Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Pete Nelson: We Need Visitor Management, Not Permits

Another peak hiking season has come and gone and with it another year of concern about overuse in the High Peaks. A variety of steps have been taken by the State, Essex County, The Town of Keene, environmental groups and volunteers to deal with this use, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Now it seems that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is poised to try out a permit system in an attempt to address overuse by selectively limiting access.

I didn’t buy it a year ago, and I’m not buying it now: not a permit system; not many of the tactics being tried; and not, frankly, the term “overuse” either. There is no question we suffer usage spikes that on a given day can wreak havoc with parking and access. Nor is there a question that we have major problems with trail damage and maintenance. But the sky over the High Peaks is not falling, not yet, and actions that are undertaken without fully comprehending the problem may very well be big mistakes.

I’ve been involved in this issue here and there and I was one of the people invited to the July stakeholder meeting that the DEC and Town of Keene convened. Do not count me with those who would cast aspersions on that meeting. It was convened in good faith and I’m confident the State is sincere in its efforts to seek broad input to address visitor management. I know the Town of Keene is sincere: they have done yeoman’s work this summer dealing with folks along Route 73. But the process does not benefit from rhetoric. “Overuse” is hyperbole, employed too often as a political calculation, and it conveniently stands in for a more complicated problem we don’t really understand.

Before we can address that lack of understanding, it’s important to get some facts straight about conditions in the High Peaks. News articles tout phrases like “the Park is being loved to death” and “the High Peaks Wilderness is being buried by garbage and human waste.” In fact this is not true. My own journeys, which have covered every major trail, camping area and summit in the High Peaks over the last 15 months, have shown me conditions consistent with what many High Peaks experts, from rangers to summit stewards to trail builders, have also said. Yes, day hiking is way up. But summit damage is down: on most summits it has been reversed, thanks to our amazing summit stewards; even on Cascade it has been arrested.

Campsites are better vegetated, garbage is down, human waste is down, bear incidents are down. Iconic gathering places like Lake Colden, Marcy Dam, Flowed Lands and the summits of Marcy and Algonquin all look better than they did ten years ago, and orders of magnitude better than they did in the 1970s and 80s.

I’ll be first to admit that without the very folks I just mentioned things would be different. But the fact that rangers, stewards, trail crews and volunteers have improved conditions in the interior even as hiking has dramatically increased, is quite telling. It strongly suggests that the numbers of visitors is not the issue. It also strongly suggests that education and affirming interactions with back country authorities is the big difference maker.

Still, to anyone who’s seen Route 73 traffic on a sunny weekend, it’s obvious that we have an acute visitor use challenge. So let’s break the problem down into a little more detail by addressing two important points that can help our understanding.

The first and most critical point is that the core of the issue is not regular overuse, but rather massive usage spikes which overwhelm existing infrastructure and resources. This is a different and considerably more difficult problem. First, spikes are hard to measure: we have spotty data on visitor use anyhow, but spikes make it hard to generalize or extrapolate with whatever data we do have. Second, spikes are very hard to predict. This fall the State, Town of Keene and volunteers geared up for Columbus Day weekend, but it turned out to be the Saturday before that was a record-setter, a virtual hiker armageddon. Why? The obvious guess is weather: there had been a long stretch of rain and cool temperatures for several days before, and demand was pent up. So when that Saturday broke sunny and perfect with fall colors at peak, everybody went for it.

But there wasn’t a similar problem the week before, nor is there one on the weekend I’m writing this; nor is there a problem most of the time. It’s simply a fact that on the majority of days of the year the High Peaks see at most moderate visitation. Indeed, I talked to a regular hiker who did Giant on the drizzly Sunday just before that crazy Saturday: he was the only person on the summit.

If a light drizzle can make “overuse” vanish, and a perfect day can annihilate the best laid plans, how do you predict and anticipate visitation? How do you cope with it? Not with solutions that don’t fit a highly dynamic problem. For example, banning parking for four miles on Route 73 might seem like a good idea to address regular overuse. But on a spike day, when every available off road parking spot is gone by 7 am, the hundreds of hikers who still need to park (and who, by the way, would like to feel good about both their hiking plans and our community) will do it along the road anyway, even deliberately poo-pooing pricey tickets. Meanwhile the number of people walking along a dangerous mountain highway will go up, not down, because so many of them can’t park near their desired trailhead. One Saturday morning I made two brief passes through the Roaring Brook area in my car and counted roughly seventy people walking along the white line. That doesn’t strike me as a public safety improvement.

Another example is the plan to build two new 20-car parking lots in the Chapel Pond area. Is expensive, permanent infrastructure a good idea to address volatile, unpredictable usage spikes? Even casual observation in that corridor shows that on most days of the year these lots will get light use. On a few days they might be just what the doctor ordered. But on heavy spike days they’ll be utterly crushed, and by 7:00 AM we’ll have the same problems we have now. I don’t want to propose solutions before we fully understand the problem either, but compare that approach to one that can dynamically adapt to an explosion of visitors, such as on-demand shuttle system combined with temporary parking areas and an on-call group of stewards, monitors and volunteers that can ramp up in real time. We need to think more about flexible, adaptable approaches like that.

The second point has to do with our badly eroded trails which, along with visitor parking problems, constitute the poster children for overuse claims. No one argues that many High Peaks trails are in terrible condition. But that isn’t an overuse problem: it’s a trail design and maintenance problem. Experts will tell you that beyond a reasonable threshold of use (and with Adirondack geology, it’s a pretty low threshold) the number of hikers using a trail is not especially relevant to the amount of erosion. Instead, it’s the topography, soil, and water along with the route and structure of the trail that matters. Casual experience makes that fact pretty obvious. My prize for worst major path in the Park goes to the Calamity Brook Trail, which, needless to say, was cut without modern design standards. For most of its length it’s more of a muddy, boulder-strewn scar than a trail. Yet it is not overused. In fact it gets less than a tenth of the traffic that the trail to Marcy Dam does. The Marcy Dam trail looks much better because it is better designed and has gotten the attention it needs. Sure, we need a dozen professional trail crews instead of just one, and in general the State needs to invest much more in sustainable trails. But that’s true regardless of current usage trends. It’s misleading to suggest that our lousy trails mean we have an overuse problem and need to limit access.

Into this messy fray comes the suggestion to try out a permit system, which strikes me as another proposed solution to a problem we haven’t grasped or measured. It might be that down the road, after we have more data and understand visitor use better, there will be some appropriate application for permits in the High Peaks, but to do it now strikes me as ill-advised.

First, it’s hard to see how a permit system will have any positive benefit or effect upon usage spikes. The same hundreds of carloads of visitors who aren’t in a frame of mind to care about parking restrictions are hardly going to be in a frame of mind to care about permits either (not to mention the fact that we lack the resources to enforce permits). So any hope to gather useful data from permits will be out the window, and the spike problem will not have been addressed. Second, permits by definition bring an equity problem. As a co-founder of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative I am strenuously opposed to any measure that further divides some people from other people. Third, many folks I talk to who live or govern here are opposed to permit systems for multiple reasons, among them the question of how to be fair to local residents. I think that’s very important. Finally – and tied to all these points – permits run contrary to a long-held tradition and value in the Adirondacks, that the Forest Preserve is open for all to enter and enjoy as they please, with no gates, booths or fees. That’s a remarkable, unique value and I think we compromise it at our peril.

I cannot support a strategy that limits access unless we absolutely have to do so in order to save the resource. I sit on my porch with a spectacular view of the Cascade Range; it is a great privilege to do so. In my mind I have no right to deny the experience of any similarly powerful vista to anyone who has the will to hike to it. More than that, I want people here.

Last year I climbed Cascade on Labor Day morning with 200 other visitors and we all had a wonderful time. I wanted every one of those people to experience and value this place. And they did. Then I went back to Cascade three days later and saw eight hikers.

It’s not anyone’s fault that attempts to address usage spikes have been less than successful. It’s a very hard problem, certainly beyond the scope of any one group or agency. The good news is that I think people at the DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency understand this better than they are being given credit for. The organization to which I belong, Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, has been calling for a comprehensive stakeholder-driven planning effort, placing science and data at the center, and organized around the Visitor Use Management Framework (VUMF), a proven tool and approach developed by the National Park Service and partners. Lo and behold, at the last APA meeting it was announced that a joint APA/DEC group has adopted the VUMF as their planning tool and is tailoring it to fit the Adirondack Park. We applaud this excellent development.

