Sunday, June 3, 2018

Adirondack Wild: Stop the Rush to Accommodate Overuse

Hikers on Cascade Mountain, eastern High Peaks Wilderness What follows is a press release issued by Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve:

At public meetings held in Albany and Newcomb this week, the non-profit advocate Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve told the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and NYS Adirondack Park Agency (APA) that the agencies are rushing to approve complex amendments to management plans for the High Peaks Wilderness and nearby Forest Preserve units. Such haste risks exposing these wilderness landscapes to more overuse and degradation of their natural resources and wild character.

The agencies are on course to approve the amendments in just over 45 days, or half the time that the agencies previously agreed should be taken to consider complex unit management plans for “forever wild” state lands.

A third public meeting to discuss the amendments has been scheduled for June 21 in Lake Placid. While that is appreciated, the organization finds the number of public meetings inadequate and is pushing for additional public comment opportunities. “These lands are owned by all New Yorkers,” said Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson. “More people should be asked whether the priority of these amendments is to protect natural resources and wild character, which is the correct priority, or is more heavily weighted to accommodate recreational uses that exceed the land’s capacity.”

“This Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the heavily visited Adirondack summer season. Recreational pressures and overuse that have plagued the eastern High Peaks in the past few years must not be simply transferred to the vulnerable, ecologically rich Boreas Ponds that have just been added to that Wilderness, “ stated Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley. “Public comment opportunities should also be scheduled in western and central New York, and downstate,” he added.

To accelerate adoption of the amendments, the agencies this month adopted concurrent public comment ending on June 27. This despite past promises that for controversial unit management plans like these the agencies would abide by their agreement to hold separate public comment periods consistent with their different roles and responsibilities. The APA is responsible for deciding whether State Land management plans are consistent with guidelines in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, or SLMP. The DEC is responsible for day to day management and administration of state lands.

The amendments are particularly complex because they involve the integration and SLMP-compliant management of about 40,000 new acres just added to the High Peaks Wilderness, most prominently at Boreas Ponds and the McIntyre tracts. The result creates a vast, ecologically diverse 250,000 acre “forever wild” wilderness that includes majestic High Peaks, wild rivers like the Opalescent and the ecologically vulnerable Boreas Ponds.

The growth in High Peaks hiking and trail-use has been skyrocketing. Trail registers show that the number of hikers at Cascade Mountain has doubled in ten years, 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 Adirondack Loj, an increase of 62 percent since 2005. According to the Adirondack Mountain Club website, in 1990 Summit Stewards in the High Peaks spoke with 7,000 hikers. Over the last two years, they have spoken with 31,000-36,000 hikers.

“Hiker overuse has severely impacted wilderness resources and experience in the Eastern High Peaks for years,” said Dan Plumley. “We don’t want the same overuse to happen at Boreas Ponds. We’re calling for implementation of carrying capacity studies to inform both indirect and direct control techniques in order to protect the resource from over-use impacts.” Such studies are used throughout the national wilderness system to safeguard wild areas from human overuse, and to employ the tools necessary to manage users so that their activities do not degrade natural systems or wilderness values.

Along with the overuse has come soil erosion, crowding on sensitive summits and an increasing search and rescue challenge in the mountains. “In these amendments, the DEC and APA are obligated to strengthen, not weaken the 1999 High Peaks unit management plan, and to practice wilderness management for both the High Peaks and the new Boreas Ponds addition, “ added Dan Plumley. “Had these management recommendations been funded and implemented consistently since 1999, we might not be seeing the serious overuse that is plaguing the eastern High Peaks now.”

Adirondack Wild is in the process of developing additional management recommendations for both the DEC and APA, and will be asking the agencies to do much more to avoid and mitigate overuse impacts.

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is a not-for-profit, membership organization which acts on behalf of wilderness and wild land values and stewardship throughout the region. For more information, visit their website.

Photo of Hikers on Cascade Mountain, eastern High Peaks Wilderness by Dan Plumley.

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30 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    I don’t know if you ever need to worry about Boreas turning into anything like the eastern high peaks as far as use, no matter where you gate that road. I say that since you look at places like the western approach at Coreys/Axton. It never seems very jammed, pretty easy access, especially for paddlers on the raquette. It’s just easy to approach the peaks people want to bag via the Loj and the Garden. If you want to fix overuse there limits are the only option. They got rid of the hiker bus at the ausable club and far fewer people came in there.

    • Frank says:

      Close that loj if you’re serious about limiting hikers . Make it more difficult to park close. People want to bag peaks. The 46 club should be vilanized. Nobody wants to do any of that so I guess the sensitive places need to be fenced off and hope for the best

    • Boreas says:

      Paul,

      There are certainly many places in the Park with low usage. But how many of those places have had the media attention and will have the same level of state/local promotion for which BP seems to be destined? “Frontier Town” will be promoting it. Local communities will be promoting it. NYS will be promoting it. It will likely become a must-see destination when local and state officials finally get what they asked for. That is what promotion is all about. People = $$$ = votes.

