Saturday, October 31, 2020

Hiker data shows impacts from pandemic, increase in novice hikers

More parking issues, more rescues, and an over-reliance on mobile apps

Due to the pandemic, this summer saw a surge in outdoor recreational pursuits this summer at the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Heart Lake Program Center, according to a press release from the ADK Mountain Club.

As a result of this major increase in hiking traffic (from unprepared novice recreationists), there was a rise in illegal camping, discarded trash, unburied human waste, and in increase in conflicts between humans and wildlife. ADK has continued its efforts to educate visitors to minimize their impact on the environment, there has been several emerging trends that make doing so challenging. Data collected through the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program, the Recreational User Experience and Perspectives: Adirondack Park survey (RUEADK), and a partnership between ADK, the Adirondack Council, and SUNY-ESF sheds light on some of these trends below.

More in-state hikers, earlier arrivals

Data has shown that overall hiker contacts within the Summit Stewardship Program has been consistent with years past, even with the Canadian border being closed. This indicates that a significant number of those hiking are American Visitors, and mostly New York residents at that, according to the RUEADK survey. A shift in popularity occurred as well between the high peaks Algonquin and Marcy, with the average number of daily hikers on Marcy increasing from 109 to 111, with the average number of daily hikers on Algonquin dropping from 99 to 87. Algonquin is particularly popular with Canadian hikers, while many novice New York hikers opt to climb Marcy, it being the tallest peak in New York.

Hikers are arriving earlier than in previous years, according to data gathered by ADK and the Heart Lake Program Center. Over an 89 day period from July 1st to October 12th, the 200-car lot filled on 61 days, with 5:00 am being the earliest fill time.

Over-Reliance on Apps, Last-Minute Planning

Hiker planning and preparation continues to be an important issue, following a year of record breaking rescue numbers by the New York State Forest Rangers. Several of these rescues were caused by a general lack of preparedness form hikers (like being caught in the dark without a source of light). The RUEADK survey revealed 27% of respondents used the AllTrails digital app for information, while another 16.8% used DEC resources, and 18% used commercially published guidebooks and maps.

“Given the accessibility of apps like AllTrails, it isn’t surprising that they are used as a resource for trip planning,” said Ben Brosseau, ADK Director of Communications. “The problem is when hikers become over-reliant on electronic information in the backcountry. If a cell phone dies or breaks, it can lead to a rescue situation because the hiker is left without any form of navigation.”

As policy makers determine the state budget for next year, ADK hopes that the state continues investing in the High Peaks Wilderness.

“Given that 10-12 million people are coming to the Adirondacks each year, we simply are not doing enough to equip visitors with the necessary information, tools, and facilities for them to have a safe and enjoyable experience,” said Michael Barrett, ADK Executive Director. “We look forward to working with the state and local partners to continue collecting data so we can develop long-term and fact-based solutions to high use.”

More data from the summer can be found in the following “Adk News Briefing” roundup

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19 Responses

  1. MARALYN MASTER says:

    Yes—hikers need to educate themselves by reading the Adirondack Trail guides
    Definitely wear the proper footwear.

    These hikers should be fined if they call the forest rangers for things liked running of light and water.

    Reservations should now be mandatory for hiking the high peaks.

    • Boreas says:

      Nobody reads books anymore. The web information is superficial at best, and that is a shame. It is good in the respect that conditions and trails info can be updated immediately (and not every 10 years), but it should be used for PLANNING, and not once you get lost relying on a smart phone!

      Many people today have short attention spans, and hike without planning. These folks have always been around, but with increasing numbers of hikers, you obviously get will get more unprepared hikers. In the old days, unprepared hikers were often intercepted by Rangers or other hikers letting them know they were possibly getting into trouble. Obviously, Rangers can no longer do this due to under-staffing. Stewards (seasonal only) may have the opportunity, but I don’t know how many potential hikers actually turn around.

