Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The buzz around AMR hiker permits

AMR lotLast 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 [email protected] 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.

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Gwen is the environmental policy reporter for Adirondack Explorer.




50 Responses

  1. Eric says:

    We can’t even get answers to simple questions like
    If we need to go buy a printer or if a receipt on our phone is good enough. Been getting messaged by DEC that they are checking or confirming with someone else but still no answer to the simplest of questions.

  2. Tim says:

    Saying the trails are overused when you are maxing out at 400 people on a “busy” day is nonsensical.
    There are nine high peaks, Indian head, two major waterfalls, fish-hawk cliffs all accessed from there. There is enough trail mileage in there to easily accommodate 1,000 hikers a day. And almost no one going in from there is overnight camping. It’s a day-hiking area. Add 250 parking spots and if they fill up every day then MAYBE we can START to have a conversation about overuse.

  3. Allen says:

    In every public forum where I’ve seen permits discussed there were always reassurances that some spots would be held and made available as same-day first come served spots for the people who have the kind of jobs where you don’t know your day off until a couple days beforehand. So you can’t plan ahead. Where did that part go?

  4. Ryan says:

    I am in favor of permits generally but I can’t understand the time slot thing at all. Why can’t it be as simple as you show up when you want and leave the permit on your dashboard?

  5. Bill says:

    I was at a tent site in the Pemiwigasset Wilderness (one of the most heavily regulated and protected area of the Whites) last fall and the steward said there were 120 people camped there that night. At ONE TENT SITE (Guyot). People in the Adirondacks have no idea what overcrowded even means. 420 people spread out over 50+ miles of trails and nine mountains is nothing.

  6. Zephyr says:

    Just one tiny example of how idiotic this permit system is. Reservations open April 15 but you can’t make reservations more than 2 weeks in advance, which would be for April 29. Yet, you don’t need a reservation until May 1. So, in reality the first day for reservations should be April 17 for a May 1 hike. Then on the other end you need to make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance so even if the parking lot is mostly empty you can’t go for a hike unless you’ve made a reservation. The vast majority of hikers will be completely unaware of these new rules and will just show up only to be disappointed and sent off to another trailhead. The worst summer job in the world will be the parking lot attendant there.

    • Ed says:

      Maybe you need to reserve the right to make a reservation 2 days in advance.

    • Eric says:

      Gonna have to be law-enforcement manning the lot. Probably more than one. This scheme is going to cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in police or Ranger salaries just to satisfy some spoiled rich people. And guess who’s going to be paying for it (not the spoiled rich people).

  7. Duke says:

    Why not make AMR cover the cost to manage this? I don’t see this turning out well.

  8. Zephyr says:

    By the way, there are only 70 reservations available. Sure, each reservation can take up to 6 people, but a single bus rider, a single drop off, or a single bike rider also takes up one reservation. A car with two people takes up one reservation. I would be surprised if the max number of hikers per day is more than 140 people getting in there. Ludicrous.

    • John says:

      Of course. That would mean, if every weekend was fully booked and nobody hiked on weekdays, “only” 14,000 hikers would use the trails. In truth the number would probably be double that, or between 25,000 to 30,000 hikers. That’s not enough?

  9. Michael Burns says:

    I think its laughable DEC isn’t calling this a permit system. The multi-million dollar new shuttle system the State funded won’t be allowed to drop people off, hence it is a limit of overall access or in other words a permit. Call it what you want, but its a permit system, at least be upfront and honest with the public and own it….

    Lastly, the issue is not AMR members having access to a good experience on their own property, that’s fine. The issue is, out of the population that now will be able to hike state land bordering their property, AMR members will be a higher percentage of the general public who have that privilege.

    If the State was about equity, they would do an all encompassing access permit which AMR members would have to get to access state land bordering their property. If they want to stick to indian head thats fine, but make them go through the same system we are now subject too for the easiest access to certain peaks.

  10. William says:

    The large tract landowners in the Adirondack Park, like the people commenting here, also have a voice. It is after all, their land we’re talking about. Easy to call them spoiled or other derogatory terms no matter how good of a steward they are or the long term vision they have for the property. Kind of sad. As for paying….try to remember that the top 10% in this country pay 70% of the tax burden….In some parts of NY the total tax burden approaches 50% of their income. Maybe if we legislate away more of their money until they are no longer spoiled then we can tell them what to do with their land.

    • Matt says:

      Then let’s do access permits for DNCB. Or is that the wrong type of equity….

    • Eric says:

      Dude their property tax records have been posted all over the internet this week. They have been getting huge tax discounts for the easement. They are paying less in property taxes every year than some of your friends on Long Island. At the very least id this permit system goes into effect their tax breaks should be revoked.

      • Boreas says:

        Eric,

        Wouldn’t you want compensation if the public were using your property? I certainly would! And I would want some say in the management of my own property.

        AMR didn’t “donate” their land and easements to the state out of altruism. They negotiated a sale. They had a valuable asset that the state wanted badly. They sold much of their property in the peaks themselves over a certain elevation (I forget what elevation that was). AMR retained the lower elevations for themselves. Nothing selfish about that. The lower elevations have camps, lean-tos, a boathouse, and trails exclusively for their members. Many of these “improvements” are deep in their property and close to the public easements. They want to protect those improvements and the opportunities and experience of their members. Nothing selfish about that.

        The tax breaks and other parts of the easements were hammered out decades ago and there were few complaints by the public – if any! The public was able to have access to the remote State land and AMR received compensation for that. Everyone won!

        Jump ahead 30+ years and the numbers of hikers utilizing the AMR property (and the HPW in general) to access the backcountry has increased by an order of magnitude! The situation has changed, fueled primarily by the State’s overall lack of proper planning and management of the HPW. Keep the local governments happy, keep the hikers happy, keep the tourism dollars flowing, FORGET the resource. DEC took their eye off of the ball. Understandable, but not without consequence.

        Perhaps it is past time for NYS and AMR need to re-negotiate the easements. Hikers may not be happy with the results. I feel we owe it to AMR to cut them a break for a year and see what the reservation system helps and what it hinders – THEN pass judgement. We need to ask ourselves, “What would I do if it were MY property?”.

        • Boreas says:

          I would also add that criticism of the nuts and bolts of the reservation system are warranted and necessary to evaluate the system, but I feel the nasty pot-shots aimed at AMR and their members are setting the stage for equally nasty results.

        • Eric says:

          I actually agree with most of what you say. But I don’t see an increase in hiker traffic to 420 (gasp) on the busiest of days as something necessitating a material change in circumstances or the agreement. There’s plenty of room back there for those numbers and even larger numbers. If the NPS had taken over back in the 60s there would be parking for 300 cars there today. A 70 car lot to access nine high peaks and other areas of interest is a joke.

          • Boreas says:

            Eric,

            I am not sure where you are getting your numbers, but the article above said 2020 saw 11 days over 420. Does that mean 425, or does it mean 800? Their main concern is the general increase in usage over the years, not just what they have seen lately. It isn’t for the users to decide how many people are too many on their property.

            • Eric says:

              Well it isn’t for them to decide unilaterally how many is too many either. Especially since,
              as others have pointed out, almost none of them are camping. Just because there are more people hiking now than in 1978 (shocker) doesn’t mean that there is an emergency that needs addressed that is so beyond the pale that we need to institute a permit system.

              • Boreas says:

                This is being done WITH the DEC for a reason. It is certainly not unilateral. They are trying to work out a solution to what both parties recognize as a problem.

                • Eric says:

                  We all saw how this played out. It was a hoodwink job by AMR and Adirondack Council:
                  Step 1: try to unilaterally limit access. Get told no by the state.
                  Step 2: cut your parking to a third of what it was, forcing people to park illegally on the street.
                  Step 3: interview people who showed up 3 hours after the now smaller lot was full and then tell the state “everyone wants permits!”
                  Step 4: point out how dangerous it is for people to be parking on the street
                  Step 5: DEC agrees to limit access!

                  • Michael Burns says:

                    I’d imagine that the shuttle idea really scared AMR too, they had to get in front of drop offs from that. If it were mainly for safety they would still have no problem with drops offs.

                    The Council does a lot of good work, but they are biased with having an AMR leader and put fake solutions in front what the science says. Which is why its blowing up their point to spread use out, which turns out to be worse for an area….

  11. Evan C says:

    The time slot thing is completely perplexing. Many of the hikes in there are 12-14 mile loops. Who the heck wants to start a 14 mile hike at 10am? Or later?

  12. Zephyr says:

    There’s barely a mention of any environmental concerns in the information on the AMR reservation site. “Public safety” seems to be the main concern they have. Here’s the lead paragraph: “DEC and the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) launched a no-cost pilot reservation system to address public safety at a heavily traveled stretch on Route 73 in the town of Keene in the Adirondack High Peaks.” Here’s a summary of why they are doing the permit system: “The pilot reservation system complements the comprehensive state and local efforts underway to reduce dangerous and illegal parking in the vicinity of AMR, including variable electronic message boards and signage, outreach and education, and increased law enforcement presence and parking enforcement.”

    • Bill says:

      The fact that they aren’t allowing drop-offs but are saying it’s ok for people to walk 2 miles on Rt 73 from a bus stop tells you it has nothing to do with public safety. They can’t make any environmental argument because this isn’t a place people do a lot of camping. So they have to say it’s for safety. Because they can’t tell you the real reason (AMR people butt hurt over people walking their road).

      • BillD says:

        I believe the road, Ausable Road, is a town road.

        • Bill says:

          Not sure about the road going past the golf course. The Lake Rd is definitely not a town road. Doesn’t change my argument though. They enjoy significant financial benefit from the easement. So either way.

  13. Glenn says:

    I think what AMR is doing is great and long overdue. The area is being overrun and abused and disrespected. I hope the rest of the high peaks region will take similar steps.

  14. Raymond Fortman says:

    Back in the ’70s we used to take the bus and walk to whatever our jumping off point was for that trip, be it the Garden, the AMR or the trailheads on the east side of the road. Depending on the driver, sometimes he’d drop you off anywhere along the highway that he could pull over. We managed a thru hike from New Russia to KV this way. $10.50 round trip fare from Albany on Adirondack Trailways.

    • Zephyr says:

      I did the same back in the ’70s! However, today the buses won’t stop at the trailheads. I suspect some people will buy the bus ticket just to use it to get the permit at the AMR trailhead, but not many. We have to remember that here we are the tiny informed minority of hikers. The vast majority will have no idea this permit system exists until they show up and get turned away in disappointment, confusion, and anger.

      • Roger says:

        100% this. Google Maps doesn’t even show the AMR lot as AMR hiker lot, it is listed as “Indian Head Trailhead”. People are gonna be like “Oh we don’t need a permit for AMR we’re hiking from the Indian Head trailhead”’.

        • Tony Goodwin says:

          Roger, you are probably right about people who use Google Maps will not think they need a permit. Overall, Google Maps is horrible with their directions to backcountry locations. I did some work and finally managed to cause Google to note that the Lake Road was “partially restricted” when earlier the directions for Indian Head and other peaks in the area indicated that one could drive to the Lower Lake. Why Google Maps couldn’t be more specific and say “foot travel only” I don’t know. Elsewhere in Keene Valley, Google Maps sends hikers up private roads to access Porter, and sends them up a jeep road that was abandoned 50 years ago to climb Big Slide.

          • Zephyr says:

            That ship has sailed. Virtually everyone uses Google Maps to navigate to every place and they will not even think to consult other sources of information. I’ve traveled with a friend who refused to follow my directions to a place he was taking me. He wouldn’t start the car until he had the destination programmed into Google Maps which at one point wanted him to turn left through a cement barrier. It is also very difficult to get them to update incorrect information. I’ve managed to do it a few times, but it really isn’t worth reporting it over and over again.

          • wbb says:

            Google had Tupper Lake School’s pin located on the top of Mt Arab for a long time. That cause a bit of confusion.

  15. M.P Heller says:

    I’ve said it before and I will say it again. If Janeway, AuSable Club, AMR, et. al. wish to restrict public access, then they must be disabused of the notion that they can continue to enjoy the same degree of property tax abatement. It’s actually very simple. You give something, you get something. You stop giving, you stop getting.

    Its a really bad look and will undermine public trust in the conservation easement process. Evidently though, the optics aren’t something that is important here.

    • Zephyr says:

      They apparently have special rules in place to keep the locals who use the trails happy. From the website: “PLEASE NOTE: Residents of Keene and Keene Valley will retain the same local privileges as in years past. Please contact AMR directly for more information.”

      • M.P Heller says:

        I hear ya Zeph. At the end of the day, I honestly don’t care. I can get in there any time I want. I simply take deep umbrage with the mode and method. There are just too many issues with this new policy idea that don’t comport with what I think are the legal modalities of the easement.

        What if I feel like parking at AMR and hiking from the Wardens Camp to Snowbird and spending the night. Or going over to Slant Rock and taking 2 nights? Or spotting a car and hiking to or from Elk Lake? What about Lunch at Beaver Meadow then camping at PG?

        These are just a few reasonable examples I can think of where the policy doesn’t appropriately address the pre existing deed constraints and therefore is an arbitrary and capricious alteration of the conditions which is impermissible.

        When you add to this that other, likely more reasonable restrictions could have been implemented, (DECs old chestnut about lot size) and the fact that there are NFPs and Town governments selling parking spaces in similar paradigms nearby, (Yes ADK, and Town of Keene, I’m pointing at you speciffically here.) it makes the actions of AMR and DEC in this instance even more egregious.

  16. Bob B says:

    Getting lost in all of this is that there weren’t actually any new administrative regulations or legislative changes made to implement this. This was a back room deal announced through a press release. The upshot of this is that there is no way to enforce it. There has been no change to the easement (which would require a public comment period). So, if you walk in, the ranger or trooper or whomever can try to redirect you or ask you to leave, but at the end of the day you can just walk right past them while giving them the finger. There is nothing they can actually do. As long as you stay on the road/designated trails you aren’t trespassing. You’re a citizen enjoying a foot traffic easement that your state has been paying for for decades.

  17. M.P Heller says:

    This is the type of civil disobedience that I can get behind.

  18. K. Gluck says:

    What baffles me is that access to the lot ends, I believe, at 7pm. What I have come to understand is that I have to leave the parking lot by that time if I am hiking. It seems that LEAVING should not be an issue – that gets folks out of the trails. At least if going in had time limits, with the freedom to exit at any time (or least by midnight of the day one is registered) that would open up hike destinations for those that aren’t speedsters.

    • Eric says:

      Hiking with a deadline sucks. Ruins the whole hike. It’s worse than rain and cold for ruining a day. That’s why everyone hates the Marcy Field shuttle, it creates a deadline to get back to the Garden. I saw somewhere though that they’ll be some leeway to get back to your car, like 10pm or something.
      The part of this I really can’t wrap my head around though is the time-slot thing. I’ve not yet seen any rationale explanation for it, here or in any other forum. It’s stupid and irresponsible. If someone wants to hike four peaks they’re going to hike four peaks, whether they get a 5am slot or a 1pm slot. Just gonna force more people to be night hiking by cell phone. Why not let everyone show up at 5am if they want? That lot fills up in 20 minutes between 4:10 and 4:30am every weekend now and there aren’t cars smashing into each other. Who cares when people start their hike?

      • K. Gluck says:

        yeah, i agree. frankly, i try and avoid weekend days primarily because i try and avoid reaching a full parking lot having to execute plan B. seems like if the max # of hikers is 420 and they all want to start early, why not?

  19. RuttRuff says:

    Lot of passionate comments here. Most one way, some the other. Can we all get together and agree at least that the “time slot” thing is highly questionable and we don’t understand it. Whether an experienced hiker is doing a 20 mile loop of the lower great range or an out of shape noob is doing just Indian Head, that is still an all-day endeavor for both parties and the vast majority of people are going to want to start pretty early. This isn’t like visiting the Flume near Whiteface where you just go in and poke around for an hour. Is this something Gwen can follow up on? If nothing else let’s at least try to get rid of the time-slot thing.

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