Monday, January 7, 2019

Viewpoint: Hikers Don’t Ruin Trails

erosion caused by poorly built trail From publications such as the Lake Placid News and Peeks, and from agencies such as the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Council, a dark narrative has been presented during the past few years, one that communicates the High Peaks region is facing grave peril due to increased hiker use.

This popular crisis narrative has us envision this region plummeting into a post-apocalyptic dystopia that rivals any scene from Mad Max. It will be a grim future, this total annihilation of the mountains, and at the end of it the purveyors of the crisis narrative will have but one smug question left for us: “Are you happy now?”

This is all nonsense, of course, for there is no crisis.

As a former trail builder who specialized in sustainable design and construction, I take particular issue with one component of the crisis narrative: the presupposition that hikers are damaging trails. You see, trails are damaged by three forces — erosion, displacement and compaction — and hikers cannot apply these forces with serious effect.

Erosion can only be caused by water running down a trail, this water being snowmelt or a direct deposit of rainfall. An example of a high displacement force is an ATV flinging loose soil off the trail. Hikers’ boots don’t have enough bite nor force to displace soil, and this force is further reduced by hikers now commonly wearing innocuous trail runners. Hikers can’t compact trails either, at least when the tread consists of durable mineral soil. When it comes to this third force, crisis narrative fans unwittingly demonstrate their shortcomings regarding comprehension. When 20 150-pound hikers walk down a trail, the compaction force isn’t 3,000 pounds, as some think. It’s 20 separate applications of 150 pounds.

It’s not use that’s causing trail damage. It’s design, which encourages erosion. During the past century, Adirondack trails were built without consideration for sustainability. But you don’t have to go back 100 years to find instances of poor judgment. Even within the past few decades trails have been built by people with no training in sustainable design. They wouldn’t know what a clinometer was even if you even dropped one in their salad; they can’t communicate the differences between the terms grade, grade reversal, slope, and outslope; and there’s little chance they have dog-eared copies of the International Mountain Bike Association’s Trail Solutions, the bible of sustainable design, on their bookshelves. Despite sustainable design information being readily available by any Adirondack agency, ignorance of how trails are damaged is present in professional circles. For example, Dave Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild, commented that “trails suffer from overuse”; the Department of Environmental Conservation warned that “the large number of visitors has resulted in trail erosion”; and the Adirondack Council asked in a recent High Peaks survey if “trails should be temporarily closed when they are most susceptible to erosion from overuse.”

Ignorance leaves us with the most wretched trail system in the United States, and this is no exaggeration. Trails in the Adirondacks are eroded, steep, rocky, rooty, and muddy and provide for poor user experiences. Our trails are money pits, not just mud pits. Unsustainable trails are incredibly costly since they require constant maintenance or need to be relocated altogether. Outside of wilderness areas, poor trail design eliminates potential multiple-use economic stimulation because, by their very nature, sustainable hiking trails beautifully accommodate runners, bikers, walkers, and skiers, too. Such trails invite an array of year-round users who in turn spend their money in Adirondack communities. Sustainable trails make money. Unsustainable trails cost money.

What’s just as bad as not knowing how trails are damaged is not knowing how to stop erosion. Trail hardening, the most common type of trail work in the Northeast, is the practice of replacing soil with stone since stone can’t erode, but in nearly every case hardening is a waste of time and money and doesn’t stop erosion. After all, when Northeast trail maintainers clean out water bars every year, what do you think they’re cleaning out of them? That’s right: the eroded trail itself. On the other hand, sustainable design, which rarely incorporates hardening, calls for five elements that prevent damage: all spongy organic material is removed to expose durable mineral soil, average grade may not exceed 10 percent, grade may not exceed half the steepness of the slope it’s built into, an outslope (an outward and downward tilting of the trail) of 10 percent must be present, and no water bars are constructed (use grade reversals instead).