      One thing I have noticed over the years is that a lost or injured hiker relies on a smartphone to get out of trouble – no news there. But what I DON’T see in Ranger incident reports is much evidence or mention of fellow hikers helping distressed hikers. Rock-climbers yes, but hikers? Does this still happen?? With large numbers of hikers on the trails, shouldn’t hiker-helping-hiker be a given? Years ago, it was almost demanded of you to help a fellow hiker, either before or after things became critical. Is this still the case? Do prepared hikers simply ignore the ill-prepared hikers? I personally helped injured hikers out twice – once in winter, once in summer. Smart hikers always hiked in groups of at least 3 so one person could stay with a victim and the other went for help – hopefully finding some fellow hikers. I don’t really read of this any more. It seems to be Ranger rescue or nothing. This is a bad policy with an understaffed Ranger service.

      • Boreas says:

        “The web information is superficial at best…”

        I meant to say MOST web information is superficial. I am sure there is good info online, but do newbies know where to find it??

        • Daniel Ling says:

          Good point. I would think that most hikers will help a person in need. But since the rangers aren’t involved, it isn’t reported. Over the years I have had the opportunity to help people who were lost a few times, including two little girls who separated from their parents in the High Peaks. In this case, directions aren’t going to suffice – we should be happy to guide people out ourselves if the need arises.

      • Zephyr says:

        I help people all the time who are lost on the trail. They never have anything but a phone for navigation. One thing that isn’t perfect, but would be hugely helpful to many people, would be to put a large map on a signboard at each major trailhead and tell people to take a photo of it with their phone. They would at least have some reference to fall back on even if they couldn’t get a phone signal.

  2. Harv Sibley says:

    Good article. More public awareness of the do’s and don’ts for novice hikers will help create a better environment for all.

  3. Mad says:

    The wilderness experience is gone. The
    high peaks was once a place to escape to.
    That’s long gone. The over crowding, the trash, the general disregard for the environment it’s now a place to escape from.
    What a shame. And who’s to blame…

  4. Kathy says:

    Do apps for the popular camping areas or peaks even have the dos and don’ts list or even how to prepare for camping and hiking? Are people subscribing to these newsletters for updated trail conditions and descriptions of rescues that highlight what went wrong?
    There seems to be an information gap between the popularity attraction of stunning pictures and how to “do it yourself”. Do the rescued hikers offer any self explanations of how they decided to do the ill fated trip or even if they accessed any info?
    What media could be a target area for the uninformed and casual visitor that is most popular and most likely to catch their attention and be a source of education???
    The don’t care if I trash or trespass will always be among us but the majority of careless uninformed and unprepared people are not reading these articles and appear almost clueless as to how they ended up in a rescue situation. By the time they reach a trailhead and jockey for parking they are not about to turn back because of signage or helpful people that point out a lack of proper gear or necessities for a safe day or even their suitability of a particular physically demanding terrain they ended up at.

    .

    • A resident adk'er says:

      The chaos and insanity we find ourselves in the middle of due to the many years of mismanagement and neglect in the eastern high peaks is going to take a mind-boggling amount of money and resources, as well as the many years ahead of us to implement. And once implemented, enforcement (by WAY more Rangers than are on the scene now) and educational infrastructure that includes the requisite instructors, both online and in the woods. And then there is the parking situation. No matter how big or small the crowd sizes that any of these plans will have in mind, parking as it is is entirely inadequate and too informal. I live nearly in the heart of the peaks (a 3-time 46er), so have been watching this “show” play out around me for years. Currently, New York State is in deficit by many billions of dollars, with another winter ahead of lost jobs and dwindling tax dollars. Draconian cuts are ahead of us. This all sounds depressing, but here we are. A forum like this is great for the airing out of our thoughts, but the reality of the current situation in the eastern high peaks with its need for a Manhattan Project and the resources to match…I for one am not optimistic…

      • Boreas says:

        I agree. It is a train wreck. The outlook is not pretty. Locals and nonresidents alike are going to be effected by any changes – or by NO changes. No way around it. I think change will need to start with the APA/DEC coming to realize the HPW is incorrectly classified as Wilderness. Heavy usage is simply not part of a Wilderness classification. Maintenance, infrastructure, and emergency services cannot keep pace without mechanization and heavy hardening and patrolling. I would like to see AT LEAST the EHPW reclassified as a heavy-use area similar to a ski area. Perhaps the WHPW can still remain as pseudo-wilderness. Until some serious steps like this are taken and Ranger staffing increased dramatically, the region and resource will be seriously diminished in the future.

  5. Paul says:

    You simply need fewer hikers (at least in certain areas). That doesn’t happen with more rangers. Start by enforcing the parking restrictions. I drove by Ampersand
    / middle Saranac numerous times this summer. Ton’s of illegally parked cars every day. Saw a trooper there once writing some tickets, that’s not going to do anything. These folks can easily afford a parking ticket. More rules that are not going to be enforced will do nothing. Cut the parking at the lodge and enforce it, simple as that. You don’t need to fart around with permits and more expense involved there.

    When I lived in Boston when they decided they were going to do snow removal. They put up temporary no parking signs then they would immediately tow away every car on the street! Do that and people will get the message when it costs them 300 dollars to get their car back, not to mention the 6 mile hike back into town. It would be greta extra income for the local tow companies too.

    • Boreas says:

      “Ton’s of illegally parked cars every day. Saw a trooper there once writing some tickets, that’s not going to do anything. These folks can easily afford a parking ticket. More rules that are not going to be enforced will do nothing. Cut the parking at the lodge and enforce it, simple as that.”

      So how will enforcement be handled without ticketing? Towing? Wheel locks? Loss of license? Do you think that will work out?

      The “lodge” (Loj) is private property – can’t just tell them what to do.

      • Paul says:

        At the bottom of my comment towing is exactly what I suggested. The lodge is private yes. I am saying tow away all the cars parked illegally on the public road going in there where people park when the lot is full and they are supposed to go somewhere else less crowded. I think as a first real step toward enforcement this might work. Can’t tell if you don’t try.

  6. Andy says:

    Got to put much of the blame on ROOST and other demand creators in service of the hotel and restaurant businesses. The solution isn’t at the trailhead, it’s the ever increasing requirements of the hospitality industry for more bodies.

    • A resident adk'er says:

      Yes, Andy, that too..and great point. More bodies with limited accomodations; what could possibly go wrong?! ?

  7. Eileen Egan Mack says:

    I wish the DEC had funds to create a radio/TV ad and social media campaign to help educate hikers. Since that is undoubtedly not the case, as they are not given enough funds to employ enough Forest Rangers, then perhaps “we, the people” could help out. What if a challenge or opportunity was given to the public to create PSA’s to help educate children and adults? The DEC would provide guidelines about length and content to be covered. Animation, cartoons, and real people, with humor, wit, and wisdom could get out the message. The many conservation organizations such as Protect the Adirondacks, WILD, the Adirondack Council, the ADK Mt. Club, and other organizations could help get the word out to their members and other organizations such Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. The DEC could decide on the winners and or perhaps just agree to post on social media as many of the videos as they want, given that the video met the criteria and was tasteful and interesting.

    • jeep says:

      OMG! really??? If someone decides to go hiking, ill prepared then so be it. Their choice. If they get lost, oh well good luck! They either get a hands on education and become a better hiker. Get out and decide that really isn’t for them, or they are removed permanently from the gene pool.Pretty simple!

      • Steve B. says:

        You are ignoring the issue of (currently) somebody in distress is going to see a rescue. Such rescues place the search parties at risk of injury each and every time they go out. It’ll only be a matter of time before a State Police helicopter crashes in bad weather attempting to recover an injured person.

        Better to make an effort to educate hikers so that there’s a lessened chance they will get hurt or lost.

  8. Zephyr says:

    Lots of doom and gloom in the comments, yet the trails and the HP in general are in far better environmental shape than they have been in 100 years. Yes, there are more hikers so there will be more newbies and more people getting into trouble, but is the percentage increase in numbers of rescues greater than the percentage increase in hikers? I don’t think that is the case. My purely anecdotal survey is that more people are wearing good stuff and carrying the right gear than ever before. There were lots of unprepared people back on the “good old days” too, but since there were no cell phones most people at least carried a map and had a vague idea of how to use it. Still, lots of people got lost, got hypothermic, got injuries, etc., but they couldn’t ring up 911. Had to take care of it themselves. This is the biggest current problem, IMHO. People head off into the woods with no navigation device except for a phone, and then they get lost when that doesn’t work so they call for help.

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