      I haven’t gotten through reading all of the draft plan yet, but I haven’t seen anything about restricting tour buses, but I do believe shuttles are being considered.

      The interesting thing about the Ausable Club bus was that it was for members only. At one time they allowed non-members to pay-to-ride, but that didn’t last long. So why would a private club want to limit usage of their own lakes, even for their own members? Hmmm…

      • Paul says:

        I don’t think that non-members had to pay to ride? I used it a bunch and I don’t remember paying at all? My impression was that is was to get the public rif raf down the club road as quickly as possible. It’s a hike. Discontinuation of the bus it seems like maybe was in an effort to get people to go somewhere else where HPW access was easier. Having stayed at the club a few years back it seems like that maybe has worked. But it was in September when usage is lower anyway. Does anyone here know if the hiker numbers on that road are high these days. But I would note that if there are parking limits at the club you can be sure that the AMR staff enforce that vigorously. Those people don’t fool around when it comes to protecting what they have there.

        I don’t know how much attention was paid to the opening up of the western access to the HPW. Was long before the days of social media. The DEC could certainly try and promote it now as an alternative. Will it work? Probably not since it is easy for people to abuse the situation in places like the Loj and the Garden etc.

        • Boreas says:

          I suppose it was a multi-purpose bus. I never used it or stayed there. I was always told non-members had to pay a fee to use it. I was under the impression it was to shuttle members from the hotel and front cabins to the lakes, trails, boathouse, and back cabins. I believe if they want to simply whisk the riff-raff away from the hotel and cabins, they would have used it when they opened the big public parking area. As I remember, the bus went away around the time they opened the parking lots and disallowed parking along their road. I too assume they do get cranky if people try to park along the road. So instead, people overflow into the state parking lot across the highway.

  2. Mick Finn says:

    Revenue replacement has got to come from somewhere. The Finch / Boreas acquisition closed 200 sportsmens cabins and dozens of clubs that brought tens of millions of dollars to the local economies annually. The clubs were also exceptional stewards.
    So much for unintended consequences!

    • Michael Valentine says:

      I would agree — revenue has to come from someplace (no free lunches in NYS) and that in some cases the local landowner might have been a better protecter of the land (by limiting access) vs. having the state try to manage it. As the saying goes, “if you build it they will come”. I guess some folks thought “saving” the land was a good idea because they would then have access – they forgot that others might have the same ideas. Unintended consequences for sure….

    • Boreas says:

      I don’t know if the consequences were unintended (seems pretty obvious), but I certainly agree.

      However I would like to know the actual financial impact of ONLY the sale on the local communities, since they were complaining of need for revenue and development PRIOR to the sale. This was one reason the sale was promoted. Many small communities around the Park are in similar situations, but not all are related to the sale of lands to the state. Demographic shifts are always occurring around the world for many reasons.

      So should we condemn NYS/taxpayers for buying land intending to increase local tourism dollars and at the same time condemn them for losses related to that sale? It is probably going to take a generation or two to see if this type of experiment was successful.

      • Mick Finn says:

        Boreas, the most common economic data were published by DEC and they claim that privately owned land resulted in a beneficial economic influence of $450.00 per acre per year. This included sportsmen clubs and forest products utilization. The data are quite old now and the figure is bound to be much higher.

      • Paul says:

        Was the experiment successful? Like Tony says in his comment below. There are few users in the Essex chain now. There is the answer. Failed. Die hards here will argue that is because everybody wants a Wilderness designation so that is why nobody is going there. The reason is that there are no high peaks to climb there. I think that if you make Boreas a reasonable paddling destination you will get some use. Will it replace the economic impact that was there from the sporting clubs and the commercial timber use? I seriously doubt it myself. Many promoted the ideas of the almost a million acres of easement lands and that has had a few decades to take hold. Those places are mainly deserted. So if you are looking for real remote and quiet place that isn’t crazy like the HPW give it a try! The bugs own it right now!

  3. Tony Goodwin says:

    Yes, there are more people using the High Peaks now than ten years ago. Sometimes the summits are crowded, but last Thursday (a beautiful, sunny day) I and two others had the summit to ourselves for our entire 30-minuts lunch break at noon. That trail could use some work, but it doesn’t look a whole lot worse than it did ten years ago.

    Much of what Adirondack Wild wrote was written 50 years ago when writers agonized over the first “surge” of users to hit the High Peaks. New regulations on camping and overall group size plus a lot of good trail work mean that overall the place is in better shape than it was 50 years ago.