The next time you read an article in which an agency says that hikers are damaging trails, you have the right to feel good about yourself. Why? Because you’ll realize that just by reading this article, you know more about trail design and construction than just about anyone who didn’t read this article. Now that you have this knowledge, the only things left to do are to demand that state and private agencies stop wasting money on unsustainable trail projects and to stop blaming hikers innocently trying to navigate the most wretched trail system in the United States.

Photo of erosion caused by poorly built trail by Mike Lynch.

This opinion essay originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.

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67 Responses

  1. Joe Hansen says:

    Many good points but even the best built trail needs maintenance mostly because of use at wet conditions. Water flows through the ground and not just over it and this is sometimes not taken into account. Mr. Schlimmer is right though some poor trail construction is still being done. Just recently saw a reroute (not in the Adirondacks) to mitigate stream bank erosion that will soon be ten times worse than the original trail! Like anything good planning and attention to details are way better than just good intentions.

  2. Suzanne says:


    In all due respect to your expertise, I don’t know what a clinometer is, and I suspect there may be others who are equally uninformed. What is obvious is that the sheer volume of hikers has increased dramatically in recent years. I am 46er 258, and now there are many thousands of 46ers, in addition to all the other hikers. I feel that it is disingenous to say that so many people tramping up the trails don’t cause damage.

    • Joel Cummings says:

      Facts TRUMP your feelings. You present zero facts in any manner to discredit Erik’s expertise while Erik presents numerous facts to support his position. I greatly respect that you are 46er 258 but the mere fact that you have hiked a lot does not qualify you to suggest Erik is disingenuous. It is unfortunate that you are attacking Erik’s character rather than identifying facts that may show that there are other perspectives or approaches to building trails. I don’t know Erik or you but those tactics are disheartening. Your argument is something like this, I explore and examine a large number of buildings and you may feel a building is beautiful but it does not qualify you to be an architect.

      • Suzanne says:

        I have not attacked Erik’s expertise and certainly not his character.

        • Joe Hansen says:

          Joel, it certaintly does not look like Suzanne’s remark showed any disrespect, all she stated was that foot traffic does contribute to trail degradation which it does. Interesting that you would call her out and say nothing to Ben’s remarks. Smacks of old fashioned misogyny to me.

        • Joel Cummings says:

          not candid or sincere,\ dishonest, deceitful, underhand, underhanded, duplicitous, double-dealing, two-faced, dissembling, insincere, false, lying, untruthful, mendacious;

          • suzanne says:

            As long as you’ve got the dictionary handy, check out the definition for “cranky.” 🙂

            • Joel Cummings says:

              Cranky: bad-tempered, irritable, irascible, tetchy, testy, grumpy, grouchy, crotchety, in a (bad) mood, ill-tempered, ill-natured, ill-humored, peevish;

              The interesting thing is that overwhelmingly if I point out that a particular argument is lacking in facts but replete with an opinion, I almost always get attacked personally. never did I attack anyone personally. I just pointed out that a factual article was met with an emotional plea lacking a factual basis. Rather than address the use of the word Disingenuous or take responsibility for maybe a misused word, I get called misogynist, unfun and cranky. An interesting world we now live in. Enjoyed the debate. Thanks.

            • Tim says:

              And “inclinometer”

      • Scott says:

        You sound like a fun guy to hang out with

      • Boreas says:


        “What is obvious is that the sheer volume of hikers has increased dramatically in recent years.”

        I would consider this a fact beyond dispute. I would also consider it a fact that trail erosion on those trails increased with increased usage.

        • Aaron says:

          Correlation is not causation. If a runoff gulley doubles as a “trail”, as many do here, the fact that you see degradation cannot be definitively associated with the people using the gulley, it’s more down to erosion. I would suggest that a poorly designed trail is likely to degrade faster regardless of how many people walk on it than one that is sustainably designed.

