Monday, July 20, 2020

ADK Takes Stance on High Peaks Use Recommendations

The ADK (Adirondack Mountain Club) Board of Directors voted last week to confirm the organization’s official position on when limits on recreational use, such as a permit system, are appropriate. ADK’s official position is summarized as the following:

It is the position of the Adirondack Mountain Club that before the state seeks to impose restraints on the freedom of the public to use and enjoy the forest preserve, such as a permit system, it must first make the appropriate investments to mitigate the effects on the resource by educating the public, increasing the Forest Ranger force, building sustainable trails, facilitating the spread of use throughout the Forest Preserve, and making determinations of high use based on the ongoing collection of objective data.

As recreational use increases in the Adirondack Park, particularly in concentrated areas like the High Peaks Wilderness, the committee felt it was important to clarify ADK’s position on permitting, which has been a major point of debate as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) considers new management strategies to address impacts from high use. “Many of the recreational impacts that we are seeing in the Adirondack Park, which include trailside erosion and human waste at trailheads, are exacerbated by a lack of infrastructure,” said Ben Mastaitis, ADK Environmental Conservation Committee Chair. “Before the state considers restricting access to areas like the High Peaks Wilderness, ADK would like to see and be involved in a concerted effort to create impact-minimizing infrastructure, such as installing pit privies at trailheads to contain human waste, hardening trails that withstand erosion, and so on.”

ADK’s position aligns well with the list of short-term management recommendations sent to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos in June by the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group. These recommendations, which were commissioned by Seggos to address high use in the High Peaks Wilderness, highlight education, stewardship programs, and data collection as being the first line of defense against recreational impacts.

“Through our own education outreach efforts—from the High Peaks Information Center to the Summit Stewardship Program—we have seen how powerful education is in minimizing user impacts,” said Michael Barrett, ADK Executive Director. “ADK believes that every new visitor is a future steward of the Adirondack Park. We would like to invest in their enthusiasm for the Adirondacks, so they become stewards of the Park and other areas like it.”

The entire resolution can be read here.

Photo: Crowding on Cascade Mountain by Dan Plumley/Almanack archive

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33 Responses

  1. Todd Eastman says:

    Great position taken by the ADK!!!

  2. John says:

    Self-serving and guaranteed to stalemate any action.

  3. Tony Goodwin says:

    John, I don’t feel that the ADK’s position is “self-serving”. Yes, the ADK owns the most heavily-trafficked entrance to the High Peaks, and takes in considerable revenue at entrance via parking, camping, merchandise, and lodging fees. However, ADK is a not-for-profit organization and therefore does not make an actual “profit” on these revenues.

    In the 1970s, the current parking lots were built only after the DEC declined to assume responsibility for parking at that trailhead. In 1979, ADK started their first professional trail crew because they realized that DEC had ceased doing very much trail maintenance. ADK has been the most active partner in the Summit Steward program. These are most obvious programs that ADK funds from the revenue they derive from, in part, their revenue-producing operations at ADK Loj.

    The observations in the ADK’s response are right in line with mine and with many others who comment on this board. Some relatively simple, and not all that expensive, actions by the DEC could mitigate many of the complaints about the current conditions in the High Peaks.

    Personally, I would like to have also seen a public comment opposing the current plan for the new Cascade Mt. trail – and a recommendation that retained the current Cascade trailhead, as long as it provided safe parking, toilet amenities, and often offered an educational presence.

    • John says:

      Tony, perhaps I should have reversed the order of that judgement. “You do this, then we’ll think about that” is, under today’s circumstances, a setup for a stalemate. That leaves us with the unsatisfactory status quo, which benefits ADK in the short term. Nobody benefits over time.

  4. Boreas says:

    In reading ADK’s entire resolution, I agree with virtually everything. However, what I found lacking was the addressing of the issues of shuttles and parking that will likely result in increased usage as well as requiring increased infrastructure. In reading the resolution, I didn’t get a feel for what ADK sees as the proper direction for total usage down the road. I was glad to see that they addressed the DEC’s responsibility in developing a plan based on sustainable trail usage, ultimately using capacity studies based on existing and potential future infrastructure.

  5. scott van Laer says:

    Permits or no permits there are not enough Forest Rangers. Asking for reasonable staffing levels before use limits are imposed makes sense.

    • Vanessa says:

      Ranger Van Laer, you’re on the Almanack! I do so stan your social media game 😀

      Anyway, have said it before: I agree 100%. Permits probably won’t have the impact on lowering use that some folks think it will. It will just distribute use or even worse, folks will ignore them, and rangers will get just as many calls.

  6. Vanessa says:

    Really good call re permitting! Trail maintenance and education will help protect the high peaks a lot. I wish the ADK would do some sort of fundraiser right now for funding their own recommendations. Despite being the leftie that I am, I don’t think they should wait for government to start this work. Not sure the rules re what they can actually install on wilderness land. But why not start on the Mt Jo trail, which is crowded as hec?

