Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Siena Poll shows support for limits on High Peaks use

A Siena College Research Institute poll of New York voters in September showed that by 68% to 22% they overwhelmingly want New York State officials to protect heavily used public lands in the Adirondack Forest Preserve by enforcing resource capacity limits. The poll results were released by the Adirondack Council.

The Governor and the State have acknowledged the overuse problem, expanded education and public information efforts, and appointed a Wilderness Overuse Task Force. The Center for National Center for Leave No Trace recommendations have been endorsed by the task force, and include testing hiker permits to improve visitor access and help communities.

“As we conclude the busiest time of the year on the trails and summits of the Adirondack Park, it is time for the state to follow the science and take heed of the public’s desire to protect the state’s most sensitive landscape from being loved to death,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway.  “Like the hikers we surveyed in 2018, registered voters told Siena pollsters that they wanted park managers to ‘prioritize the preservation of the area and limit the total number of hikers allowed on any particular day.’

“The world class Adirondack Park is big enough for further growth in visitation if world class protections, education and management are funded and implemented, said Janeway.” “Limits on use must be coupled with expanded education, more forest rangers and other staff, and other infrastructure improvements, and can take many forms, including parking reservations, temporary trail closures, shuttle systems, trail passes and others.”

The Adirondack Council has proposed a web-based parking reservation system for busy trailheads, combined with enforcement of parking limits.  National parks require paid reservations for admission and additional fees for campsites/parking.

Statewide, more than two-thirds (68%) of all voters said they would prefer limits on use, with 22% supporting building bigger parking areas and trails, and 10% voicing no opinion. Liberals (77%) were more likely to support limits than conservatives (58%), with moderates in the middle at a solid two-thirds (66%).

Democrats and Independents had equal levels of support for capacity limits, at 71%, with Republicans also supporting limits by a wide margin of 56% to 36%, with 7% undecided.

Support for limits on use was two-thirds or higher in all regions of the state, with New York City residents coming it at 65%, suburban residents at 69% and upstate at 69%.  Support was strong among all ethnic groups (65 to 77%).  Youth showed the strongest concern at 75% (18 to 34 years old), with 55+ coming second at 67%.  Levels of support didn’t vary at all among religious faiths (65%) or income brackets (68%).

Siena College Research Institute conducted the poll between August 30 and September 3, 2020.  There were 795 New York State registered voters polled.  The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.7%.

The question: “…on New York ́s Adirondack Park High Peaks motor-free wilderness area. Some say that the state should prioritize accommodating the high demand for hiking in that area by building bigger parking lots and wider trails and not limiting use. Others say the state should prioritize the preservation of the area and limit the total number of hikers allowed on any particular day. Which option do you support for the Adirondack Wilderness area?

“As people come to enjoy the fall colors and the last of the warm weather this season, crowds are likely to continue breaking records, while also breaking down the least durable and resilient features of the High Peaks Wilderness Area’s trails and summits,” Janeway explained. “It is not right to just ask people to stay away from the High Peaks.  We need all of the tools in the toolbox to fix this problem.  Setting limits on use at some locations at some times, while expanding access in other locations, is one of the most important strategies because it can allow growth in total use while better preserving the access to Wilderness for everyone.”

The poll’s participants were broadly representative of the state’s overall voter population, with 48% Democrats, 21% Republicans and 26% independent/other.  About 41% of those polled lived in New York City, while 34% live upstate and 25% live in the suburbs.

In the 2018 survey, Hikers favored Wilderness protection over accommodating unlimited recreation by a margin of 70 percent to 20 percent. This was a survey of more than 1,000 High Peaks area groups of hikers conducted by the Adirondack Council, with Colgate University’s Upstate Institute. In both surveys there is a vocal minority of around 20% that prioritizes recreational access over Wilderness preservation. Minorities represented close to 12% of this sample, and strongly supported preservation over accommodation of increased use.

Photo: Crowds of hikers in the high peaks of the Adirondacks on Columbus Day weekend (also Canadian Thanksgiving) 2016. The DEC and ADK Mt Club offered hiking information along major road entry ways to alleviate crowding/parking/overuse. Photo by Nancie Battaglia

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Before John Sheehan joined the Adirondack Council's staff in 1990, he was the managing editor of the Malone Evening Telegram, and previously worked as a journalist for the Troy Record, (Schenectady) Daily Gazette, Watertown Daily Times and Newsday. For the past 20 years, John has been the voice of the Adirondack Council on radio and television, and on the pages of local, regional and national media.