  3. thomas h prevost says:

    My observations of close to 60 yrs of hiking in the Adirondacks is that in recent (10-20 yrs) I have seen almost no intentional destruction of the trails. It was not like the late 50s and sixties where it was easy to tell a trail head by the truck loads of trash. One did not need the trail markers to follow the trail. Just look down for the trash. Perkins Clearing reminded me of Amsterdam dump.
    The DEC took the bull by the horns with strong educational programs. Advertising in sports magazines, school and club related activities. This was extremely successful, but the greatest effort was by the local rangers. Rangers such as Gary Lee were the first line of defense in the education programs.

    But we also have to remember ‘The Park was created so future generations could enjoy beauty of the pristine forest.’ With that said, the DEC has gone to great lengths to preserve the park while also maintaining access to the generations so they can enjoy it. They have come a long way from just nailing trail markers to today where a more scientific approach is used for this maintenance. BUT, we have to remember we are dealing with mother nature and thousands of different terrain and weather issues. Do you stop all hiking every time it rains as the soil will become soft and easily destroyed. Do we stop all hiking during the wet seasons of early spring and fall?

    Without paving all trials with appropriate culverts there is no way to prevent some use destruction. Same reason we repave highways. We don’t tell people that cannot use them. Why should we tell the taxpayers they cannot hike on the land they are paying taxes on? I totally support the DEC efforts here I would just like to see this effort better funded by our legislators. More paid trail staff similar to what the state pays for snowmobile groomers. More payed intern programs to do these chores.

    • Suzanne says:

      I, too, well recall the 50’s, when there was much more trash around on the trails, including big piles of tin cans behind many of the leantos (As a 12-year-old, I wrote a letter of complaint to Governor Rockefeller as well as the Albany Times Union). I also remember the knee-high slop at Four Corners, having waded through it on many occasions. As kids we always brought along a plastic garbage bag to pick up and carry out trash, and still do that. The trails are much cleaner these days, thanks to education and more enlightened hikers. The DEC needs more funding and more rangers, who are overworked and underpaid. Intern programs are a great idea. I should also like to point out the excellent work done by the ADK and ATIS trail crews, both unpaid volunteer workers.

      • Aaron says:

        The state has been free riding off the benefits from the good work by those excellent volunteer programs for long enough. It’s time to invest some of those marketing dollars into infrastructure along the most popular trails and hire more rangers.

        • Tri-Lakes Resident says:

          Aaron – Do some research before you make unsubstantiated statements about the trail crews. I believe a call to Lands & Forests in Albany will confirm that DEC has annual contracts with Adirondack Mountain Club for much of the trail work they do to the tune of about $250,000 annually. ATIS is paid by DEC through a contract also.

          • Boreas says:

            Much of the trail labor used to be provided by weekend volunteers. I got paid zip when I used to do it with ADK. I don’t know about today.

            • roger dziengeleski says:

              $250,000 is miniscule in relation to the amount of engineering, construction and repair needed. Foot paths may have been adequate 50 years ago, but well constructed and maintained trails are needed for the amount of traffic and recreation going on today.

              • Boreas says:

                Agree! To illustrate, $250k amounts to the salaries (with NO benefits) of a crew of 3-5 full-time employees – and that does not include cost of materials. Most trail maintenance in the Wilderness areas does not allow for the use of motors, which makes maintenance more time-consuming and labor-intensive. $250k is a pittance.

          • Aaron says:

            Wow, a whole 250K per year….

            Meanwhile the development of the VanHo trail to Cascade is going to take 52 weeks at an estimated cost of 400K – that’s ONE trail. So how does 250K really meet the immediate to medium-term needs being discussed?

            Strangely you seem to think I’m dissing trail crews. I’m not. I’m saying (and you’ve unwittingly illustrated) that the state’s investment in trail development and maintenance is woefully inadequate. As you can see from other responses to your post there certainly seems to be significant reliance on FREE labor to maintain a number of trails which both is unsustainable and insufficient to meet the impact of many more visitors.

