Monday, October 9, 2017

A Day On Cascade Mountain: Some Data

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:

Males:
0-17 years old: 33
18-29: 47
30-39: 35
40-59: 41
60+: 10

Females:
0-17 years old: 23
18-29: 53
30-39: 39
40-59: 49
60+: 8

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.


Peter Bauer

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 and 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.

He lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife and two children and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks.




44 Responses

  1. Kari Collins says:

    Thank you for taking the time to carefully gather and analyze this data.
    It provides a snapshot of ADK trail usage that will be very helpful in
    understanding and addressing overuse.

    • Doug Legg says:

      That’s why he took it, Kari, so he could make an argument for restrictions based on alleged overuse. You certainly praised him. Hey, wait a minute, aren’t you related to Peter?

      • Aspiring One-Day-at-a-Timer says:

        Why are you still so angry? Your guy won. Maybe you ought to get that checked out. Jeez, way to not keep it civil around here.

      • Peter Bauer says:

        Doug,

        The purpose here is not to propose restrictions. I’d refer you to my earlier piece on hiking Cascade Mountain with 500 others linked at the top of this post.

        This was about trying to get a some data/useful information into the public debate.

        Three things jumped out at me as interesting: 1) The number of people who hiked Cascade that we talked with who were staying here overnight; 2) The amounts the overnight hikers spent on lodging and food; 3) The fact that half of the hikers questioned were already hiking in the Adirondack Park outside the High Peaks. All of these things run against the popular narrative or the conventional wisdom and beg for much more study.

        Finally, yes I’m related to a bunch of Collins’s, but there’s no Kari in the bunch. Kari speaks for him/herself.

  2. MOFYC says:

    A staggering and informative piece.

  3. Gary Peacock says:

    Thank you, Peter. An important and very interesting project. And thank you to the Almanck for publishing this.

  4. Bill Ott says:

    Pete, I think it is possible to extrapolate good data from your survey, especially if the exact survey were conducted at the same or perhaps another location to establish norms and determine deviations. Look at how pollsters predict elections with only a tiny sampling of the voting public. There are sure to be a lot of people awaiting your next post.

  5. Boreas says:

    Peter,

    Great work! However, I was wondering, is there way to adapt this type of survey to an online version under the auspices of the DEC, ADK, 46rs, or perhaps a new group? It would be interesting if at each trailhead register throughout the HPW there would be a tiny sign with one of those smart-phone barcode-type thingies that people could scan and fill out a survey after their climb at home. It would obviously cut down on manpower and perhaps be more informative than a simple trail register.

    This could also work in a way that could provide the hiker with a smartphone invaluable, detailed, up-to-date trail information and maps for that particular trail network as well as a list of regulations and cautions for those trails. This would essentially provide an online trail guide that cannot be accomplished with traditional trailhead signage. Obviously, this would only work where there is cell access, but the code could be stored and accessed when access is regained. The small sign could also alert the hiker if there is indeed NO cell access along the route. Just a thought.

    • Merry says:

      Only thing is, they’d miss out on input from all the people who don’t hike with a phone or, even worse, don’t have one. I am just guessing but I bet it is an interesting group who look at being outdoors in some unique and important ways. How about a simple postcard with survey access info at the registers?

      • Taras says:

        They could simply print the survey’s URL at the register. That’s what they currently do for the DEC’s Ranger dispatch phone number. Anyone who really wants it can jot it down.

    • Taras says:

      “smart-phone barcode-type thingies”
      QR code (Quick Response). Effectively, it’s a two-dimensional bar code.

      The stumbling block is that not all phones can “read” a QR code (by default). Hold up an iPhone’s camera to a QR code and it’ll recognize it only if it’s running the latest version of its operating system (iOS 11).

      The solution (up until the advent of iOS11) has been to install an app that reads QR codes. However, it means the individual must proactively download the app before setting out to a trailhead. They could take a photo of the QR code and then try to do something with it later … but that implies they are willing to go through a *lot* of steps just to fill out a survey.

