Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Gibson: Limited Entry Systems For High Peaks Wilderness

Given ongoing evidence of recreational crowding, overuse and resource damage of the eastern High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve has called on our DEC to institute permit systems, sometimes called Limited Entry systems, to assure and restore Wilderness preservation, character and opportunity in the most heavily used portions of the High Peaks. Such systems are widely used around the country.

The internal debate at DEC over whether to institute permit systems for the High Peaks has gone on for more than 40 years. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is considering the expansion of such a system within 500,000 acres of federal Wilderness in Oregon’s Cascade Range.

According to Statesman Journal writer Zach Urness, the new U.S. Forest Service rules would apply to the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Three Sisters, Waldo Lake and Diamond Peak wilderness areas in Oregon’s Cascades. Public comment is required. A final decision is expected this summer, and the expanded system would begin summer 2019.

Again according to journalist Urness, “This is happening because of too many people.  The plan was developed because the number of people hiking and backpacking into Central Cascade wilderness areas has skyrocketed. Visits have almost tripled in the Three Sisters since 2011, leading to increases of trash, human poop and other problems. The main driver is Oregon’s population growth.”

Sounds familiar.

Briefly, the ongoing system in the Cascades is called a Limited Entry system. It already applies to several trailheads in the Cascades, and the expanded system will apply to more within the five Wilderness areas. Each trailhead will have a different quota for the number of permits issued based on resource and user characteristics and pressures. Different permits and quotas would apply to overnight camping and day use. Most permit users would apply in advance, but Forest Service Forest Service officials said they’ll likely “keep a certain number of permits for “same day” pickup, meaning, people could pick up a permit at a local ranger station and go hiking the same day.” Under the Forest Service Limited Entry system, people pay for their permits. The fee structure will be in the $6-$12 range.

If the benefits include increased opportunities for solitude, improved natural resource conditions and a primitive and unconfined wilderness experience, can we not imagine a similar limited entry system within the South Meadows-Flowed Lands corridor? Atop peaks harboring fragile, vanishing alpine flora? On Cascade Mountain? Boreas Ponds? What if our permits were at no cost, provided through the same reservation system used by our DEC Campgrounds and required in heavily used hiking and camping corridors, presented upon request of a DEC Forest Ranger or Assistant Forest Ranger? Advance education and information would be required at first. My point is a limited entry system for portions of the eastern High Peaks Wilderness seems totally imaginable.

As to what kind of limited entry permit system proves most practicable and enforceable for the eastern High Peaks, and for what trailheads, the 1999 High Peaks Unit Management Plan pointed a way forward. A working group was supposed to have been formed by the DEC by 2002 to study both its structure and its implementation. It never was formed.

Deep inside the 1999 Unit Management Plan for the High Peaks Wilderness Complex (HPWC) are a variety of management statements, policies and actions which concern crowding and overuse, and what to do about it. For instance, the section on Campsites begins this way (page 151): “Despite the HPWC’s huge size, the land area for environmentally suitable camping is quite small. High elevation eco-types, steep mountains, rock outcrops, wetlands, poorly drained soils severely restrict camping and intensify the demand for available campsites in valley floors and lakefront locations.”

The section goes on: “In some areas, particularly in the eastern High Peaks zone, site density has reached the point where visitor crowding is an issue. Many sites, both designated and impromptu, have been located in areas not capable of sustaining repeated heavy use…Demand often exceeds the availability of environmentally suitable sites. When all the designated sites are full, visitors tend to create new sites.”

The preamble concludes: “Without stricter camping controls, it may be difficult for DEC to satisfy its legal mandates to protect wilderness resources as required by the APSLMP. A camping permit system may be eventually required to disperse and limit use in heavily used areas. Camping permits were first suggested by the High Peaks Advisory Committee of 1974. A 1976 DEC report entitled ‘A Report on Wilderness Nonconformance’ supported the 1974 proposal and recommended camping permits for Flowed Lands, Indian Falls, Lake Colden, Marcy Dam and other interior locations if overnight visitation caused overcrowding and/or resource damage.”

The UMP goes on to list these management policies and actions to address overcrowding and resource damage:

  • A campsite and lean-to inventory and evaluation study to designate campsites in compliance with the APSLMP;
  • Camping restrictions to designated sites in heavily used travel corridors from South Meadows to Flowed Lands;
  • Restoring closed campsites to more natural conditions;
  • Monitoring campsites in popular and in especially sensitive areas, and evaluating the effectiveness of a designated campsite program;
  • If these actions prove ineffective in reducing damage and overcrowding, placing additional controls sequentially in the following order, after opportunity for public comment:
  • Reduce or limit overnight parking consistent with the number of available interior campsites;
  • Overnight camping permits for all visitors may be considered in the South Meadows-Flowed Lands corridor and at elevations between 3500 and 4000 feet for which a designated campsite program has been implemented.

