Recreational use in the Adirondack Forest Preserve has been increasing at a noticeable rate for the last several years. Most notably, hiker traffic has exploded in the High Peaks Wilderness and gone beyond the current carrying capacity of many trails and parking areas.
This explosion in hiker traffic has gained the attention of land managers and lawmakers, who this past summer proposed new trails and alternate parking solutions in the amendments for the High Peaks Wilderness Unit Management Plan (HPWUMP). The Adirondack Climbers’ Coalition (ACC) is very concerned about the potential impact of some of these proposed parking changes.
The amendments to the HPWUMP have sharply reduced total parking, thus creating “competition” among recreational user groups. While hikers as a user group will suffer from this, they are by far the largest user group and tend to crowd out other users. In particular, rock and ice climbers feel that they have gained minimal consideration from the new plans, and are fearful of losing access to recreational climbing opportunities.
The alternate parking solutions in the HPWUMP aim to close many existing roadside parking areas and replace them with two new parking lots and an expanded Round Pond parking lot. While this may sound like a great idea on the surface, once the two new lots are constructed, all other roadside parking will be closed including the current Giant Ridge Trail (GRT) lot. Considering that a busy summer weekend will see close to 100 cars in the Chapel Pond area, two new 20 car lots and an expanded 25 car lot will not effectively service this area.
Additionally, the plan for closing the GRT lot will prevent reasonable access to some of the most popular rock and ice cliffs in the region. Climbers will be forced to compete for limited parking and have to walk along the road to gain access to cliff approach trails since it is unlikely the proposed Chapel Pond connector trail from the new parking lots to Chapel Pond will have branched access to current climbing approach trails. If all roadside parking outside the two new proposed parking lots is posted as “No Parking,” the ACC has three chief concerns:
- Those accessing the Lower Washbowl and Spider’s Web (a nationally renowned cliff), which often sees a dozen or more visitors on a busy weekend, will be forced to compete for parking at the Chapel Pond Outlet Campground, thereby forcing paddlers, campers, and climbers to compete for spaces in a six-car parking lot.
- The Upper Washbowl and Creature Wall access will need to be rerouted unless climbers are expected to walk along the road. Not having people walk the road was why the new parking lots were proposed to begin with.
- Ice climbers will be forced to compete for the six current spots at the center of the Chapel Pond, making it worse than it already is. Once the six spots are filled, human nature will be to find the easiest access from the two new lots and the expanded Round Pond lot. As soon as the Chapel Pond connector trail gets buried with snow, it will be ignored and ice climbers will walk the road to Chapel Pond.
For these reasons, the ACC proposes that in addition to the two new lots and the expanded Round Pond lot, the GRT lot be expanded, not closed and roadside parking throughout Chapel Pond be left open to provide sufficient access to all users.
Climbing, like hiking, has long been recognized as a legitimate recreational use of public lands within the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Like hiking, climbing in the Adirondacks traces its roots to the 1800s with early technical ascents on Mt Colden in 1850 and on Gothics in 1896. Based on this history and the continued use of the forest preserve for climbing, the ACC urges the DEC, DOT, State, and Town officials to not limit climbers recreational access by closing roadside parking.
It should also be noted that climbers want to protect and maintain the cliffs they visit. Adirondack climbers volunteered over 300 hours of sanctioned access trail work during 2018. Additionally, climbers continue to volunteer yearly as Peregrine Falcon monitors, working closely with DEC staff and area biologists on critical nesting sites. Some in the ACC community also serve as DEC-selected volunteers on the technical rescue team. Climbers hope to have the continued opportunity of working with Land Managers and expanding the good efforts that have been started.
The Adirondack Climbers’ Coalition (AdirondackClimbersCoalition.org) represents climbers recreating within the Adirondack Park and is currently 353 members strong.
Will Roth is President of the Adirondack Climbers Coalition. He works year round as a rock and ice climbing guide for several local guide services as well as an adjunct for SUNY Plattsburgh’s Expeditionary Studies program and North Country Community College’s Wilderness Recreation Leadership program. Will is also a volunteer for the DEC Technical Rescue Team.
Photo provided by the Adirondack Climbers’ Coalition.
We appear to approaching a point when parking reservations will be required on weekends and holidays.
I rarely go to the High Peaks on weekends anymore (retired) but I was in the Chapel pond area a few weekends ago and discovered that all the parking spots at the Roaring Brook overlook were taken, not by sightseers, but by hikers/climbers. If someone wanted to simply pull off and enjoy the view of the falls for 15 minutes, they couldn’t.
Poor planning and execution by the DOT and the DEC are nothing new…
… this takes it over the top.
This is a prime example of why comprehensive planning is needed. I hope all interested parties will focus on this over their preferred solution. The best outcome will result from careful analysis through a robust planning process.
I understand not wanting to just keep building parking lots, but is that the only reason they would be closing the GRT lot once the 2 new lots are constructed? Sorry as we all know this, but humans are like water…they find the path of least resistance – and if not, will create their own. I would see how this is going to make the issue of people walking along the highway even worse, parking where cars shouldn’t be. Apologies as I’m not a resident but visit the Adirondacks twice a year for backpacking and climbing trips (usually mid-week to avoid crowds)…but are there shuttle services along 73? Sorry if that’s a dumb question as in, if it’s already being done or has been talked about to death, etc…but could there be a system where a larger lot outside that immediate area is built and for $X folks could get a day pass, multi-day or year round pass that gets them too and from this main lot? Once the smaller lots are full, direct folks to this larger lot(s) removed from that immediate area?
Your thoughts are very logical. Shuttle services are being discussed as one option for this and other corridors. Whether it will come to fruition depends partly on how many visitors to each trailhead (holding capacity) can be tolerated while still protecting the resource. DEC is tasked to determine this. Limiting parking was the most expedient plan and also addresses some glaring safety issues. But it isn’t likely THE long-term solution. Planning needs to be more comprehensive than it has in the past.
As an amateur climber, I have a lot of respect for those who climb in the ADKs!
But unfortunately these folks are in the same boat as hikers who can’t access. There just isn’t enough space in certain corridors for the demand.
I second all of the comments about more thoughtful planning. This year’s measures are hopefully stopgaps in service of a better solution.
Personally, I’d be a fan of closing hiking related parking on 73 from 87 allll the way to Van Hovenburg with extremely few exceptions and lengthening the shuttle route & frequency. It seems like we might be going in that direction anyway? More staff – inclusive but not limited to rangers – is needed to help educate folks and enforce restrictions too.
We haven’t arrived at a normal, but walking on the highway cannot be it.
A parking reservation system that allows out-of-area people to reserve a location without having to race there could help. Some spots could be left open for those just driving past. Here are links to further explanations:
John, you and your lobby group literally waged war on hikers the past few years and threw around buzzwords like “overcrowded” which resulted in miles of parking areas being shut down.
I’ll pass on taking suggestions and solutions on this issue from the ADK Council.
Stick to fighting for clean air and water.
Buzzword or not, overcrowded is accurate. Parking alongside was dangerous, so they closed it. Your acting like this is the final step NYS will ever take in HPW management.
Have there been more SARs in the park or accidents on 73?
That’s what I thought…
Right now, our Rangers have been relegated to parking cops instead of working trails and trailheads performing Preventative Search and Rescue.
And, yes “overcrowded” is a buzzword. The High Peaks are busy 30-40 days out of 365. Weekdays it’s ghost town. Plenty of solitude.
The fact that NYS closed miles of parking without having a current solution and infrastructure in place is absurd.
I agree that closures need to be done with an alternative in mind. The times I’ve hitched a ride on the shuttle we’re great, and it’s green too!
“And, yes “overcrowded” is a buzzword. The High Peaks are busy 30-40 days out of 365. Weekdays it’s ghost town. Plenty of solitude.”
So it doesn’t sound like the lack of roadside parking should be much of a problem except on those busy weekends.
So far, no I’ve had zero issues on the weekdays… Turning away people on busy weekends isn’t a smart move considering this is a TOURISM based economy…
Most of the closures have been made to appease the ADK Council’s good friends at the Ausable Club. If you think that it’s for any other reason – you’re off your rocker.
yes we need more rangers, you sounds really bitter about this tbh. And if you think roadside parking tickets is gonna uproot an entire TOURISM based economy I would love to know where your economics degree is from.
Pretty sure the seventy $250 tickets that our parking cops (oops! I mean Rangers) wrote yesterday will do little to encourage people to return to the area, recreate and spend cash.
ADK mountain club trailhead sees 75k people a year alone… yea 70 tickets big dent to the local economy to give the trails a break
Ah, you’re the bitter at the tourists type of local!
70 tickets in one day… Multiply that by the 30 days of the calendar year that the peaks are actually busy and yes that adds up to a lot of upset people that may choose not to come back.
And if 70 cars isn’t “a big dent”… Then , 70-150 less people on the hundreds of miles of trails is hardly giving the trails “a break.”
What does Giant Mtn. area have to do with ADK property? The ultimate decision is with DEC who’s mission includes both public and resource protection, not the ADK council.
Hikers aren’t being turned away, they are being re-directed to other locations or activities. Plenty of businesses are forced to turn away customers on busy weekends. Look at golf courses as an example. Better have reservations – you can’t just expect to show up on a sunny Sunday morning and expect to start golfing. Same with restaurants, lodging, fishing, etc.. Why should hiking be different?
People either learn to research their activities and figure out where, how, and when to spend their time and money, or they miss out. People who get turned away at popular trailheads have the choice of hiking elsewhere or going into town and hanging out – both typically still involves spending their cash. Social media can and should be used as a tool for people to learn where they can and can’t park on a busy weekend. People can adapt surprisingly well if given the proper motivation.
I am not a fan of this interim parking management plan either, but it certainly gets people’s attention. Should shuttles be added? That depends on what DEC determines to be the usage capacity of each trail network to preserve each resource. If you simply add shuttles, how do you manage the usage at various trailheads? The big question is how and when will DEC determine usage capacities? If you think there is disagreement now, just wait…
I never mentioned ADK club property. I said Ausable Club. You know the people who own most of the land on both sides of 73 from Giant to Keene Valley. Have you missed out on who has been lobbying to limit and restrict access? It’s the Adk Council. The top folks in the Council are bed mates with the Club. Easy research. Fact.
There’s folks at the club that are feeling “seller’s regret” from their 70s land and easement sale. Prime hiking season lines up with the “open” months for the club. Members are sick of seeing hikers. Adk Council jumped on that and began their “Overcrowded campaign.”
-Now you’re saying it’s to protect the resource. The article says it’s to prevent accidents. So, which is it?
-Again, how many accidents have happened on that stretch of 73 over the past 5 years? Now compare that to the # of SARs have taken place over the past 5 years.
-If this was about “safety,” why didn’t NYS at least try dropping the speed limit to 30-35?
…because this isn’t about safety…
-Limiting parking or requiring permits doesn’t guarantee that LNT will be respected and that resources will be preserved. All it takes is a few uneducated people to screw up a summit. Any jagoff with some cash can get a permit or show up early.
-Telling people to go hike elsewhere further spreads erosion and can lead to parking issues at other trailheads and pulloffs. That’s not solving a problem. That’s spreading it out and making more problems.
-A lot of people (including the Council) have lobbied that the aspect of wilderness solitude is being lost. You know what kills the concept of solitude? Redirecting people to places that are under the radar.
…Clearly this isn’t about the resources either…
If you can’t see that the Council essentially lobbied for these closures on behalf of their best buddies (and donors) at the club, then I don’t know what to tell ya. Because it’s pretty apparent.
Should the State have relied so heavily on the easement for so many years? Probably not. But, in no way should they have waited until last minute to make drastic changes without a plan well in place.
You can tell by DEC’s dialect that it will be years before one is in place. That’s messed up.
Sorry – I misread Ausable Club as ADK where the closures began last year.
“-Now you’re saying it’s to protect the resource. The article says it’s to prevent accidents. So, which is it?”
Can’t it be both? Just because a fatality hasn’t happened doesn’t mean the roadside parking situation should continue – particularly in low-visibility areas. I WOULD like to see the speed limit reduced through there as well – especially with barriers in place, but my understanding is that would involve other authorities and further delays. And who would enforce that? Police don’t like to operate radar traps in places of congestion and low visibility.
We certainly aren’t going to get away from politics and lobbying. What would your alternative be – or do you feel everything was fine?
I don’t feel it’s been as big of an issue as those that would like to see a velvet rope around the park. As stated, SAR is a bigger issue.
That being said, there’s definitely room for improvement. I (along with many others) would’ve liked to see something in place BEFORE the state closed roadside parking. The speed limit change should’ve been tried out at the very least.
Other potential options such as Shuttles, new trailheads/trails, etc. should’ve been sorted out before the current change as well.
NYS saying they’re going “to explore options” means that this will take years to come up with something… Or, they’re going to do nothing and hope the “problem” goes away. And, when it doesn’t they’ll do something drastic again without any foresight.
Back to my original point. The Adirondack Council fought hard to get roadside parking closed. The last people that I’ll listen to for solutions are them.
Your assertion about the AC putting pressure on the DEC is certainly valid. But I can’t say that I blame them either AC or DEC. When AC sold the mountaintops to NYS and agreed to an easement over their lands (and their trails) to get to those mountains, they gave themselves a pretty loud voice. I would assume an easement would not be ironclad if the club desired to alter it. There has been a significant increase in usage of the easement lands, trails, and roads since the agreement was made. Does that grant them a right to back out? What about the increased costs to maintain and patrol their trails? These are things the AC can lay at the state’s feet and have their requests hold a lot of weight. I guess we will see what happens…
If it weren’t for NYS and the Tax payers the club wouldn’t exist today. So, members should be thankful to the parents and grandparents of everyone who rightfully walks their roads and trails.
Getting out of the easement is almost impossible.
So, NYS is doing the club another favor by closing parking near their lands… Which would totally be fine if (as stressed) alternatives were currently in place.
Ausable agreement also states 20 car lot would be provided and they provide more then that currently.
Also – a note on Ausable Club trail maintenance costs. The club has signs that say there are no public facilities. That’s their choice. They could’ve done something (or a few things) like setting up a small refreshment stand by their parking lots years ago and invested the profit into trails. They chose/choose not too. Which is fine, that’s their call.
But, it’s tough to sympathize with a millionaires club’s complaints about trail costs when there are a multitude of ways they could be funding the work.
And considering there’s a consortium of over a dozen AMR property owners who haven’t paid ANY property taxes over the last three years im protest of the last assessment it’s even more galling that they enjoy such disproportionate sway over what “solutions” are presented and which are conveniently overlooked. How a speed limit change from the Exit 30 off-ramp all the way to Lake Placid wasn’t implemented a few years ago as tourism spiked certainly belies the “safety” argument by both the Adk Council, DEC, and DOT.
Personally I feel that this issue should be addressed right from the starting point. In my opinion only, maybe we all should engage the politicians who have done their best to open the flood gates to these areas and have provided no solutions and / or resources to deal with the problems associated with their agendas. It seems to me that the politicians are not held accountable to the problems they cause for everyone else, maybe it’s time to vote these thugs out of office.
Seriously! You’re going straight to ‘thugs’ just because you disagree with your elected officials’ actions. Maybe their actions ARE in line with the people who elected them. That would make you the outlier.
Well like I said John, it’s my opinion only, I certainly respect yours.
Thugs may be a bit extreme, but voting people out of office is always our prerogative. Unfortunately, the interests and votes of people within the Park are small potatoes in the Albany swamps. Ignorance of life and problems inside the Blue Line seems to be bipartisan. Perhaps our only solution is to secede.
Boreas, yup I agree my comment was a bit extreme in respect to stereotyping all politicians. It wasn’t a fair statement for sure. However, I do certainly notice the political corruption in most aspects of government especially in this state and it gives me pause when laws are passed and decisions made. Before someone says it, I know I can always leave and that may happen some day. I do agree that secession may be a solution, however impossible that may be. Happy Fathers Day to all….
And the same to you all. Happy Fathers Day, that is.
And the sun is even out!!
I fear my days of stopping by for a dip in the waters of Chapel Pond are over. The beach is a great attraction for families with children.
Other East-coast mountain areas have exceptional hiking and climbing. The players in this parking disaster should realize that while the Adirondack High Peaks region is special, it does not stand alone as a destination.
Without an easy-to-use transportation replacement of the drive and park scenario, people and their coin will go elsewhere. The American West is only a plane ticket away; the Appalachians are even easier to reach.
If the Adirondacks can’t support a viable public transportation system between Park communities, how would a durable and well-planned trailhead shuttle system ever develop?
Hitchhiking might just come back?
I agree – the HPW is special, and the other areas you mention are each special in their own way. What makes the HPW especially attractive is that it is a very short drive from the Northway – a major thoroughfare between huge population centers. Many other premier hiking destinations in the NE are more isolated from interstates and cities. This is a big factor in the popularity of the HPW. Perhaps in the long run it is better for everyone and the environment to spread tourists out a little more throughout the east – especially if Albany isn’t going to give the tourism issue the resources and planning it requires. You can’t just invite as many people as possible to an area without having a plan and the necessary infrastructure in place to keep them happy while protecting the resource itself.
It sounds to me like someone here has a real hate on the Ausable Club.
Nothing really new. Seen solely from a hiker’s perspective, there seems to be a basis for resentment – a club with wealthy members that DOESN’T act like a business (ADK) that encourages non-members to use their property. From the Ausable Club perspective, they owned a huge chunk of what was to become the HPW that included lakes, peaks, and private camps and trails. For many years the public was able to use those private resources. DEC/NYS would have liked to purchase all of the backcountry, but what about the in-holdings and private trails? What we see today is the result of a compromise that worked reasonably well for a couple decades. Unfortunately, no one predicted the surge in hiking interest that has become problematic. I am not a friend of the AC for reasons involving a S&R for an injured acquaintance decades ago (before the sale), but it enabled me to see the situation from their perspective. Being a have-not, I understand the hiker resentment as well.
If you are an aspiring 46r and appropriate parking can’t be found close to the AC gate, your walk in revealing plenty of open space, a golf course, beautiful buildings and grounds, and are confronted by a gatekeeper that sometimes isn’t all that welcoming, resentment germinates. This isn’t the hiking model of the Park where you are always treading on state lands.
If you are a club member paying expensive dues to have private access to the grounds and trails, seeing a ten-fold jump in non-members using the property (sometimes disrespectful of the rules) is going to germinate resentment as well.
If you are DEC and stuck in the middle, what do you do?? Both NYS and AC entered into an agreement that is showing strain from dramatically increased usage of non-members through private land. While I am not defending the NYS or DEC, I think we need to be patient and understanding of DEC’s responsibilities as well as actions. We all know a parking ban isn’t the sole answer to this complicated situation, but it should be viewed as the first step in in a long-term process that is going to involve give and take by all parties. As hikers and climbers, we should try to be somewhat flexible until a clear, long-term plan is developed. Unfortunately, DEC has been terrible in communicating with the public – likely in part because a long-term plan is not in place.
Again, due to myopic legislators in Albany, Rangers are forced to become the DEC interface as “Parking Rangers” handing out tickets and redirecting hikers to other locations. We all know this isn’t their skill set. Let’s all try to see the problem from other perspectives and be patient and understanding with each other. None of this will be resolved without cooperation from all parties.
I am a 46er and I hiked that area before (and after) they shut off access to the bus. I too understand both sides. I don’t begrudge the AC the right to exercise some control and limits on the use of their property. It isn’t unlike the situation with Owls Head where the trail crosses private property and traffic became such that property owners couldn’t get to their own property and they had to close the trail on weekends. Overuse is more than just a buzzword. I watched the deterioration of the Owls Head trail over the years and felt some guilt for recommending it so freely because in doing so, I contributed to that.
I totally agree that the current ‘solution’ must be temporary but frankly, it had to be done. I remember a time when we worried that younger people, too distracted by technology, weren’t interested in nature. Now it is the reverse, too many at once. Nearly 25 years ago, in response to the problem of trail maintenance, I suggested that we should have a hiking license for the High Peaks similar to hunting and fishing licenses and with an LNT education requirement. I am fortunate that I am now retired so I go mid-week but I recognize that most aren’t free to do that with the inevitable weekend crowding. We need a long term solution whether it is shuttles or reservations (just like campgrounds). We can’t just continue to pour masses of people into a fragile resource without limit.
I believe you are correct about that. As a 6th generation KV summer person. I’ve never been a member of the Club (I can’t afford it) but I have been a long time member of the ATIS, which is connected to the Club and has very inexpensive dues and enables access to all ATIS members to the Lakes and trails. The Club has been careful stewards of that land, and have never denied access to hikers. One may call them “The AuSnobble Club” as some do, but consider what might have happened to that land if the Club hadn’t cared for it.
Thanks for that reply. I never realized that ATIS was separate from the Ausable Club. You learn something every day (if you are open to learning).
You can google Adirondack Trail Improvement Society for more information if you so wish.
Back to the point of the article…
… no consideration for climbing in the DEC/DOT action.
This was a decision with major impacts on recreation and tourism with little to no public input.
I think most of us agree with you. It would probably have been better if DEC characterized the ban as a “temporary emergency action”. But as you say, meaningful communication didn’t happen and the Traffic Rangers are left trying to apply balm to the public’s temper. That is unfair as well.
The question is, how do we proceed from here? I think we would both agree the first step would be an urgent PUBLIC comment session with DEC, pertinent stakeholders, local officials, and hiker’s/climber’s groups on a panel to ask and answer questions, and simply vent. Much of the current ill will is due to virtually non-existent communication. That needs to change.
I visited a few weekends ago to climb at the Spider’s Web. The Web parking spots are now posted “no parking”, and the Outlet parking was totally full with weekend campers.
The only remaining choice was to park on a dirt shoulder near Chapel Pond Slab (which, incidentally, will be posted “no parking” in the near future) and walk the road to access the Web trailhead.
So, a special thanks to NYS for making me walk MORE on the road.
I understand and fully appreciate the safety issue of too many pedestrians on the road. However, by reducing parking, the state has made the access to climbing areas more hazardous by forcing climbers to park further from the access trails, and walk further on the road.
The first thing in order to improve safety is to reduce speed limits in the corridor. Why not reduce the speed and improve the shoulders for safer parking? The solution seems so obvious!
Reducing the speed limit through this corridor is long overdue. Visibility is poor, and there are people engaging in many forms of recreation, from swimmers, climbers, hikers, birders, and even boaters. I’ve witnessed traffic accidents first hand. Too often I see cars and trucks speeding through the pass, and honking to express their irritation at the people crowding the white lines. Reducing speed, even if only on weekends, would significantly improve safety.
Regarding the separate issue of trail impact, most climbing occurs at roadside cliffs. For these climbing areas, climbers don’t use the main hiking trails. Instead, they access the cliffs from herd paths. So even though climbers use parking spots, they are not contributing in any significant way to High Peaks trail erosion.
Banning rt73 parking while at the same time closing the garden could have been avoided. A shuttle system should already be operating, not hoped for someday.
And, yes, the Exec Dir of the ADK Council is an Ausable Club member, part of a multigenerational family there, camp on the upper lake, the whole bit. So of course there is a link there. The ADK Council board is largely rich donors and they substantially direct the Council’s positions. The rich are way more influential than most realize, a feat they accomplish via directing the Council.
I think the AC’s relative wealth is immaterial. The fact is they still own a great deal of land in the HPW – land they have owned for generations. They still have a responsibility to their members to protect their property and maintain some degree of an exclusive experience on their lands and waters. Would a private lumber company with easements through their land allow dramatic increases of hikers interfering with their operations or endangering the quality of their forest? Would their attempts to control numbers meet with the same objections? I don’t feel landowners of any type should be viewed as the enemy here, since they will ultimately be part of the solution if we are to continue sharing their property.
There is a shuttle from Marcy Field to the Garden, which has been in existence for a number of years. It is now taking an alternate route to the Garden, since the bridge over Johns Brook has been closed due to necessary repairs. The “rich” you complain about have been influential in preserving the land we all love.
And the Ausable Lakes region is only one of such properties with agreements and easements between landowners and NYS providing access where there was none. I think we hikers should be thankful for what we do have and do our best to work with landowners and DEC to find solutions. I can empathize with the climbers who are a subset of people who have benefited from these agreements in the past, but the future will likely involve even more changes to the status quo. Turning the situation into a polarizing war will only ensure the process will be drawn out that much longer with no real winners. I believe there is a chance here for patience and cooperation to bring about a workable solution.