Last Monday after this newsletter went out, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Ausable Club announced a new pilot reservation system at the Adirondack Mountain Reserve. The reserve, for those who may not know, is a gateway to nearly a dozen High Peaks and some very popular hikes like Indian Head and Rainbow Falls. It is also private property, accessible to the public through a foot traffic easement. The original press release left many questions, including whether or not this reservation system included a fee, or if it was free. The answer–it’s free to make a reservation.
It was also confusing because the state has called it a pilot parking reservation system, but it’s not. It is a full-on reservation system. You cannot be dropped off and walk in without a reservation. You cannot bike to the AMR and walk in without a reservation. The only way you are allowed to be on the AMR property without this permit is if you have a Greyhound or Trailways bus ticket from within 24 hours of your arrival to Keene Valley.
This news went absolutely bonkers on social media. Most people are not happy about this pilot permit system. I had someone email me asking if anyone was suing the state and the Ausable Club over this. I’ve seen comments that people want the state to take the AMR by eminent domain.
I’ve seen some comments say, too, that this is a great idea because the AMR has been so crowded and difficult to park at that this could make hiking there much easier.
Here are a few things I wanted to bring up. One, the state and the Ausable Club decreased their parking spots at the AMR lot to 27 from around 70 this past summer, citing safety precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Having hiked there last summer, I saw no effort to space cars any different distance, so I’m not sure how this may have remediated any virus concerns. But now this summer, all 70 parking spots will be available. However, when you make a reservation, it is at a specific time, so there will likely never be a time when all 70 spots are filled. But, going from 27 spots to 70 will likely help some of the traffic concerns on Route 73.
The second thing that stuck out to me was how there are up to six people allowed per one reservation. The state and the Ausable Club are allowing 70 reservations, which means that could accommodate up to 420 people per day. To break that down, the Ausable Club said it saw nine days in 2019 with trailhead numbers over 420 and 11 days in 2020 that saw numbers of over 420. But then you have to consider these time slots. If you book an afternoon hiking time slot, unless you have a place to legally camp outside of the AMR property, chances are you’re not going to have enough time to hike something like Gothics, for example. Another consideration is, how many people will actually book a reservation for six people? Usually I go hiking with Dave, so that’s just two of us. If you have generally two people for each reservation, that means 140 people are on the reserve. The AMR said on average during the regular hiking season, they saw 134 people on Fridays, 296 people on Saturdays and 167 people on Sundays. If people aren’t using the maximum number per reservation and everyone wants to arrive early in the morning to do longer hikes, we’re likely going to see more of an access impact.
Then this idea that a bus ticket will allow you in without a pass is another conundrum. The closest bus stop is the Noonmark Diner, nearly three miles away from the AMR on Route 73 and about one and a half miles from the Garden parking lot. How are people supposed to get there? Today, the DEC and AMR responded and said, “Bus riders have always and will (continue to) need to coordinate transportation from the bus stop to AMR or walk.” It is interesting to note the “or walk” response, when that would, I believe, be on Route 73, which is the reason they are justifying the permit system in the first place–to keep people safe on that road.
Another thing I wanted to mention is how the AMR is in fact private property, which can get lost when the public has access via easements. People have expressed anger that Ausable Club members don’t need a reservation, too, but they do own this reserve. The easements signed with the state do give them leeway to close trails and limit the public if they feel natural resources or public safety are at risk. And while this reservation is new in some ways, there is already paid parking limits happening at the Garden parking lot and the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Loj parking lot.
I talked about some of this with David Lombardo, host of the Capitol Pressroom. After that interview, we followed up with a story that answers some more questions here. We don’t have all the answers yet, and I expect some of this will have to shake out as the reservation system gets going. After all, it is a pilot, so I’m sure we’ll see adjustments in the future. A reminder that you will be able to book reservations starting April 15 on hikeamr.org. Reservations will be required from May 1 to Oct. 31.
Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your experience using the online reservation system once it is in play, your experience hiking on the AMR and any other thoughts you might have.
Editor’s note: This first appeared in Gwen’s weekly “Adirondack Report” newsletter. Click here to sign up.