Finally, there is this: “The DEC will form a working group in year 3 to develop the structure and implementation process for a camping permit system. The working group will afford opportunity for public input and comment. Final recommendations for the Commissioner (DEC) will be made no later than year 5. The decision to implement a permit system will require an amendment to this plan and will afford opportunity for public review and comment.”

Acknowledging that over 19 years our DEC and private partners have expended tons of effort to address crowding, overuse and resource degradation in the eastern High Peaks, it is just as true that DEC never undertook this key step in the sequence despite continued, intense overuse and crowding.

From the Pataki administration, through the Spitzer, Paterson, and now the Cuomo administrations, DEC never formed a working group to develop the structure and implementation process for a camping permit system – a system the DEC felt was justified as early as the mid ‘ 70s. At the APA meeting to approve the UMP amendment last week, neither agency offered an explanation.

Nevertheless, DEC is now commited by this new UMP amendment to create a new working group, to be led by dedicated DEC regional staff. Commenting on this latest High Peaks UMP amendment approved as SLMP compliant last week, APA Member Chad Dawson noted that while DEC is still kicking the overcrowding can down the road, the amendment has made forward progress. It requires a phased approach to future facilities development, active monitoring and evaluation of wild land conditions based on a chosen set of goals and resource indicators meant to determine if management actions are meeting the desired resource goals. A working group will be formed to help DEC implement the monitoring program.

Unfortunately, no phasing, no monitoring and no evaluation will occur before DEC opens miles of new road to public motorized uses (Gulf Brook and Boreas Roads) and builds multiple parking areas for well over 100 cars and trailers within 7 miles of Boreas Ponds. That intense facility development is baked into the UMP amendment, and a monitoring and evaluation system will only begin after this round of recreational development is well underway. After-the-fact monitoring and evaluation systems are better than nothing, but not an exemplary way to study carrying capacity.

Viewed positively, APA Member Dawson asked DEC about the timeline for a wildlands monitoring plan. When will a working group get started? “Let’s all become more conversant in monitoring and evaluating wilderness conditions and character, he urged. Let’s train people to do this well and involve them in photo monitoring, and let’s do this work across the Park and the entire Forest Preserve.”

DEC responded that a DEC working group will begin this summer and will have a two year lifespan. That is positive news. But, DEC also made clear, as did the State Land Chair for the APA, Karen Feldman, that “we are not ready for a permit system.” Harking back to 1974, 1976 and 1999, its déjà vu all over again. DEC again acknowledged last week that such a system may one day become necessary.

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

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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest PreserveDuring Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history. Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.

62 Responses

  1. I think this is worth trying. I’ve done close to 100 hikes in the last 3 years but I haven’t been to the High Peaks WA once because I don’t want to deal with the hassle of finding parking. There are too many other great places in the Adirondacks that don’t have parking issues and offer a more remote wilderness experience. But I’d still like to be able to go to the High Peaks once a twice a year.

    If the DEC is going to do something like this, it’d be nice if they developed a mobile app through which this could be managed. That way, hikers could present their permit on their cell phone instead of having to waste paper to print it out.

  2. Tony Goodwin says:

    This isn’t the first time the issue of increased use of the most popular hikes and summits has come to the fore. Surges in use in the late 60s/early 70s created alarmist comments that the wilderness had been “ruined”. Then a few new regulations – chiefly on camping and group size – seemed to mitigate the problem. The next surge was in the early 90s when a limit on day group size and a ban on campfires seemed to be all that was needed to control the new use.

    The current surge does present some additional problems, but the question still remains whether to accept large numbers on the most popular hikes and be prepared to manage those numbers with education and improved trail maintenance, or to instigate a permit system that limits use on the most popular routes?

    Hikers, however, still want to hike, so the question is: With as Limited Entry Permit where will those who are turned away actually go? Will they invade peaks where currently solitude is the norm, or will they just go to other popular hiking areas in Vermont or the Catskills and increase crowding there?

    When Peter Bauer hiked Cascade last September on a busy weekend, he seemed to have had an “aha” moment when he realized that 500 well-managed and somewhat educated hikers on that peak was not really a major problem. Those hikers that Bauer interviewed seemed to welcome the numbers as insuring safety rather than intruding on their “wilderness experience”.

    We appropriately expect governments to do a lot for us in our daily lives. Should we expect the government to create a system that will “guarantee” us solitude in every area?

    Years ago, I drove past a very crowded Cascade Mt. trailhead on a sunny Saturday before hiking Moose and McKenzie mts. I saw absolutely no one on my hike, and i think that division of experiences should remain. We just need to spend a few more dollars on the trails/parking areas that service these trails.

    • Paul Gebhard says:

      Thank you Tony. A very wise answer! If one wants solitude there are places where it may be found, but if one expects to find it via the Cascade or Giant TH they are looking in the wrong place!