    The point being, there are plenty of us, especially us indefatigable “cidiots” :p who would throw some $$ in the can to help invest in this irreplaceable resource.

    • Adk Resident says:

      Vanessa, There is right now a venue that you can contribute directly to trail maintenance ( earmarked for trail work and not ADK’s unrestricted fund. Sorry, you will have to wait for a patch for a while though …

      • Vanessa says:

        That’s awesome! I’ll get in touch with them. I don’t at all mind giving without earning a patch for now. I don’t have an office anymore to hang them in.

  7. Richard Langlois says:

    Stop the influx of idiots coming from everywhere/out of state. More rangers is the best way to keep the unwanted littering vandals away. Pay to use is also another option, most wont destroy if they have to pay, but still not the best way. Guided hikes by rangers or staff of sorts would be ideal for no nonsense from hikers. A common sense nature certification may also be something to consider all hikers to have, like a hunters safety course type thing. Trails are worked on every year so dont hold up everything with that being the biggest issue because its not its the over use/ miss use.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Thanks for the humor! ?

      • Richard Langlois says:

        Totally serious keep it wild and people out, screw the revenue. People are the problem no peolple problem solved.

    • suzanne says:

      The rangers have more than enough to do, and few enough to do it, without guiding hikes. “Staff of sorts”? Would these be paid staff or volunteers?

      • Richard Langlois says:

        We need many more rangers to monitor and remove the unwanted and write more tickets to deter those unwanted/uneducated. Paul Smith’s is the college of the Adirondacks, have more hands on in the mountains and trails as internships for the APA and NYS conservation department. Summit cams may also be a remote idea for surveillance….

    • Steve B. says:

      How do you stop out of state visitors ?? Last I heard it’s a constitutional right to travel freely between states. Is why none of the states can currently outright “ban” interstate travel.

  8. Michelle L LaQuay says:

    This concern is so hypocritical of the ADK and APA. Has anyone ridden around the shore line of Fourth Lake. There is barely 10 feet of lake front that does not have a ‘camp’s on it. By ‘camp’s, I dont mean small seasonal buildings. I mean huge estates. Obviously, if these owners have money to build such elaborate and expensive luxury camps, they can afford to pay the APA, Town of Webb, architects, construction companies, etc. to get what they want. Money talks and to hell with the environment.
    There is a lovely, pristine lake in the APA that has rarely been touched by humans. A large realtor company has bought it up, subdivided it into little lots which sell for an outrageous amount of money, and are developing it. Who needs money so badly that destruction of nature, beauty and peace have no place in our world?

  9. Terry-le BOYCE says:

    Back in the day there were a couple of stewardship rules which were followed that my father instilled in us at a young age in regards to camping & hiking. 1) If you carry it in, you carry it out and dispose of it. 2) when you leave your camp, leave it in better shape than it was when you found it. Take care of our resources so those who come after us can enjoy them as much as we did.

    • Suzanne says:

      Back in the day my father taught us this, too. We always stowed a trashbag in our packs to pick up and carry out stuff others left behind. I do feel that people are more conscious now than years ago, but there are still plenty of slobs. Last summer I found all sorts of trash — paper plates, styrofoam food containers, etc. — scattered around the parking lot at Marcy Field, although there were trash receptacles there, and, of course, the cars of those who presumably left their garbage behind.

  10. Adk Resident says:

    From the very LNT report that ADK claims DEC has ignored …

    “Permit system for high use areas – Though not an appropriate option for every location, permit systems, when well thought out, well designed, and soundly implemented, can serve an important function in parks and protected areas. Depending on the nature of the resource in question, permitting use can benefit the natural resources and the visitor experience. Additionally, a permit system allows for an educational touch point with visitors before they depart on their trip. Many parks and protected areas have existing permit systems in place such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park. According to the National Park Service, visitors benefit from the system in several ways: “Through a combination of education and enforcement, park rangers assigned exclusively to the backcountry are expected to lead to better compliance with regulations and Leave No Trace ethics. Increased 4 compliance with regulations and Leave No Trace also helps protect and preserve resources, such as wildlife, that most visitors highly value. All backcountry users stand to benefit from the changes [to the permit system in the park]. In addition, by making all sites reservation-only, the new reservation system will have the capability to notify permit holders of site closures, safety issues and other emergency conditions via email and text messaging prior to beginning their trip.” See:

  11. Tom Lawrence says:

    Permits might limit usage but ultimately do not change the visitors undesirable behaviors. We really need increased education, staffing and infrastructure requiring more resources than are currently available. We have a tremendous opportunity to turn our visitors into stewards that can help us protect the Adirondack Park and other wild places.

  12. Boreas says:

    “We really need increased education, staffing and infrastructure requiring more resources than are currently available.”.

    Kinda says it all. But what do we actually do about it?

    • Tom Lawrence says:

      Increased funding is a good place to start. Both ADK and DEC are regularly under staffed and under funded. Volunteer Stewardship groups have been making an impact in recent years but the education needs to start before visitors arrive. Colorado’s tourism office has a partnership with the Leave No Trace Center for outdoor ethics, perhaps New York should consider this approach.