  4. Winston Wolf says:

    I have been in the high peaks since the early 90s. While it may not be as bad as the 50s or 60s, conditions at trailheads and on the trails have deteriorated significantly since then. The problem probably isn’t intentional destruction but more likely is due to ignorance and neglect.
    I found this article to have a few good points but those are surrounded by an air of self importance and condescension. The article neglects to address issues such as vegetation trampling along trails and summits, which are undoubtedly increased as traffic on the trails increases. Its not just the adirondacks either, the whites, greens and even such well funded trail systems as Baxter SP have similar issues.

  5. Tom Wemett says:

    Erik, I believe you are making valid points. But, with that said, there aren’t enough dollars or professional, knowledgeable trail builders to rebuild all the trails in the Adirondacks or Catskills or elsewhere in NYS to bring them up to the standards that you talk about. There is no doubt that we have a lot more hikers now then even a few years ago on these trails that aren’t built to proper standards. Hence the issue of overuse seems to be on everyone’s mind. I think one solution is to inventory every trail in the Adirondacks and rate them with regard to need to rebuild and then put in place a 20 year strategy to implement the rebuilding process. Of course we have the same issue with roads and bridges. All of us can recognize the problem but the solution costs money and takes manpower and lots of will power.

  6. Paul says:

    “It’s not use that’s causing trail damage. It’s design, which encourages erosion. During the past century, Adirondack trails were built without consideration for sustainability.”

    Okay, it’s trail (overuse -?) use by hikers on trails that are poorly designed, that is unsustainable – and leading to damaged trails.

    • April says:

      I was thinking that along those lines, too – “increased hiking is exposing design flaws in trails.”

  7. Chantal McLarty says:

    I enjoyed reading this as I have not heard this point of view on the AT! Thank-you for this well written article!! Ver-mud is in the same boat. Some of the worst sections of the Appalachian Trail are found in Vermont.

  8. M.P. Heller says:

    It’s an interesting conundrum for sure.

    What it’s supposed to be maintained by the State in trust for perpetuity sometimes is very good at contradicting itself.

    While wilderness protections exist and remain in place for some of our most sensitive resources, management practices appear to be failing at doing what they were designed to do; protect the resource.

    In areas where motorized and mechanized uses are prohibited, it is easier to determine which user groups are responsible for resource degradation and so it follows that corrective measures can be more readily identified and addressed. Unfortunately this is not occurring in a reasonable or timely manner and the visible effects of ineffective policy are quite apparent in well trafficked areas. One only needs to go to Uphill Brook and/or the Cliff and Redfield herdpath to witness the destruction first hand.

    The question that really remains is how the wilderness user community is going to come together to mitigate and remediate the existing damage and how much if any self regulation they will accept in the future to prevent further deterioration. A self created lobby to further such ends would be a step in the right direction, and I don’t mean the faux ones you’ve gotten accustomed to reading about on this blog.

  9. Glenn says:

    So I guess we should just black-top
    the trails . Maybe that would help.
    Seems to work well with our roads.

  10. Chuck Parker says:

    It has been said that the opposite of Truth is Spin. Spin is the deliberate selection of facts constructed to prove a specific point. That point may or may not be valid or true. My interpretation of spin in the case of this article is that I feel that the spin in this article detracted from some valid points the author was trying to make. The statement “Hikers don’t ruin trails” is not entirely true. A more accurate statement is that Hikers need not or do not have to ruin trails. Or how about responsible hikers can prevent trail damage.

  11. Tim-Brunswick says:

    Not sure what Mr. Schlimmer is smoking, but ….seriously thousands of hikers tromping up and down the same High Peaks Trails in particular, which by their very nature are on a sharp grade, doesn’t cause erosion/deterioration……really!

    • Boreas says:


      We finally agree on something.

      A simple thought experiment: You are walking on a trail on any type of terrain. The trail forks – to the right a popular destination, to the left an unpopular one. The terrain is identical. Which fork will show more wear/erosion/damage?

      When a trail is built, signage and markers are put up along the route. The surface of the trail is not removed by the construction crew, rather it would be left pristine – perhaps even mossy and grassy in areas. If no one uses the trail, it will remain pristine. If the trail receives light usage, wear will be light. Moderate usage, moderate wear. Heavy usage, heavy wear.

