Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Take An Online Survey About The High Peaks Wilderness

Outdoor recreation in the Adirondack Park has grown significantly in recent years, rising from an estimate of 10 million visitors in 2001 to over 12.4 million in 2018. The popularity of the park has not been inconsequential.

The High Peaks Wilderness has been ground zero for major impacts, with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) listing overcrowded trailheads, trail deterioration, undesired trails, campsite and lean-to deterioration, water pollution, and impacts to wildlife as some of the negative consequences of high public use.

Some trails and mountain peaks are seeing large crowds on weekends. It’s not unusual for Cascade Mountain to see 1,000 hikers on a weekend. Many High Peaks are seeing 30,000 to 40,000 hikers on their trails each year.

A 2018 study by the Adirondack Council estimated that 130 miles of trails in the High Peaks Wilderness have been  damaged due to overuse, poor design, and lack of maintenance. In addition to the physical effects of high usage, many visitors have noted the social consequences that throngs of visitors have on the ability of the park to provide Wilderness with “outstanding opportunities for solitude” as stated in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

As the DEC works to develop a new High Peaks Wilderness Unit Management Plan, conservationists are urging that the plan manage the overflowing and inadequate trailhead parking, crowded summits, trash and human waste on trails, lack of trail maintenance, and noise pollution that are increasingly common occurrences in the High Peaks Wilderness during peak hiking season. Many are calling for strategies to deal with increased use, and some conservation organizations are advocating for the implementation of a hiker permit system.

As Environmental Studies majors at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, we are working to better understand public perceptions of management options for the High Peaks Wilderness for our senior research capstone project.

We have designed an online survey that gauges the degree to which overuse is perceived as a problem, as well as the popularity and preferences for varying management options and environmental protection techniques among users of the High Peaks Wilderness.

Whether you have been hiking in the High Peaks your whole life, you’re an aspiring 46er, or a newbie to the region, please consider taking our brief online survey. A diversity of responses is necessary for us to achieve a more holistic understanding of High Peaks Wilderness users’ opinions.

We are grateful for our sponsors, Druthers Brewery, Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company, and Eastern Mountain Sports for providing us with raffle prizes for survey respondents.

Our online survey can be found at www.tinyurl.com/ADKskidmore. The survey period ends March 31, 2019.

Colin Cameron, Sam Vogel and Greta Binzen are seniors at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. All three are studying environmental studies with an emphasis on land conservation and public land management. 

Photo provided.

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at editor@adirondackalmanack.com


16 Responses

  1. Todd Eastman says:

    Ban camping in the HPW…

    … instant decrease of human impact.

    HPW is small enough for all but the old and infirm to day trip the loops and summits.

    • Tim-Brunswick says:

      Someday you’ll be old…perhaps “infirm” and won’t have ease of access like many seniors and/or handicapped folks today. They’ll be gone and you can sit on the sidelines like many of us have to today….best wishes!!

    • Matthew Shannon says:

      It drives me crazy when people day trip the entire Great Range or speed hike.Totally ridiculous.

  2. Boreas says:


    I see your point. But keep in mind, while eliminating camping would reduce campsite/interior impact, it would likely increase usage of trunk trails if people must hike out every evening. Often I would camp in a central location for 1-2 nights and use that camp for the base of several shorter out and back hikes. In doing so, I eliminated the need to hike the same trunk trail 2 or 3 times. It saved on mileage, and ultimately saved on impact to the trunk trail.

    To your point, it can also be argued that trail impact would likely be less when carrying a lighter day pack vs. a full pack for camping. I just wonder if banning camping would decrease one type of impact while increasing another. But realistically, I don’t see the DEC banning camping in the HPW other than on a temporary, emergency basis due to fire risk or hurricanes. Many people view camping as part of a backcountry experience. Certainly a complicated subject.

  3. Boreas says:

    This survey is a good start, since NOW, DEC is tasked with determining carrying capacity of various user areas in the Park. How they are going to do this is anyone’s guess at this point, since not much is being said about it. Is the research needed to be contracted out on an as-needed basis, or will the DEC add permanent staff to constantly carry out this research? Is the research currently funded at all?? Does anyone know what the DEC plans are for determining carrying capacity?

  4. adkDreamer says:

    I took the survey and jaded every so-called multiple choice question I
    could. At the end of it there was a section for free writing. here is
    what I wrote below. True “Wilderness” is untouched, unmarked, no rescue
    available, no cell service, no anything.

    My free text input:

    “This survey is so flawed it is laughable. This survey is strongly
    biased towards ‘permit’, ‘fees’ and ‘control’. True wilderness has none
    of these attributes. The entire thought process of ‘controlling’
    wilderness is fatally flawed by it’s own definition, and efforts towards
    this so-called ‘control’ is a fool’s errand. Any control scheme creates
    not a wilderness, but a manufactured experience that resembles
    wilderness, but is not wilderness.

    Leave the so-called “wilderness” alone. Stop trying to manage
    wilderness by proxy. Don’t maintain the trails and take down the trail
    markers. Remove every structure, bridge, stairway etc – they are not
    found in nature.

    Stop rescuing people who find themselves in trouble in the wilderness.
    If you screw up out there you die, just like the animals that live there
    – it is a war for them to survive daily and those that win the daily
    battles survive, others do not. If folks realize that no one is coming
    to rescue them, they will think twice about the fantasy fun manufactured
    wilderness experience and learn very quickly that the Adirondacks is a
    true wilderness as they read about the dead and missing hikers/campers.

    True wilderness has no safety net and no cell service or drones. If
    some folks venture into the wilderness, it is just that – wilderness –
    you are on your own. The true wilderness doesn’t care about hikers or
    campers or any other ‘recreational’ activity.”

    • Jim S. says:

      That would cut down the crowds and fatten the coyotes.

      • adkDreamer says:

        I bet you’re right. Probably also give ‘Adirondack Guides’ a lot of business and rightfully secure their necessity in Adirondack Wilderness backwoods excursions. I know far too many ‘paper’ Adirondack Guides, that have passed the ‘exam’ (whatever that is) and have never actually guided anything other than the nail that secured the ‘certificate’ to the wall of so-called accomplishments.

    • Boreas says:


      I agree 100% If NYS ever gets any REAL wilderness, that is how it should be managed – no management at all!

  5. Scott says:

    Definitely remove all the manmade stuff from wilderness areas, but once they call 911 rangers have to respond.

  6. Freethedacks says:

    With the high visitor count and this whole discussion about permits, it is crystal clear that the Adk High Peak region IS NOT WILDERNESS! Especially when taking into account the very definition of wilderness that begins this survey. Let’s stop kidding ourselves – the High Peaks region is an intensive use area…the farthest thing from wilderness, and especially if one is truly seeking a “wilderness experience.” “Managing” wilderness is oxymoronic. True wilderness needs no human intervention by its very definition. If you want to stop the onslaught of human encroachment into these lands, then close the parking lots and trailhead access roads. And the whole adk 46er concept should be dismantled. It has become a bucket list for many, and has devolved into a contest of who is the most badass 46er – no longer is it just an accomplishment to hike the 46, nowadays people feel compelled to do them the fastest, or hike through without a break, or in the dead of winter. Next up – the naked 46.

    IMHO the High Peaks as a wilderness experience is a long gone. That train left the station decades ago. STOP CALLING IT WILDERNESS! It’s become a marketing term.
    Be like Bob Marshall, who bushwacked his way to the summits (there were no trails in his day). Better yet, stay away from the High Peaks altogether. There are 6 million acres to the adk Park, yet 90% of the people want to be in the High Peaks. Try a hike into one of the many wild forests. NOBODY IS THERE! You’ll actually have a pretty darn good wilderness experience. The trails are so faint, it can actually be like bushwacking. There are lakes and ponds, bogs and lesser peaks to explore….all by yourself. But let’s keep this our little secret. We don’t want the masses to figure this out and ruin the true wilderness in the Adks!

    • Boreas says:


      I agree. But let’s say hypothetically APA eventually changes the classification of the Eastern or entire HPW to Primitive or even Intensive Use. The DEC still is required to manage its usage and mitigate impact to the land and waters. What is the best way to mitigate these impacts while reducing restrictions? At least in this survey someone is asking for our input. Whether anyone listens is another matter.

    • Jim S. says:

      If you think about it there is no real wilderness to be found anywhere in the lower 48 contiguous states. Wilderness to me is the level of protection an area merits, deserves or needs. If you change the classification of the high peaks all hell would break loose up there. Harden the trails and try to minimize the erosion from all those people learning about what it is to be surrounded by nature.

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