The following is commentary from Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve
Recognizing the initial efforts of the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group, which issued an interim report last week, Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson had this to say: “An advisory body of diverse stakeholders, all volunteers, has been meeting distantly during the pandemic but nonetheless has reached consensus on recommendations to address some key existing pressure points in the High Peaks Wilderness region. During these tough times, that is an impressive accomplishment.”
However, Adirondack Wild is concerned that the group’s recommendations should be connected to the 335-page, approved 1999 DEC High Peaks Wilderness Complex Unit Management Plan, or UMP. “Almost every one of the advisory group’s interim recommendations, including expanded use of Leave No Trace, Human Waste, Education and Messaging, Trail Inventory and Assessment, Data Collection and Visitor Information, and Limits on Use can be traced back to policies and actions in the adopted Wilderness UMP. Yet the interim report makes no mention of the UMP and that’s a worry,” Gibson added.
Adirondack Wild believes that ignoring the High Peaks Unit Management Plan invites management and user conflicts. “The UMP, which took years of stakeholder efforts and was adopted by the Adirondack Park Agency and DEC, is the coordinating document that ties otherwise disparate management activities together to benefit an enduring Wilderness resource. We know the UMP may need to be updated to meet current challenges. The Advisory Group ought to be devoting part of its time to recommend specific parts of the UMP that require updating,” he continued.
To quote from the DEC’s High Peaks UMP, “without a UMP, wilderness area management can easily become as series of uncoordinated reactions to immediate problems. When this happens, unplanned management actions often cause a shift in focus that is inconsistent and often in conflict with wilderness preservation goals and objectives. A prime objective of wilderness planning is to use environmental and social science to replace nostalgia and politics. Comprehensive planning allows for the exchange of ideas and information before actions, that can have long-term effects, are taken.”
“One concern we have is that the task force has recommended that the Limits On Use pilot study be conducted on private land adjacent to the High Peaks when, in fact, it is the overused eastern High Peaks Wilderness – public land – that is in need of a well-designed pilot program limiting use. The 1999 UMP called for a working group to develop a camping permit system, with any decision to implement based upon public input and UMP amendment. That was never done. A pilot program on private land over the next three years further deflects time and attention away from a critical High Peaks management tool that ought to be tested on public land.”
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is a not-for-profit, membership organization which acts on behalf of wilderness and wild land values and stewardship. More on the web at www.adirondackwild.org.
Photo: Crowding on Cascade Mountain, eastern High Peaks Wilderness by Dan Plumley/Almanack archive
The reason they don’t refer to the UMP is because it’s completely outdated. For example the UMP states that parking can control usage. In an age of GPS on every phone not providing enough parking has the opposite effect. People just make their own trails from where they can park. If you want people to stick to marked trails and not cause further damage or a web of trails everywhere you have to provide enough parking and or shuttles to those existing trails. This was not the case in 1999.
This probably isn’t the best time to be advocating for some racist stuff like a permit system. The only time I’ve ever heard anyone on trail say “there’s too many people here” is after they just walked past a group of minorities. It makes me cringe every time. Anyone in favor of a permit doesn’t actually think there are too many people. Just too many of the ‘wrong sort’ of people.
The title: “High Peaks Recommendations Should Connect to Management Plan” should also state that the ‘unit management plan needs to connect to the APA classification’. I feel this is where real change needs to begin – to change the current unrealistic Wilderness classification to match the desired amount of usage, not the other way around. At this point it is impossible to manage the HPW as a Wilderness entity – at least the EHPW. Hardening trails, increasing parking, shuttles, and increased hiker pressure ALL work against managing the area as Wilderness. This is where the discussion needs to focus. Perhaps an entirely new land classification needs to be developed for this area, that allows for a new UMP that can actually be achieved due to the infrastructure and maintenance needs of increased usage.
Boreas, this is an interesting comment. Thanks for posting. It is quite tough to get a sense of the political leanings of various conservation groups. Any context I can get is appreciated.
I was a member of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee that met in the 1990s to assist in the preparation of the UMP for the High Peaks. I briefly “floated” the idea that the Eastern High Peaks should be classified as “Wild Forest” so that there could be more mechanized equipment used for maintenance and construction to better handle the use. Otherwise. the area would be managed as “wilderness” – i.e. no motorized vehicles or even mountain bikes. Then, we would create the “Cold River Wilderness Area” where there would be no question that are would be managed as “wilderness”. That idea that I “floated” quickly “sank”, and I didn’t pursue it. Still, the fact that there was an “Eastern Zone”, a “Western Zone”, and the “Adirondack Canoe Route” did indicate that the plan recognized some differences between these different sections of the large tract of land that is the High Peaks Wilderness Area.
I believe you were ahead of your time. However, back then NYS was still patting itself on the back for creating the Wilderness classification, and didn’t give a lot of thought about the future of some of the ares designated as such. Well, the future arrived over the last couple decades and a Wilderness classification for much of the HPW seems both ludicrous and unsustainable. How difficult can it be to create a new designation that would allow both heavy trail usage, well-designed and hardened trails, and efficient, mechanized maintenance, yet retain a significant amount of wild character? The only way to have maintained a true Wilderness designation would have been to start imposing and enforcing limits decades ago. I don’t see people allowing a backward step like that in today’s world.
The Adirondacks are big. The big push should be to spread out use. I recently went on a hike with my family in an area near the edge of the park that was gorgeous, and we didn’t run into anyone for hours. A lot of people have no idea of these other trails or how great they can be, and yes challenging too if you want. I went up a short mountain in a state park the other day that was a real challenge–one foot forward one foot up.
Absolutely!! And one shouldn’t overlook the isolation that can be afforded by watercraft and bushwhacking. Unfortunately, my suggestion for the 46rs to drop perhaps 30 of their peaks and substitute them with say 30 out of 100 optional remote areas of the Park seems to be dead on arrival. But honestly, I think that is what it will take to begin to usher hikers out of the HPW.