    The Boreas Tract is unique and beautiful, but let’s not immediately assume it will be overrun with so many users that the place is ruined. There was great concern that the Essex Chain would be overrun; but after the initial flurry of use there are now very few users. Going back even further, when the state acquired the Santanoni Preserve in the 70s, there was concern that the are needed to be protected with camping limited by permit and parallel trails to separate horse and foot traffic. The permits were quickly phased out, and the trail system has shrunk because there just wasn’t that much of either type of use.

    The proposed UMP amendment calls for “conditional implementation” and lays out a detailed monitoring plan that should stay on top of what is happening and make adjustments a needed.

    So just deal with the concurrent 45-day comment periods and hopefully make comments that suggest ways to improve the amendments rather than just trying to delegitimize the whole process.

  4. Todd Eastman says:

    Summits are far less eroded than they were in the 1970s.

    Weigh the costs vs the benefits of having more citizens out in nature hiking and canoeing.

    Will these people support having their tax money spent on preserving wild areas?

    Will these citizens be discouraged by excessive restrictions and vote with their frustrations, and deny funding for public lands?

    Are the management prescriptions realistic, and resource monitoring scientific?

    In my opinion, having more people in the mountains, woods, and lakes is good public policy. If solitude is what you crave, there are some several hundred thousand acres of peace and quiet awaiting your perfect senses…

  5. Tim Brunswick says:

    “These lands are owned by all New Yorkers,”….WOW …was that Dave Gibson talking???….guess so….but gee whiz he’s usually working overtime to keep the “average” New Yorker out with “Wilderness Only” restrictions. Limit parking too close to the ever precious Boreas Ponds acquisition…..unbelievable fence jumping by Mr. Gibson when it suits his purpose.

    The Adirondack Almanac has been over dosed with “whining” about the State not doing something/not taking action over the use and abuse of the High Peaks Areas. Now that the State is actually moving ahead with an expedient process considering the situation, the whiners are complaining they’re moving too fast??!!

    Is it possible to ever make these folks happy?….I don’t think so..I truly don’t.

    Thank You

    • Boreas says:

      “Is it possible to ever make these folks happy?….I don’t think so..I truly don’t.”

      Tim,

      What would it take to make YOU happy? It seems you are always annoyed at somebody about something. I am truly sorry everyone doesn’t have your common sense and see things your way.

  6. adirondackjoe says:

    Would someone please explain WHY a hiking Licence is a bad idea? I need one to hunt and fish and if I needed one to hike certain areas that are over used i would certainly buy one.

    • Boreas says:

      I can’t. Always thought it was a good idea in wild, remote areas. But NYS seems not to want anything to get in the way of tourists using the assets – including education and paying a nominal fee to support patrolling and maintenance.

    • Charlie S says:

      I’m a spontaneous sorta fellow adirondackjoe. Licensing hikers might have some good benefits but it wouldn’t suit everybody and it would most certainly inconvenience simple people like me who just wish, on a whim, to go off into the woods and take a leisurely walk, to get away from the din. It’s a sad thought thinking about how something as simple as taking a walk in the woods has always been free then all of a sudden they start charging us for it.

  7. Tony Goodwin says:

    Adirondackjoe:
    On the face of it, a hiking license would seem like a good idea. Sitting ad the ADK Loj parking, one would just envision all the revenue that the daily wave of hikers could generate. The problem is just how to define “hiking” when just walking in the woods has always been free. The party climbing Marcy is clearly “hiking”, but what about the family going up Baxter to pick blueberries. The trail is maintained by volunteers, and most of it is on private land. Can they only go to the state line for free, but have to pay if the stray over that line?
    For years now, I have advocated for a camping permit that is priced similarly to a fishing license. There would be a season-long pass plus shorter periods. The act of settling down on state land to camp is an easily definable act that would make enforcement easy. In my vision, anyone with a current hunting or fishing license would be exempt from having to buy a camping permit.
    Next, some way needs to be envisioned whereby hikers would have to pay for parking at the most popular trailheads. Hikers already pay at ADK Loj and the Garden in Keene Valley, and much of those funds go back to maintenance of the area.
    People are quite accustomed to paying for parking, but much less accustomed to paying for the privilege of just walking in the woods.
    Let the debate begin and probably take these comments well away from comments on the original article.

    • Boreas says:

      “People are quite accustomed to paying for parking, but much less accustomed to paying for the privilege of just walking in the woods.”

      No one is going to want to get a license if you make getting a license seem like a penalty. You have to set up the program so that people WANT to get the license – such as free parking, a way to improve trails, a way to help pay for more patrolling S&R services, and other perks. A license also doesn’t have to be mandatory or onerous. You just have to make people see the value in it.

