As the upcoming Canadian Victoria Day holiday weekend (May 19-21) kicks-off the start of the busy season in the Adirondack High Peaks, local advocates and officials are assessing overcrowding, making plans to accommodate more visitors, and proposing new regulations and a sweeping expansion of backcountry facilities.
New regulations are being proposed to require registration for High Peaks Wilderness visitors; require dogs be leashed over 4,000 feet; expand the bear canister requirements; change the snow depth at which snowshoes are required to 12 inches off trail; and ban glass containers.
Among the facility plans are new parking lots; building more than 50 miles of new trails and rerouting and improving dozens more; installing toilets and privies at trailheads; building dozens of new campsites; improving and marking trails up “trail-less” peaks traditionally climbed by Adirondack Forty-Sixers; building new Day Use Areas with launches at Boreas Ponds, Henderson Lake, and Chapel Pond; and more.
The changes come as the Adirondack High Peaks are seeing record numbers of visitors. DEC trail registers show that the number of hikers at Cascade went from 16,091 in 2006 to 33,149 in 2015. In 2015, 53,423 people signed the trail register of the Van Hoevenberg Trail near Adirondak Loj, up 62 percent from 2005. (In comparison, DEC estimated about 57,000 total High Peaks visitors in 1983, and 140,000 in 1998). Last summer, the Adirondack Forty-Sixers reached 10,000 people who have climbed their traditional list of 46 peaks.
DEC Forest Rangers are now conducting about twice as many search and rescue operations as they were a decade ago and “overuse of trails, campsites, and summits has led to erosion, soil compaction, loss of fragile vegetation and impacts on sensitive wildlife” advocates and local officials said in a press announcement this week.
In that announcement, local governments and environmental advocates released results of a High Peaks area trailhead study conducted between last Labor Day and Columbus Day. A survey of parking lots showed:
“Close to 80 percent of all trailheads leading into the High Peaks and surrounding Wilderness areas were routinely above their capacity on fall weekends. Thirty-five parking lots designed to accommodate fewer than 1,000 cars frequently had more than 2,100 cars trying to park at them, the analysis found. As a result over 1,000 cars were repeatedly parked along roads, on private property, and in unsafe locations.”
The survey found that there were an average of 240 cars in the parking lot at the Cascade trailhead, despite a capacity of only 73. Additional findings were:
- Keene Valley trailheads contain a total of 353 parking spots, but had 721 cars;
- At Adirondak Loj and South Meadows Road, parking for 196 cars, had 674 cars;
- Baxter Mountain, no parking lot, 18 cars;
- Hurricane Mountain, parking for 12 cars, had 46 cars;
- Ampersand Mountain, parking for 10 cars, had 64
- Route 9N, Elizabethtown/Keene, parking for 24 cars, had 83 cars; and,
- Elk Lake, parking for 31 cars, had 56 cars.
On Thursday, May 10, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) opened the 45-day public comment period on new DEC plans for the High Peaks Wilderness, which includes about 275,000 acres of publicly-owned “forever wild” Adirondack Forest Preserve. Many of the changes would be effected by amending the 1999 High Peaks Wilderness Complex Unit Management Plan (UMP), the document that lays out the management of the High Peaks. Phil Brown has a story about the fast-tracking of these proposals here.
The document has only been amended once before, to propose a trail up Porter Mountain. (The currently proposed amendments are here.) Some changes would be effected by amendments to the plans for the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Intensive Use Area (i.e., Cascade) and the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest (i.e., Boreas Ponds), which APA is also about to consider.
At Cascade, the most popular high peak, DEC’s plans include moving the trailhead to the Mt. Van Hoevenberg facility (where additional expansion is in the works) and closing the Cascade trailhead and parking areas on Route 73. The plan would add about two miles to the hike up Cascade, doubling the distance to make the summit.
New parking areas are in the plans for climbers in Chapel Pond Pass, and possibly a rerouting the Ridge Trail on Giant Mountain to these new parking lots. Additional trail reroutes are also in the proposal, such as moving the lower portion of the Wright Peak Ski Trail to connect with the Whale’s Tail Ski Trail (avoiding the hiking trail to Algonquin) and a reroute of the Ampersand Mountain trail to a new parking lot.
DEC is proposing to install privies and toilets at all High Peaks trailheads where it’s possible, following-up on the AuSable River Association’s project to install port-a-johns at select busy trailheads in recent years. It also plans improved signage with a Leave No Trace and Wilderness Ethic messages, maps, and some new kiosks.
DEC’s plans include building official Class III and Class IV trails up 21 traditionally-hiked “trailless” peaks. DEC’s also seeks to add signs at the tops of some “trailless” peaks. Maccomb, Couchsachraga Peak, Allen, Cliff, Mt. Redfield, Gray Peak, Mount Marshall, MacNaughton, Seymour, Seward, Donaldson, Mt. Emmons, Street, Nye, and Tabletop would all get signs.
Camping facilities would also expand with the addition of dozens of new primitive campsites including five on the shores of Boreas Ponds, accessed by a new Day Use Area planned at the dam. A new universally accessible lean-to is planned for the shore of Boreas Ponds, as is a new accessible hand launch. A similar situation is proposed for Henderson Lake. A new trail is proposed from the Boreas Ponds Day Use Area to the summit of Boreas Mountain, along with dozens of new miles of trails and improved trails across the southern High Peaks.
At Adirondak Loj, the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) has added an additional full-time educator to teach Leave No Trace skills and ethics education and are continuing a program they piloted last year in which volunteers meet hikers in the parking lots to help educate them. ADK has also invested $1 million in infrastructure at the Heart Lake Center at Adirondak Loj, including a renovation of the High Peaks Information Center, a new wash house and septic system, a new section of campground, and a new yurt village which a press announcement said would be used for education.