    • Aaron says:

      I think the answer is clear; they will go elsewhere with less incentive to give the ADK’s another try. The fact of the matter is as much as the state has tried to divert more traffic and interest to other areas, the reality is that most people visit to “peak bag” the 46, not “pond bag”, “waterfall bag”, or “fire tower bag”. This term “overuse” that has cropped up is a misnomer and diverts attention from the actual challenges – infrastructure, maintenance, and safety with emphasis on the busiest areas in the Park.

      The simple fact is that if the state wants to push tourists to the Park they MUST address all three challenges with funding and manpower, which to date they’ve fallen woefully short in doing. We don’t need permitted parking first, we need MORE parking at the busiest trailheads. We don’t need more glossy brochures, videos and websites, we need MORE informational kiosks, stewards, and trail crews. And we absolutely, positively need MORE rangers – double or triple what we have now.

      The 46 are going to be fine, they can handle the traffic. It’s the people who can’t, not without coordinated, realistic, comprehensive solutions.

      • Paul says:

        The Saranac Islands camping areas seem too have decent ranger coverage. I wonder if that has anything to do with the $$ they collect that is used to maintain that area via a permit system?

  3. Paul says:

    “population growth”? no that doesn’t sound familiar. Does it?

  4. Greg M. says:

    Agreed 100% Tony. I’m not sure I’ve talked to anyone who had personal issues with the number of people passed while in the high peaks. It’s not a place to expect solitude while on the main trails. There is a legitimate issue with trail erosion, but people are not the primary problem, the poorly designed trails are. Limiting people is missing the point.

    Why is everyone asking for more Rangers when we could just limit people? Same argument, just opposite answer.

    I personally think the answer to the high peaks problem is permits that drive revenue directed 100% towards trail maintenance & protection. Let’s fix the problem, not delay it. A $30 yearly permit or a $5 daily permit would go a long ways to have a completely different conversation in 5-10 years. I usually do not agree with Peter Bauer, but I remember reading his article on Cascade Mt and thinking it was spot on.


    I also have a serious issues with reservation systems and hiking. My last two reservation experiences were with Essex Chain Campsites and Johns Brook Lodge Leanto. On both occasions we were forced to reserve non-desireable sites. When we arrived, we find the site we wanted not utilized. They were close enough to unintentionally check usage both late the night before and early the next day. Spots were reserved, but not used. In the JBL case, even paid for. First come-first serve is an Adirondack tradition that by its inherent simplicity, solves many problems by not creating them. Imagine if there was a free parking system. Who would not reserve a spot even if they knew they were only 50/50 on going? Would that attitude change much if it was only a few dollars?

    My Take:

    * Self-fund the High Peaks maintenance via a required hiking permit. If 100,000 people pay an average of $15 ($5 per calendar day with $30 annual permit option) that’s $1.5 million per year to put towards 2-3 additional rangers and a many additional teams of trail maintenance crews. And that assumes a 50% loss from overhead. Permits could be purchased online or physically. Simple parking meter technology can be utilized unlike for a reservation system, similar to how parking urban provides a parking receipt for your car dash — only each person would need one, and they would take it with them instead of leaving it in the car.

    * Create proper parking areas, particularly focused around the new hardened trails. Cascade’s recent changes are a prime example. There is safe parking for as many hikers as interested. Roadside parkings issues are because existing lots were designed for a different time. The lots are too small for demand, and the demand is not the core problem — poor trail design and lack of eduction is.

    * No date-based reservation system. That’s a management nightmare to say the least and an order of magnitude more complex to implement and maintain than a permit-based system. And the suggestions of it being “free” are completely senseless. We do not have money for trail maintenance. We do not have money for rangers. But we’re going to spend millions of dollars to create a date-based system that requires multiple full-time people to manage, plus more for enforcement efforts? It would have to be paid, so what happens if I get to a parking lot and my spot is not available? KISS principle applies here.

    * Many have reference that the crowds are somehow violating the definition of “Wilderness”, typically paraphrasing this “has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation”, often leaving out the “or” and latter half. The high peaks have pleanty of opportunity for solitude, but your not going to find it on a trail, and that’s fine by the definition. I think the entire high peaks could have twice the visitors and still fit the “has outstanding opportunities for…a primitive and unconfined type of recreation” half of the definition, so there are no legal issues with the number of visitors directly.

    Full Wilderness definition here: https://www.apa.ny.gov/State_Land/Definitions.htm

    Semi-related: In the early early 2000s, there was a self-issued permit system. To have all this discussion around permits and reservations and not discuss this seems odd to me. It was not a direct match of what is being discussed today, but a lot should be learned from an effort that was actually implemented, particularly given the complexity of the numerous access points. What worked well? What didn’t?

    • Zephyr says:

      The self-issued permit system was a disaster. On the busy trails you would be lucky to find a permit after the morning rush, and restocking major trailheads was a huge chore and often not done in a timely manner. You were supposed to tie the permit to your pack so it was visible, and then it would catch on a branch and be gone by the time you ran into a ranger. Hiking along major trails was an exercise in trash pickup for those of us worried about such things–all the lost tickets. If you didn’t have one you were supposed to be told to hike back out and get one–not very realistic if you were on Marcy. It is a great example of a poorly thought out system that should be avoided.

