exponentially.

    Obviously these problems and possible solutions can’t be solved by posts here or elsewhere; it’s going to take a comprehensive effort at the level of the DEC with input from all the organizations and individuals that have a stake based on their concern for what kind of Adirondack Mts. are future generations going to have.

    Questions I pose though about any kind of permit/license system:
    1. There are so many points of entry to the park itself, not to mention the many trail accesses that most peaks have. How do you monitor all these different sites, which unlike the Grand Canyon rafting David Olbert mentioned or the National Parks with their limited entrances. What agency would run the program and where would the money come from to staff it both at its ‘headquarters(even if done online) much less the trail heads and parking areas? The state has not increased the number of Rangers relative to the increasing number of people coming to the mts., any permit system would need a substantial boost in that regard. Volunteers could of course help but if you have a system that has rules, they could not be expected to enforce them.

    2. What would be the goals of such a system? Will they be to limit the number of hikers/campers accessing just the heavily traveled areas like around Adirondack Loj? Will it be for a window of time or a specific day? Think Columbus Day last year; what if the weather’s terrible? Is that just the hikers(with permits for that day) bad luck or do they get rain checks?

    3. There are many similar issues that come to mind but I’ll stop here. This isn’t opening a hornet’s nest; more like a can of worms. A long-term solution won’t be easy. I still believe that short -term more trail crews to ‘harden’ the trails would be a good start. And yes, the efforts by trail stewards and peak stewards to educate and inform is another positive step.

    PS–and hey, anyone have any ideas about what to do about the parking problem at Cascade? I remember several months ago several posters suggested moving the parking to Mt. Van Hoevenberg and then having a shuttle or even cutting a new trail up Cascade from there. Are those feasible?

    • Boreas says:


      Again you are conflating licensing and permitting. I have worked in healthcare for 20 years in NYS and that requires a license, which I must renew every few years, along with continuing education. Yet, I am only required to display my license and have NEVER been asked to show it or prove my CE attendance. But as a professional, I comply. It is enforced primarily by the honor system, with big consequences if one is found practicing without one.

      The same goes for hunting/fishing licenses. No one shows a license to anyone when they go in the woods. But if an officer randomly asks, they must present one or pay the consequences. It is primarily enforced by the honor system, and has been successful in every state for many decades.

      Again, the purpose of a license is education and safety. The purpose of permitting is for control of the resource. Two different systems with two different goals. I believe the licensing system should be the first step with perhaps permitting for specific/advanced activities (climbing, camping, winter sports, etc.) as a potential add-on down the line, if needed. But the first step is to educate! More signage at the trailhead obviously is not the answer. At some point the state will need to take this matter seriously – hopefully before too many more injuries and deaths occur.

      • Paul says:

        I have had a hunting license for 40 years now. I was asked to show it to a DEC ranger once -just once. Fishing liscense never. I have paid almost 100 dollars for it each year for the last 15 years or more (less before that). It is an honour system for sure. Hundreds of thousands pay – maybe millions.

    • Boreas says:

      “Obviously these problems and possible solutions can’t be solved by posts here or elsewhere; it’s going to take a comprehensive effort at the level of the DEC with input from all the organizations and individuals that have a stake based on their concern for what kind of Adirondack Mts. are future generations going to have.”

      AGREED! I just thought of a good way to get some attention. Organize a demonstration at the capitol with 2-300 hikers with full packs climbing up and down all of the stairs for a day. To make a stronger point, we could urinate and defecate on the landings and camp in the lobby.

  22. Paul says:

    Lots of people heap praise on the system they have in NH where they can charge a “negligent” hiker for their rescue. I have looked into it. It is kind of strange if you ask me. The one case that went to the Supreme Court (and upheld that someone had to pay) was the weirdest. The state claimed the hiker was negligent because he had a history of “hip problems” and the forecast was for poor weather. Do we really want to get into things like this! Sounds like a slippery slope. Is it negligent for an older person to go onto the woods? Is it negligent for a disabled person to go into the woods?

    • Mark F says:

      It could be a slippery slope, as you say, but there would have to be some element of common sense. He did not have a HikeSafe card, which would have cost him $25 instead of $9,000, and he did lots of other things he shouldn’t have. So I still think it’s a good idea.

    • Taras says:

      It wasn’t about his age or having an artificial hip.

      His artificial hip had a *history* of dislocating. It was unreliable under average circumstances … and then he subjected it to a backpacking trip in the Franconia Range (and in foul weather that is sure to test your footing).

      With everything he knew about his hip’s reliability, it would seem prudent to pay $25 for Hike Safe which covers rescues even if the incident was due to negligence (but not for recklessness).

      If you drive around in a car that has known reliability issues, it makes sense to, at the very least, pay for a roadside assistance plan so you don’t get dinged for a huge towing charge.

  23. Joan Cahalin says:

    Dear Peter,
    This past July, I hiked Cascade with my 16 and 12 yr old grandchildren. The last time I had done that hike was when I was 16. I am now 72. Although I didn’t count people, the trail both ways was crowded. The hikers were all very friendly and happy. Other than my hiking shoes falling apart, it was great. The one observation: when going down, about 2:00 in the afternoon, we observed at least 3 or 4 hikers wearing flip flops.
    Appreciated your article. Thank you.

  24. Tim says:

    I just wrote to Dan Stec, Asemblyman (and a hiker) and Betty Little, State Senator. I suggest anyone interested in better funding for trail maintenance do the same.

