Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Hikers Seek Solitude and Wildness in the High Peaks, Survey Reveals

Temporary Parking Closures, Parking Permits, Shuttles & Trail Closures Acceptable to Users

Two leading conservation organizations, The Adirondack Council, The Adirondack Mountain Club, and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) released the preliminary results of a two month hiker survey for the High Peaks Wilderness Area, showing most hikers preferred solitude and wildness, and would welcome limits on visitation in order to prevent damage to the “forever wild” forest preserve.

The survey, “Recreational User Experience and Perspectives: Adirondack Park” is undergoing its initial analysis, but the institutions involved look forward to releasing the final results in a few months.

Wilderness Experience Expected 

673 Adirondack hikers were surveyed in the High Peaks region, 79% of which said they came to enjoy the solitude of the wilderness. 7% of hikers had no expectations of the sort, while 13% remained neutral. Over 90% had heard of “Leave No Trace” but were not pressed to prove their knowledge.

Over 50% of those surveyed supported visitor management tools such as closing parking lots, requiring parking permits, shuttle buses to transport hikers from off site parking areas, limited trail-access permits, and temporary trail closures for over-crowding. Temporary trail closures were the most popular option when it came to visitor control with 79% of respondents opting for it. Shuttles were a close second at 72%, while limited trail-access permits, parking lot temporary closures, and parking permits were rated at 59%, 57%, and 50% respectively.

Planned Ahead, But Many Couldn’t Park at Destination 

About half of the respondents were able to legally park at the trailhead which they planned, while 210 had to use the shoulder of the road near a trailhead. 90 people were shut out entirely and 13 had not planned where to park.  Over 60% of hikers had been planning their trip a week to a month ahead of time, and 13% said they had been planning for even longer.  4% said they lived elsewhere and came without a plan while 2% did the same, except that they lived nearby.

Other interesting preliminary findings from the survey:

  • Nearly 80% of respondents said COVID-19 had not influenced their decision to visit the Adirondack Forest Preserve, they would have visited regardless
  • The largest concentrations of respondents hailed from the New York metro area and Capital District, followed by Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester. Philadelphia and Boston were two of the largest non-New York clusters, while some came from as far away as Colorado, Texas, Utah and California, as well as Washington, DC, Florida and Puerto Rico.
  • More than half of respondents were hiking alone or in a pair (107; 319), while about 7 respondents said they were part of a group of 9 to 12 hikers (day-use limit is 15).
  • Most respondents were between 25 and 44 years old (315), with the second-largest group between 45 and 64 (186).
  • About 92% of survey respondents self-identified as white; of the non-white respondents, 15% were Hispanic/Latinx; 3% said they were black/African-American; 1% African; 2% Asian; 2% Native American; and 8% said they were “other.”
  • Most respondents were here for the second time or more (318); while 237 said they had heard about it from a friend or family member; and 184 relied on the All Trails smartphone application; about 120 found it in a guidebook and 112 relied on materials/websites provided by the NYS DEC.

“The initial analysis of this summer’s survey data is still being reviewed and analyzed,” said the Adirondack Council’s Deputy Director Rocci Aguirre. There were some open-ended questions where they are several possible combinations for the answers.  Those results are still being compiled by Dr. Jill Weiss and her team at SUNY ESF who have been spearheading the data analysis on this project, he said.

Adirondack Explorer photo by Mike Lynch

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33 Responses

  1. Zephyr says:

    I’m always curious as to how the survey is conducted, and I found this information on their website: “Between Aug. 5 and Oct. 11, 673 recreational users completed a survey asking about their experience with the High Peaks area of the Adirondack Park and their perspectives on management practices that address user capacity. Data was collected at 10 popular trailheads by Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club staffs.” “We are squarely asking recreational users about capacity management tools in these high use areas. Often only the loudest get heard, so it will be great to have empirical data to consider alongside public comment,” said Weiss. https://www.esf.edu/communications/view2.asp?newsID=8805

  2. Eric says:

    I’d like to see the hours with when this survey was coonducted. If it was between 8am and noon they didn’t interview any hikers. They interviewed tourists. Hikers would have been on their first summit for sunrise and making their way to their next by 8am. If they did the interviews between 4am and 6am they’d have received the exact opposite results.

    • Pete says:

      I’m a hiker. Just not an aggressive / competitive hiker. Lived in or near the Adirondacks since 1971. Hiked many high peaks, never kept track. Did not want to become like my 46’er friends driving up and hiking in the rain because they “needed” to bag a peak. I have never been “on my first summit for sunrise and on my way to the next by 8am.” Never felt the need to bag multiple peaks in a day by driving between them.

  3. Tom says:

    At this point I just assume that anything The Adirondack Council has their hand in is biased and untrustworthy. We all know what their agenda is and they plan their “research” accordingly. They don’t give a hoot about the visitor experience. Give it a rest.