  5. Tim says:

    I don’t get it. For years, I hear so much talk about how people must be attracted to the Adirondacks to help the local economy. And, then, when tourism increases, there’s a lot of talk about how to limit it.

    • Boreas says:

      It’s all about votes. Any given nice day in summer transforms the HPW into a significant population center, yet no additional Ranger support is planned.

      • Paul says:

        Summit stewards spoke with “31,000” hikers last year. Personally I don’t think it is necessarily a lack of people supervising – like rangers. It’s the fact that there are 31,000 hikers to speak with. Just too many people.

        • Boreas says:

          Of course it is too many people. Rangers need to be available for emergencies. Plus they need to patrol. With increasing numbers of people and increasing acreage that each Ranger is responsible for, we need increasing numbers of Rangers just to perform their basic functions. You aren’t arguing that are you?

  6. Boreas says:

    At least for the HPW, I would prefer something more akin to a license that limits usage or parking to people who have taken a brief educational online or local course. Why have a permit system without a minimal amount of safety and environmental education? With minimal Ranger support, this will be essential to protecting the resource AND its users.

  7. Kathy says:

    And how will permit users be identified? Having a ranger stationed at the trailhead giving tickets to cars or checking permits carried by people?
    I don’t hike these areas ,just curious…especially given that a ranger has so many more duties than adding traffic control.

    • Greg M says:


      Interesting thought of having permits left in the car. My initial thought was to have people carry permits, and show the permit when asked, similar to fishing license, but I guess it could be left on the car dash, exactly like a modern parking meter stub (vs the old coin operated stands). This would be interesting in that some trailheads (on busy highways) can have a higher fee than less risk ones (eg Mt Hoevenberg / Upper Works) and in doing so help solve the parking problems directly.

      The downside of this is that a car of 6 people and a car of 1 person pay the same amount, but disproportionally impact the trail. No system is perfect.

  8. Tony Goodwin says:

    This isn’t the first time the issue of increased use of the most popular hikes and summits has come to the fore. Surges in use in the late 60s/early 70s created alarmist comments that the wilderness had been “ruined”. Then a few new regulations – chiefly on camping and group size – seemed to mitigate the problem. The next surge was in the early 90s when a limit on day group size and a ban on campfires seemed to be all that was needed to control the new use.

    The current surge does present some additional problems, but the question still remains whether to accept large numbers on the most popular hikes and be prepared to manage those numbers with education and improved trail maintenance, or to instigate a permit system that limits use on the most popular routes?

    Hikers, however, still want to hike, so the question is: With as Limited Entry Permit where will those who are turned away actually go? Will they invade peaks where currently solitude is the norm, or will they just go to other popular hiking areas in Vermont or the Catskills and increase crowding there?

    When Peter Bauer hiked Cascade last September on a busy weekend, he seemed to have had an “aha” moment when he realized that 500 well-managed and somewhat educated hikers on that peak was not really a major problem. Those hikers that Bauer interviewed seemed to welcome the numbers as insuring safety rather than intruding on their “wilderness experience”.

    We appropriately expect governments to do a lot for us in our daily lives. Should we additionally expect the government to create a system that will “guarantee” us solitude in every area? I don’t think so.

    Years ago, I drove past a very crowded Cascade Mt. trailhead on a sunny Saturday before hiking Moose and McKenzie mts. I saw absolutely no one on my hike, and I think that diversity of experiences should remain. We just need to spend a few more dollars on the trails/parking areas that service these particularly popular trails. Not every hiker is looking for the same experience – some in fact appreciate hiking along with many others on the same trail. Why should those who do appreciate solitude try to tell others that they are doing it all wrong by hiking with a crowd?

  9. Zephyr says:

    Getting checked for my “papers” while hiking is the definition of ruining the wilderness experience. Scheduled permits are inherently unsafe. What if the weekend of my hard-to-get permit happens to be stormy? Do I go anyway, or risk the weather? Many people will take the chance, especially the inexperienced and more vulnerable. I suggest if permits be mandated we should start with parking permits. Sell an annual parking permit that can be put on the dashboard of the car. Works great at state parks. That would also mean rangers wouldn’t have to be hiking all over the High Peaks to check papers. On the other hand, I have found that trailhead parking is already so limited in many cases that a full lot doesn’t necessarily mean you will see crowds on the trails. Just last week we had to avoid the parking lot and use the shoulder well down the road. Yet we only ran into a handful of people on the trail and had to share the summit with one other couple. I had a similar experience on the summit of Giant on July 4th a few years ago. When we arrived there were maybe 10 people on the summit, but by the time we finished lunch they had all moved on. We hardly saw anyone on the actual trail. Yes, the most popular routes will remain crowded, but take a turn at a lesser used junction and you can be the only one around for miles.

  10. mike says:

    I think a camping ‘reservation’ system, not a ‘permit’ system, may work because there is a benefit to the campers, knowing where they will be able to stay. So people will use it.