      The situation is a bit different with phones running Android. Many manufacturers include the ability to read QR codes directly within the default camera app (mine does). A few don’t so you need to download a separate QR code app. Having said this, iPhones have a much larger market share in North America than Android phones (Android is more prevalent everywhere else in the world).

      Last but not least, is what happens when the phone doesn’t have a data connection. Upon reading the QR code, it’s supposed to display the related web-site. Without a data connection, all it can do is offer to save the web-site’s link … somewhere. I don’t know how it works in iOS 11 but on my phone it only allows you to copy the link to the clipboard. You then need to manually paste it … somewhere, for safe-keeping and later use when you have access to the Internet.

      If all this sounds like too many hoops, that’s what people will need to jump through to get to the survey.

      My suggestion would be, at the very least, to implement your suggestions at the High Peaks rest area on I-87, ADK Loj, Visitor Information Center (VIC), and any retailers willing to participate in the program. Offer free Wi-Fi but restricted to the services you described (survey, downloadable regulations, guidelines, maps, etc) … *no* access to personal email, Facebook, Instagram, web searches, browsing, etc.

      They connect to the limited-access Wi-Fi service and a banner page is displayed with links to the resources you suggested. Easy.

      • Boreas says:

        TARAS,

        It was just a thought, not a plan. BTW, I have an Android. Go figure…

      • Paul says:

        Sure the details are important, but I commend Boreas for suggesting a vision of sorts. The details can always be worked out!

        • Taras says:

          Paul,

          This particular “vision” described a very specific implementation detail that is unlikely to work (QR codes). It also happens to hinge on this detail.

          Just post the URL at trail registers. Interested hikers can jot it down or take a photo of it for future reference.

          The key thing is, of course, to create the online survey and other resources mentioned.

          BTW, there’s a drawback to an online survey and that’s the absence of quality control. A manual, in-person survey assures you get one submission per hiker. Online surveys have few if any controls over who submits what. Garbage in, garbage out.

          • Boreas says:

            Taras,

            It would be just as easy to post both QR codes and the URL. As you say, if no cell service, a photo can be taken.

            The internet suggestion also included a possible educational and information download. It may be a way to help educate newbies that is more detailed than trailhead signage. It would be nice to figure out a way to download the info without cell access, such as a thumb drive at the trailhead. But we all know how long those would last…

            • Taras says:

              Like QR codes, most iPhones have no native support for thumb-drives (you need an app specific to the manufacturer of the thumb-drive).

              For dispensing the educational materials, you could build a self-contained Wi-Fi hotspot and web-site based on a cheap, low-power, Raspberry Pi, powered by a solar-rechargeable battery (encased in weatherproof box). Pause, connect to Wi-Fi, download, done (but functionality in winter is unlikely).

              Call me cynical but given that many people rarely read the existing posted rules at the trailhead, I’m not sure they’ll bother with the extra step of downloading them. Anyway, cost-justifying this project would be an interesting exercise.

              BTW, met a group last Saturday with a tent pitched next to their lean-to. When asked if they knew the tent was too close they confirmed they did. So it goes.

              • Boreas says:

                I am not talking about only downloading rules. I am talking about a specific guide for that trailhead – just like a guidebook. Maps, places of interest, elevation profiles, bridges out, blowdown reports, etc..

                • Taras says:

                  Guides and maps are already widely available online. If hikers haven’t bother to digest that material *before* arriving at the trailhead, it ain’t gonna happen *at* the trailhead.

                  Missing bridges and blowdown represent a category of transient data that requires periodic updating (i.e. data with a limited shelf-life) . There’s no practical way to do this without a network connection; I don’t see rangers manually updating data at each trailhead.

                  Nice ideas but there’s either no technological infrastructure available or too many usability hurdles to have them come to fruition (or simply too expensive for the limited functionality they offer).