      I do agree with many of the author’s points about trail construction and routing, but placing little importance on wear, erosion, and normal usage is leaving out a large factor. Even trails over solid rock will show signs of wear given enough time.

  12. Ben says:

    Congratulations on writing such a smug and patronizing essay. You are wrong though, hiker footwear can absolutely displace soil, causing increased erosion. You offer no solutions, just negativity. Maybe you would be happier hiking on perfectly engineered switch back trails out west somewhere. Cheers.

  13. Tony Goodwin says:

    Mr. Schlimmer is certainly correct that it isn’t just today’s level of use that has caused the trails to deteriorate. When I first climbed Mt. Marcy in 1957, the trail was a muddy mess pretty much from start to finish, including a 100 yd by 50 yd mud wallow just below timberline. That was fixed a few years later with corduroy and now there are plank bog bridges through a lush, green alpine meadow. Other good trail work has mitigated most of the problems that I remember from that first hike. Much of the work that has been done, however, would be classified as mere “trail hardening” by Mr. Schlimmer – something he doesn’t see as a viable solution.

    The standards advocated by Mr. Schlimmer are indeed the ideal for trail construction; but if we want a trail to the summits of the High Peaks, that standard is just not possible to maintain. At the higher elevations, the soils are thin and often there is no mineral soil to work with. One can’t make a grade reversal when there is nothing but a few inches of organic “duff” sitting on steep, smooth bedrock. One solution used recently on the Orebed Trail to Gothics and the south side of Mt. Colden is massive, wooden staircases. These do manage to solve the problem, but hardly seem appropriate in a wilderness setting. I have recently started advocating for wooden tread that is pinned to the bedrock as it uses only a small fraction of the amount of wood required for the staircases.

    i could go on at considerable length about other trail specific fixes that worked (or didn’t); but, as Tom Wemette said above, we are just going to have to increase the resources we commit to maintaining and improving our trail infrastructure – just as we need to commit more resources to our highway infrastructure.

    • Bob Meyer says:

      Tony, I was just thinking of my 1st climb of Marcy around 1957 or 8… Yes, the muddy mess was something… The reality is there is both improvement and degradation of trail conditions between “then” and now.
      We older folks both pine for the old days when you could always find an empty leanto anywhere, anytime [except maybe 4th of July and Labor Day] and also “appreciate” the vast increase in outdoor recreation that started in the 1970’s. Just saying…

    • Lakechamplain says:

      Oh, Tony, please do ‘go on’ because I so respect your experience and your ability to analyze problems and offer solutions to those problems, some of which are unique to the Adks. and some not.
      You and your father have represented the heart and soul of several generations of Adirondack hikers, climbers, boaters etc. And we all benefit from your observations on matters like this post.

      PS–And I’m pretty sure the ‘railroad’ won’t rake you over the coals for your thoughts on the hiking trails either, heh, heh.

  14. Bob Meyer says:

    Instead of calling this essay smug and patronizing being sarcastic or putting the author down for his viewpoint, maybe it would be more helpful to suggest some rewording of the essay.
    I agree with Paul:
    “It’s not use that’s causing trail damage. It’s design, which encourages erosion. During the past century, Adirondack trails were built without consideration for sustainability. Okay, it’s trail (overuse -?) use by hikers on trails that are poorly designed, that is unsustainable – and leading to damaged trails.” A prime example of this quote is the difference in the trail conditions of the Algonquin/Wright trails from the 1960’s and now. I know from personal experience.
    There is no one cause, nor are there a perfect solutions to this issue. But Erik does bring up and address some realities on the ground. Others rightly bring up the reality of cost and manpower. The State and DEC are looking into these problems and beginning to take action: Cascade/ Van Hoevenburg etc.
    There are at least partial solutions and hopefully effective remedies for the most egregious and heavily used trails [Marcy, Cascade, Great Range, MacIntyres etc].
    Let’s welcome all input toward improvement for the trail system of these mountains we all love.