      • Boreas says:

        Certainly no argument there, but how long have we been asking for increased funding? More Rangers? Decades? I doubt I will live long enough to see adequate funding for now let alone proper funding for the future. We have had volunteer stewards and trail maintenance here for quite some time, but it isn’t enough for the amount of usage. Until Albany decides to put up or shut up about the Park, I don’t see a lot of changes coming.

  13. Larry Schaefer says:

    For my money, the ADK has hit the nail on the head. Do the other stuff first (especially sustainable trails) – and then evaluate the effect of the crowds on the natural environment. Installing a permit system before this smacks of elitism. Yeah, we’d all like to feel isolated in the woods – but we need to share these woods with millions of New Yorkers and other visitors. Some privileges are just not reasonable in a world of 8 billion people.

    • Boreas says:

      People flock to our National Parks and State Parks from around the world. Plenty of permitting going on there, and none of it is elitist. It is a proven management plan. The argument that permitting is somehow elitist in any sense is nonsense that needs to be smothered in its crib. One group leasing a trail or peak exclusively for their use would be considered elitist. No one has suggested that yet. Reservations, permits, and parking limits are all successful management techniques used worldwide. It is a shame that the problem has been ignored and allowed to fester for 30 years, but that is where we are. It is unlikely the problem will be solved with prayers and wishes. We need to carefully and objectively consider all options. I personally am not a fan of permitting, but I don’t feel it should be ruled out until we get a definite long-term plan from DEC.

      • Terry V says:

        From what I understand it is very difficult for the average person to get a permit for the most popular National Parks.
        Scalpers and guide services using bots get most of these permits the first hour they go on sale locking out the average person.
        The guide services usually include the permit when you book a trip with them and include the cost in your trip.
        Anytime there is a limited resource someone figures out how to make a buck on it.

  14. Steve Mackey says:

    A lot of new hikers go to the bathroom in the trail or close to the trail (toilet paper blooms), because they are afraid of bears and snakes. We need to put a bounty on bears and snakes, and make the woods safer. That’s my joke on the subject. The serious part is that I’m not sure that some of the novice hiker problems like litter, toilet paper blooms, social trails, cutting switchbacks, carving initials in things, etc. is really an educational issue. Does the average person really need to be taught not to litter? Maybe if we encourage experienced hikers to speak up when they observe poor behavior, that will help. Also maybe we can encourage these new people to join organizations like ADK, Sierra Club, Boy/Girl Scouts, Meet Up, etc. where there will be social pressure to behave, and the opportunity to learn more advanced skills from fellow participants, and hike leaders.

  15. Bob Meyer says:

    Permits only as a very last resort if all else fails.
    The very idea is anathema to the spirit of the freedom to be in our Forest Preserve lands within the Adirondack and Catskill State parks.
    There is so much else that should be addressed first; all eloquently and thoroughly described on the report and elsewhere.
    Permits have the potential to unfairly jeopardize segments of the population and give preference to other, more affluent people.
    Enough said by me.

  16. Zephyr says:

    I am highly skeptical any permit system is a solution to the problems. If the permits are priced high enough to limit usage the revenue will be looked on as a pot of gold and will be slurped up for all sorts of uses we can’t imagine. I remember a few years ago reading about the grand opening of a DEC boat ramp someplace in the ADKs, and the cost was over a $million dollars. Just imagine the costs of hiring the number of people required to institute and police the permits! Costs are always underestimated, while revenues are always overestimated. Always!

  17. Roger Jette says:

    I agree with the position. It all makes sense.
    Don’t restrict access, improve trails, hire more rangers, education…all good, all needed.
    Now for the part you probably won’t like, paying for these things. The time has come. Hunters and fishers have been paying for use of the resource for many years. It’s time for the hikers and waterway users to help with the enormous costs of preserving such a precious resource.
    Nothing outrageous, a $12 fee with a tag like hunters get. Good for a year and running from Oct 1 to Sept 30 of the following year. Same as fishing and hunting licenses.
    That revenue should be earmarked for the exclusive use of the DWR and statue should allocate those funds on a percentage basis within the department.
    Wouldn’t it have been nice if the division had it in its budget to replace the washed out parts of the gulf road right after it washed out to direct usage to the southern entrance to the high peaks? Enough to simply double the number of busses at Marcy field and continue that program…all it takes is money and that money should come from those who benefit most, the hikers.

    • Zephyr says:

      Realistically, budgets all over the state are going to be slashed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic fallout. There will be no increased funding for anything having to do with the Adirondack Park, except for maybe a few show pieces to make some politically important people happier. There are much more important financial problems the state needs to solve, like kids going to school and people not dying. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see some sort of license or permit with a fee that will go into the general state black hole of a budget. Expect that everywhere. Politicians are loathe to raise “taxes,” so instead resort to things like “user fees,” which are just taxes by another name.

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