                  Best bet is to consolidate all the information you described in one place online and promote the heck out of it. Currently you have to do a fair bit of searching to get all the info; it’s not all in one place.

                  BTW, here’s a detailed High Peaks trail map with elevation profiles and other useful info.

                  https://hiking.waymarkedtrails.org/#?map=13!44.1853!-73.909

                  Here’s a concise, categorized list of the DEC’s regulations and guidelines.

                  http://www.adkforum.com/showpost.php?p=249024&postcount=1

                  Here’s a guide for many ADK trails:

                  http://www.cnyhiking.com/

  6. Blaikie Worth says:

    Excellent and valuable work, Peter.

  7. I like the suggestions from Boreas and found the survey to be quite interesting.

  8. Jim says:

    Very interesting; being an over 70 hiker, I appreciated the $30,000 hip story . I get the Gore/Whiteface over 70 season pass and riding the gondola midweek one often hears of getting new body parts to be able to ski hike etc. None for me yet but my 78 yr old brother will be getting two new knees in the next four weeks and hopefuly continue hiking and snowshoeing in Maine.

    To bad more locals in the adks dont seem to be hikers.

    • Boreas says:

      Jim,

      The locals hike plenty. They may simply avoid the crowds.

      • Paul says:

        There are lots of local hikers, and yes they do avoid the crowds to some extent. I have seen other surveys where the majority of the hikers were pretty local. The Wild Forest parcel that adjoins a property that I have has a pond. Almost everyone utilizing the property is from the small local town down the road. One of the perks of living there. Many of the boaters I see on the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest parcel where my camp is are folks I recognize many from SL.

  9. Angela says:

    Did you ask about their experience on Cascade with so many people or whether they think there should be a system to schedule, limit or charge a fee to take care of the mountains?

  10. Taras says:

    Good information and thank you for taking the time to collect and share it!

    The “Roadside 46ers”: Cascade, Giant, Whiteface. Three very popular 46er summits because they have (comparatively) short trails to open summits with impressive views. Lots of bang for the buck. Park your car and start ascending immediately. Most every other 46er summit requires a few miles of “approach” before you start ascending. Wright and Algonquin come close to being part of the “Roadside 46ers”.

    If you were to repeat your survey for hikers heading to Giant or Whiteface, I’ll bet the results would be similar. Chances are the stats would change if you surveyed hikers bound for more distant peaks like Allen, Cliff and Redfield, Seymour, Haystack, etc. I agree with others that it would be interesting to learn more about who goes where and why and how often.

  11. Tony Goodwin says:

    An “Adirondack Daily Enterprise” article about the greatly increased hiker traffic finished by mentioning that many of the hikers interviewed for the article said that they actually liked the many others on the trail and summit because it made them feel more secure.

    I would agree that may hikers actually do like the crowds. Fortunately, at least for now, that element is not going to be heading to any of the more distant and less-crowded peaks.

    My take is to keep Cascade, Giant, and maybe a few other as “sacrifice” areas while leaving the rest to others.

    • Paul says:

      It’s funny my wife who grew up in a very urban environment feels more comfortable where there are people. I feel more comfortable with fewer. She does not like to run on dirt roads around our camp. Much prefers a park like run with others around. As we grow more urban in how we live the more remote places will probably become left even more to the rest of us!

    • Taras says:

      Tony,

      +1

      Whatever “solutions” deemed to be necessary for Cascade and friends need not be extended to other peaks.

      Peter’s survey provides evidence for what many people already have discovered through experience and observation. Cascade is a big draw because it’s the easiest of the 46ers and provides a great view for the effort. It attracts a lot of people including many with little hiking experience (or none at all). That’s hardly the profile of hikers going to Hough or Emmons.

  12. Boreas says:

    Pete,

    It would have been interesting to see and compare the data from Columbus Day weekend with the trailhead parking closed, forcing a longer hike.

