On September 16th I hiked Cascade Mountain and wrote about the experience. On that day over 500 people hiked Cascade. I returned the next weekend (on Saturday September 23rd), with a friend and survey sheets and clipboards to ask hikers a series of questions. The interviews took about two minutes and many people graciously answered questions. At busy points, we were both talking with groups as others walked by us. This was a rough survey, undertaken as much to learn about what is necessary for conducting this kind of survey as it was for getting some basic data from the hikers on Cascade Mountain.
On September 23rd, over 600 people hiked the mountain. We talked with 117 groups, which included 338 people. We started at 8 am and many, probably nearly 200 people, had already started their ascents. We were able to interview some people on their way out. We stopped our interviews at 2 pm.
Our survey was not exhaustive. It was meant to be short and gather some basic information. An exhaustive study of people who use the High Peaks, and the Adirondack Forest Preserve, would be fascinating, and extremely informative and helpful for public policy decisions, but what we managed was just a quick survey.
Here are some highlights from what we found.
Of the 117 groups that we talked with, totaling 338 people, there were 166 males and 172 females. Of the 166 men, 113 were 18 years or older and 33 were 17 years old or younger. Of the females, 149 were 18 or older, 23 were 17 or younger. Of the 117 groups, 22 were families, 4 included grandparents hiking with grandkids. That we got over 100 groups and 300 people gives this effort some validity.
The age breakdown was like this:
0-17 years old: 33
0-17 years old: 23
Of the 117 groups, 89 groups were from the U.S., 27 groups from Canada, and one group (a family) from Scotland. There were 5 groups of Park residents among the U.S. groups.
Of the 177 groups, we asked people how often they visit the Adirondacks: 1 “every other year;” 1 “infrequently;” 22 annually; 17 2x annually; 11 3x annually; 6 4x annually; 8 5x annually; 4 6x annually; 17 10x or more each year. Five groups were Park residents and for 12 groups it was their first time visiting the Adirondacks. The visiting frequency of 13 groups was unknown. This shows, albeit with a very limited sample, that lots of people return to the Adirondacks again and again.
Of the 117 groups, 49 groups (131 people) hiked Cascade as part of a day trip, while 68 groups (207 people) hiked the mountain as part of an overnight trip to the Adirondacks. Ten parties of day trippers were from Canada, coming largely from areas around Ottawa and Montreal. Of the American day trippers, they came from as far away as Long Island, Rochester and Syracuse, with the majority were from Albany and Utica areas. There were groups of students from Clarkson, Potsdam and Paul Smith’s College and there were the five groups of Park residents.
The 68 overnight groups included 16 from Canada and one from Scotland. 51 overnight groups were from the U.S. These groups stayed in various accommodations: 3 stayed in their 2nd homes in the area; 2 at Inns or Bed & Breakfasts of the Prescott House and Butterfly Inn; 5 rented cabins or houses through AirBnB or online; 32 stayed at hotels in Lake Placid, Wilmington, Upper Jay, Keene or Lake George; 21 stayed at campgrounds, including Adirondack Loj, the state campgrounds at Fish Creek and Wilmington Notch, Draper’s Acres, and the Wilmington KOA; three camped on the Forest Preserve; and the lodging of two overnight groups was unknown. Hotels mentioned included the Crowne Plaza, Mirror Lake Inn, Schulte’s, Hampton Inn, Prague Motel, and Rodeway Inn in Lake Placid, Trail’s End in Keene, Brookside Motor Inn in Upper Jay, and Mountain Brook Lodge in Wilmington.
We asked people about their spending. The 68 groups, and 207 people, who were overnight visitors reported spending $25,665 total on their lodging and spending over $11,141 on food. Most people stayed one or two nights, but one party from Illinois reported vacationing here for a week. A number mentioned that they were only part way through their visit and were planning to eat out more before they left.
The 49 groups of day trippers, with 131 people, reported spending $1,560 on food. One day tripper from Plattsburgh said he bought no gas on his trip, but spent $1.19 on coffee at Stewart’s in AuSable Forks, another $1.19 on coffee at Stewart’s in Keene, and that all his gear was old or hand-me-downs.
People in 14 of the groups reported purchasing new equipment specifically for their hike up Cascade on the 23rd. We tried to ask people about their total spending on equipment that they used on their hike, but that did not work out very well and our data is incomplete. What about cameras? What about GPS? What about binoculars? What about knee braces? What about inhalers? What about the closet full of equipment at home? What about all the Advil they were taking? What about the automobiles they used to drive to the trailhead? Many people had old equipment, but many were decked out from head to toe with new hiking shirts, pants, shorts, boots, hats, poles and backpacks and reported hiking with well over $1,000 of equipment. It was an 80-degree day and many also hiked in gym shorts, sneakers and t-shirts. One older hiker, a male, one of the few over 70, said to make sure to include his $30,000 new hip in our survey because he got it mainly so that he could keep hiking. (I mention it here because it’s funny, but it’s not recorded in the study.)
In addition to spending data, we also wanted to find out about whether this was their first time climbing Cascade Mountain or whether they were return hikers, what other High Peaks they’ve hiked, if they hike in other places in the Adirondacks, and why they chose Cascade Mountain.
Of the 117 groups that hiked Cascade, 44 reported that it was their first time ascending the mountain. 20 groups included both people hiking Cascade for the first time and return hikers, while 53 groups reported that they had hiked the mountain previously. This is a short sample, but clearly on this one day in September 2017, there were lots of return hikers to Cascade Mountain.
We asked people if they have hiked other High Peaks and if they hike in other areas of the Adirondack Park outside of the High Peaks. On the question of hiking other High Peaks, 26 groups said they had not hiked any other High Peaks, five groups were mixed, while 86 groups reported hiking other High Peaks. Giant, Marcy, Algonquin were most frequently mentioned. The hikers that day included a number of 46ers and people who were aspiring 46ers.
On the question of hiking outside the High Peaks, we found that 58 groups said they had not hiked outside the High Peaks, while 59 groups reported hiking in other areas of the Adirondack Park. The Lake George area, Blue Mountain, Hadley Mountain, Pok O Moonshine, Baker, the Old Forge area, Snowy, Ampersand, and Wakely were the most frequently mentioned. With hikers just about evenly split on this question, it shows that High Peaks hikers in large numbers are already using other areas in the Adirondacks. It also shows that there’s a huge portion of hikers to encourage to visit other areas.
On the question of why they chose Cascade Mountain, variations of “easy,” “short,” “quick,” “kid friendly,” of “family friendly” were the most common. About two dozen groups mentioned that it was their first High Peak. Another two dozen mentioned either working on or thinking about becoming 46ers. “Great view,” “dog friendly” and “easy mountain to hike for the sunrise” were mentioned several times. More than one mentioned researching hikes in the High Peaks online and that Cascade Mountain was mentioned more than any others.
This survey is not even a scratch on the surface of the data that’s needed about who is using the Forest Preserve and why. In the week since doing this survey, it has occurred to me that it would be very useful to interview hikers after they have completed their hikes to get their impressions on hiking with crowds, trail conditions, the summit condition, education offered along the way, understanding of Forest Preserve rules, some kind of evaluation of their whole experience, and recommendations for ways they would improve things. There are many other questions too.
The data above only covers about half the people who hiked Cascade Mountain on September 23, 2017. There were also huge crowds of hikers at Giant Mountain, parked for miles on the Adirondack Loj Road, at Hurricane Mountain, at The Garden, among many other locations. Can we extrapolate this data of a few hundred hikers across the thousands or tens of thousands of people that hiked in the Forest Preserve that weekend in September? No we can’t, but it sure would be great to have that kind of data.