I know that we cannot wait for a multi-year planning effort to take action: we need short-term steps that address the most acute problems. But even short term steps can be positioned within and informed by a larger framework that puts visitor management at the center and recognizes and understands the unique challenges of usage spikes. That kind of planning effort needs to happen now. Permits can wait.

Photo of hikers on Cascade Mountain by Mike Lynch.

Related Stories

Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.

121 Responses

  1. Wow…very well thought out and written! As a visitor to the Adirondacks and not a resident, the solution needs to come from within for sure…I’d just love to help be part of the solution – however one can help!

  2. adkDreamer says:

    Pete – Finally, a voice of light in the darkness of otherwise ridiculous permit ideas, hiking licenses, etc. I have been saying the same thing for years that permits, licenses etc. are simply barriers to access and will have no effect whatsoever. Get ready, the permit and hiking license trolls will be posting comments very soon.

  3. Hope says:

    A voice of reason. Thanks, Pete

  4. Ron Turbide says:

    A very interesting read for sure. There is certainly a lot here to provoke thought about the situation in the Adirondacks. It would be better, in my opinion, if a solution could be found to ameliorate the problems of increased use without imposing a permit system. As the author points out, to be able to use the resource unfettered by odious regulations is a real boon. The stakeholder groups have their work cut out for them.

  5. ADK Camper says:

    This is a fantastic piece. Mr. Nelson is taking a level headed approach to the issues. I applaud him for seeing right through the BS claims of “overuse” and pointing out the real truths out that many in the hiking community have been discussing for a number of years.

  6. Laurie E SMITH says:

    I wholeheartly agree with you Pete. I was a NYS Guide…Created and taught college hiking, backpacking and variety of outdoor rec. Classes. I have never liked the permit idea. Always rubbed me the wrong way.Not into a few making extra rules for the masses and believing they exclusively have the right to do so. I have taught and taken hundreds of students to their first time experience..I’ve seen it..changing lives!!.to enjoy the outdoors, to work hard to reach goals, and love it…and to know there is something in live for that will give us peace..beauty, appreciation, responsibility and respect.. and also commardarie without ridiculas false expectations..Just to stay alive and get up that damn mountain and back! .Amazing..

    .I believe education will bring a better outdoor person to the Adks..Put some tables at the trail heads., have volunteers (besides the 46ers ..sorry kinda a rebel) teach leave no trace, reach out to more colleges for student internship, put a info online quick course, add hyperlinks of more info and resources anyone interested..come on everyone..how many times do we have our nose stuck in the phone or computer..Newbies do too.Have this course online, if they watch it.they get some fantastical patch..( nope not the 46ers..have an opinion to that)..Here’s the thing..I don’t see any research, viable research on the increase in hikers..( maybe the 46ers, hmmmm think about it..oh here I go..what a conundrum.. an environmental nature loving club pushing to earn a patch on only particular mtns.which happen to be the most visited in the Adks….) But any way..Direct hikers to other mountains with a variety of good reasons, views, family oriented, great backpacking experience, good newbie mountains..nice campsites..am I a dreamer.maybe..

    If you are into hiking you thirst for information, you search for it, maps, rules of the area, asking questions on forums etc. Bring education of trail damage, trash effects, Leave No Trace, where to park, rules of the areas..etc etc.

    Parking..let me see..back in the day 6 people crammed in a car with strapped on gear with rope…Now..people take separate cars, one or 2 people per car….build more parking spots..they don’t have to be fancy or expensive.. Lots of cars sure.always. chaos on certain days..

    Advocate for the environment sure., unless you get get a taste.you won’t cherish..Educate is my answer.., train people to become trail warriors…nature protectors..animal lovers..

    Let’s figure out away to do it without choosing who will hike today and who will not.

    • Balian the Cat says:

      Glad I didn’t go to a college where the “teachers” write like this.

      • Gosh, comma, if it was a English test, i would have tried harder.. lol..after all i did only work for phys ed ?athletics.. you can correct me.. is ok.. i can take it. hugs..

        • Balian the Cat says:

          Hugs back, Laurie. Yours is a noble profession, but you couldn’t be more wrong about the 46rs.

          • Gebby says:

            Thank you Balian! My comment, in defense of the 46ers was deleted. Hope your comment stays up! 🙁

    • Gebby says:

      Is there some reason why my comment and those of another 46er, in response to Laurie’s skewering of the 46ers, have been deleted?

  7. Chris says:

    More data and analysis please.

    Your approach should be very helpful in addressing this near universal problem.

  8. Tim says:

    Brilliant. A voice of reason, indeed. I’ve stopped reading all the Chicken Little stuff about parking, permits, etc. until now.
    The Calamity trail is a horror, for sure. But Pete is spot on: it’s all about trail design, not the amount of use. I’ve hiked down the south rim of the Grand Canyon half a dozen times. I can’t imagine a busier trail but it’s a breeze to hike.
    If people feel like joining the throngs to Cascade or Marcy Dam, let them. I don’t care. There are plenty of places just as beautiful where you won’t see a soul, ever.

  9. laurie says:

    Pete, thank you for being a much-needed voice of reason on this issue.

  10. Justin Farrell says:

    Kudos to all the volunteers & hard work done over the past few years to try & educate these spikes in the amount of uneducated hikers & campers in high use areas. Maybe I missed it in the article but I didn’t see any mention of the growing number of reports of DEC rescues & first responders risking their own ass to help the never ending list of unprepared hikers & backcountry users, which I’m sure we can probably expect several more of again this winter, free of charge paid for by NYS taxpayers.

  11. Don Pachner says:

    Excellent analysis, Pete…I agree with your overall assessment. I wonder if perhaps a hybrid plan, such as the one at Mohonk Preserve (albeit a privately operated public wilderness recreation area without overnight camping) might work at peak times. There, the rangers are out collecting fees from users on the trails, and require display of day use permits; however, I agree with your conclusion, and personally do not believe a permit system will work or be feasible over time,. My statistics as occasional volunteer summit steward the past month bear out your observations on usage (including that Saturday before Columbus Day, which saw the largest population of hikers on top of Hurricane that I have seen in the 3 years of volunteering as summit steward). Many of those hikers, most from the Capitol District, Western Tier, Montreal and Ottawa had seen the forecast and decided to take a hike that day before the end of peak foliage. One lesser used trail of the 3 trails to the summit represented perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 the hikers due to social media and referrals from local establishments such as The Mountaineer.

  12. Hurricane Hiker says:

    While a general permit/ lottery system for hiking access or parking seems heavy handed and difficult to enforce. Certain times and places would be valuable to see if it is beneficial to hikers experience and help rangers/ volunteers manage use on those ‘extreme use days’. Say limit cascade to 100 people on those holiday weekends instead of 500 people, just to try it out. Maybe mud season limits on a trail or two and see if it helps. It can’t be the straight go to just because we lack so much other visitor management and I appreciate Pete’s point but it could be a small tool as part of a larger plan. Hopefully when executed incrementally and properly it still upholds the value of free and open access to the publicly owned forest preserve.

  13. MOFYC says:

    Excellent perspective. It feels like we don’t have enough detailed data. We have the overview but does that really reflect the nuances?

  14. Just a thought says:

    An interesting article with much needed information. Perhaps Governor Cuomo could use some of those tourism dollars to pay for needed professional trail crews to redesign/reconstruct the faltering trails, and for more park rangers. I really don’t think spending $26 million dollars on a High Peaks Rest Area did anything to improve the situation in the actual High Peaks! Let’s use our tax dollars and tourism revenue more wisely!

  15. Boreas says:


    Ignoring problems won’t make them go away. It’s OK if you don’t believe there is a problem, but many people believe otherwise and are lobbying for change. These people do not have a porch view of the Cascade Range – they are out-of area working people who have inflexible schedules and can’t visit the area on off-spike days. They are called tourists, and they get the attention of NYS and local governments because of the green they carry. Tourists cannot plan vacations and weekend trips around chaos and non-existent parking. “Over-use” may be in the eye of the beholder and can be debated until the cows come home, but chaos, ruined trips, and bad experiences are pretty obvious. It’s going to be a rough ride so buckle up!