      • Lakechamplain says:

        The ADK’s have plenty of trees but money doesn’t grow on them. To implement any kind of permit/license-type plan there needs to be revenue to have a bureaucracy; to implement the licsencing/permitting, and then you have to have enforcement capabilities, and then you need some sort of penalties for those who don’t go along with this. And hey, I think Tony’s assertion about needed moneys also applied to the maintenance of these parking areas and such.
        Where is all this revenue going to come from? The state legislature can’t fund adequately the undermanned Ranger force as is; ya think they’re going to kick in more?
        Finally, a point I’ve raised before: Yes the HPW gets the bulk of attention but how is a permit/license program going to be monitored and enforced at all the trailheads and access points without more, oops, here we go again. You establish new rules of any sort; they become ineffective without enforcement and consequences for breaking those rules. $$$$$

        • Boreas says:

          Did you happen to read the post you are responding to? Take the blinders off.

          • adirondackjoe says:

            Thanks everyone for keeping this discussion civil. I am not for a license for a ‘walk in the woods’ but a license ( fee ? ) for the most heavily traveled and over used areas of the high peaks. Dangerous parking, trail erosion over crowding, human waste on the trail and over worked and underpaid Rangers are not all the problems just some of them. If you just want a walk in the woods there’s almost six million other acres of land to roam in. I think $75 dollars a day per person plus parking and some sort of mandatory education ( don’t poo in the trail ) is a good place to start. This may seem a bit over the top to some of you but look what’s happened in the last ten years. What’s going to happen in the next ten?

          • Lakechamplain says:

            I clicked ‘reply’ directly under Tony Goodwin’s post yet it posted under your reply to him Boreas so your point is well taken but misguided as I do agree with your points for the most part.
            I still maintain there are so many access points over the broad area of the Adk. Park that I don’t see how a system, call them licenses or permits or whatever, will function effectively, no matter how positive the goals are about reducing and/or controlling traffic.

            • Boreas says:

              Damn computers…

              Licenses shouldn’t be designed to reduce or control numbers. The idea is 1. To educate people before they get into trouble or cause damage. 2. Provide a modest cash flow for hiker education, trail maintenance, and patrolling by DEC or volunteers.

  8. Boreas says:

    FWIW, I drove to BP today in hopes of getting trail register data. Unfortunately, the sheets only went back to January. So DEC must have data on previous years in their records. But since January 1 2018:

    Highway Log book:
    75 cars/groups
    139 people
    6 states

    Midway Log Book:
    32 groups/cars
    71 people
    1 to Allen Mt. via Sand Brook

    Of the people I saw on the road today past Midway Gate (1 walker, 1 truck), none had signed in. Keep in mind, many people will sign both books.
    I walked about a mile past Midway until my hip started complaining. It was cold and rainy, so few critters were about, including blackflies. The only vertebrates seen (besides people) were a Raven, 2 Pileated Woodpeckers, 2 Red-eyed Vireos, and 28 red efts. Of the 28 red efts seen, 4 were flattened – one by a horse hoof and 3 by car(s).

    Another interesting find about 0.8 mi. beyond the gate was a wrecked 59 Chevy Parkwood station wagon half-buried down the hill about 100 feet off the road. There are many salvageable trim parts (mostly taillights) if anyone is interested! The stainless steel taillight trim was as shiny as the day it came off the assembly line!

  9. Charlie S says:

    ” Of the 28 red efts seen, 4 were flattened – one by a horse hoof and 3 by car(s).”

    Which goes to prove what I have often said – Foot travel through the woods leaves far less of an impact than bicycles, cars, horses……

  10. Sharon Staples says:

    The US adds 1 million legal immigrants to the population EVERY YEAR. Some say we need to add more. So yes, there will continue to be overcrowding issues in every state of the US, not just California.

    • John Warren says:

      The population of unauthorized immigrants peaked in 2007, when it was at 12.2 million. Since the Great Recession, more undocumented immigrants have left the United States than have entered it, and illegal border crossings are at the lowest levels they have been in decades. In 2014, unauthorized immigrant adults have lived in the U.S. for a median of 13.6 years, with approximately two-thirds having lived in the U.S. for at least a decade.

      • Zephyr says:

        I believe Sharon was referencing “legal” immigrants, which have numbered around 1 million per year. However, most of those people are settling in major cities far from the Adirondacks, and very few of them are hikers I suspect. The population is shrinking in most counties upstate. In any case, I hadn’t noticed when we made one person’s citizenship more valuable than another’s based on how long they have lived here. If that is the case, I suggest we let Native Americans decide what to do about overcrowding in the Adirondacks.

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