    In busy National Parks, you go to a nearby office to get a ‘back country’ camping permit. You have to show the details of your planned trip, where you want to stay each night. Then, in the field, you must stay at the planned locations and rangers do show up and check. If you don’t show up in your planned spot, they’ll be looking for you. If you stay some place other than your planned, permitted, trip, they will make you move on.

    On the other hand, day use permits, except for a handful of staffed locations, seems way beyond what is possible. The ‘show me your papers’ kind of patrolling for day use strikes me as impossible to staff. And if a handful of trails were staffed like this, much of the crowd would go elsewhere. The idea for Boreas, a keyed gate, a few parking spots, would work, but that’s only possible at a few places.

    • Greg M says:


      I’m not sure overnight campers have enough numbers to make a difference. I have not looked at overnight vs day-hike numbers lately, but I’d think there are 10+ day hikers per overnight hiker. Move-over, the major trail erosion and other problems are at higher elevations, not the lowlands where there is a major difference of usage between day hikers and overnighter.

      I guess what really needs to be decided is if limiting people is the actual goal. I am against limiting people in the high peaks — particularly through the practice of pushing them elsewhere. I am for proper trail maintenance and parking areas. The idea of limiting people somehow fixes poor trail routing and parking areas designed for another time is foolish. Attack the problem head-on.

      The high peaks are not what they were 20 years ago in many ways, just like 20 years before that and 20 years before that. Lets chart the course where we want to be in 20 years, not let it be defined by only reacting with bandaids.

  11. David Gibson says:

    Thank you, Mike and all for your comments thus far. These comments, concerns and practical wisdom of users of the High Peaks about the overcrowding problem are, presumably, why DEC commited to form a working group to study the matter of permit reservation systems back in 1999 and to report results to the Commissioner. It’s time to follow through on that commitment made in the Pataki years. I hope and trust that the promised new working group led by a talented DEC regional staff will be asked to do just that.

  12. Paul says:

    Not opposed to a permit system but it would be nice if the HPW could come up with a more unique approach.

    First off let’s start with actually enforcing parking restrictions. Sounds like that is a plan for later this summer. Will be interesting to see how it goes.

  13. Jim S. says:

    If the idea is to have fewer visitors to the Adirondack Park permits will be very successful . There are too many other options without the burden of obtaining permits to walk in the woods.

    • Boreas says:

      There is a lot of “woods” that isn’t in the HPW. But those areas likely aren’t as crowded nor are the soils as fragile.

      • Jim S. says:

        I am a proponent of working on trail improvement in order to handle the mass of hikers. Most of the “peak baggers” I have encountered in the HPW are looking for physically challenging hikes with great views. I fear if their vacation preparation involves a permit or education they will head to the other mountain ranges that don’t have annoying restrictions.

        • Boreas says:

          So are the people pushing for permits. Everyone wants better trails, but no one wants to pay for them. Great trails + increased parking = bigger crowds.

          The state, hiking groups, local communities and environmental groups need to come up with a figure for maximum carrying capacity that the HPW terrain, environment, and hikers can handle and work with that figure. It is hard to determine the proper course of action without a definite goal.

  14. tom prevost says:

    Be careful hat you wish for. You may get it.
    The problem with the paid permit system is that it would become a revenue source for the state’s general fund. Games will be played. For example for every dollar from permits there will be a dollar less in the budget for the DEC. Permit fees will go up the help make up the budget gap. How many time will the average person be willing to utilize our land if the fees go to $25 per day or $35 per day or $50 per day?

  15. Zephyr says:

    I really don’t think any type of daily or scheduled permit system would be workable for hikers. The costs for enforcement would be huge, and without enforcement the law would be ignored. Look at jaywalking or loitering laws. They basically exist so the police have an excuse if they wish to accost someone, but get ignored most of the time by most people despite the possibility of a fine. Could we have police on every corner enforcing jaywalking laws? Sure, but that would be costly. Imagine trying to enforce something similar in the High Peaks Wilderness. Plus, it would reduce use by those who might be wilderness advocates, like me. I certainly wouldn’t deal with the hassle, the costs, and the anti-wilderness ethos the whole enforcement thing evokes. I go hiking to get away from the urban, modern world. I don’t want to make a reservation to go on a hike. I just go when I want to, avoiding high use areas in season, and acting as a good steward of the resources whenever possible. Permits will drive my boots elsewhere, and my money spent at stores, restaurants, shops, etc. I think this is a recipe to generate less support for the Adirondacks among those who have been long-time strong supporters.

    • Lakechamplain says:

      Excellent points Zephyr. Any rules(aka laws) require people to enforce them and consequences for violating these rules. Can you say bureaucracy? If NY state is so damned stingy about hiring nowhere near the number of Rangers to do their job requirements adequately what makes people think there will be increased funds to implement a well-meaning but cumbersome permit system? Ah yes, you say, the money will be raised by purchasing the permits. If you’re familiar with how moneys intended for one use get re-directed to other needs you have a right to be skeptical.
      I offer no magic alternative and this debate is healthy to toss around ideas. My personal take is to hire more trail crews to build trails that can better withstand heavy use, to hire more Rangers, and to build more trails to peaks beyond the High Peaks area to perhaps disperse the people that will continue to visit this magnificent wilderness area.
      Let’s keep dealing with the issues on forums like this.

      • Paul says:

        Why would this group of people require so much additional enforcement? I have been hunting and fishing in NYS with a license every year since I was a kid. You know how many times I have been asked to show my hunting or fishing license? Twice. There are very few people enforcing this. If people actually care they will get and pay for the license and nobody has to check. I am sure this is true for the vast majority of hunters and fishermen (women). Are these hikers some kind of nefarious group that will try and dupe the system and requires special enforcement?

        • Boreas says:

          I agree, and would prefer a license to a permit. A license lasts a year or more. If you are a frequent-flyer, I would think a license would be much easier. It would likely be cheaper to enforce (if desired) and implement as well. Plus a license typically would ensure better backcountry education.

        • Zephyr says:

          The point is to reduce usage apparently, so why will a license do that unless the cost is prohibitive or the enforcement onerous? Any enforcement of any law requires time, money, and people. Don’t we read on here all the time about how few rangers there are and how they are overworked? This will require people to print the licenses, sell the licenses, check the licenses, fine the people, collect the fines, produce the literature and the signs. All we need is another slew of signs all over the High Peaks saying “No Hiking Without a License.” I have sat in city council meetings where this is discussed endlessly. Is it worthwhile to hire more parking meter people to give out tickets or is it more costly to hire the people than the revenue generated? Plus the meters cost money, the signs cost money, the tickets cost money, on and on…

          • Boreas says:

            Do you see any of those things with hunting and fishing licenses? They have worked well without a complaint for over a century. But they don’t limit hunting and fishing – they help maintain the resource by enforcing and reinforcing good management and safety practices.

            What is the main problem with too many people? Damage to the resource. This is exacerbated by large numbers of inadequately prepared and educated hikers. I have always felt if you educate people properly BEFORE their first trip out, the chance of damage or accident is a lot less. Trail and summit stewards cannot be everywhere to provide this education. As Paul said above, it is rare that DEC ever check for licenses. It is essentially the honor system. That is the difference I see between a license and a permit. A permit may reduce numbers out of pure inconvenience and luck of the draw, but doesn’t keep the clueless out of the HPW. So will damage really be mitigated?

            Get a license that lasts for 1-5 years, it isn’t inconvenient, probably much cheaper in the long-run for frequent-fliers than pay-per-visit, get a modicum of backcountry education and be on your way. The purpose isn’t to create a bureaucracy to check licenses, but to encourage good behavior with the risk of being caught without one if you are doing something wrong – just like killing more than your limit of fur, fins, or feathers. Every state in the union has licenses. No reason it can’t be used in the HPW or central ADKs to protect the resource.

  16. Todd Eastman says:

    Tempest in a teapot!

    Popular hikes with lots of people are a good sign of the public’s interest in healthy outdoor activity. Permits and reservations severely reduce whimsy most outdoor recreation celebrates.

    If changes in current use are needed to reduce impacts, then banning overnight stays in the EHPW would make sense. Camping has large per user water quality and resource impacts than does day hiking. All peaks and routes within the EHPW are reasonable day hikes.

    Focus on improving parking/shuttle options that include point-to-point routes that become feasible with good shuttle service.

    Many good options for managing the resources in the area have yet to be investigated. Don’t jump into permits…

  17. Charlie S says:

    Zephyr says: ” I don’t want to make a reservation to go on a hike. I just go when I want to.”

    Yes, and to think they want to take that away from us too!

  18. Wayno17 says:

    I think that a permit system or other type of access restriction should be the last resort. Infrastructure changes and accommodating the ‘surge’ in use, which is what the DEC is doing now, seems like a better first step. Maybe it will some day come to permits and such but I like that its not being implemented as the “first resort”. There is enough red tape and regulations in the rest of our lives, avoiding it during outdoor recreation has a big appeal to me.

    • Aaron says:

      Yes…thank you!

      The other element here is that there are some people who think permitting and enforcement will be easy. There’s nothing easy (or cheap) about the court system, which would inevitably have to get involved in order to deal with disputes and scofflaws. Not to mention the day-to-day coordination between towns and LEO’s who would share the burden (and cost) of enforcement. There haven’t been any infrastructure studies that I know of to determine how much additional parking and services would be needed to handle the current level of visitors. Seems to me that that information would be a far higher priority than jumping feet-first into a restrictive system that could have long-term negative consequences to both local communities and the state’s marketing of the ADKs as a great vacation destination.

      • Boreas says:


        I agree for the most part. I too believe permitting in this situation should be a last resort. It is much more unwieldy – both in daily hiker procurement and its necessary enforcement – than a simple license (above) and yet does not include backcountry education. Licensing may not curtail the NUMBER of users as effectively, but would help raise the preparedness levels and trail sense of newbie hikers. Enforcement need be nothing more than spot checks as is currently done with fish/game licenses, or to limit parking to licensees. If even more restrictions are needed in certain areas, perhaps something like an even/odd system or individual trunk trail (Loj) restrictions could be instituted.

    • Paul says:

      accommodate the “surge”. Yes, maybe. harden the trails with stone dust. allow rangers to use ATV’s for patrols etc. Maybe? Gotta dump the wildness classification

  19. JJ says:

    If the problem is overuse of the most popular hikes and insufficient funds for trail improvements/rangers, why not simply charge admission at the 10 most popular trails? It would generate revenue, incentivize hikers to try other destinations (Cascade costs $20?… Mt. X is free!), allows people to hike on the spur of the moment (provided they have some $$$ in their wallets), doesn’t offend those who are scandalized by the thought of having to pay to take a walk in the woods as the vast majority of hikes would still be free, and doesn’t create a new system/bureaucracy that is uncertain to be successful.

    Place a lockbox at the trailhead and charge a per person fee. Honor system most of the time, but station a volunteer on the busiest weekends to collect cash and dole out wilderness wisdom and training. Let the cash start rolling in……

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Good luck mounting that unicorn ?

      • JJ says:

        You may be joking but I’m not.
        This is simple, understandable to all, requires no new administration or technology, could be implemented immediately, could be abandoned easily if unsuccessful.
        Why jump to these complicated solutions?

    • Aaron says:

      There is no “overuse”, the mountains can handle the traffic; what there’s not is enough resources, planning, or infrastructure to support a wildly successful marketing campaign. I think it’s premature to start talking about limiting access when we don’t have any actual metrics on how much additional capacity we need to support visitors. And that doesn’t even get into how much it would cost to implement, maintain, and enforce it would be.

      Yes, the HPW is clearly busier, but is it so much busier that the only recourse is to turn people away via a permitting system without first exploring how we can scale up our existing capacity, which includes parking, basic amenities, informational services, and RANGERS? Would sure be nice if Albany would take a more active role in all of this rather than leaving it up to stretched small towns and villages to figure out.

      • Boreas says:

        The mountains can handle the traffic – the soils, waters, plants, and wildlife may not.

        I do agree with your second paragraph. As I stated above:

        “The state, hiking groups, local communities and environmental groups need to come up with a figure for maximum carrying capacity that the HPW terrain, environment, and hikers can handle, and work with that figure. It is hard to determine the proper course of action without a definite goal.” This is actually a strategy being discussed with the revised UMPs. Whether it will go beyond discussion to implementation remains to be seen.

        Are you sure you want Albany taking a more active role? I would rather rely on DEC, local communities, and users to come up with a long-term course of action.

        • drdirt says:

          Boreas, I hope you read this, as I appreciate your perspective on most issues in this forum .,.,., our opinion on mountains handling the traffic has always been the same.., the main trail up and down Cascade or most other popular peaks uses only a very small percentage (4% ?) of the mountain’s actual total acreage..,., overuse and a little damage to that small percentage of wilderness on any given mountain should be an acceptable cost in exchange for the joy that the multitudes enjoy.

          • Boreas says:


            What I was addressing above is that you or I may feel the damage is acceptable, but that is really immaterial. The people in charge of preserving and maintaining these areas MUST decide what the limit is – some people call it ‘carrying capacity’. It would be irresponsible just to accept more damage with the areas with popular trails and more use.

            DEC is becoming more aware of this concept and supposedly are to use it in management of areas like Boreas Ponds and the like. First you determine what an “acceptable” amount of damage/disruption is – both quantitatively and qualitatively – then enact management to keep damage/disruption within those parameters. But currently in the most heavily trodden areas of the HPW, there are no such parameters. So without set limits of trail, summit, or “experience” degradation, how can successful limits on numbers ever be instituted? How will DEC know if they meet or exceed their targets?

            DEC needs to develop these carrying capacities in many areas around the Park. But they need to be developed with input from local communities, environmental groups, and end-users alike. It is not a simple task and will not be accomplished any time soon, if at all.

  20. Charlie S says:

    Boreas says: “Charlie – I missed you. Where ya been??”

    Thanks Boreas. I’ve been studying what I suspect to be a new animal species that I discovered on one of my walks in a woods near Grafton, NY. Most times I cannot get any closer than a hundred feet from this animal and so my binoculars have been very handy for observing it. A handful of times I was able to get close enough to become aware that it seems to have a dual personality and comes off as paranoid and as a whole is unapproachable. Most times it seems like it does not acknowledge my existence though I know this animal is very much aware of my presence.

    It looks like a cross between a weasel and a rat, is the size of a fox squirrel, and its ears are rather large on a very distinctive large head. It is the most curious thing and since I have discovered it about a month or so ago I find myself going back to this same section of woods every day to study it. I cannot make out for sure what family it might fit in with but it looks like it might be a marsupial as it has a sac-like pouch on it’s belly which I only noticed when it stood up on two’s early one morning when I stepped on a limb which snapped and whose sound reverberated through that quiet section of woods I was in. This animal is different every day and even from moment to moment! One time, on a moments notice, it went into a frantic mad dash up into a tree while letting out grunting sounds.

    So far this is what I noted as most distinguishable about this animal: Queer features, skittish, one day is approachable next day shuns me, overall an isolationist, split personality. In general it seems to be unbalanced and oftentimes disoriented. If I didn’t know any better I’d think this animal was out of its mind. I have named it ‘Trump.’

    • Boreas says:

      Wow, that’s bizarre! Have you ruled out a young Pine Marten? They are very comfortable in trees. No pouch though. Check out Brown Four-eyed Opossum from south and middle America – also no pouch. Time to get in touch with a cryptozoologist!

    • Boreas says:


      If you have or know someone with a game camera, it might be a good way to get a photo. You can get some pretty inexpensive ones. Leave it an apple and see what you get!

    • Boreas says:

      And don’t rule out the possibility of a critter with mange and rabies. Be careful!

  21. Zephyr says:

    Thinking further on this, why not just carefully mark legal parking at a certain number, enforce it strictly, and boom it’s done? No need to create new infrastructure or hire new people, or even having to involve the rangers. Let the towns enforce the parking strictly and collect any revenue from parking tickets. This would also mean that locals would probably have first dibs on parking since they live close and could get there early. Seems like parking restrictions would be the simplest, cheapest, fairest, and least intrusive on the wilderness experience, plus it would improve roadside safety tremendously. No bus should be allowed to park or even stop without a permit and then only in designated spots. Those big groups are technically illegal anyway without special permits.

    • Boreas says:

      Seems reasonable on the surface. So I drive 4 hours and find a full lot. Where do I wait until a space opens up? Will it be an hour or two days? If I have a long hike scheduled, will waiting two hours to get on the trail mean I am hiking out at night?

  22. william hill says:

    This is a complex problem to say the least. The permit/license idea is intriguing as a solution. As a NY state resident, I pay plenty of taxes already, and feel my use of these lands helps bring that into check. I really would not mind paying a small ($20 – $30 annually) if the money went back into the trails and not into the state coffers. I would expect non-residents to pay more. I already avoid the high peaks due to the amount of people not only on the trail but at the parking lots.I have experienced parking lot attendants in Maryland and Virginia.They simply didn’t let you in when the parking area was at capacity. you could wait in line and when a car left, the next guy in line parked. It seemed to work- but did require someone on duty. Possibly that could work here.
    The flip side- do we really want to do anything to stifle the already suffering economy of these areas? People coming in and spending money is key to the survival of the year round residents who are already in a tight spot. That has to be an important piece of this puzzle. Possibly these new rules could turn into jobs for locals, positions that wouldn’t need to be staffed by rangers.
    I don’t pretend for a moment to have all the answers, but something does need to be done, but at a rational and thought out manner.

  23. Zephyr says:

    There are two ideas floating around in the article and the comments. One is that there are too many people and they are damaging the resource, and therefore numbers must be limited. The other is that if we charge people money to hike we can use the money to correct some of the damage, pay more forest rangers, etc. The two problems are not necessarily both solved by the same solutions. For example, a license fee might generate funding, but unless it is pretty pricey it won’t limit use and impact. I dismiss the idea that somehow a license will guarantee educated hikers who will not impact the trails as much. Sure, a license might mean a few people are going to read the rules and follow them, but I suspect that most of those people are already doing their best to lessen impacts. The vast majority of people will do whatever is convenient and cost effective. We currently pay I think $65 for an annual state park pass, and I still find the popular parks are very, very busy in season and many people ignore rules on fires, swimming, dogs, etc. Maybe we need a $100 per person hiking license to limit use, but then the towns will be howling at all the lost business.

    • Boreas says:

      I agree, there are many aspects to this situation. There are certainly numerous issues to be addressed. One can find a problem with ANY particular measure to address the problem(s). But is this going to get anything done? Numerous problems will likely require numerous solutions. But doing nothing because people can’t agree on anything is not a solution.

      The license idea is merely to require a minimal backcountry education before taking that first hike up Algonquin – or Allen – or the Santanoni Range. We can’t expect every newbie hiker to check in at a trailhead in summer with trail/summit stewards. Newbies hike year-round and can start at any trailhead. So I do not agree that stewards are the answer either – just a part of the answer. Same with licenses. License fees would be intended primarily to offset the cost of the program and its promotion, not to reduce numbers.

      But other problems could conceivably be addressed by licenses – such as even/odd date restrictions. Licensees could choose an even or odd license number matching their friends’ or family’s numbers. Licensees would also be issued a hang tag for their vehicle showing their number, and carry their license stub with them on the trail.

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