    • Eric Avery says:

      What you are describing is a parking problem. The solution for a parking problem is not permits. It’s more parking. We need to build in-town parking (preferably next to some good breweries or pizzerias) and have a 24 hr shuttle. Any shuttle that isn’t 24 hrs will be a failure. Hiking with a deadline is worse than hiking in the rain. It sucks.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      I do think there is a problem, as I stated in the article, and in fact I think it is a tough problem. I’m just arguing for a different approach and better definitions. As you said further down, what’s overuse? Regardless, I’m sure the problem won’t be ignored by any stakeholders: it’s too important.

  16. James Bullard says:

    I mostly agree but I think an annual hiking license, as opposed to a permit which entails limiting when and where, should be part of the answer. Education, yes. Trail improvement, yes, More stewards and rangers, yes, but all these require advance contact with those want to use the High Peaks and more money dedicated to trails. Hunters and fishermen support their activity by buying an annual license why not hikers, at least in areas of intense use.

    It needn’t be expensive, $15-20. We pay more than that for… almost anything that we enjoy for an entire year. I observed about 30 years ago that on weekends half or more of the people I met in the woods were and continue to be Canadians who aren’t paying taxes to support the trails so I further suggest that for out-of-state people the fee should be higher. It could be done online, including an educational element. A parking permit (for authorized spaces) could be included that could be left on the dashboard and it would raise money for trail work. According to sites I’ve checked, Cascade sees over 38k visitors and Marcy over 50K and that’s just two mountains. We can easily say that a High Peaks Region hiking license would raise millions annually for education and trail work. It just seems like a no-brainer to me as a basis for the kind of things that need to be done.

    • Zephyr says:

      $20 to you or me might seem reasonable, but how about the family of four or six that do one annual hike together in the High Peaks? A hit of $80-$120 for one day of hiking might be too much. I know that my father and I have pretty much abandoned going to beloved State Parks in season because of the permit price. I stopped buying a fishing license too because I only used it once or twice a year. I suppose that will be a good thing–limit use to those who have the money and keep the riffraf out! Plus, there is more to purchasing licenses than just collecting the money. Systems, people, printing, etc. add up. Where is one supposed to get a license when you show up on Sunday morning ready to hike and you learn you need a license from a trail steward? Maybe instead we could pay an additional fee when renewing a driver’s license and it would be good for 5-10 years, but then you still have the problem of children and guests and people from out of state. Lots of complications, and we all know the money will be raided by the state for other uses on a rainy day.

      • James Bullard says:

        Well, there is a lot more to the Adirondacks than just the High Peaks that they can go to without the hiking license and I doubt the folks you refer to are the ones congesting the parking areas and trails in the High Peaks anyway. And if you are going to ask out-of-staters to pay more, what’s to stop from having a discounted family license? Or a seniors license? And there will always be people who didn’t plan ahead and will be disappointed. Throwing up our hands and doing nothing isn’t a solution either. We have to start somewhere and this strikes me as a better starting point than limiting access.

      • Boreas says:


        $20/year was just an example James put out there. It could just as easily be $5 for a lifetime – or even free. James’ point is that hiker education is important. Once the education and license is obtained, I don’t know why it would need to be renewed often, other than for revenue. It could be voluntary as well, with perks that could involve parking or discounts. In other words, make it attractive, not a hassle.

        • Zephyr says:

          When was the last time the cost of a license went down? The whole point is to raise revenue and reduce use. The price will be raised until poor people stop coming and those well off will enjoy the luxury trails.

          • Boreas says:

            What licenses are designed to reduce usage? Is the state trying to keep people off of the roads, or reduce the number of hunters/anglers? If that was their goal, they would simply place limits on the number of licenses issued. Most licensing is designed to ensure licensees have an adequate knowledge of the activity. Reasonable fees do little to keep people from obtaining them. Fish stocking, fishery management, game and gameland management, access areas, boat launches, etc. are at least partially supported by license fees. Your suggestion that license fees would be raised to only allow rich people to enjoy the resource is ludicrous.

            • Zephyr says:

              The discussion is how to reduce use and raise revenue by issuing permits or licenses or whatever you want to call them. Read up on how permits/licenses are being used to reduce visitors to national parks and other wild areas. In some places you have to pay $75 and sign up a year in advance, which obviously reduces use.

              • adkDreamer says:

                No use in attempting to engage these people with intelligent conversation – you won’t find it here. Permits, licensing, etc are nothing more than a money grab and a barrier to access. Think drivers licenses somehow magically impart knowledge? Not so. New York State started licensing (then badges) for chauffeurs in 1903 – a convenient way to identify the taxable activity. It took another 21 years before everyone driving needed a license (Oh cool – more taxable activities). If the magical drivers license was intended to impart knowledge or support some safety requirement then someone needs to explain why South Dakota didn’t have drivers licenses until 1954.

    • Kyle says:

      Yes, and then all the surrounding towns can require you to have a special license to walk down “their” sidewalks. You know, just to raise money for good purposes. And then another special permit to get you access to preferred roads, the ones with less traffic and no lights or stop signs as opposed to the people who don’t want to pay. And then they can afford even more police to make sure everyone has their licenses & permits and papers and registrations…. And then everyone can be made to wear the same color clothes so non conformists can be more easily identified for prosecution!

    • Pete Nelson says:

      A license is an interesting idea. I’d support it before I’d support a permit. But it come with its own set of problems. Like other ideas, it needs evaluation in the context of a robust planning effort.

      • Boreas says:


        Evaluation is all I am asking for. It would be intended to be used primarily as an education tool, not crowd control, revenue streams, parking management or other nonsensical arguments against it. It isn’t that complicated

  17. Penn L Hoyt says:

    Excellent article!

  18. Ray Mainer says:

    Thank you, Peter. I agree that it is not an overuse problem but a management problem. I’ve been on many trails that get more use and because they are built properly and maintained.

  19. Lorraine Duvall says:

    Thanks Pete for this thoughtful post. Other hiking destinations than those along Route 73 have also experienced spikes. Living near the trail to Jay Mountain, we’ve seen an increase in the number of cars parked up and down Jay Mountain Road, overflowing the six spots at the trailhead. That beautiful Saturday you mentioned there were seventy-five cars along the roadside, half from Quebec. Certainly it’s less dangerous to park on a lightly traveled road than Route 73.

  20. Big Burly says:

    Thank you Pete.

    Hope this does not fall on deaf ears in the DEC. Thoughtful, thought provoking and practical

  21. Curt Austin says:

    I have the perspective of someone who first finished the 46 in 1983, and climbed them again during 2012. The second campaign was possible only because I had the freedom to go when the weather was good. Freedom and wilderness seem to be related in my head. I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, having to follow a strict schedule due to the permits required – highly restricted permits. Be glad that in the Adirondacks there is no persistent odor of Mule urine.

    Anyway, I didn’t see a new problem in 2012. There were calls to reduce the number of hikers in the 1970s, and there always will be. From the recent contention over Boreas Ponds, we know there are people who seek to minimize human presence, who do not want to see *you* when they’re hiking.

    But have things gotten worse since 2012? I hear that they have. I’ve seen the cars along Route 73. I’m not sure about the larger interior areas. It’s never been possible to find solitude on the top of Marcy on a sunny Saturday in July. I’ve actually been alone on Marcy, twice – timing is everything. Kinda spooky, though.

    But I think I know enough to say that I completely agree with Pete’s point of view, and especially that visitor management well short of a permit system is the way to go. A little money for trail improvement and more rangers would be nice, too.

    • Curt Austin says:

      Incidentally, I chose not to be an official 46r the first time I climbed them. There were suggestions at the time to close down the trail-less peaks due to all the herd paths, by the 46r organization! They published a letter I sent them suggesting there was something else that should be shut down first.

      The second time, however, I saw all the good things the 46r’s had done to bring order to those peaks, and for general trail improvement. So I became official.

      Not a clearcut decision for me, either time. The subject being discussed here is the awkward balance between preservation and recreation. The existence of the 46r organization plays a role in this awkward balance.

  22. Dave Vincent says:

    Enjoy your articles. Spent 10 days each June at Wimington Notch Campground fishing, enjoying surrounding towns, never get tired of the serenity of the area.
    Hope cooler heads prevail in addressing the trail usage, Permits are not the way to go. No longer hike, but an on demand shuttle system is worth exploring also have any hiker surveys been taken?

