There’s nothing quite like autumn in the Adirondacks — the brilliant reds, vibrant oranges and pulsating yellows. And that’s just the construction barrels, road cones and flashing signs warning people to find someplace other than the shoulder of Rt. 73 in Keene Valley to park their Subarus.
Welcome to the wilderness — not to be confused with the Scranton/Wilkes Barre stretch of Interstate 81.
The authorities had to do it. I guess. Trailhead parking lots, particularly at Giant and Cascade mountains and environs, had overflowed, and hikers’ cars were lined along the highway in numbers normally associated with mile-long yard sales. It is an ongoing safety hazard, no doubt, not to mention the stresses placed on the environment when what seemed to be entire civilizations were storming a few select trails in pursuit of a selfie on a mountaintop with their labradoodles.
Yet we want every last person who visits to enjoy the park, at least we should. A society that appreciates the outdoors is better for it, and the outdoors itself ultimately benefits from these expanded constituencies. And the park has plenty of territory to accommodate everyone, if only they would fan out a bit.
So it became the job of one and all to steer people away from the Keene Valley corridor and into the billions of scenic nooks and crannies that vacationers seldom seem to discover. And the top theory was that if parking were strictly limited at the popular trailheads, hikers would have no choice but to find other mountains and trails to explore. Hence the barrels, cones, shuttles and other stay-off-of-my-lawn paraphernalia intended to increase safety and perhaps redistribute the hikers in the process.
Attempts to predict and control human behavior are always fascinating, because they almost always produce entertaining outcomes. It’s like the elliptical billiard balls in The Mikado: you know they’re going to go somewhere, it’s just not going to be where you’re aiming.
And so, during the Columbus Day weekend, Marginally Predictable Result No.1 was that the no-parking zones simply pushed the cars that much farther from the trailhead … where they were dutifully parked on the roadside after the No Parking signs ran out. The hikers then walked back to the trailhead from there — effectively tripling the distance they spent on the shoulder of Rt. 73 dodging traffic.
So the safety measure adds, for some, its own element of danger through the law of unintended consequences. It’s like Gallagher said about traffic lights: “People, a yellow traffic light does not mean ‘put it to the floor.’” But that’s exactly what happens.
Why would people walk all this extra distance rather than finding some alternative hike? Hard to tell. Probably for the same reason they drive across three states to buy gas that’s 6 cents a gallon cheaper. They appear to be welded to their preordained destination, and after months of planning and becoming emotionally attached to the chosen destination, no traffic cone is going to interfere.
Marginally Predictable Result No. 2 was at least some of the people who were soured on the traditional Cascade climb because of the shuttle (they can get public transportation at home) all went to climb Hurricane, to the point that over the Columbus Day Weekend, the Hurricane approach looked less like a recreational trail than a refugee camp.
We had to know this was coming, right? Because Hurricane is the same hike as Cascade. Roughly the same distance, roughly the same amount of uphill, roughly the same view. At least it confirms something we already suspected; this is what hikers want. In the Adirondacks, if hell were 3.1 miles distant and had a 1,700-foot elevation gain and a bald summit, Satan wouldn’t have to do any recruiting.
Forget for the moment that as a result of Marginally Predictable Result No. 1, hikers on, say, Giant, are now completing a round trip of 10 miles instead of six. It’s that three-mile one-way sweet spot that people seem to like.
But these are all details that can and will be hashed out. Probably. You just hope the ultimate result doesn’t wind up looking like that cockamamie intersection of 73 and 9N, where there are so many instructions and counter instructions that motorists are left wondering if they aren’t being used as part of a clandestine DOT sociology experiment. (Curiosity finally got to me, and I stopped and added up the number of highway signs telling drivers how to negotiate the intersection. There are 38, count ’em, 38 of them. True, a few are distance and route numbers, but most are of the “You go here, you go there, you stay out, you come in, you yield to the north, you yield to the south” variety.)
I will say though, in my time here I’ve never heard of too many major crashes at the intersection, probably because at the very least if forces drivers to pay attention.
So maybe it will work for those who hope to legislate hiking options through parking restrictions. But probably just about the time that we have it all figured out, people will become bored with the Peaks, and all the time energy and money spent trying to keep people away will instead be spent trying to bring them back.
Photo of cars lining Route 73 by Mike Lynch.