  25. Tad says:

    I think the licensing requirement is a good one. If it’s good enough for hunting and fishing it’s certainly reasonable for hiking. I also like the idea of a permit system for camping which is a much more intensive use than a day hike. It would have to be well thought out in order to avoid problems with scalpers but if funds collected for both of these activities could be earmarked for trail improvement and more Rangers it would be worthwhile. Lots of people from out of state use these resources, including me, and I think it’s only fair that we help to pay the freight.

      • Craig Catalano says:

        As a resident of the State of New York, Town of North Elba, Village of Saranac Lake, I pay enough in taxes to all above. What the State needs to do is stop buying land, and maintain what it already has. Let’s have a moratorium on buying land and put that money into trail maintenance, hire more rangers, and give Adirondack folks work.
        As a graduate of a New York State university, in forestry, I was taught to see the big picture as it has to do with a forest. From the soil to forest canopy. The State owns to much land for it to maintain with the resources it has. Can’t they see the big picture, most of them came from the same school I did.
        I am not paying any more to just walk in the woods.

        • Boreas says:

          “I am not paying any more to just walk in the woods.”

          Craig, that will always be your choice. Stay home if you want. But I wouldn’t advise NOT paying higher taxes to support the increasing S&R costs caused by poorly prepared hikers. ALL NYS residents pay every time this happens. Even with an adequate Ranger staff, S&R is dangerous and expensive – even with volunteer help. The license idea is an attempt to reduce these costs, injuries, and deaths through education, not license fee revenue.

        • Bob Meyer says:

          If NY State government wasn’t so full of pork barrel projects and corrupt politicians and was more efficient with less overlapping jurisdictions and repetitive, redundant agencies you would not have to pay more taxes (probably less) for vastly more DEC and APA staff. Too many folks in the North Country buy the same tired old argument about too much state land etc. when the reality is that it’s state land that brings the tourists that power the Adirondack economy. Also remember: the state PAYS TAXES to the towns on the land it (we) own. We can’t go back to the 20th century economy that relied heavily on the extractive industries on private land. Like it or not, tourism and eco- tourism is the future and state land is the place where most of it happens.
          More rangers! More education! More enlightened science !
          And yes, more state land!

          • Craig Catalano says:

            They can’t maintain what they already have.

            • Bob Meyer says:

              Yes, but instead of stating the obvious, ask why they can’t adequately maintain state land… see above.

            • Boreas says:

              You will find that the closer you get to NYC and Albany state assets are quite well maintained. It isn’t that they CAN’T maintain the ADK Park properly, they choose not to. It simply isn’t a priority for legislators, and likely never will be. It is up to EACH of us to make sure Albany is aware of this neglect of OUR natural resources and what this neglect means to tourism, safety, and the natural environment within the Park and all state lands.

        • Boreas says:

          “What the State needs to do is stop buying land, and maintain what it already has.”


          In general I am in agreement with you. I guess my problem with this is it is not very flexible. There are still private lands out there that if they were to come up for sale would enhance wildlife corridors, watersheds, and the general cohesiveness of the ecosystems within the state.

          Just because private lands enjoy good stewardship now doesn’t mean their new owners will use or maintain them the same way. How much mining or heavy industry or poorly thought out development is desirable or acceptable within the Park? Where are these things acceptable and where are they not? In private hands these things can become issues that have yet to really be ironed out CONSISTENTLY by the APA.

          I guess what I am saying is that I wouldn’t advise outright stops or a moratorium on land acquisition in order to allow flexibility when/if certain properties may come up for sale.

          • Bob Meyer says:

            your comment is well reasoned. buying more land just to do it is not the best policy. critical habitat and corridors as well as iconic properties like Follensby Pond are the exception and should be added to the forest preserve.. remember, overall we are again losing forest land.

  26. Jim says:

    Everyone here is talking about where to find the money for trail work.
    Permits, fees etc.

    The Governor of NY is going with a “delegation” to?????

    Puerto Rico !! Yup, how much does it cost? Private plane, 20 or so advisers,
    security, accommodations. WHY? is Puerto Rico part of NY? NY is flush with
    so much money that he can spend $50,000?

    • John Warren says:

      Do you have an idea about how many residents of New York have relatives, including parents and grandparents, suffering immeasurably right now in Puerto Rico? I’m thinking it’s at least two million.

      • Johnny says:

        And Cuomo will do what for all those people, exactly? Besides get his face on the news, which is all he’s good at, not much.

    • Paul says:

      Three million or more people in PR with destroyed homes, no drinking water, no power, no communication to the mainland… (also, reminder, these are American citizens, many with family ties to New York State), and you’re worried that the money could be put to better use on trail maintenance.

      Self-centered much?

    • Jim says:

      This is one small example of how government wastes money.

      He is going there for photo ops to help run for President.

      Puerto Rico is a sh*thole, corrupt beyond description (I work with people who left).

      So to the people that think it is OK to charge a fee or a tax to get permission to walk on state property and believe that it will be used wisely…….

  27. Paul says:


    When I got to this line: “My main takeaway is that large numbers of hikers can be accommodated and both the experience of the hiker and the natural resources of the High Peaks can be protected.” I had to double-check I was still on Adirondack Almanack. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen optimism expressed here before. Thanks for the article.

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox