Increasing numbers of people has led to an increase in human impacts to our public lands, including damage to trails related to increased use during sensitive times such as mud season, more trash on trails, including human waste and toilet paper, damage to sensitive mountain plants, animals such as bears becoming habituated to human food, and a loss of a wilderness experience.
More people enjoying the Adirondack Park can also mean more people working to protect this world-class treasure, but it also requires management and care to see that neither the natural beauty nor the experience people seek are damaged.
The challenge of overuse can be considered a need to protect three things: the safety of the visitor, the natural resources themselves, and the wilderness experience that all users seek. Each is important, and without assurance of any of these three, the value of the Adirondack Park is diminished.
Recently, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation convened a meeting of partners and stakeholders to discuss both the problem and solutions being undertaken and planned to address overuse. These proposals addressed a variety of aspects, from solutions to the parking challenges along the busy Route 73 corridor, to an increased need for education and outreach strategies both prior to and upon the arrival of visitors, to the need for a modern, sustainably designed trail network, to a need for data to underpin the decision-making process.
Morning and afternoon sessions allowed Department personnel to ask questions and hear ideas and solutions proposed by the nearly 60 attendees. At the conclusion, some areas saw broad consensus while other proposals saw a greater range of opinions.
Clear consensus emerged on the need for a comprehensive plan to address each of the challenges, goals, and strategies in a holistic manner. Such a plan would address these challenges not only as they impact the High Peaks, but as they affect other areas. The strategies proposed by the DEC are many of the pieces that would fit within such a plan, but each and the whole would be strengthened by knitting them together under a broader framework. Resources are also required in order to create such a plan with needed stakeholder input.
A second area of broad consensus was a need for increased funding and resources, whether on the subject of trails, staff, partnerships to accomplish educational objectives, or research.
A third area of consensus was a need to start testing ways to limit overuse at some locations and some times. Piloting a permit system was supported via an informal vote by many of the participants. Finally, a need for good data to base decisions upon was strongly supported.
These strategies not only had broad support from the group, but also connected the topic areas discussed, from education to transportation. A comprehensive plan addresses the challenges in both of those topics, using and building upon many of the strategies already proposed by DEC staff.
At the conclusion of its meeting, the DEC committed to continuing to update stakeholders, to refining their strategies and plans, and to moving the process forward. Overuse offers challenges that will not go away without a sustained effort by the DEC and many partners. Many actions have been taken by the DEC to date to address this problem, and these are positive steps, but the challenge is complex and will require a long-term investment of time, resources, and energy. The Adirondack Park deserves no less — it is an extraordinary place. With planning, effort, and proper implementation, the ways that overuse are addressed in the Adirondacks can serve as a model for stewardship of public lands around the world.
Read more about this issue HERE.
Photo of cars lining Route 73 by Mike Lynch.