Monday, September 14, 2020

More thoughts on permits

Whether the time has come to install a permit system for hiking/backpacking in the High Peaks Wilderness has been in the news lately, and a topic for debate in this recent commentary by Dave Gibson.

Here are a few recent comments that came in via email:

“Sustainable Trail design, rather than our 100+ year old trails.  One way trails on the 2-3 busiest peaks, one trail up a separate trail down.  One half the foot traffic, and, except for the summit, hikers won’t be passing each other all the way up and down, especially since most people hike at roughly the same pace.  Now the real problem is that this will take MONEY.  We need a lot more Rangers as well, so that some of them can go back to their core duties, not just rescues. Gov. Cuomo is good at promoting tourism in the Adirondacks, but woefully lacking in the financial support this extra traffic requires.   This is the People’s park, we all deserve to enjoy it, it soothes the soul. — John Marona

“Hiker permits, a noble but unworkable idea. Even if you could buy them online or there were ATM type kiosks at trail heads, most still wouldn’t buy them. I do however support the idea of either having bought rescue insurance or you are billed and must pay for the cost of a rescue, your fault or not. Proceeds from which would be used to hire more Ranges and Conservation Officers and to help fund local volunteer rescue groups. Works in Europe.” — Jim Jacob

“I don’t do that area myself but if there is limited parking and liberal.use of ticketing to illegally parked cars then word would spread…if people paid the fines then its an additional income source and /or future deterrence.. the permit system doesn’t seem practical or easily enforceable. Obviously people do not self limit or always observe carry in…carry out…LNT or even read how to prepare for a hike/climb so publications are “preachin to the choir”….but they do not like traffic/parking tickets.” — Kathy Corey

“I am a long time Adirondacks hiker , hike leader , winter mountaineering instructor for ADK and just plain lover of the ‘dacks ! I think permits are probably coming but we need a lot more hiker education first . More Forest Rangers, AFR’s, Summit Stewards are really needed to educate hikers and enforce the rules ; then maybe a permit system . The stories of tents on the Alpine tundra on the high summits, human waste not disposed of properly and litter are all directly related to novice /uneducated hikers. It is also up to experienced hikers to try to help novices at the trail heads and on the trails , be constructive/gentle /helpful!” — Mike Douglass
Cascade Mountain photo by Dan Plumley

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Melissa is a journalist with experience as a reporter and editor with the Burlington Free Press, Ithaca Journal and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. She worked as a communications specialist for the Adirondack North Country Association and runs her own New York State Women owned Business-Enterprise Bootstrap Communications, which includes digital marketing, strategy and design. She enjoys hiking, camping and other outdoors activities, and spending time with her husband, their twin daughters, and rescue animals -- two dogs and a cat.




30 Responses

  1. JT says:

    I still think a general $20 per season hiking permit for the eastern high peaks should be required. $20 X 100,000 people would generate 2 million dollars that would go directly to trail improvements and education. Would everyone purchase the permit? Probably not, but most will. Similar to fishing, not everyone gets a fishing license, but when they get caught, they wish they had after paying the heavy fine. Educational literature could be distributed when you get the permit.
    Trying to manage numbers of hikers on particular trails would be a nightmare. The ultimate goal should be to design the trails so they can handle more hikers.
    Permits could be purchased on line or at sporting goods stores, just like hunting and fishing licenses. It works for hunting and fishing, why not hiking.
    Those using the resource pay a little more for maintenance of the resource.

    • John Sasso John Sasso says:

      Two problems with your proposal:
      1. Enforcement. Who will do the enforcing? If your answer is the Forest Rangers, then the idea has fallen flat. It has long been there has been an insufficient number of FR’s for the Adirondacks and many are dealing with search and rescues or (unfortunately) acting as meter maids. Before talking permit system, address the FR issue first
      2. You assume the funds generated from a permit system will go toward trail improvements. If so, this is a bad misunderstanding of how the State has handled money from taxes/fees — mishandled, I should say. There are many examples of how revenue intended for one purpose has gotten misused by the politicians and used for other purposes. For example, revenue generated from the NYS Lottery was intended to be used primarily for funding education; it has not. Years ago, the State imposed a $0.25 surcharge on mobile phone bills (or it may have been on all phone bills) for E-911 emergency services, e.g., building of towers. Very little of the money ever did and was reported to be grossly misused by public officials.

      There is theory and then there is reality. Permit system proposals are based on theory, not reality.

      • Boreas says:

        “There is theory and then there is reality. Permit system proposals are based on theory, not reality.”

        The reality is permitting IS and has been successful around the world. This is indisputable. Your suggestion that the Adirondack Park is so special that it will not work here in high-use areas is only a theory – despite the fact that it is already in place with many campgrounds. The theory that permitting would work in high-usage areas here is based on experiences and systems used around the world. The State potentially mishandling the “money” is a red herring and immaterial. Show me a government that doesn’t mishandle funds.

        ======

        No one WANTS to implement a permitting system for the HPW, but no one has come up with a cheaper, quicker, or more realistic option to preserve the resource AND to continue to allow access in the short term. No long-term plan by DEC/NYS/APA is even being discussed publicly at this point! That fact is what should be discussed LOUDLY and with fervor here in public forums and at public input meetings. The crux of the discussion needs to be how the EHPW or HPW is to be classified by the APA in the future. Are we going to continue to ignore the fact that the most heavily used backcountry area of the Park is classified as “Wilderness”? You simply can’t open it up for all comers and all levels of usage while enforcing maximum protection and minimal infrastructure as required by the current classification. The two uses are indeed incompatible.

        Permitting is just a tool to reach any long-term goal. It may be used for a short period of time while we get our act together, or it may end up being implemented permanently as a final, compromise solution. Ultimately, it is up to NYS residents and taxpayers to decide the fate of their public lands. We need the keep fire at the feet of this and future administrations to protect these areas with sustainable practices.

        • John Sasso John Sasso says:

          Enforcement??? Never addressed 🙁

          • Steve B. says:

            Where the DEC has use permit systems in place, seemingly most users acquire the free permit. It’s an online process, you print and are done. Enforcement is easy, don’t get caught. On occasion we read about a mountain biker ticketed and it’s expensive. As well, you need a vehicle copy on your dashboard, without one and while parked at a designated parking lot, with no permit, you get an expensive ticket. Word to mouth does wonders and doesn’t require more Rangers.

  2. joeadirondack says:

    John Sasso, please explain to me why I still need to by a hunting and fishing license and the difference?

  3. Lee Comeau says:

    I submitted a post about trail overuse and rescues and have not seen it. Can you help me find it?

    • Hi Lee

      I found this comment from you (pasted below) here: https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2020/09/forest-ranger-rescues-september-2020.html

      Seems to me with more and more calls for rescues, the state should be doing more to alert these “hikers” that these are physically demanding trails. Are reports of these rescues indicating whether or not the subject of the rescue should have been hiking the trail they were rescued on? Are signs posted at the trailhead recommending the hiker have hiked 10 similar trails before attempting to hike the trail? Has marking the trails like ski trails are marked been considered? Novice, beginner, expert etc. Is a sign posted that a rescue will be charged to the person being rescued? If not, they should be warned of this as it may prevent the risk of injury or loss of life to the rescuers? Who pays for these rescues?
      Obviously things have changed since 1950s or 60s. The system needs to change too. Something should be done to stop these reckless individuals from doing things they have no business doing.

      • Kathy says:

        Lee.. how many peope would turn back and drive away after reading the postings cocerning difficuty and rescue costs of the area thy may have driven hours to get to? Common sense ,sound logic and a wish to be prepared for a trouble free outing seem to be in short supply for many rescues. Unfortunately that won’t turn people away at a trailhead even if they bother to read it .

        • Boreas says:

          A “SHARK WARNING” sign at a beach gets people’s attention, but you can’t bury it in 50 other signs without losing its effectiveness. There is signage and then there is effective signage. If the trailhead signage is working properly, people SHOULD be turning around and considering alternate trails/destinations within their capabilities and preparation level. The fact that people even get to a trailhead without proper preparation is a failure of management.

        • John Sasso John Sasso says:

          The problem is, and as Boreas alludes to, you can have all the signage you want. Heck, you can have warnings up as flashing neon signs, and many will still carry onward.

          • Kathy says:

            Too bad the ski area signs of color and geometric design would not work…or river classes
            I would not hike a double black diamond or class 4 trail myself…they are standard définitions of difficulty…

            • Boreas says:

              Kathy,

              I personally don’t think it is a bad idea, but it should be unnecessary. In the pre-smartphone era, most hikers used guidebooks to scout their route which clearly assessed terrain difficulty, water availability, and distance. But they did this at home as they PREPARED for a hike and planned accordingly. Is this the process today?

              Keep in mind, with skiing, you start at the TOP of a mountain, not the bottom. If you are a novice skier and come to a cliff that wasn’t marked, you could seriously worsen your day. When hiking and you come to a cliff or slide, and are looking UP at it, you have time to think and choose. Unfortunately, many people push on beyond their limits because they didn’t do their homework before arriving at the trailhead. Planning and proper preparation needs to occur PRIOR to leaving home. There really is no substitute.

              • Kathy says:

                With skiing you need a chair lift up to the top of the mountain?? and ski area maps are obtained with hour permit so you can plan your lift choice according to your skill level I thought ..
                Anyways I bet people google directions to hikes instead of preparation and trail knowledge and then hop in the car and go to see the great places people posted.

      • John Sasso John Sasso says:

        Melissa, the DEC Forest Ranger Highlights don’t indicate whether the hikers rescued should have been on the trail they were on. They will usually indicate to what extent the hiker was unprepared, e.g., no headlamps, no map, wearing cotton, etc. The problem is that you are talking about back-country education and outreach, which the Forest Rangers >>used to do<< but no longer can because of their lack of numbers. Again, Albany will simple NOT increase the funding for more FRs and AFRs; such an endeavor is not politically advantageous to the State politicians.

        What would be a good idea (but not the sole thing that should be done) is to implement something similar to NH's Hike Safe Card. In NH, NH Fish & Game handle the SARs. At a purchase of $25/yr for the individual, the money from this voluntary purchase goes towards funding NHF&G and SARs. If someone rescued is carrying the Hike Safe Card and found to not have incurred the SAR through some blatant disregard on their own, then they won't incur a financial penalty for the SAR. It is a quasi-hiker insurance card.

        I think NY should adopt a similar measure. It is not a permit. The money would go toward funding SARs and more FR's/AFR's in the State. Unfortunately, the fly in the ointment here is what guarantee do we have that the politicians won't misuse the revenue from this for other, unintended purposes? That is what concerns me, because NYS has a history of such abuse.

        Another thing, something I REALLY wish the media would do a better job at communicating this, is that the Adirondack 46ers Trailhead Steward Program (TSP) at the very popular Cascade trailhead has been very effective at educating hikers. I have been with the TSP for 3 years, and joined it because I saw how effective it was in its first year. We know that a great many new hikers venture to Cascade (and Porter) in the High Peaks. With the TSP, I have surprisingly seen much less trash on Cascade's trail. The TSP should be expanded to other major trailheads. In general, the TSP and Summit Stewards provide an effective "force" for educating hikers, and in the case of the latter, I think it would be a good idea to expand them to other popular peaks beyond those with the fragile, rare alpine vegetation.

        In general, and as I have said repeatedly, the problem we are trying to confront has to be dealt with using a multifaceted approach. The pro-permit folks think permits are the magic, single solution. No. Multiple approaches have to be taken.

        • Aaron says:

          This seems a much more reasonable proposal than simply grafting a dubious permit system onto a badly outdated and under-resourced area of the Park.

          I would add that a permit system is almost guaranteed to dissuade visitors from coming if improvements aren’t obvious, and I’m not talking about more porta-potties or kiosks at the trailheads. This means modernized hardened trails, more parking, more rangers, and FOR GOD’S SAKE a dedicated visitor’s center somewhere along the 73 HPW corridor.

          It might mean forgoing purchasing additional private land and redirecting those millions toward actually meeting the needs on land the state already owns. But it needn’t be an “all or nothing” approach. Focus on a few of the most traveled trails first as a proving ground for modernization to show visitors that the state is serious about progress, support front-country education opportunities, and expand parking at those trailheads. Establish a value proposition to justify a modest permit fee that is sustainable while having potential to supplement the costs of future needs and projects.

          We’re not like other parks, we have 100+ communities within the blue line who depend on revenue from visitors and seasonal residents to survive. Leaping to a permit system for the right to walk in the woods requires more than offering incredible views, it requires a plan and tangible results to keep people coming back year after year.

  4. David Juron says:

    The hunters and Fishermen need licenses why not a hiking license to help. If you do not have one you get a ticket and pay a fine. That will help pay for stuff.

  5. Todd Eastman says:

    Publish the names and hometowns of the individuals that are rescued…

    … a little shaming couldn’t hurt at this point!!! 😱

  6. ADKscott says:

    Is there money to establish and manage serious crowd reduction permit system, even for a small area of the Park? If so, I suggest the funds would be better used to rebuild trails, and fund front country steward programs in high use areas.

    A real permit system that is effective in reducing numbers will require a lot of staff resources. A license, like for fishing, is another option, maybe more workable. I don’t believe these funds can be kept separate for a specific use….am I wrong about this?

    I don’t think we realize how badly the state budget hit from COVID will be. Some realism is necessary here.

    The AMR can run a small trial, not applicable to anywhere else. But that is an alliance of wealthy club members and ‘enviro’ advocacy organizations they fund to simply reduce the number of people passing thru their club. It is wrapped in the banner of resource protection but if you believe that I have a bridge to sell you.

    • Zephyr says:

      There will be no money for any of these pie-in-the-sky permit ideas for many years to come. The state budget is a mess. Magical thinking permit proponents say they will be easy to implement, cost nothing to do, and will not require enforcement to work. The fact is that permits would do nothing for the stated problems (which are overblown) if the permit doesn’t cost enough to hurt a bit and also be rather hard to get, or else they won’t limit the number of visitors and raise funds for running the permit program, enforcement, and trail maintenance.

    • John Sasso John Sasso says:

      To Zephyr’s point, the permit proponents think the enforcement (i.e. manpower) will be there if an permit system is put in place but the fact of the matter is, it won’t. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the lack of available Forest Rangers and AFRs need not be explained. If you want to implement a permit system, you have to show the resources are (not will be, >>are<<) available. They will argue that revenue from a permit system would go fund more FRs and AFRs. OK, so in the meantime, while a permit system is running we have to wait for enough revenue to come in to not only hire more but to train more as well. Monkey wrench!

      Furthermore, and the permit proponents refuse to address this, how are we guaranteed that the revenue from a permit system will get directed to acquire more resources (manpower) to do the enforcement? Again, NYS is notorious for politicians directing revenue to the General Fund, a pot of $$$ they can dip into, or misusing funds.

      Permits will do absolutely NOTHING to mitigate the problems of litter, lack of hiker preparedness, SARs, etc. Folks may want to enlighten themselves to the fact that in parks where there is a permit system, these issues still exist.

      Finally, I'd like to ask the pro-permit folks if they've bothered contacting their State representatives and call for an increase in the number of Rangers? I have, tho my requests seem to fall on deaf ears. My assemblyman did call me one time but basically it went in one ear and out the other with him. Didn't care

  7. John Sasso John Sasso says:

    To Zephyr’s point, the permit proponents think the enforcement (i.e. manpower) will be there if an permit system is put in place but the fact of the matter is, it won’t. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the lack of available Forest Rangers and AFRs need not be explained. If you want to implement a permit system, you have to show the resources are (not will be, >>are<<) available. They will argue that revenue from a permit system would go fund more FRs and AFRs. OK, so in the meantime, while a permit system is running we have to wait for enough revenue to come in to not only hire more but to train more as well. Monkey wrench!

    Furthermore, and the permit proponents refuse to address this, how are we guaranteed that the revenue from a permit system will get directed to acquire more resources (manpower) to do the enforcement? Again, NYS is notorious for politicians directing revenue to the General Fund, a pot of $$$ they can dip into, or misusing funds.

    Permits will do absolutely NOTHING to mitigate the problems of litter, lack of hiker preparedness, SARs, etc. Folks may want to enlighten themselves to the fact that in parks where there is a permit system, these issues still exist.

    Finally, I'd like to ask the pro-permit folks if they've bothered contacting their State representatives and call for an increase in the number of Rangers? I have, tho my requests seem to fall on deaf ears. My assemblyman did call me one time but basically it went in one ear and out the other with him. Didn't care

    • Steve B. says:

      I’d question the logic. Permit systems in popular hiking areas are used at the federal level in many areas and I’d be certain there was no increase in Rangers to enforce. That’s not how government works, they never find the funding for more people. And yet, the permits systems help solve some of the problems, if none other that it reduces the sheer numbers of users. It’s not the only method to solve all the problems it’s only one of the methods and this has been stated so many times it’s a tiring argument. The very idea of a Ranger showing up and asking for the permit is often times all the enforcement needed. This is how the DEC operates on Long Island where permits are needed to access some of the preserves. They did not add Rangers. And yet, I’ve never seen or heard anybody complain about the need for the permit and they are easy to get. The arguments against are just noise at this point, it’s been on the table for all the 40 years I’ve been coming to the Adirondacks and is long overdue.

      • Aaron says:

        None of what you’ve said is an argument that justifies implementing a permit system. You seem blithely unaware or unconcerned that a reduction in “sheer numbers of users” necessarily means a substantial reduction of income to those of us live here.

  8. Margaret Hurley says:

    Why wouldn’t hiker passes work? By that criteria fishing and hunting passes shouldn’t work. Start charging to park to limit the numbers of cars along the sides of the roads (accidents waiting to happen).Once fines start flying, hikers won’t scoff the parking fees. The idea of hiking insurance is good as well. Since COVID is going to drain state and municipal funds for the foreseeable future, the shortfall must be made up. If tourists want to come here and use our facilities, let them help maintain it.

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