44 Responses

  1. Carl Heilman says:

    The issues are a lack of sufficient trail maintenance and rebuilding over recent decades in addition to extra personnel to handle the issues, and educate the newbies on the trails. The state should have been looking ahead when promoting the region. Now the people are here and they want to shut them out. The Smokies, Blue Ridge Parkway trails, Acadia, Monadnock and others handle a high volume of hikers on the trails, but they built up an infrastructure to match. Looks at the trails and well built sections on Cascade that show no signs of overuse, while others that should have been ‘maintained’ are heavily eroded. I would gladly share the summit with a hundred others who are overjoyed at the sight, than with 10 others who were lucky enough to get a permit. Solitude is gone if there is one other person… Share the wonder and help others appreciate and enjoy our natural heritage.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Great note Carl!

    • Steve B. says:

      Well stated and I think many agree that improvements to parking along with trail hardening should be the initial approach. Trouble is, funding to pay for the hardening is non-existent and realistically (while I think it’s the best approach) takes years to implement. We may not have the luxury of time, recalling that over-use and poor trail design is an issue that goes back to the ’70’s, with insufficient funding being the problem for 40 years now. A fee and permit system may be required as well and unfortunately.

    • Balian the Cat says:


      Have you been to Acadia recently? The damage/impacts to the trails along the Park Road have increased exponentially in the past 5-6 yrs. The NPS is struggling for funding too, but to ignore issues of high use under the guise of planning & implementation is not a sustainable approach.

    • Agree Carl, limiting use is never the answer for publicly owned lands. Building infrastructure engineered to withstand use (including adequately sized parking lots) allows the public to self determine whether to go to popular natural features or to pursue more remote locations.

  2. Zephyr says:

    Personally, I think that some promoting “permits” as the solution believe it will be a funding stream for the much-needed trail maintenance. I’m not sure anyone has done any realistic proposals for permits, complete with budget projections, but I suspect the costs of running the system will eat up most or all of the revenue unless the price is really high. Plus, every year Adirondack groups would have to fight hard not to have that funding stream raided for other purposes. In any case, with the current state budget shortfall don’t count on any grandiose and expensive new permit systems for some time.

    • Steve B. says:

      The DEC runs permit systems currently, the permits are free. The cost seems to be not an issue, else they would have started charging to cover the system operation. There’s no reason any permit system, free or not, for hiking would have any exorbitant expenses. They could as well very easily just hand it over to Reserve America, which is how you get a camping permit (I hate Reserve America, as BTW). State of Maine runs an on-line camping reservation system that could be a model as well and I’m certain there are countless others. The cost of a permit system is just not an issue.

      • Zephyr says:

        You can’t say that cost is not an issue and won’t be exorbitant when you don’t know the costs. State Park passes are currently $80 a year I think.

        • Steve B. says:

          Nor can you say that it will be expensive. I would doubt that the Reserve America reservation system eats up significant funding for the DEC. R.A. makes few bucks of a cut, so obviously they find it worthwhile on $2 per reservation.

  3. John Sheehan says:

    Steve B makes a good point.The islands of Lake George are a fine example. You must have a permit to camp on them, which you must get from the DEC. The islands are limited in size and overcrowding was once a serious issue on them. Too many people used up the firewood, stomped the vegetation, caused erosion, pooped everywhere and generally made a mess of what was still viable wildlife habitat. Sound familiar? All of that has changed now. The islands certainly aren’t any worse off. One need only look at Sand Island on the Great Sacandaga Lake to fund a stark contrast. It too is Forest Preserve, but unlike Lake George it is a free-for-all. And most days this summer it resembled something in between a reeking trash heap and human litter box. It breaks my heart to say we need permits or parking reservations to keep people from ruining this amazing park. But it is necessary on some days and in some places. I may never return to the High Peaks and I certainly won’t go back to Sand Island, because my presence in both places was part of the problem. This is a big, amazing park with much more to see than 46 mountain tops. I’ll try one of the other 20 wilderness areas and do my best to live the “leave no trace” ethics. For now, they are not in the same danger of being loved to death, and you and I will be in no danger of needing a permit.

    • Beth G says:

      The Lake George Islands are a poor example of how things should be done. The sites are compacted and eroding, people are still leaving human waste around, outhouses are too close to the water, and clevis toilets are not properly maintained. Staff cut up most down trees to be burned. I’ve seen riparian buffers removed and leaves blown into the lake. Campers cut trees, use soap in the lake, dig holes, pound nails, leave trash, etc with little to no repercussions. Enforcement staff is continually reduced and the piles of money taken in go to the big pot in Albany, not to help with any of these issues. Reserve America is terrible and takes in 9 bucks per reservation. Permits in the high peaks are not the answer. Limit parking and increase enforcement.

  4. John Sheehan says:

    Also, apologies to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, whose official name is a typo-ridden mess in my second paragraph.

  5. Zephyr says:

    Be careful what you wish for! Permits and fees will keep people away, which is the entire point, meaning they won’t be eating at restaurants, staying in B&Bs or hotels, purchasing gear, purchasing groceries, getting gas, etc. In addition, I suspect the people you prevent from enjoying the Adirondacks will drop any support for organizations and publications that push for permits.

    • Boreas says:


      You continue to repeat multiple canned opinions why permits are a bad idea. We hear you. Why not use your energy and try something more constructive – tell us your well-reasoned alternatives that will protect the HPW and still allow access. Is maintaining the status quo your solution? If so, it isn’t a good plan for the future.

      DEC and the Cuomo administration are being pressured to do something – and fast! What is your suggestion? What is your long-term plan? A few of us have suggested long-term changes in the management of the HPW, but numerous interim tools may need to be implemented to achieve those proposed long-term solutions. Any change to the status quo is going to require compromise. If we cannot compromise, the resource will continue to suffer.

      • Zephyr says:

        I have repeated my suggestions for solutions many times on these various threads: harden and maintain trails, enforce existing parking limits and regulations, increase the Ranger corps, continue to improve education and outreach. And, as I have written many times, I believe the problems are hugely overblown. The trails and peaks are in far better shape than they were in the ’60s and ’70s, damage is limited to narrow corridors through the wilderness along only a few popular trails, and the average hiker today is far more respectful and careful with the resource. The main reason there are more rescues today is that everyone carries a cellphone. In the past the same things happened to people, but they had to extricate themselves.

        • Mike says:

          I agree with all your suggestions. To help address hiker unpreparedness (for lack of a better term) I’d add that perhaps there could be a program created where hikers in the high peaks must complete some kind of preparedness course where they are exposed to the Principles of LNT (and other things such as how to responsibly go to the bathroom in the woods). Perhaps this could be an online course hikers take for a small fee – fees could then be used to help with trail maintenance, parking, and staffing issues the high peaks face.

  6. Smitty says:

    Bravo. And making lean tos and more popular campsites reservable would be an improvement to overused sites as well as generate additional revenue to support rangers and maintenance. I too hate Reserve America but at least it works. It would be so nice to be able to plan a backpack or canoe trip without having to worry whether a site is available or having to arrive too early. It would also dissuade some parties from monopolizing good campsites for long stretches of time.

  7. Interesting and thought provoking article / survey! As a member of NYSOGA (New York State Outdoor Guides Association), I take a personal interest in these proposals as they could affect the ability of DEC licensed outdoor guides to conduct business. I would like to point out that NYSOGA encourages responsible use of the wilderness areas including best practices such as Leave No Trace. Guides are also often able to share their intimate knowledge of particular areas, including areas less known or popular with crowds. In any system limiting access such as permits, special consideration should be given to licensed guides who are able to teach proper respect for our natural resources.

  8. Mike B says:

    Sounds like regulation based off of fear answers during a pandemic.
    Of course people are going to poll that trails are busy right now. Goverment and people who think they own nature regulate people for the next 50 years based off of 700 peoples casual answer to a college poll.
    More and more of our freedoms stolen away because of panic and fear.
    We learned nothing from 9/11.
    Cant even walk in the woods without goverment permission? This country has gone to to dogs.

  9. Brian says:

    It’s easy to support “restrictions” in theory but the devil is in the details.

  10. Paul says:

    It seems like they have barely tried to see if real enforcement might work with what they already have. This weekend I finally saw the state police ticketing cars parked illegally for Ampersand and Middle Saranac. I don’t think limits are a bad idea it just seems like there are mechanisms already in place. When you have an overuse problem the solution is not to make the parking lot bigger! And people claim in these polls they want limits but the people using the resource do not act like it when they are the 60th car parked in the line of illegally parked cars.

    • Zephyr says:

      We can’t enforce the existing parking and hiking rules because it is too hard, but some think it will be easy to enforce a completely new set of parking and hiking rules.

  11. Aaron says:

    That poll question is ridiculously misleading, making it seem like those of us opposed to permits somehow don’t value the resource as much as the heroic folks of the Adirondack Council. No one is talking about “not limiting use”; the argument made by those of us who LIVE here and depend on visitor revenue to keep roofs over our heads and put food on our tables is that current capacity must be scaled to better match rising demand. This means more parking, more rangers, trail improvement, better infrastructure which can then be leveraged to JUSTIFY some sort of fee-based system. Not unlimited growth, but data-driven, fact-based investment in areas where it’s needed. Grafting a permit system onto what currently exists is a recipe for disaster. It adds strain to local communities, it establishes a hostile relationship between locals and visitors, and it’s just plain bad for local businesses.

  12. Steven Palmer says:

    We definitely need to reduce numbers in certain areas of the park, namely the high peaks to preserve the nature of the park. But requiring reservations in advance or designating camping destroys the freedom of enjoying the trails based upon the weather or your personal stamina, being able to adjust on the fly keeps the trails healthier by avoiding soggy areas and hikers safer IF they observe the weather.
    I believe we would be better to stop promoting the 46 and construct more options in other areas. The high peaks offers a myriad of options for loops or through hikes that can accommodate short or long distance backpackers. Hurricane, Lyon Mountain, and Jay Mountain are three fine examples of where we could expand the trail network to accommodate more options and encourage outdoors people to see the allure or Adirondacks ad a whole and not a checklist for peak bragging.

  13. Charlie S says:

    “peak bragging”

    I like that Steven. Ego…..another element to this issue.

  14. Steven Palmer says:

    Seems every time i talk to a fellow adk hiker their first question is always “are you a 46er?” As if its the test if you are a REAL adk’er. Twenty uears in and I’m still not a 46er, too many other awesome places to see. So many places that are under used where i can experience nature and not lines.

  15. roger dziengeleski says:

    Polls are notoriously inaccurate. How the questions are worded or what issues are not included allow any pollster to get the results desired. Did this poll suggest alternatives to restricting use as a solution to trail degradation. Publish the actual poll questions please so we can judge the validity of the poll, not just the results.

    • Zephyr says:

      Here you go: “Q37. On another issue, New York´s Adirondack Park High Peaks motor-free wilderness area. Some say that the state should prioritize accommodating the high demand for hiking in that area by building bigger parking lots and wider trails and not limiting use. Others say the state should prioritize the preservation of the area and limit the total number of hikers allowed on any particular day. Which option do you support for the Adirondack Wilderness area: Accommodating high demand, Prioritizing preservation by limiting access, Don’t know/No opinion.

      • Hear the Footsteps says:

        Curious about your quote in particular:

        “Q37. On another issue….”

        Did this survey have an Theme? If yes, what was it.

        • Zephyr says:

          It was one question on a large survey of NY voters on lots of different issues. I haven’t been able to find a link to the entire survey anywhere–there just seem to be various articles and press releases from different organizations on the particular questions they are concerned with. John Sheehan provides the link to the full Adirondack question below.

    • John Sheehan says:

      Roger, It is in the essay above following the words “The Question:” I guess you didn’t read the essay before commenting.

      • John, I read the article but couldn’t believe it was based upon only one question. My point remains the same, print the entire survey and let the readers determine if the poll provided a reasonable analysis of a broad range of options, not just the two extremes. I remain skeptical about any poll results as it is unlikely the poll measured more than a public response (a very small sampling of the public to boot) to sound bites. Policy should not be based upon polls which historically very inaccurate.

        • John Sheehan says:

          Anyone who can read can see that you didn’t know the question was in the article. Now you don’t seem to understand statistical sampling, and are impugning the reputation of a fine research institute to make yourself feel better. please …

          • John, while I enjoy your crystal ball readings, can you please answer the question: Where are the rest of the survey poll questions? If the results are based upon only the one question (which lists two extreme and no middle ground) you really could have saved the money as the results are predictable given the sample demographic is skewed to NYC and Democratic voters. It is pretty clear the results of this poll (and the interpretations above “the question”) mirror the positions of the Adirondack Council. An interesting coincidence for an independent study. By the way I thought this forum was for debate amongst differing opinions, not for personal attacks based upon insinuation, assumption and insult.


            • Zephyr says:

              General comment: When a press release or news story references a poll please provide a link to the full poll results, including the crosstabs. This Adirondack question from the Siena poll of New York voters was just one among many questions unrelated to the Adirondacks in many cases.

            • John Sheehan says:

              We asked one question and reported the answer. Surveys conducted by reputable research institutions are expensive. We believe the question was fair. Interpret the answers as you wish. They are in the cross-tabs link below. The results are very consistent with past surveys and other polls regarding support for the protection of wilderness.

    • Carl Heilman says:

      I’m pretty sure this is the same poll I did online last year and felt the poll questions were rather biased toward a desired result – basically – do you prefer environmental regulation OR would you rather have free use by hikers? The only way to offer an opinion in the middle was to leave a comment which was most likely not be tallied in the overall survey. I ask lots of people when I’m out whether they favor permits over improved access and funding for rangers. etc. and 9 out of 10 do NOT want permits. I greatly respect and appreciate the folks involved for all the work they do to help and protect the Adirondack backcountry, but I do feel there are better ways to handle this than a parking or hiking permit system.

  16. Thank You but a single question? This is like asking if you prefer pizza or tofu? Nothing in between. 2/3rs might answer pizza. The question doesn’t ask if you prefer trails to be built to engineering standards to assure use does not damage wilderness? You would get completely different responses.

    • Zephyr says:

      Or, use and damage could be limited by enforcing existing parking and hiking regulations. Just for example, on busy weekends there are numerous cars illegally parked outside the Adirondack Loj on the road. ADK is already limiting the number of cars allowed to park in their lot legally, but they have no control over parking on the public road. Route 73 parking is similar. But, the argument goes that it is impossible to come up with the resources to enforce these parking regulations, so instead we need to create new regulations!

      • Steve B. says:

        If we only deal with it as a parking problem, issue tickets, limit the numbers of vehicles, etc… we can envision a scenario where people are arriving at absurdly early hours to obtain a legal parking spot. That means they might arrive at night and sleep in their vehicles or on the ground adjacent, which is occurring now, so now we have illegal camping, human waste issues, etc…. Do we then have paid parking lots that don’t open till 5AM ?, with an attending traffic jam to get into the parking lots ?. Etcetera…. Limiting the parking alone may cause cascading issues. Then you need to actually limit the people who are going to show up to try to park. Shuttle buses are a partial solution, but you still need to deal with the overwhelming numbers wanting to hike, so trail hardening is needed and as that’s a huge expense and time consuming. The State of NY will certainly take the easy way out and institute a hiking permit system.

        • John Sheehan says:

          They are doing all of that at trailheads now. The rangers have to disperse them after nightfall and are having trouble recommending places for them to go. A person with a parking reservation wouldn’t have to show up 12 hours early or worry that there would be no spot. Spots would be numbered and most would be used for reservations. A few could be set aside for first-come/first served to accommodate quick trips and people who don’t know about the system. Shuttle buses are fine. But they, too, are a form of capacity control, just like parking permits. The shuttle driver will work for the town or state and will have a quota for how many people to bring to each location. Just like most national parks now. Only this would be only in the busiest places. We might not need it in the winter — yet.

          • Steve B. says:

            Not much difference between a parking permit and a hiking permit. Maybe you get a parking permit, for a defined space and time period as well as the hiking permit. Can’t get the hiking permit till you complete the online course that tells you how to behave, where you can camp, what gear to take, etc… (if you are entering particular hiking areas, HPW as example). You get a code to enter if you’ve taken the online course prior, this way you don’t need it again. Both allow the state to figure out where resources are needed to improve the user experience, as well as real numbers as to users.

  17. Also valid points. Thanks,