    • Paul says:

      From the ADE article it looks like most people didn’t bother with Cascade when they added a few flat miles to the hike. The few cars that were there (I think they said like 45) were hikers heading to Van Ho since it was easier. If you want to increase use make it easier to access. The reverse is also true. Don’t think we really even need a poll to know this.

    • Pete Nelson Pete Nelson says:

      Patience, Boreas and Paul. Usage data and opinions were gathered, that is all being compiled, and a column is coming.

      Weather did depress turnout at all the usual trail heads.

      Pete

  13. Lakechamplain says:

    Re the weekend closure of the Rt. 73 Cascade/Pitchoff trailheads: I was disappointed that Adirondack Almanac didn’t post a thread about this rather daring move by DEC last Columbus Day weekend. Both the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and the Plattsburgh Press Republican had good, informative articles about the move, complete with the increased distances that the alternative Mt. Van Hoevenberg alternate site provided. I would think many hikers coming from out of the area would check this site about conditions, both weather and obviously this change.

    I was nowhere near Cascade this last weekend and I was wondering how the whole process went. Agree with John Warren that Monday’s incessant rain negated a large number of hikers that under good conditions–like Columbus Day last year–would have been flocking there in droves.

    How many of you think that this might be a future permanent move by DEC to deal with the overcrowding at the RT. 73 trailheads? Many people on here, yours truly included, have noted the obvious; that the parking situation there creates a dangerous safety hazard that seems like an accident waiting to happen. When I read the PR article and noted that starting from the temporary MVH trailhead essentially doubled the hiking distances up both Cascade and Pitchoff I wondered how many hikers would look for other mts. to climb.

    So cancel any observations about rainy Monday; any observations about Sat. and Sunday, which was a nice day? Think this is a move that DEC, with some obvious modifications to using xc trails, should implement?

    • Boreas says:

      I am unfamiliar with the added test leg to the Cascade trail. Is it hardened enough to handle the traffic if this experiment is repeated or possibly becomes permanent?

      Personally, I would like to see it become permanent. Trails should be routed to be both safe and stable – not simply for ease of getting to a summit or destination. The current parking situation is unsustainable and dangerous. There are plenty of short climbs with good views for casual hikers scattered around the area that aren’t over 4000′.

      Parking safety and usage rates/patterns really should be studied around the HPW to determine other trailheads in need of parking mitigation. If we want visitors, we need to keep them and the trails safe to ensure a positive experience. Again Guv, where are the staff to maintain our resource??

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      Lakechamplain, I was on the first vacation in years last week. It was, I think, about the second time I’ve missed a conditions report in about 8 years.

      It looks like it was well-covered in any event. Thanks for noticing it was missing!

      John Warren

      • Lakechamplain says:

        You’re welcome; you do a thorough job of reminding people about many basics while of course highlighting weather and other factors, such as the steady rainfall Monday after a nice day Monday that could have caught some people by surprise.
        I was also thinking that for people traveling from outside the immediate area that they might not have been aware of the DEC’s plans to shut down the main trailhead to Cascade. I give DEC credit for taking that step; it seems as good as any other suggestions I’ve heard about dealing with the dangerous congestion there on Rt. 73.

        • John Warren John Warren says:

          It’s all true. Unfortunately, there is no one here but me to do it. I likely would have made mention of the rain on Monday had I been in town because it was notable, but usually the report just covers the weekend. I am slowly working to develop a more frequently updated conditions site. It’s still some time off – stay tuned.

          John

  14. Jane Alpert says:

    Thank you, Peter. I loved reading this fascinating melange of data, anecdotes, and quotes about Cascade, a great favorite place of mine. I had no idea it got as many as 600 visitors in a day! I’m afraid that at age 70, my fragile joints may prevent me from ever doing this wonderful climb again, but it thrills me that so many people are still discovering its wonders.

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