  23. Russ Swanker says:

    We sportsmen pay, fishing,hunting and boating. NO more free ride hikers,pay for more trail management.

    • Aaron says:

      It’s a silly comparison. Boats and snowmobiles are motorized vehicles, so you pay for those as you would with a car. For hunting/fishing you pay fees for the privilege of hunting and taking natural resources home with you, not for wading, floating, or walking in the outdoors.

      • James Bullard says:

        Not silly at all. A lot of fishing spots are ‘catch and release’. You need a license anyway. Your license fee goes to maintain the resource.

        • Aaron says:

          Fish stocks need to be maintained because of extraction, trails need to be maintained because they’re poorly designed. Totally different. All NY taxpayers are already paying to maintain the Park, so why should they have to pay extra to use it? But if you exempt NY’ers how do you enforce a non-resident permit system? Gated trail heads, toll roads, “show me your papers” enforcement by rangers? It’s a premature idea, simple as, notwithstanding the comparison of hiking to extracting resources.

    • Paul says:

      Russ, women who hunt and fish pay also.

    • Eric Avery says:

      Most Hikers would gladly a nominal pay a fee or a license. The problem we have with permits is you would have to reserve them in advance and there will be a limited number issued. Most regular hikers don’t decide where they’re hiking or who with on Saturday until the Thursday before at the earliest. You have to know the weather forecast, what your buddies work schedules are, who can come, etc, etc. Permits favor tourists who are planning months in advance over the regular more local users. The regular more local users being the ones volunteering for trail maintenance, trailhead stewards, search and rescue, etc. It’s not a question of money hikers are upset about. It’s a question of access.

  24. Mike says:

    Totally agree. I would start will an expanded shuttle service .

  25. Gebby says:

    It’s nice to see a well thought out article on the problems, rather than one that just drones on and on about “overuse”!

    • Boreas says:


      “Overuse” in this case is a poor term for anyone to use, as it implies a certain amount of usage is OK but more than that is overuse. Since limits have not been determined, there can be no overuse. What people should be considering instead is usage spikes, increases in usage, parking availability, and the capacity of the resource to handle significant usage. Depending on terrain, trail design and condition, this capacity would vary greatly with location.

      What has been left out of the discussion here is that it isn’t up to any of us to define overuse. Ask 100 people and you will get 100 different opinions – all of them vague. However, what is unsaid here is the fact that DEC has the responsibility to protect this resource. They only have a small toolbox at their disposal and two of those tools are limiting parking and/or permitting. They have to work within APA UMP guidelines within the Forest Preserve. Unfortunately, DEC has yet to define capacity guidelines in the HPW, but they are required to do just that. I don’t know if they have started the process of studying the entire trail system to determine capacity, but eventually they will have to unless their responsibilities change. Until these studies are completed and vetted, and guidelines set, no one can claim overuse. But neither can anyone claim there are currently no problems. Ultimately, that is up to the DEC to decide.

      • Pete Nelson says:

        These points are spot on. What’s “overuse?” We need science, data, measures of carrying capacity, etc. Fortunately the DEC does not have to do all this alone. That’s but one reason why a combination of stakeholders needs to address this issue.

        • Boreas says:


          I agree 100%. Conjecture about what will happen and what could happen with any solution presented is pointless. Quite simply, until something is actually implemented, we have no hard data. Implementing something on a trial basis is how things are tested – not claims and conjecture based on prejudiced ideas of imagined worst-case scenarios.

  26. Todd Eastman says:

    The DEC never met permit it didn’t like.

    Good points Pete.

  27. Kyle says:

    A lucid, well thought out opinion based on reason, not rhetoric & even light on acronyms. Who’da thought?

    I’m not confident reason & logic can stave off nanny state permission slips as just the word Permit, rings up dollar signs in the glossed over eyes of bureaucrats $$$. But permits will reduce use in the High Peaks as I will just go to Vermont, New Hampshire & Maine instead.

  28. David Radley says:

    I agree with so many of your observations Pete. Like most working people, schedules and weather limit our opportunities to visit and hike the great high peaks. I can only imagine adding a state run permit system to the mix.Though I personally don’t hike on holiday weekends, how dare anyone to bemoan those who do and “ invade “ the supposed public park. This publication continues to run the same tired pictures of Cascade on a Saturday while state park neighbors wring their hands while murmuring “ stay off my grass”. Permits ? Be careful what you wish for. Funny, when I was on top of Santanoni a few days back, I didn’t see any crowds, maybe I just missed them

  29. Vanessa says:

    Thank you Pete! Your perspective here is incredibly valuable & appreciated. I have commented here before that I have been convinced that it would be OK to try a permit system.

    However, I agree with almost all the points made here, *especially regarding equity and potential enforcement. You’re very astute to point out that the problem is not yet fully understood. I hope you and everyone else local who is devoting so much time to studying and managing this issue continue to have your voices prioritized in decision making. You’re absolutely correct that we tourists come to the ADK for the unique, beautiful experience. Articles like this one give me confidence that the situation will work itself out since local stakeholders like you are both devoted to the park, but also cognizant that we care and want very much to help and not hurt this special place.

  30. Bob Meyer says:

    Pete, Good article my friend! In my opinion, the most important thing is the need to have a flexible system that can react in real time to the changing conditions as they occur. Easier said then done and it will take time and real science to figure it out.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      “Real science…” what a novel idea!

      Seriously, we certainly need science. I don’t have a definition of “overuse…” I know of no agreed-upon definition. We don’t even understand the questions of “impact:” What is the significant difference -if any – in ecological impact between 50 users per day on Cascade and 400? We don’t really have an answer to questions like that, so expert scientists in the Park tell me.

      In general, scientific research should have a priority in the Adirondacks. But that’s a question of money and resources, as always.

  31. Steve B. says:

    I’ve said this before and will re-state it. The DEC already uses permit systems in lands it manages. The Rocky Point Preserve and others on Long Island require free permits in order to use the preserves for hiking, biking, horseback riding. This system has been in place for decades and while I was not a fan initially, mostly as you had to either have it mailed or stop at the DEC office, now it’s painless as it’s online (you can still do the mail or stop in) and is issued immediately. It’s completely painless, really. There is a penalty for using a property without and it’s occasionally enforced and I’ve heard of tickets being issued. The very threat of a fine is typically all the enforcement needed and I’m aware that the mt. bikers on L.I. have zero issue with this system. Did I state it’s painless ?. As note there are no limits on numbers or parking. In the lots at the trailheads, either you can park in a designated lot or you can’t park, period. If you want to park elsewhere legally and bike or hike in ?, no problem.

    The issue for the HPW IS overuse. On some trails and at some times. And everything folks have posted is essentially just guessing as to the numbers and locations, based on what everyone’s typical experiences have been. Even the DEC isn’t really sure of the numbers and that lack of information makes it difficult develop a plan to deal with the damage from overuse on certain trails. They (and we) really only see the hordes of hikers and the parking mess.

    A permit system as a survey is the first step to generate the best methods to to deal with damage on the trails and with the overcrowding.

    If the state would fund trail hardening, then sure, we need to do that and we need to really throw a lot of money at that problem. we need to deal with the parking issues as well. But ask yourself what kind of experience do you get from hordes of people on trails that can now handle it, with parking and shuttle in place and suddenly Cascade is about as much fun as visiting the Vatican on Easter Sunday. If a lottery permit systems ends up dispersing the crowds maybe that’s not a bad thing.

    • Zephyr says:

      You definition of “painless” is different than mine. Read the instructions on how to get a permit here: https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7815.html. The scale of the permit process in the Adks is vastly different, we all know that internet access is unreliable, and apparently a printed copy of the permit must be carried at all times. Imagine trying to have that happen when thousands of hikers arrive on a weekend to discover they need to get permits. Sure, it might work well for a small local area that is mainly used by local people in the know, but not for an international destination attracting many thousands of people who are often there only once or twice a year. I would also argue that we do not have a lack of information about the problems. We know them all too well: too many people hiking on certain trails causing excess damage to those trails. What do we need to measure? I believe the simplest solutions are still the best: enforce parking rules on busy weekends, educate the public via summit stewards and other means, hire more trail crews and harden the popular trails. The latter requires funding. How about trial runs of theft-proof drop boxes at busy trailheads asking for donations? On the busiest days station stewards there selling trail supporter patches for $5 or $10 each. Make people feel good about supporting trail maintenance instead of putting onerous hoops and fines in the way of hikers.