  15. thomas h prevost says:

    An interesting side note is how many millions are spent by the state, counties and towns on snowmobile trail maintenance. Lets forget the argument that the users pay for it with trail permits. The return to the towns from the permit fees cover less than 15% of the average operational costs. Why isn’t a similar system invoked for hiking trails? Hiking, including cross country skiing and snowshoeing, is a 12 month sport drawing in more revenue that the 2 months of snowmobiling.

  16. Joel Cummings says:

    Thank you for a well thought-out article.

  17. roger dziengeleski says:

    Trails are not engineered nor maintained. Ownership requires stewardship, or taking care of the land. That means investing substantial moneys to engineer, build and maintain trails. The park is not free. Owning it has costs beyond taxes. State Agencies need to do a better job of designing and maintaining trails based at least in part on the amount of traffic those trails will see.

  18. Smitty says:

    I believe one of the main factors that makes “sustainable” trails so much more difficult in the Adirondacks than other places, say the Catskills or northern Pennsylvania, is geology. ADK trails are mainly over very hard and impermeable metamorphic or igneous rock, rather than sandstone and shales. Moreover, glaciers removed most of whatever thin mineral soil was there. So if you scrape off the organic layer there isn’t much left. And because the underlying bedrock is so impervious to water, most groundwater tends to be in the overlying organic layer and boulder colluvium, which then tends to flow toward the now incised trail, frequently creating a muddy quagmire and necessitating occasional drainage paths. My point here is that short of extraordinary measures, trail construction and maintenance, although important, is just much more difficult here than most other places so kudos to the ADK for doing their best.

  19. roger dziengeleski says:

    Yet roads and highways exist throughout the Adirondacks despite this “geology”? Yet there are trails up mountains and through swamps (road to Blue Mountain Radio Tower)? This is not a geology or topography issue. It is a lack of committing resources to engineer, build and repair trails capable of handling use. It is also a lack of stewardship. Thanks,

    • Boreas says:


      One must keep in mind that roads and highways are not governed by the rules of the Forest Preserve. They were built prior to the APA (typically old stagecoach trails) and some even the Forest Preserve. Construction and repair methods still allow the use of mechanized vehicles, not to mention federal aid, to keep roads open. When was the last road actually BUILT in the Park? I-87? Try to build one today and it will quickly become obvious how difficult it is to re-route or build new infrastructure, including foot trails. Every bridge or staircase that is suggested meets much opposition because of “Forever Wild” philosophy.

      I do agree about the lack of stewardship. Many of the trails in the High Peaks were routed before there was significant foot traffic, which didn’t really start to increase appreciably until the 60’s and 70’s. Many trails need to be re-routed, rebuilt and/or hardened, or simply closed. The state has gladly welcomed tourism to help the economy up here, but Albany still has a 70’s mindset when it comes to stewardship of the resource providing that tourism. But given the limits of the FP, infrastructure building and maintenance would likely remain a conundrum even with increased funding.

      • roger dziengeleski says:

        I agree that trail work is challenging in the Preserve. Still, taking care of the land is a part of preserving wilderness and whether by hand or by machine, we have the capability to provide that care. Perhaps just not the will to do it? Appreciate your perspective.

        • Boreas says:

          Exactly – no will. Maintaining infrastructure of any type is not politically sexy. Buying/building new stuff is (think recent acquisitions and the money being invested in the N. Hudson area}. No one in Albany wants to spend much money to maintain what we have or even patrol it with Rangers. Not enough of their constituents know about the situation, and spending “useless” money on trails won’t get them re-elected.

          Rangers used to actually perform a fair amount of trail blowdown and brush clearing when they patrolled. They also could take note of potential problems and report them to trail crews. Unfortunately, Rangers now need to stick close to their vehicles for increasingly frequent S&R calls, so patrolling on all but trunk trails necessarily becomes less frequent. It isn’t a good situation to have the most logical trail monitors responding to more frequent emergency cell-phone requests and not actually patrolling for the sake of trails and proactively educating hikers. But overall numbers remain flat since the economic meltdown of the Great Recession. I feel that significantly bolstering Ranger numbers should be the first step in getting a handle on the trail situation.

  20. x says:

    “Erosion can only be caused by water running down a trail, this water being snowmelt or a direct deposit of rainfall.”
    You might want to pick up a middle school science textbook, because that statement is categorically false – almost laughably so. I suppose I don’t need to worry about trampling all over any trail or alpine vegetation, Erik Schlimmer told me that’s not going to be a problem.

  21. Patrick says:

    it’s past time we banned all 46ers from the High Peaks to give everyone else a turn.

  22. Steve says:

    I have hiked with one group leader who always tells hikers that it is good trail ettiquet to walk through water and mud in the center of a trail rather than to avoid it by walking along the edges of the trail because doing this widens the trail. Your thoughts?

    • John Warren says:

      This is correct. Walking along the edges of the trail widens the trail and increases erosion.

  23. Bill Keller says:

    The authors points are all valid causes for trail erosion, just like overuse. I stay away from the popular spots, high peaks and just about any trail head with a large parking area. I watched an old timer move his trail every other year to a legal camp inside of Forever Wild lands (Grandfathered in), never saw any trail erosion. The trails I’m speaking of are mostly in the central region of the ADKs. Trails that see little or no use, like the “South Branch Trail”.

  24. Big Al says:

    “Impact” is a loaded term. The author is mostly right in his narrow definition of “impact” that refers only to trail conditions. While I’m concerned about trail conditions and erosion, I’m also worried about the other “impacts” of high use, such as loss of opportunities for solitude, disruption/displacement of critical animal habitats, water quality impacts from human waste, trampled alpine vegetation, and unsafe trailhead parking behavior along state highways, to name a few. None of these “impacts” will be addressed by sustainable trail design.

    • Boreas says:

      Big Al,

      Agree. Erosion of the overall environment as well as erosion of the experience. This is certainly a complex issue that requires considerable short-term and long-term planning. There is no simple, right/wrong answer. Perhaps usage will decline as baby-boomers such as myself are no longer limping up trails.

  25. JOHN H GRASING says:

    I find that the opinion that the trails are destroyed and we need to limit the number of people a criminal concept. You are robbing the people of an outdoor experience that could transform their lives. My first hike to Mt. Marcy changed my life forever.

    The damage is done and the trails need to be fixed. We need to find a way to get the DEC funding and the trails fixed in a sustainable way.

    I think the author of this article’s heart is in the right place but it could be said in a better way.

  26. Larry Frazer says:

    Great writing. I completely agree with nearly everything. However there is no design even with stone that can stop water from doing whatever it wants. Water and ice are the most unstoppable forces on earth. I would love to see an affordable design that would stop erosion.

  27. Joel Cummings says:

    Thank you for a great article. It is great to read an author who goes against the constant fear mongering about hikers ruining everything.

  28. Jerry Soltes says:

    Thank you for setting the story straight! As a day hiker from PA that spends three one-week vacations in the Lake Placid area each year, I am concerned about all this talk by officials, who I now know do not know of what they speak, when blaming hikers for erosion. My hiking buddy and I take High Peaks hiking seriously, not just with all the emergency gear we carry, but with trail care, including wearing snowshoes for our two “Winter” hiking trips in December and March. I sincerely hope Google and/or the ADK Almanac repeatedly posts your essay (it regularly appears on my phone in Google news) until a solution can be found.
    Northampton, PA

  29. I resisted this perspective at first. After my 3rd read, over time, after more hiking, I realize you are right. Thank you. We need to plan trails with Nature’s lessons, and that will support the traffic.

    AND we do need to educate our hikers. I don’t think we should be so naive to think proper trail design will fix everything.

  30. Sarah says:

    One of the main points being made by the ‘other articles’ when they discuss ‘erosion’ is that one can visible see trails becoming wider each year as people trample plant life adjacent to the trail in order to pass frequently because the trails are now so so busy and hike during particularly wet/muddy seasons when asked not to. This article starts off a little over dramatic, no?! No one said its going to turn into a post apocalyptic area. Maybe the trails are poorly designed especially since they were originally designed so long ago with a different population in mind.

    Also, the other concerns of camping above the tree line, contaminated watersheds, human garbage and forest fires are also large concerns. Erosion isn’t the only issue from overuse. Instead of bashing adk trails maybe attempt to help since you seem to have such a vast knowledge for trail design?

    -Your friendly ADK local

  31. Al Worthington says:

    Thank you for reprinting the original article. The first I read it, I was convinced by it’s logic.
    Today, as I spend my time half in the Adirondacks, the other in suburban Philly, I bring a perspective that the inside looking in crowd, all 143,000 of those good folks dwelling inside or near the Park, do not.
    When I first climbed Marcy, back in August of 1985, I was energized by the notion of climbing the highest peak (along Rt. 73n?) in New York. Despite having more than your average Tom, Dick or Harriet’s experience backpacking, my mind was set on peak bagging; although, at the time, had never heard and or thought of the concept.
    So as I drive the 6 hours back and forth between my home near Philly and my home in Lake Placid, I’m chagrined by signs stating “find alternative trailheads”. Putting it in an obnoxious comparison, I think of McDonalds broadcasting, “find another quarter pounder”. It just makes no sense; particularly, as more and more Olympic related events previously scheduled to occur in Lake Placid are rescheduled to occur elsewhere.
    I understand “forever wild”. I don’t understand those who define the concept to be his or her own understanding of what “forever wild” means. (So now I’m thinking of a forever wild migration of Wilda Beasts…)
    My point is, the high range is no longer a wilderness experience, if it ever has been during the last 40 years. It’s a peak baggers experience. It’s time to wake up to that reality and understand, if you build it, they will come

  32. David Earley says:

    I’m not an expert but to say hikers don’t cause trails to be eroded and damaged is not factual. True issues in designing and building the trails can lead to problems but in the end they are only part of the problem. I was down in the smokies this year and it was crazy how many more people were down there as opposed to 4 years ago when I last went. It was small city of people up there on the trails. There is this easy trail to a waterfall a huge amount of people take cause it’s rather accessible. While the trail itself is stone and for the most part fine compared to last time I visited, the land right along side it was totally washed away in parts exposing tree roots and just an ugly area, which it was it was fine the last time. People were going off the trails even while I was there either to get around slower hikers or just to mess around. It was obvious it’s the overabundance of hikers as well as thoughtless hikers themselves causing this. They have signs telling you to stay on trails but people don’t listen. This was a stone trail and I imagine that the other trails that are just a dirt path are likely in sort of the same way. More people than before are going on those trails as well so overuse and misuse are definite issues. While it’s true the designs contribute in ways but it’s also true they were never designed for the amount of people on them now. Can they do a better job of designing and building trails, yes, but even then overuse, misuse, natural causes, and time will damage them and those new designs will cost a lot more upfront dollars.

  33. David Earley says:

    While this article has valid points, it’s also true that overuse and misuse of trails can lead to or be just as big a problem as erosion and other natural causes. Just going down to the smokies this year vs 4 years ago showed me this. The number of people on those trails was mind boggling, the amount of trash, the damage caused by people going off trail. Sure water and wind and erosion are factors but they are made far worse by the numbers of people using the trails. Sure we need better made trails to deal with it being that trails weren’t designed for this amount of people but that costs a lot of money but also those trails will still suffer by overuse and misuse.

  34. Laurie Tetreault says:

    Thank you!!

  35. Overuse is a subjective term with meanings differing from one individual to another. Meeting two people on a trail may indicate overuse to some hikers for example. Misuse is a stewardship issue solved by supervision and investment. Misuse can occur even with less use.

  36. Audrey Seymour says:

    Did you base this off a research article? If so, please link it!

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