    • Greg says:

      Agreed too many people have read “How to Lie with Statistics” (Darrell Huff). You can make a study say anything you want with the appropriate bias. At least be transparent and post a link to the survey and responses so we can gauge how much weight to put into this – particularly with competing ideas (limits + shuttles) tied — it makes no sense other than to say may people were just agreeable.

      Further, just because people are looking for solitude does not mean that it should be delivered by exclusion of one for another’s gain. “Solitude” means different things to different people. Same for wilderness. Regularly the quantity of people on a summit is reported, but on a given hike, that is only a small percentage of the day — most time spent hiking is well…hiking.

      Rather than exclusion, I’d like to see more leadership (gov’t and groups) focus on how to improve the experience — trail building and improved access so shuttles would only be needed on a handful of weekends with those classic “perfect weather” days. Build the parking lots that were called for in UMPs. Cascade is a step forward. By making it a longer hike, it increases solitude definitionally for the same number of users. Assign one-way trails to Marcy (many trails exist already) for use on weekends in-season would be a no-cost, practically no-exclusion increase in seclusion.

      Let’s pick a few trails to harden aggressively and funnel traffic to them — Marcy, Cascade, etc. Like dealing with trash and pollution, spreading it out works to a point, then it needs to be concentrated and managed. Spreading traffic out is a stop-gap solution at best. It’s time to harden select trails, make sure there is ample parking for them, and push hikers to them.

    • Good Camp Owner says:

      Well said and supported Tom. The Adirondack Council is nothing more than a “keep out” this is “our resource” organization

  4. Boreas says:

    Excellent step in getting at least some data! Kudos!

    Many people will never believe any data that goes against their predetermined notions and beliefs. A lot of that going around. Bad study. Bad sample. Biased groups. Doesn’t really matter in this case – although they are entitled to their beliefs, they won’t be making the decisions. Ideally DEC/APA will be making plans and decisions based on data and not notions, but politics will always hamper the process.

  5. Paul says:

    The hikers who parked illegally at these places were not seeking solitude. They knew they were going to see a large crowd on the trail and on the summit.

  6. Paul says:

    “Temporary trail closures were the most popular option when it came to visitor control with 79% of respondents opting for it. Shuttles were a close second at 72%,”

    This is interesting since one is designed to actually stop hiking (trail closure). The other is designed to increase the number or users on the trail rather than limiting parking at a small trailhead parking lot?

    • Eric says:

      I think temporary trail closures to most people meant during mud season. When people that know best stay off the high trails anyway, even without being forced to. It’s not incompatible with shuttles during other times.

      • Paul says:

        Unfortunately those ‘people’ are few and far between these days. These trailheads are busy during spring mud season too. Lots of people don’t care. Why DEC doesn’t close them instead of just discouraging use is strange. They close lots of roads during mud season?

    • Boreas says:

      I was scratching my bald head about that too. Eric’s suggestion sounds reasonable enough.

      • Eric says:

        I’ve been saying for years that if you want to limit erosion you should just close the trails in May like they do in VT. Not limit hikers year round. Business owners would lose their minds though. Better solution than permits as a hiker.

  7. Todd Eastman says:

    There are plentiful options in the Adirondack Park and within the HPW for wilderness and solitude…

    … funny how they are not found at the popular trailheads…🙄

  8. Zephyr says:

    “Over 50% of those surveyed supported visitor management tools such as closing parking lots, requiring parking permits, shuttle buses to transport hikers from off site parking areas, limited trail-access permits, and temporary trail closures for over-crowding.” People are often supportive of concepts like “visitor management tools” until detailed plans start to discussed, and then popularity plummets among those who don’t like the specific proposal. For example, people who park illegally probably would like more parking, not less, and they wouldn’t be happy if cars started getting towed. The devil will be in the details for any proposed limits.

  9. Zephyr says:

    92% white hikers–so much for diversity! Of course, based on the results of the election most rural areas are not very welcoming to non-white people, including the Adirondacks.

    • A resident adk'er says:

      All by design, Zephyr…white folks determined to push back on the “outsiders”; just a read through on some of these article comments in the Almanack, past and present, will tell you that, and in many cases, barely disguising their contempt. And these same peeps will retort with, “now, we are as tolerant here in the adirondacks as any; we just want to be left alone is all.” Then they will continue with their screed of soft bigotry, barely disguised, that gives the lie to their “tolerance”. I know all of this first hand, living here in one of those adirondack communities where intolerance of the “others” is an open agenda. I’m one of those white and privileged dudes who seeks diversity in my community. We just need to keep chipping away and hoping for change. I was greatly encouraged this season to see many families of color ( way more so than in the past) hiking the smaller mountains such as Ampersand. Masked up, we had some nice conversations…they were just really excited to be a part of the adventure of sitting there in the woods, many barely speaking English and acting as “interpreters” for the rest of the family. I was heartened by that…hoping to see it continue. Change is in the air, just takes time….

      • Zephyr says:

        Anecdotally I have also noticed a more diverse hiking crowd in the peripheral areas of the Adirondacks, which are also closer to population centers that are more diverse.

    • Boreas says:

      Without any hiking figures across the US and particularly the NE for comparison, the 92% figure isn’t enough to condemn the Adirondack Park as particularly racist. We can always strive to do better, but I would hardly expect the Park to ever reflect the diversity across the nation. It isn’t the easiest place to live, nor is it a travel destination for everyone.

      • A resident adk'er says:

        Good point, Boreas , but the soft bigotry and exclusivity in our many communities persists. Whatever the activity, we need to be more tolerant, open-minded, respectful…in short, we can do better. Just saying.

  10. Pete says:

    Some woke person always has to bring “diversity” in to a discussion that has nothing to do with race. Please tell me how closing trails, limiting parking, etc. has anything to do with diversity. Answer: it doesn’t.

    • A resident adk'er says:

      Umm, because these are diverse crowds who don’t always feel welcome in our communities as they seek solitude along side those of us who live here. Might make a difference to be a bit more welcoming? Sorry for stepping out of line. It was just a thought that seemed connected to discussion.

    • Eric says:

      Our pathetic parking infrastructure is a remnant from a time when mostly white middle-aged men were hiking. And the limits they are intended to impose is for overnight use. Today there are more women than men on the trails and many more young people of all races. The very least we could do is give them somewhere to park. The vast majority of high peaks users are just day-hikers so the impact to the environment (after mud season) is minimal. Not giving them a place to park or worse – limiting use altogether – because you think there is now too many people is akin to red-lining. And when you say it’s for the environment we just roll our eyes. Especially those of who saw how bad things were in the 80s and 90s and how much better the summits (and trails) are today.

    • Zephyr says:

      The title of the survey is “Recreational User Experience and Perspectives:
      Adirondack Park.” I’m just commenting on one glaring issue that the survey points out, and your response indicates one of the reasons there is a lack of diversity seen in the Dacks. The Adirondacks are not owned by or there for the use of only one demographic, but they are jointly owned by all the people of New York State. There is a large segment of that population that pays for and has just as much right to enjoy it, but does not because of many reasons. I think that is an important issue for the future of the Park.

  11. Pete says:

    What difference would it make if it were mostly middle-aged black men? It would still be “pathetic parking infrastructure” and have nothing to do with race/diversity.

    The argument that the majority of user as are just day hikers so there is minimal impact is not logical. Boots on the trails are boots on the trail whether they stay overnight or not. The biggest problem is trail erosion and trampling of alpine vegetation. This doesn’t have much to do with whether people camp or not.

    • Eric says:

      People aren’t wearing big gnarly hiking boots anymore, they’re wearing trail runners. If people wearing trail runners are eroding the trails then it’s the poorly designed trails that are the problem. Our trails are so bad that one day of rain probably causes more erosion than 10,000 hikers.

    • Aaron says:

      Trail erosion is more the result of antiquated design than preferred footwear. When “trails” are constructed along and in watersheds of course there’s going to be erosion. The focus in the past was always trying to find the quickest way up, using the “as the crow flies” principle, but we’ve known for years that these are often the worst trails to hike on and huge contributors to erosion. Eric proposed a number of very good suggestions above. That’s where this conversation about access to the HPW should really be starting rather than imposing limits.

  12. Todd Eastman says:

    Have any of you folks actually spent time on a trail crew?

    Or worked running programs in the woods?

    Or, been beyond the comfort of a sofa?

    Just simply amazing…

    • Eric says:

      Not sure who specifically you are asking but In 2011 a month or so after Irene I used two weeks of vacation time to help rebuild trails. Spent a few days on the trail from the reservoir up Marble Mt, a day on the Marcy Dam reroute, some other places. I don’t volunteer for trail crew on the regular but I am a search and rescue volunteer. My comment about our trails being terrible is no slight against our volunteer and professional trail crews. The main problem is the DEC being prevented from developing new routes because of environmental groups and one idiotic judge. They tell you that you can’t build new trails and then turn around and tell you that hiking causes erosion. Well, they can’t have it both ways. If you’re worried about trail erosion let us build some properly designed trails.

    • Aaron says:

      Well, my dad and I hiked and canoed hundreds of miles when he was making maps in the Adirondack Maps series. Does that count, or not good enough for your lofty standards?

  13. Zephyr says:

    There are terrible trails everywhere, inside and outside of the High Peaks region. By terrible I mean eroded, poorly drained, poorly designed, etc. As many have pointed out, a lot of High Peaks trails are in far, far better shape than they were 10-20 years ago with a lot less usage back then. I now see waterbars everywhere and most trails are far drier than they used to be. The point is that not everything is doom and gloom. Yes, most people agree there are certain trails that need repair and improvement. One good idea it seems like most can agree on is to prohibit hiking in the High Peaks during mud season. That’s a limit I could get behind.

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