    • Gebby says:

      Steve, I’m curious. How many entry points are there to the Rocky Point Preserve?

      • Zephyr says:

        Rocky Point has something like three trailheads and 12 miles of trails.

        • Gebby says:

          So does that mean three entrances(or less)? Surely a lot easier to police up three entrances, as opposed to the Adirondacks with basically limitless access if one is willing to bushwhack. I’m certainly reluctant to have anyone place restrictions upon me and my access, until they have exhausted all potentials for improvement with better trail design, maintenance, more rangers and more stewards and the state has certainly fallen far short of that mark!

      • Steve B. says:

        At RP there are 21 miles of trail dedicated to mt. biking, plus I think about the same add’l marked for hiking and horses. 3 parking lots for bike access to the dedicated bike trails but multiple access points as you can ride other than bike trails and as well can park elsewhere and bike on roads to the preserve/forest. The area was a former RCA transmission site and has countless add’l unmarked trails and roads that cross-cross the property, 6,000 acres, so not that small. Then there about a dozen total DEC Forest preserves on L.I. that require permit access. And as this is a very populated area each particular forest has the issue of numerous access points, making the job of enforcement a challenge to the many fewer DEC rangers assigned to the area (as compared to the Catskills and Daks) You can ask the rangers how it all works but generally read of few or no complaints on the very active regional mt. bike club website and FB Page. It’s a system that’s been in place for 20+ years.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      I thnk you are spot on about the fact that we really don’t understand the problem or have the data. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of data collection via survey. I wouldn’t vote for a permit system to do that: it would be a biased sample. But a professional-grade survey of High Peaks visitors is, to me,a crucial piece of a planning strategy.

  32. Paul says:

    It seems like a simple $ question. Proper maintenance or whatever else you need costs money. The state has consistently shown that they are not willing to pay for that so someone else has to.

    In this case the people using it. Ever been over a bridge or through a tunnel to get to NYC?

    You can’t solve it by having an endless debate. Give it a try and see what happens. It seems to work well for lots of places that I have hiked or skied out west? Hikers here just seem like they are hoping someones will pay their bills.

  33. Tony Goodwin says:

    Pete, I belatedly have read your article and 100% agree with your points. There has never been an actual definition of “over’ use. I also agree that the trails and campsites now are in generally better shape than they were 40 years ago, despite the increased use. We do have a parking problem, and maybe a large pay to park lot off Rt. 73 for Cascade would solve the safety issue as well as raising funds for maintenance. I’m not ready to try to figure out how to actually define “hikers” as opposed to casual “walkers” on state land, but parking a vehicle is an easily definable act as is parking in the “No Parking” zone that would exist outside of the paid parking area.

    • Todd Eastman says:


      Tony thanks for noting the current condition of the trails as compared to 40 years ago. This comparison is important in making a determination of the actual impacts from “over” use, especially when bridging into the nexus to water quality.

    • Steve B says:

      If “Over Use” is a poor phrase, call it “Overly Crowded”, or “Beyond Recommended Capacity”, or “Packed”. Bottom line is too many people using too few trails and crowding the limited area on top of a few peaks. Attending that is the jammed parking areas. Both issues need to be resolved. Hardening and changing trails to reduce damage and erosion is all good but you still have 300+ people on Cascade.

      I’m kind of surprised that folks seem to be OK with a huge horde of people on a mt. top on a typical weekend. I’m certain many folks avoid traveling on the Columbus Day weekend as they hate sitting in traffic jams, yet think it’s OK to be unable to take a photo of the mountains without seeing 100 people in the shot.

      • Todd Eastman says:

        Ever hiked in Europe?

        Whole families out for a hike, and enjoying the company of other like minded nature lovers. The shared experience of outdoor sport is a community asset and a cultural marker.

        Of course you can be alone on a summit when you desire…

        … Couch, midweek, and you can be channeling JD Thoreau…

        …”I went to the woods to be alone…”

        • Steve B says:

          Traffic jams on the Matterhorn making it difficult to summit in the time frame you get. You mean that Europe ?.

          I personally avoid going to places I know will be so crowded that it takes away from the experience of the location. But I’m old enough and lucky enough to remember how it was when it wasn’t as crowded as it is currently. I also recall the Loj lot when it wasn’t filled every day. I like to think we can make the experience better for folks that have not yet had that.

          • Todd Eastman says:

            “I personally avoid going to places I know will be so crowded that it takes away from the experience of the location.”

            Then your options are wide open within the six million acres of Blue Line…

            … those options are also available to everyone else.?

      • Eric Avery says:

        There are hardly more people now than there were 20 years ago once you get beyond Marcy Dam or Indian Head. The high peaks have been crowded on weekends for decades. The first time I climbed Algonquin there were over 150 people on the summit cone at once. It was like waiting in line at Disney trying to get my turn on the summit. There was 30 of us in our ADK group that all carpooled together. It was an insane amount of people the entire trail both ways. That was 1997. The only difference now is that ADK isn’t really a thing anymore. So no one carpools and everyone arrives in cars of one or two instead of carloads of four or five. It’s the same number of people in twice as many cars. The high peaks have a parking problem. That’s all it is. Trying to define it as anything else is disingenuous.

        • Zephyr says:

          Apparently the crowds don’t mind the crowds all that much, or else why are they there in the first place? In other words, if you don’t like the crowd, go elsewhere–which is easy to do in the Adks. Not really sure if the lack of carpooling is a thing or not–that would take some study, but I doubt we have the records from twenty years ago to compare. The two main issues appear to be parking and damage to the trails from overuse. What about simply closing certain trails and trailheads for a few years? Force the traffic elsewhere.

  34. Peabody12866 says:

    After 30 years of climbing here, my my new EU wife has shown some interest in climbing and Keene specifically. This summer had times that did seem overwhelming on the road and I chalked it up to the popular documentaries making the pastimes more popular. The last 3x I said out loud that “in the age of Uber this could all be solved with a shuttle” so climbers could park in the field and get dropped off as needed. 20 more spots? As a taxpayer expense? Just subsidize a small business person with a bus and 4 drivers. It’s like kiting in Norway, popular but in no way could handle the interest as the snow is 12′ deep and there is no shoulder if you wanted one. I know it’s a sensitive topic but I even had a “local” chirp at me for parking to close to the lines while trying to show my wife, 2.5yo, and 1y.o one of the best low impact swimming holes (we would have preferred have parked in town and to get shuttled back for $5 to the coffee shop for pizza night and yes we’ll just pay the ticket i guess). I hate to see the idea of fee based permits used as a way to “thin the herd” toward foreigners, vacationers, and yuppies especially considering that in-region folks may already have expenses for fishing licenses, hunting licenses, gun clubs, (i am unfamiliar but I understand there is some type of fee for snow-machiners)… How much is it actually supposed to cost to live here with kids and have them participate?

    • Zephyr says:

      I like the idea of remote parking lots and shuttles, but in reality they are only needed on a very few days each year meaning that they won’t be economical to build and maintain. Many tourist towns struggle with the economics to create these systems when they have a need for a solid two or three summer months of shuttles, whereas in the High Peaks I think you’re really only going to need them for maybe a dozen weekends a year. Plus, you do have the problem that hiking to a schedule is nearly impossible. What do you do when you end up hiking out in the dark, the shuttles have stopped for the day, and you are miles from your car?

      • Pete Nelson says:

        I’ll respond here, but this will cover points made by several commenters. I have been presenting to the State, local governments and others on the importance of having an intelligent transportation system for the Route 73 corridor. It doesn’t have to be a whole fleet of shuttles, in fact a pretty robust first cut would cost far less than the State spent at Frontier Town, to put it in perspective.

        The points you make here are on the money. I don’t think a large, permanent shuttle fleet makes any sense. But imagine a combination of services that could be ramped up on spike days, and most of them potential money makers for local folks: a core rotation of shuttles on a schedule, on-demand Uber and Lyft services, even an on-demand shuttle – not cheap, but available – servicing trail heads, hamlets and a mix of permanent and temporary paid parking locations (there are obvious places temporary parking could be done).

        My totally amateurish mathematics says that in Keene, for example, going from one shuttle serving only Marcy field and the Garden, to a three-shuttle rotation serving multiple destinations, plus a fleet of Uber and Lyft folks and a fourth, small shuttle for on-demand needs, could handle most of the spikes we see. The on-demand portion is critical, and not just for pick-up. if a party of hikers want to get to Roaring Brook right now, there can be services they can pay for to do it.

        And what do we do with excess shuttles on all the non-spike days, especially weekdays? Public transportation, naturally. Lots of people in the Park need transportation help. The Town of Keene shuttle already does some of that. Then there’s Essex County, which already runs a weekday shuttle system. As far as I know, only recently are we talking to them about sharing resources.’

        All of this can and should be green, of course. Experience shows that after the initial investment, operating an electric shuttle network will cost about 1/5 the cost of a gas shuttle network. The State, counties and towns can do this, if it truly makes sense (we need planning and data), and if there is a will to do it. It doesn’t have to break the bank, it would be dynamically adaptable to visitor demand, and it could be expanded incrementally.

        • Zephyr says:

          Pete, you are proposing things with huge upfront capital costs when nobody is willing to pay for modest improvements, like parking enforcement and more trail crews, with virtually no capital cost. I will not hold my breath waiting for “on-demand” green shuttles and services that “can be ramped up on spike days.” Just not going to happen in my lifetime.

          • Pete Nelson says:

            You’re right… so far. But this is a different scale issue.

            Any proposals are premature without understanding the problem further, but just for grins, ignoring for the moment that Essex County already has shuttles, a new shuttle fleet of the size I mentioned, plus infrastructure, all green, could be in service for considerably less than a million dollars. That’s not a huge up-front capital cost. Many other projects which are being funded in the Park cost a great deal more than that. From there, capacity gains are reasonably incremental.

            As for ramping up on spike days, a friend of mine made a comparison to small college towns that ramp up on football days. There are similarities. In small college towns lots of entrepreneurs make $$ letting folks park or giving a Lyft ride. A smart, coordinated – and even income earning – response from the community is not a capital investment. But it does need planning, as this isn’t a football game in a stadium.

            The scale of the High Peaks visitor management problem, what it already costs the State, counties and towns right now, plus the opportunities it also represents, entail that significant money is going to be spent on projects and infrastructure to address it. The status quo will not be maintained, you can be sure of that. So as for this not happening in your lifetime, I’ll take that bet (assuming you’re not an octogenarian!).

        • Boreas says:


          One problem with relying on shuttles is that hikers will indeed be RELYING on them. Perhaps a large fleet is not the answer, but the people running the service are going to have to be able to rapidly adapt to breakdowns or drivers who become ill in real-time. There will be many hikers a LONG way from town and shelter waiting for the shuttle to show up as scheduled. They may not have the ability to communicate with the shuttle service or even DEC if there is no cell coverage. Do they just start hitch-hiking? Pitch their tents in the pouring rain and wait? Any service will need to be robust enough to make sure people are not stranded at trailheads. This isn’t like the Garden shuttle where the trailhead is a short distance from a village. I am not sure how you would ensure reliable pick-ups without at least a small coordinated fleet with some redundancy.

  35. Neil Luckhurst says:

    Like others here I agree with the article in its entirety. A few points and observations on some of what has been written so far.
    1- Jay Mountain used to be little-known with only a herd path. Once it was improved and marked, complete with a sign-in register usage, with the help of the internet, exploded. No surprise there. Jay is an absolute gem of a hike.

    2- Crowded summits. Don’t want to see crowds? On weekends avoid Algonquin, Marcy, Giant and Cascade. Not to mention Whiteface.

    3- Even in the High Peaks wilderness is much, much more than eroded trails to crowded summits. Just this Friday, a grey day, a friend and I hiked up the Right Angle Slide on Wright Peak and bushwhacked from there to the top. Exceptional solitude? Unconfined recreation? Plenty of that. We were alone on the summit with snowflakes dancing around us. In fact, that’s my idea of wilderness and we were indeed in a wilderness zone. Just pointing that out.

    4- Very few people care to bushwhack of course so the problem of accommodating the hikers on spike weekends remains. Is it just me or is the idea of building sufficient sized parking lots a taboo subject? A cost comparison of purchasing, housing, manning and maintaining a fleet of shuttle buses versus building, illuminating (and plowing in winter) parking lots. People pay for parking with no hesitation at the HPIC and Garden – in fact they rush in as early as possible for the right to do so. The parking fees would incite car-pooling and could pay for the lots.

    5- Quebeckers in the High Peaks. Count me as one of them. In Quebec you have to pay to use the provincial parks. They are extremely well-maintained but – you have to pay. People don’t like to pay to hike and will usually avoid doing so. In the Adirondacks you don’t have to pay. Contrary to what I used to believe, hikers spend a LOT of money. Perhaps someone can post the link to the Town of Tupper Lake survey on visitor spending. It opened my eyes very wide as to where the tourist dollars are coming from.

  36. Bob Meyer says:

    This hits the nail quite squarely on the head!
    We all pay state taxes as part of maintaining the Forest Preserve. As long as EVERYBODY [visitor and resident alike] has to pay to park, it’s equitable.

    • Zephyr says:

      Maybe in addition to day rates passes could be sold too, like the ones sold for state parks, that would allow parking for an entire year. There are many places that have automated parking lots where you don’t even need attendants, which would save a lot of money. The problem would be to come up with the funds to build the facilities in the first place, where they could be located, and people would still be jamming every available space along Route 73 first. I think you would have to make roadside parking pay parking too, and then enforcement remains the issue. Look at what happens along the road to the ADK Loj when the parking lot is full. It is not a simple solution.

      • Eric Avery says:

        The piece many people here are missing is that for most hikers a nominal fee is not that controversial and is not our main conversation. We are paying $10 to $13 to park anyway now. The part I think most hikers would be against when it comes to permits is that there would be a LIMITED number of them issued. The environmental groups want to use permits to keep hiking traffic at a certain “carrying capacity” which they will define. Picture a lottery system where you have to click at your keyboard in the middle of January to reserve a spot for say July 16th to hike. You will need to know who you will be dating six months from now, what your friends work schedules are, and who all wants to hike the same hike as you, and everyone who needs a permit will need to win the lottery for that day. It’s incredibly unfair especially to young single people who don’t have structured work schedules and lifelong partners.

        • Pete Nelson says:

          I think this is a good example of a larger equity problem with permits intended to manage access. What about the significant percentage of folks who are not Internet savvy? Or lack the income to plan a trip in advance? Or live in the park? It’s not a simple problem.

      • Neil Luckhurst says:

        A question I have asked elsewhere: what is so bad about the cars parked along the Loj road? Aside from the rare careless person whose vehicle is not completely off the asphalt? One thing I see wrong, at 10 bucks a crack, is a lot of missed revenue for the ADK Mtn. Club. Perhaps the vehicles are causing crumbling and erosion of the soft shoulders?

        People walking along Rte 73 is clearly more of a danger but AFAIK there are more incidents on the trails than along the roadways.

        In any case, there is no doubt in my mind that people will accept far more easily to pay a fee to park than a fee to hike.

        They are already showing a willingness to paying a very hefty parking fee in the guise of parking tickets!

        • Zephyr says:

          The Loj road is a public road and it is illegal to park on the roadway and there is no shoulder. I believe it is illegal to park on the roadway anywhere in New York. In general, people will fill up every available space that is free before paying for parking. The problem along Route 73 is inadequate enforcement of existing laws against illegal parking

  37. James Bullard says:

    “In Quebec you have to pay to use the provincial parks. They are extremely well-maintained but – you have to pay. People don’t like to pay to hike and will usually avoid doing so. In the Adirondacks you don’t have to pay. Contrary to what I used to believe, hikers spend a LOT of money.”
    This hasn’t changed since I first proposed a hiking license 30 some years ago. The point is, to have a well-maintained park somone has to pay and no, money spent at local businesses doesn’t cut it. With their limited season, those folks need that money to live. Some of us, including me, have spent a lot of time volunteering and pay dues to organizations that help protect and maintain the park but it isn’t enough. Either the state has to put up a lot more money or everyone needs to chip in. The state actually funds fewer rangers than in the past but it promotes the park because that helps local businesses and our government is more pro-business than pro-environment. Likewise the hikers are okay with supporting local business but want the resource itself to be free. At least that is how it appears to me.

    It isn’t just parking. I saw a recent study that reported that over 50% of the trails in the High Peaks do not meet the standards for sustainable trails (switchbacks, hardening, etc) and current state budgets won’t fix that. We can’t expect volunteers to fix a problem of that scale so that hoards of people can have a free hike. Somebody has to pay for it. I spent 25 years volunteering. I already lay out over $100/yr. in dues/donations. I’d gladly pay another $15/20 a year for a hiking license if it helped fix the problem but a voluntary $15/20 more from me and a few others won’t help when hundreds of thousands are using the resource for free. The scale of the problem has already outstripped the efforts of we who were willing.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      “I saw a recent study that reported that over 50% of the trails in the High Peaks do not meet the standards for sustainable trails (switchbacks, hardening, etc) and current state budgets won’t fix that.”

      The High Peaks will never have a significant number of trails meet the “sustainable trail” standards as proposed by some. The sheer amount of disturbance to soils and streams required to re-locate and construct such trails would have a greater impact than the current trails. In many cases the trails have eroded down to rock slabs, the ultimate in hardened trails. If you have spent time working on trails in the upper sections of the High Peaks, you would understand the folly of “sustainable trails” in much of the contested land.

      • Pete Nelson says:

        It certainly depends on what we mean by “sustainable,” The redone section of the Ridge Trail above the Washbowl made a tremendous difference, but that work was nothing of the scale of the efforts on Mt. Van Ho, for example. I think if we have the resources, many incremental improvements can be made.

        As for the upper sections of High Peaks trails, it is my experience that there is a fair amount of ignorance over what’s best for the Wilderness. People complain about staircases or steps that go up open rock, but at any given spot with a staircase, what amount of erosion would occur without it, courtesy of people scrambling up sensitive brush and soil on the sides?

  38. Bob Meyer says:

    “The scale of the problem has already outstripped the efforts of we who were willing.”
    Hum? And this is the nation that won WWII ….. Sad, defeatist commentary. Unfortunately, in this day of hedonism, you may be correct. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are solutions.. yes, money, lots of it… a real sea change in our government and politics. It can be done. Many good ideas in this thread. Will it happen?

    • Neil Luckhurst says:

      “Many good ideas in this thread. Will it happen?”
      It depends on who is reading and, more importantly, agreeing with it.

    • James Bullard says:

      Defeatist or just realistic? BTW WWII wasn’t won entirely with willing volunteers. We had a draft.

  39. Pete Nelson says:

    Thanks one and all for sustaining a good discussion. My own conversations over the last week have me optimistic about a future with substantive planning. So keep your ideas and comments coming, at the Almanack and in whatever venue you have an opportunity to provide input. No one has all the answers: we need robust, committed dialogue.

    I am interspersing a few more comments above.


  40. Ron Gonzalez says:

    Great article, but it misses one very important aspect of the problem–the oft-quoted statistic that 90% of the hiking visitors to the Adirondack Park hike only 10% of its trails. NY-73 is conveniently located just off the Northway, and gives access to some of the most attractive destinations in the entire Park. That’s a sure recipe for intensive visitation on sunny days during peak seasons.

    Meanwhile, towns and villages in the other regions of the Park are largely ignored. I know everyone wants to climb the 46’rs, everybody wants to visit the biggest hills. That suggests some kind of permit system or other limitation on visitation during peak periods to those ‘peak’ destinations could encourage increased visits to other areas of the Park. That would be a very good thing, in my opinion.

    My case in point is the day I and a friend had to pick up some gear from The Mountaineer in Keene Valley, and at about 9 am found ourselves unable to find a parking spot anywhere on NY-73 or even in the ADK’s Heart Lake parking lots. We went to McKenzie Mt and had a fine day, with spectacular views and snow up high. We were forced by the crowding to find an alternative destination, and that turned out very well. How many of these visitors cramming their cars onto the shoulders of NY-73 even know of the existence of Vanderwhacker, McKenzie, Ampersand, Moose, Haystack (west of Lake Placid), or the numerous passes, lakes and ponds in the interior?

    If everyone just has to climb the 46’rs, then maybe we need to implement a permit system or some way of controlling how many hikers can cram into that one area on any given day. The author makes a good point that the DEC lacks the resources to be able to enforce any limitations. That’s not so much an argument against the existence of a permit system as it an argument that funding for the DEC is insufficient for what is needed from the agency in the Adirondack Park (at least in the High Peaks).

    It seems to me the author’s conclusion is that we should invest in trail re-design, re-routing in order to handle the high numbers of hikers on peak days. Remember what highway builders have found–if you build more lanes, more cars will come, and whatever traffic problems you had before will soon enough return on a larger scale. More lanes is not the answer. I think that finding is applicable to hikers. More trails of better design will only bring ever more hikers on peak days, which does not address the parking issues.

    It seems to me a National Park-style permitting system is all but inevitable. Visit Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rockies for a look at how that works. There’s a paved road from the Trans-Canada Highway to Lake O’Hara that is closed to private cars. Hikers must park at the highway and take a shuttle bus to Lake O’Hara, and hike up into the mountains from there. When the quota of hikers has been reached for the day, the shuttle stops running. That way Parks Canada can keep track of how many hikers are up there on any given day. If the quota is not reached, the shuttle runs all day.

    Something to think about…

    • Aaron says:

      This fantasy that visitors in general, day-hikers in particular, will head off to other areas of the Park “if only” needs to stop. It’s not going to happen. Didn’t happen when the Interpretive Center was built in Newcomb instead of Keene. Didn’t happen with the work done in the Essex Chain. It isn’t happening with the Frontier Town development. A permit system? They’ll just go hike big mountains somewhere else. This is not new, it’s always been the reality here.

      • John Warren says:

        Wait, so you’re saying if we do institute a permit system they will go somewhere else? or the whole thing is a fantasy? I think you’ve confused those of us who think about stuff.

  41. Eric Avery says:

    You can’t make any comparisons of the Adirondacks to the National parks “out west”. Most hikers on the trails here aren’t people on vacation for a week who knew they we’re hiking and what months in advance. It’s people that LIVE HERE and hike nearly every weekend (not necessarily in the HPs every week). It’s a lifestyle here for people here, not a vacation. People’s entire social lives and support systems are organized around hiking here (mine included, virtually every friend I have is a hiking friend I met on trail). I have friends that have hiked every single weekend for over multiple years. It’s also mostly younger folks and not families. You can’t ask 20 something year old singles with changing friend groups and variable work schedules to know when they are going to hike and what they are going to hike weeks or months in advance. Most people aren’t state employees and aren’t teachers. If you are in the private sector you may not know you’re “free” on Saturday until like Thursday afternoon. And then who knows if your buddy is going to able to get the time off. They just can’t plan ahead like a 30 year old married couple can.

    • Dana says:

      Who’s money is the local communities trying to attract? They have yours whether you hike or not. Tourism by 30 year-old couples with kids is a big money maker for local businesses. In some locations tourism IS the economy. These people like to make plans and aren’t very flexible. This has much to do with the talk of permits.

      • Zephyr says:

        I personally don’t think the locals want to reduce visitors to the High Peaks, which is the whole point of permits. It is the DEC and some environmental groups that are pushing the agenda due to the damage being caused on certain trails. Also, some look at permits as a way to raise revenue for trail repair. Most locals want as many tourist dollars as possible and are willing to put up with the problems in exchange for making a living.

        • Eric Avery says:

          I’m not sure the DEC is pushing that agenda. It’s just the environmental groups. Permits would increase the number of people in the woods that shouldn’t really be there. Right now the full parking lots keep the no-headlamp having people off the big trails. Permits would increase their SAR call outs for their already understaffed Rangers.

          • Boreas says:


            Please clarify how permits will increase SARs and “people in the woods who shouldn’t be there”. What people shouldn’t be there?? Is there any evidence permitting or reservations have created these problems elsewhere?

            • Eric Avery says:

              The people filling the lots at 5am are the people that hike every weekend and are prepared and know what they are doing. The people complaining there’s nowhere to park are the people arriving at the Loj at 10am expecting to climb Marcy carrying just a bottle of water and a sack lunch.

              • Boreas says:


                So the people that “shouldn’t be there” – are they a parking problem or an education problem? I agree 100% there is a problem with lack of backcountry skills with many new hikers. A reasonable reservation/permit/pass system should be designed to address both problems. I am unclear as to what your alternative is.

      • Eric Avery says:

        If the goal was to bring in more tourism dollars they’d have already tripled the number of parking spaces at every trailhead. Making it easier for more people to hike is not what the pro-permit people want.

        • Boreas says:


          Local governments and residents alike recognize that tourists will only tolerate so much chaos to pursue their outings before they stop coming to the EHPW. Currently, many people park illegally because the fines simply aren’t high enough to deter them.

          I believe where parking lots could have been expanded, they have been expanded. Currently, trailhead parking, more often than not, has been determined by the physical limitations of the specific trailhead, not the desired number of hikers (which the DEC also has to consider!). You simply can’t expand a parking lot onto a steep slope or into wetlands. If you visit some of the existing trailheads, try to envision how you would make the lot 2-10 times larger. For that matter, try to envision how the narrow mountain roads could be widened to allow “safe” roadside parking. Trailhead parking, especially in an area with a Wilderness classification, simply has physical limitations.

  42. Eric Avery says:

    I agree and that’s why I support the in-town lot with 24 hr weekend shuttle option.

  43. Hurricane Hiker says:

    I find it hard to believe that even with incremental steps we would see a a permit system being as large as some people are making it out to be simply as a scare tactic. Honestly a few weekends a year could be beneficial for certain trails at peak times. More so it could be part of a compromise to get come more parking lots and shuttle access. I think there is a big difference between this type of limited permit system which is what would be a first step and the full summer season, lottery type or paid version which is what is really being thrown around. There are so many variations of limiting hikers that just saying plain “no way, no limits, never” is being really closed off to a more nuanced and deeper debate.

    • Zephyr says:

      Without some sort of enforcement, permits will not reduce use or raise revenue, which are the goals of some. Without additional revenue there won’t be money to pay for enforcement or trail maintenance. Once a permit system is in place it will have to become more and more restrictive and/or expensive until the numbers are reduced on the trail. The current situation has come about because even though there are parking restrictions there isn’t enough enforcement to reduce the numbers, and with revenue there won’t be enough enforcement. It is a vicious circle. It is hard to believe that the same DEC that doesn’t have enough people to do their current jobs will suddenly overnight gain the staff, money, and time to manage and enforce a permit system.

      • Hurricane Hiker says:

        Of course any thing is unenforceable across the entire high peaks, but to test it on certain trails at peak times. That is enforceable absolutely. Again, there numerous types of permit systems…

  44. Eric Avery says:

    What are people’s thoughts on just making the woods just slightly less “comfortable” for people? We see a lot of DEC rescue reports where the circumstances do not appear to be life-threatening, non mobility limiting, and are in non-winter conditions. Many appear to be just people who ran out of daylight and are scared and don’t have a headlamp. What if the DEC just started telling people to shelter in place and walk out in the morning instead of “we’ll be right there”? We just had a couple guys this weekend call for help on Spruce Mt. They were uninjured, they reported standing on the trail, but just didn’t have a light and it got dark. Two Rangers responded. Why? Earlier this summer two active duty Marines were on the TCT. It was June, temps were mild, they were on a trail, uninjured, had food and water, but they were not sure which trail they were in or how to get back to their car. They called to ask for directions. The state sent up a Helicopter. Why? I think making the woods like +5% more uncomfortable would cut back on use by a much larger percentage. Especially once word gets out that the DEC might just leave you to shiver all night and you might be late for work the next day. Too many people nowadays thinking it’s a zero risk activity. I know this sounds heartless but it’s how everyone hiked up until a few yrs ago when Verizon bars started reaching the mountains. Used to be the only people calling for help was the spouse back home when you didn’t show up by the morning.

    • Eric Avery says:

      Edit: if indeed there ARE cases where the DEC is telling people “no we’re not coming to rescue you” then these should get as much publicity (or More) as the actual rescues.

    • Boreas says:


      Good points. I am not sure how liability comes into play here, but it seems once dispatch has been made aware of a problem in the backcountry, it is nearly always addressed with DEC feet on the ground and/or an air mission. I think it always has been that way. The difference now is the ubiquitous technology for someone in “distress” to directly contact a DEC dispatcher. What happens if DEC doesn’t respond with all 8 cylinders and the hiker does indeed lose a limb or die? Can DEC be held liable for an insufficient response? What of the media optics? I really don’t know the answers, but it certainly seems like it is a situation DEC wants to avoid at all cost.

      • Eric Avery says:

        There is no liability unless they can prove negligence. They’d have to show that it was clearly communicated to DEC that they were in grave danger. They’re not afraid of being sued. They’re just afraid that the first time they tell someone “no” that it’ll wind up being the Governor’s niece or a friend of his. The DEC lives in constant fear of his highness, just like the rest of us.

  45. Zephyr says:

    Why is the failed DEC permit system for the High Peaks never mentioned in calls for a new permit system? I believe the old system may have ended around 2002 and those of us hiking then remember well the frustration of trying to self-register, with many trailheads having already been stripped clean of tickets, and then spending the rest of the day picking up permits that fell off of packs along the trails. Where is the information gathered from that exercise and what was learned? I seem to recall that enforcement was nearly non-existent, though there were some articles about people being told to hike back out since they didn’t have a permit. That’s a sure way to ruin someone’s day!

  46. Jay Harrison says:

    Parking areas under-utilized during the summer hiking season should be opened and cheap, frequent busing on weekends supplied. Tacking on discount coupons from local merchants to offset the price of transport would make utilization more appealing to both local business owners and the users themselves.
    Developing sustainable trails is a priority. Rather than hire, supply, and maintain multiple crews to address the need, training organized groups (such as the Adirondack Climbers Coalition, 46ers, etc.) who volunteer their time and services would keep costs down. Allocate to each a specific trail/area and clearly delineate what its members can do to maintain trails and access regularly is recommended (rather than scheduling one or two days every year).
    The perennial focus on the High Peaks is another issue. I’ve lived on the periphery for over 25 years and can attest to the beauty, challenge, and inspiration the “Low Peaks” have to offer. Quite simply, channeling funds to these (and yes, away from HP areas) is one way to alleviate congestion “up there”. This is a tougher pill to swallow for those parties economically vested in the LP/KV corridor, but it would help the crowding issue, and perhaps curtail the decline of communities like Thurman, Long Lake, Raquette Lake, etc.
    Spikes are never going to be eliminated, but it seems to me the agencies involved have been slow to adopt tools to improve prediction of these heavy-use dates. Tracking weather forecasts and spikes in web access to local forecasts seems like a no-brainer aid in forecasting spikes. If 100000 NYC/metro users dip into the Lake Placid forecast on a Thursday night, and that forecast is a good one, I’d plan for some extra personnel that weekend (for instance).

    • Todd Eastman says:

      “Rather than hire, supply, and maintain multiple crews to address the need, training organized groups (such as the Adirondack Climbers Coalition, 46ers, etc.) who volunteer their time and services would keep costs down.”

      Heavy trail work as required for re-building trails in the High Peaks is well beyond the skill set and risk tolerance of volunteer orgs.

      • Boreas says:


        I agree. Volunteerism is a great thing to get people involved, but is not a substitute for the state’s financial and physical obligation to maintain or build infrastructure. Bottom line, DEC has been charged with building and maintenance of infrastructure as well as preserving the resource. Albany needs to accept this fact and open the purse strings, or it cannot in any way make that commitment. The place to start is getting our existing legislators and governor to do their job first.

  47. Louis says:

    Quit hugging the trees and you will see the forest thru the trees.
    There is overuse and excess human waste in your wilderness.

    Show us the data on daily usage over the last 5 years and the spikes.

    How is being somewhere in the “great outdoors” with 200 other people the “wilderness”. ?

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Well actually being with 200 other people in the woods doesn’t change the “Wilderness”, a management designation.

      As the purpose of the HPW is, in part, to encourage people to go out and enjoy nature, where is the conflict? Most days of the year the HPW is virtually empty.

      Don’t like crowds, don’t go to popular trails on busy days…

    • Boreas says:


      If you are skeptical of what most people in the discussion see as increased usage, I would recommend doing your own internet search to find the specific data you need, as you are likely to be just as skeptical of any data provided here.

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox