Sunday, September 26, 2021

Funding for Sustainable Adirondack Trails is Needed

sustainable trails

By Charlotte Staats, Adirondack Council

The overuse crisis is no secret in the Adirondack Park. While it has been building for years, the global COVID-19 pandemic sent residents and visitors to the woods in unprecedented numbers, seeking exercise, solace, and connection to nature. The physical and mental health benefits of spending time outdoors have been well documented; and generally speaking, a growing hiking community is a plus for public health, local businesses, and our collective societal wellbeing.

Here’s the drawback – trails in the Adirondacks were not built with a sustainable design in mind, nor to withstand current levels of use. As a result, Adirondack trails are suffering from trail degradation that impacts natural resources, human safety and the wilderness experience. There’s a solution, and it requires state action and dedicated resources.

The vast majority of Adirondack trails were built long before sustainable trail design was a concept. No one could have foreseen the level of use that these foot trails would come to experience, especially on mountains that have well exceeded their usage carrying capacity, such as the popular Cascade Mountain trail. Many trails were originally blazed to get to mountain summits as quickly as possible.

As a result, hiking trails in the Adirondacks often follow the fall-line (go straight up a slope) and natural stream beds or drainages. Trail blazers in the Adirondacks, with few exceptions, did not take into account the fragility of certain soils, or the impacts of water or foot traffic. In the early years the use levels were low enough that the damage to the resource was minimal. Then in the 1970s and since, the use exploded and negative impacts multiplied.

Today, the tread (the walking surface) of many trails exhibits a variety of symptoms associated with poor trail design and use exceeding capacity (overuse). This degradation and tread erosion is marked by gullying, washouts, and exposure of roots and rocks that create uneven walking surfaces or tripping hazards. Gullied trails make it impossible for water to shed from the tread, creating self-perpetuating erosion. For example, after a rain storm or when snow is melting, you can often find water running down the length of a trail, carrying soil along with it.

Not only does this erode trails by creating gullies or washouts, but it can cause sedimentation in water sources and degrade water quality. Other impacts related to poor trail design and lack of maintenance include vegetation loss, soil compaction, muddiness, exposure of tree roots, trail widening and the creation of undesignated trails (side trails created by recreationists, often to avoid part of an existing trail). The drastic increase in use of hiking trails has exacerbated these issues. Not only are these impacts from trail erosion and degradation noticeable and take away from the quality of recreation experiences, but it also negatively impacts natural resources and human safety.

In fall 2020, Adirondack Council staff examined segments of the St. Regis and Ampersand Mountain foot trails for signs of erosion. They found that trails with a slope less than 8% built on suitable soils show little to no signs of erosion with moderate use levels. Scientific literature and trail experts generally believe that an average trail slope should not exceed 10% (and meet other criteria) but the data collected suggests that even on short trail sections in the Adirondacks erosion can start at 8%. More research and work is needed to determine what standard is appropriate where in the Adirondacks. For scale, the maximum allowed grade for a federally funded highway is generally 6%, with some exceptions for mountainous terrain going as steep as 7%.  Staircases in buildings are typically built at a 30% slope.

It is not surprising that as slope increases, the prevalence of moderate to severe erosion increases (see figure below). Most sections of trail that have a slope greater than 8% show signs of erosion. As slope increased, except where the trail tread was hardened, maintained and drained, and use levels stayed on the designed trail (as noted below), so did the signs of erosion (such as gullying, washouts, and exposure of roots and rocks). Stretches that had been fortified with rock staircases and appropriate drainages had reduced signs of erosion.

St. Regis and Ampersand Mountain are only two of many mountains whose trails exceed the 10% slope standard. As this limited assessment suggests, with proper construction and maintenance, a trail at 10% or higher, for sections, can be sustainable. In a GIS analysis from 2019, it was found that 167 miles of trail in the High Peaks Wilderness exceed a slope of 8%. In 2018, a preliminary assessment conducted by the Adirondack Council based on input from multiple in-Park trails professionals found that 130 miles of trails in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks suffer major resource damage from poor trail design, lack of maintenance and overuse. All trails needed more and continuous maintenance.

trail segment conditions

We know about the effects of overuse, erosion, poor trail design, scarce trail maintenance, and the exponentially increasing use on hiking trails and natural resources. Given the results of our initial analysis, Adirondack trails, especially in areas designed for restoration and protection as Wilderness, require substantial research and monitoring to guide future trail construction and maintenance efforts. Adirondack Wilderness specific trail design standards are needed.

The Adirondack Park is a unique national treasure that is enjoyed by millions of people annually. As such, the hiking trails that draw so many to the region deserve and require comprehensive, science-based monitoring and management in order to preserve natural resources, safe access, and the wilderness experience for generations to come.

Although land managers and natural resource planners have a suite of tools in the management and regulatory toolbox to mitigate the impacts of overuse, one strategy that cannot be understated is trail maintenance and the use of sustainable trail construction methods. When a trail is built to sustainable trail standards, the trail itself generally can carry more users, requires less maintenance, less infrastructure, and lasts longer than trails that do not follow these standards.

A sustainably built trail is one whose tread cuts across the slope of a mountain, gaining elevation gradually with slopes that are less than 10%, and whose tread is sloped outward so water sheds off the downward side of the trail, not along the tread. Steeper grades are acceptable for short distances, particularly if they have enough native or installed rock infrastructure (such as rock staircases) to hold soil and reduce erosion.

Before a trail is even built, there are aspects of trail design which lend themselves to being longer lasting. While laying out the trail, the land manager or trail designer must consider the soil and vegetation types and the hydrology of the surrounding area. Different types of soil handle water and hiker traffic differently. The soil particulate size (from fine-grained clay, to sand, to loam and gravel) and ratio of those particulates influence how resistant to displacement soil is.

Additionally, including grade reversals (when a trail alternates between going downhill and uphill) is another essential piece of good trail design. Grade reversals naturally collect and shed water off a trail. As you can imagine, trails that cross different land types require different considerations when laying out and building a trail. For example, trails going alongside wet areas require different considerations than those that go through a dry, sandy areas.

soil particles

Photo credit: Ann Whitman, Suzanne DeJohn, The National Gardening Association

After a trail is designed with the appropriate sustainable conditions, the construction and maintenance require skilled and experienced oversight. While volunteer work plays a huge role in the continued maintenance of trails, highly skilled trail workers are irreplaceable and absolutely essential for efficient and effective trail construction and maintenance. Critical features of sustainable trail construction require an expert eye to ensure that the trail is built to last and withstand decades of use. Job opportunities in trail construction and maintenance are good jobs that can lead to a life-time career all over the world.

Bond Act a Potential Source of Funding

During the state budgeting process, the legislature proposed a $3 billion dollar “Restore Mother Nature” bond act, the first bond act with an environmental focus since 1996. This critical piece of environmental legislation allows for funding for four distinct categories of projects: restoration and flood risk reduction; open space land conservation and recreation; climate change mitigation; and water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure.  A compelling case can be made that sustainable trail construction is a capital expense that is eligible to be funded by bond act proceeds. Well-built and maintained hiking trails protect natural resources and wild spaces while having a lifetime of use that connects people to our natural world, offering memorable experiences, solace and a deeper sense of self.

The construction of sustainably designed trails will provide opportunities that can attract and retain skilled labor in communities throughout the Adirondack Park. For the benefit of our public lands and the people that enjoy them, the state needs to take action to repair and rebuild our aging trail infrastructure. If the Adirondacks are to be preserved for public enjoyment and future generations, the state must dedicate resources to rebuilding and maintaining the trails in the Adirondacks as part of the preservation and management of this wilderness resource.

Charlotte Staats is a Conservation Associate for the Adirondack Council.

Related Stories


Guest Contributor

The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park.

Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at [email protected]




40 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Great article. I also believe the critical tool in renovating and preserving the HPW trail system would be by dedicated annual funds coming from the Bond Act – not something with a spigot controlled annually by politics. Donations and volunteerism are fine but will never get the job done. It will be expensive and slow, but likely can be accomplished in under 20 years.Hopefully, heavily used trunk trails could be done in 10. Think of the legacy this important funding and work would leave for future generations.

    • Ed Orr says:

      I fully agree with Boreas. Along with bond act money why not donation boxes at trailheads? and/or signage with QR codes for quick donations. Not only in the HPW but through out the Park.

  2. Much of the trail system was designed by the way of the day way too many days ago. This area can be rebuilt putting to work people and better plans.

  3. William Keller says:

    “Through the purchase of New York sporting licenses, hunters and anglers help generate an estimated $75 million to help conserve fish and wildlife, enhance habitat, and protect natural resources”. Gee, I wonder how the consumers of the resource can fund their trail improvement?

  4. Tony Goodwin says:

    Good article, and I certainly hope that new sustainable trail construction is considered to be a capital investment and therefore eligible for bond act funding. The number of hikers is not likely to go down, and we shouldn’t deny people the benefits of spending time in the natural world.

    I will note however that the problems of muddy and eroded trails didn’t start with the increase in hikers on the 1970s. My father reported that as early as the 1920s the bog just below timberline on Marcy a wide muddy area that needed to be bypassed in order to avoid sinking in to ones hips – as one of his guided clients did. In the early 60s, corduroy was placed in the bog, and the grass quickly returned. Now, plank bridging keep hikers on a sustainable surface, and trees have grown in, making the grassy area smaller than the muddy area once was. While I have yet to find a photo of that muddy bog in its fully “glory”, I have also found archival photos in the Flickinger Collection at the Adirondack Research Library that show wretchedly poor trail conditions in the 1940s.

    So, what standard should use when upgrading existing trails or building new ones? I marvel at the standard of construction on the new trail up Mt. Van Hoevenberg, but it has now taken four years of concerted effort to build under two miles of new trail. The renovations and reroutings on the Hurricane Mt. trail in 2015 only took one year, and that has held up quite well to consistently heavy use. More could be done to that trail, but is that perhaps the “doable” standard for new trail construction? I agree that the drainage on the new Van Hoevenberg trail will not need as much maintenance as the drainage on steeper trails built to a lower standard; but it will hardly be “maintenance free.”

    Throughout the Adirondacks, one can see examples of trails that once had good drainage, but that drainage was never properly maintained. One glaring example is the Van Hoevenberg Trail to Marcy, which I hiked this past Saturday. From the crossing of Phelps Brook up to Indian Falls and on to the summit there were so many failed drainage structures that restoring all of them should be considered a capital investment.

    • Zephyr says:

      Most trails in the High Peaks are in much better condition than they were 30-40 years ago with many fewer hikers. Kudos must go to the Adirondack Mt Club, the 46ers, and state crews for the work they have done. It is hard to hike a trail today that doesn’t feature numerous waterbars for drainage, rock steps across mud holes, etc. Like Tony I can remember wading through deep muck and water approaching Marcy, and I vividly remember the top being strewed with trash and people using the remains of the shelter as a latrine. Marcy Dam was a huge campground with every tree stripped of branches for firewood. Hiking up many trails in the rain was just like walking up a stream bed or waterfall, which the trails became in heavy rains. Personally, I think those rock stairways pictured are huge overkill for most trails and are more about showcasing trailbuilding skills than actual wilderness preservation. Those rocks have to come from someplace nearby, thereby changing the natural terrain. Same with enormous bridges across streams. There has to be a middle ground between turning Adirondack trails into Disney World and sustainability.

    • John says:

      Yes, Tony, t’s an old problem. I climbed Marcy for the first time in 1968 — 53 years ago — and vowed I would not go back because I was only helping to destroy the trail. I kept my word.

  5. LeRoy Hogan says:

    Imagine having toll trails just like toll bridges, the actual users pay the funding.

  6. nathan says:

    How about a annual $20-30 hiking permit/license? failure to present license a $150 fine. but then issue of hiring people to enforce/check. or pay parking lots with a $5 fee per car per day. or just put donation boxes in safe locations???

    • Boreas says:

      A tough sell on this site, but should at least be a consideration among other types of funding. The issue of enforcing potential licenses/permits need not be onerous – especially when phasing in. It could even be OPTIONAL (call it a “pass” if the term license bothers you), with parking or other benefits not available to non-licensed individuals. We don’t have an army of DEC officers in the woods scouring to check for hunting/fishing licenses. A simple spot-check at a trailhead, campsite, or summit would be more than enough to get decent compliance. I think I have had my NYS fishing license checked twice in 40 years – and both times I was in a boat. Most hikers and campers would willingly pitch in if there was a dedicated way to do so other than the Habitat and Trail-supporter stamps currently available.

  7. Jeffrey L Weaver says:

    Is the construction pictured legal on protected lands ?

    • Boreas says:

      The issue should be added to a constitutional amendment along with, or in addition to, the snowmobile trail construction issue. Perhaps it is time to check in with taxpayers for both of these issues.

      I believe current practices allow trail “improvements” for the sake of safety and erosion, but the term would likely need to be more defined – such as existing ladders and staircases. As far as removing bad trails and building “sustainable” trails may need an amendment due to the number of trails that need to be re-routed. Perhaps taxpayers/voters would prefer the worst trails to simply be closed and not re-routed. I don’t think we really know what NYS taxpayers think WRT our trail system in the Park. I would assume most have no clue of the current situation despite funding the maintenance of them.

  8. Stephen Gloo says:

    New York State taxpayers already fund the very entity that is responsible for trail maintenance and repair. Unfortunately the Cuomo Department of Conservation was mired in grandiose land purchases keep a fleet of lawyers busy.
    Return the DEC to its core purpose, environment conservation.

  9. Zephyr says:

    I used to be strongly opposed to the idea of a hiking license, but I think today one could be created that is less onerous (“show me your papers!”). The idea would be to put the license on a durable plastic tag designed to be hung on the outside of your backpack or worn on a hat maybe. It would feature some prominent logo and color so at a glance you could see who has tags and who doesn’t, and just the influence of the crowd would probably encourage many to get one. You could renew the tags online each year or purchase a lifetime supporter version–no need to get new tags each year. Just like State Park passes. Keep enforcement light–let rangers actually sell tags to people without them. You get a warning, and are asked if you would please purchase a tag for next time and by the way I have them right here if you want to buy one now. One huge problem would be equity and cost for those without much money. Of course there is also the problem that once the State gets hold of a funding stream it gets diverted quickly to other uses, and the price keeps getting racheted up. I think State Park passes are now $80 a year.

    • Boreas says:

      I see no reason for a license/permit to be more than $10/year. Another option to fines would be NO fine for first offenders, but your name is recorded, and a second offense would trigger a minor fine – or 8 hours of trail work!

      The reason I like the idea of a type of license/permit is to increase basic backcountry education – just like hunting, fishing, and trapping education. I would even say if you have a hunting/fishing/trapping license, a hiking license could be a simple $5 add-on managed through the current licensing system.

  10. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Tony Goodwin says: “we shouldn’t deny people the benefits of spending time in the natural world.”

    I suppose it depends on who the people are Tony! Recently I spent two weeks down in the Catskills, near the Peekamoose area; and in my travels through that region I saw some ungodly sights near the trailheads and camping areas, ie…heaps of trash, garbage, left there instead of carried off. I peeped into one porta-potty at a trailhead. It was full to almost the bottom rim of the seat…..with not only poop, but plastic bags filled with trash, etc. I don’t know why I was so surprised at seeing these things but nonetheless I was disappointed….the story of my life! It never used to be this way in that area. Never! We’re living in a new era. There’s not the respect there used to be for all things pure and simple…..it’s all about the image in the mirror nowadays.

    • Boreas says:

      Charlie,

      During my impressionable years, the TV was rife with anti-littering and anti-pollution PSAs. Of course, nowadays kids spend their formative years with a cell-phone in front of their face. Their parents were not brought up with these principle beaten into them. How are the newer generations to learn these basic principles? I collect trash almost daily from my front yard that either was thrown out the window or magically “escaped unnoticed” from the back of a pickup.

    • JB says:

      Charlie & Boreas, I cannot even begin to tell you the kind of disrespectful behaviors that I have experienced on and around my Adirondack property. It comes with the territory these days, literally.

      When I was young, the great lo-fi educational television productions of the past were already becoming an inside joke amongst kids, and PSAs were going out of vogue alongside them. But surely there must be other reasons than that for the proliferation of foulness. Increased mobility, back-to-naturism, social media, erosion of community, COVID, urbanization–all of these things and more are implicated and interconnected in this “new age” of collapsing human decency. However, whether I like it or not, those are the ways of the modern world, good and bad, and for me to blame them would be a form of absolution through hopelessness, justification through inevitability, reductio ad causam.

      No: I must admit that, above all, a spiritual crisis is unfolding on our curbsides, our highways, our trails, our human networks. What use is benevolence, prudence and stewardship when the world is ending; or, why be respectful when the world that we’ll have left is unjust and unfair? Answer: The world is what we make of it. The end of one thing is just the new beginning of another, and the affront of unfairness and injustice are merely opportunities for us to live and grow as denizens of the world, better and wiser for it. Maybe we should start a social movement for THAT, membership not obligated, disagreement welcome, unabashed tangential-ness acknowledged.

  11. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “I collect trash almost daily from my front yard that either was thrown out the window or magically “escaped unnoticed” from the back of a pickup.’

    I call it “blow-away trash” Boreas. If everyone was of the right mind, or if we were taught to be more civil and to have respect, there’d be less trash, but we’re way beyond that by now….unfortunately. Within the past few days I’ve been hearing about the annual fall cleanup along the Connecticut River where tons of trash is collected every year during this event. When hearing this, my initial thoughts were, ‘fine, but what good is it if it’s going to be the same thing next year?’ A temporary fix to an ongoing problem. It’s easy to say that the proper education in our public schools (which are where most scholars are taught) might correct this beast in maybe one generation, but therein is a large parcel of the problem….public education! It’s not what it used to be and it sure seems apparent that there’s a school of unenlightened souls out there who would do away with our tax dollars supporting these entities, in spite of their attributes, because it doesn’t benefit them. In reality public education benefits everyone, especially those generations yet to be….. But it’s not about ‘everyone’ is it Boreas?

    • Boreas says:

      Charlie,

      I agree. Voluntary, citizen-based road and backcountry clean-ups are basically the same as spoiled kids being further spoiled by their parents who continue cleaning up after them. The bad behavior, if not redirected or punished, is essentially being condoned. How do we change the stupid, selfish, and inconsiderate habits that are most likely learned at an early age? While it may not be widespread, it still occurs, and puts the burden on people who care about their environment and neighbors. Perhaps too much “freedom” to do whatever we want while depending on others to pick up our socks?

  12. Zephyr says:

    I’m sorry some are finding trash on their property, but whenever I go hiking on trails in the Adirondacks I remark on how much less trash I see than in the past. In fact, just the other day I was hiking in a small state park and noted to my friends how we just weren’t seeing trash, beer cans, bottles, etc. where in the recent past there would be notable amounts of garbage. Same thing when hiking on major trails anywhere in the Daks. Some of us can remember when people just dumped their garbage behind every leanto in an open pit, if you were lucky, but often it was just left in the remains of the firepit. Every trailhead was strewn with cans and bottles. In the past it was routine to note garbage and cans tossed from cars as you drove on any road. My belief based on my own observations is that today’s hikers are far more environmentally aware than past generations.

    • Boreas says:

      But why do we find ANY trash? An improvement over 50 years is not a stunning victory for outdoor enthusiasts. The “cleanliness” you see is not solely a result of less littering, but volunteers and concerned hikers taking on the responsibility of picking up other’s trash or burying other’s trail-side or mountaintop waste which was not common practice 50 years ago. Sure, we can always rationalize the “jerks will be jerks” mantra, but I feel more can and should be done to educate and form better habits of ALL citizens – whether backcountry or along our highways.

      • Zephyr says:

        The trend we see is a good one–dramatically less trash than in the past. If you want to complain the world isn’t perfect, go ahead, but I am very encouraged that things are getting better. Education has nothing to do with it–the world is full of jerks. Fifty years ago my parents and their parents told us how it was terrible to litter.

        • Boreas says:

          If your definition of getting better is volunteers picking up more litter left by others so be it. To me, getting better is less litter to begin with. That is where I feel we are slipping. More people, more users, more litter, more volunteers picking it up. It looks better nowadays because no one bothered to pick it up 50 years ago. That is a positive, but doesn’t really solve the problem.

  13. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “My belief based on my own observations is that today’s hikers are far more environmentally aware than past generations.’

    Not to take away from your optimism Zephyr, as we could surely use more of the same, but I’m not seeing what you’re seeing as was explained in another post. I believe it must be that circumstances, timing & location correlate with contrary takes on this matter as it very well cannot be that we’re just seeing what we wanna see! I think it’s good that some areas are better than they used to be so far as trash left behind, but when you look around and see nothing has changed so far as pollution is concerned, especially outside of the wild areas (matter of fact it is worse, not better, than it used to be) than the conclusion must be that we are who we are and we take our habits with us no matter where it is we go….including what few sacred havens remain. You cannot fix an unenlightened society overnight. Indeed, it would probably take a few generations to steer us on the right course, but then only if we put the resources, or ‘right mind’, into it, both of which are in short supply, and seemingly becoming moreso as the years go passing by.

    • Zephyr says:

      Here’s one article on the “good ol’ days” when we all used dumps in the Adirondacks, except for the folks who just threw their trash out of the back of their trucks. https://www.newyorkalmanack.com/2019/12/remember-adirondack-dumps-and-the-bears/ Here’s another: https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/State-s-no-dumping-mandate-complicates-park-waste-16302525.php I know for a fact that we capped our local landfill that used to be an endless source of clouds of dust, flying plastic, and rodents, not to mention the pollution downstream from the brook that flowed through it. Today there is a nature trail along the brook–I did water sampling of that stream in high school and it was toxic. Beavers live there now.

      • Zephyr says:

        It’s not a study of Adirondack Trails, but highway litter down by 61% since 1969: https://kab.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/LitterinAmerica_ExecutiveSummary_Final_0.pdf

        • JB says:

          Zephyr, you always manage to find interesting links. I’m not going to try to track down the statistics or argue against the main data point, but the report did say that plastic litter (on roadsides) was up “165%” between 1969 and 2009 (during which time plastic production reportedly increased more than 300% per capita).

          It’s a similar kind of situation that we see across the board: indeed, specific patterns of social problems and environmental degradation are trending downward, but they are being offset with replacements that are often more potential harmful. For example, few would argue that plastic litter is not among the most environmentally damaging. Similarly, alcohol consumption overall is down in younger populations, but the use of dozens other substances has increased dramatically, the long-term effects of some of which are unknown, while others are orders of magnitude more outrightly lethal; arsenic-based preservatives in pressure treated wood have been replaced with less understood, toxic quat, triazole and other fungicides; environmentally persistent branched alkylbenzene sulfonates have been replaced with more biodegradable linear alkylbenzene sulfonates, nonylphenol ethoxylate and fatty alcohol ethoxylates, but Americans and the world uses ever increasing quantities of detergents in general, and those more biodegradable detergents now contain copious amounts of toxic biocides and contaminants like 1,4-dioxane, and they are sometimes more toxic themselves; neurotoxic, volatile alkane-based paints and varnishes are being replaced by low-VOC water-based emulsions, but now those products must also contain biocides to prevent fouling; rubber, vinyl and acrylic raincoats have been replaced in recent decades by perfluorochemical coated fabrics, which are more breathable for the wearer but are ubiquitously contaminated with perfluorinated “forever chemical” contaminants that find their way into the environment, particularly the C9-C20 long-chain variety, which are now being replaced by the less understood short-chain compounds.

          You are right that it is easy for us to forget about the past, perpetually complaining about the present. But it is arguably a bigger, more costly and more common mistake for human society to become foolishly overconfident in their new and modern lifeways, forsaking straightforwardness for burying the true costs of living beneath mountains of new technologies, only so that they can come back to haunt us later. In the Adirondacks, first industrial logging brought unindented ecological and hydrological consequences, then the tourism boom of the twentieth century brough unforeseen amounts of litter and human footprint, then the coal-fired turbines of the midwest brought acidification of high-altitude, low buffer-capacity lakes, and now we have a problem with over-recruitment and overuse–the ultimate consequences of that, beyond visible crowds, who may very well produce less litter per capita, and notable development projects, be it upon wildlife, flora, water quality, or, likely, some hitherto unknown aspect affected by an unseen black swan, remains unknowable until it is too late to easily provide for any meaningful remedy.

          • Zephyr says:

            My main point is that there is this persistent gloom and doom on here about the state of Adirondack Trails and the park in general, yet by almost every measure most trails are in far better condition than they were in the recent past. Sure, some places are getting heavy use, like Cascade, and there are erosion issues, but looking at the big picture today’s trails are much, much less eroded and worn than they used to be. Look at the measureable improvements in summit flora too! Look at the lack of acid rain. Look at the water quality in many places–anyone remember what southern Lake Champlain used to be like? Is there a lot of work still to do? Absolutely! But, lets not close down all the trails falsely claiming that they are all in crisis when many are much improved, while also blaming “today’s hikers” who are much more environmentally conscious and careful than previous generations.

            • JB says:

              Zephyr, got it. Those are valid points. Yes, the “crisis” that people talk about, like the Adirondack Council is doing here, is indeed a crisis of a number of trails that are now noticeably degraded relative to decade ago (from a sudden surge of use), albeit relative to a more distant past, some of these trails may actually show improvement. But I think that the trails issue is just a convenient, euphemistic way of talking about the elephant in the Park: the Adirondack Park now receives far more visitors than at just about any time in the past, and than just about any other large protected wilderness in the world. Hikers are targets of the discussion, since they have been the spearhead of the surge of use, as the popularity of hiking has completely exploded in recent years; but I believe that the fishing, hunting, snowmobiling and lodging economies in the Park are also larger than they were in former times. If residential population of certain designated places has changed, then surely this is offset by the increased density and mobility of surrounding populations, which represent hundreds or thousands of times more people than have ever lived in the Park. So, really, this is all a question that goes back to the heart of the wilderness conservation movement: Can we really protect wilderness without limiting all forms human use to some extent? Luckily, New York State still honors some of this ethic–apparent in the non-motorized definition of “Wilderness Areas”–but, as we are seeing, that can only go so far in a world where hundreds of thousands of people in our state alone now literally compete to walk a dozen or more miles in a day. The sustainability of that really depends on what you are trying to sustain.

              • Zephyr says:

                And I have repeated myself here many times in writing that wander off any trail in the Adks say 100 feet and you might as well be in complete wilderness and might have a tough time finding your way back to the trail. Sure, these tiny, narrow strips of degraded terrain known as trails exist, but are a miniscule portion of the Park, and if you compare almost any larger region of the Park to its state say 50 years ago it will be overall much, much better today, even if the trails in it are somewhat degraded. If the trails were left alone for five years most would not be hikeable or even findable.

                • JB says:

                  As someone who wanders a bit myself, I can confirm that there are many, many places where one can follow a drainage off of a trail and find huge amounts of trash. And furthermore, you would not believe the places that I have found candy wrappers, and “fun-sized” ones at that, which means that they must be recent. If 99% or 99.5%, or whatever, of people stay on trails and the damage is done there–and it’s arguable whether that damage is necessarily justifiable or not–then reason follows that a tenfold increase in hikers will be accompanied by a tenfold increase in off-trail use, and perhaps even a tenfold increase in litter. …Okay, so some will not be swayed by this–homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

                  As others here reckon, it is not even as simple as that, since it only takes a given percentage of visitors in any given year to be bad stewards, or perhaps even just one individual or group to be as much, to quickly turn the wilderness ethic on its head. That is why most other worldwide accessible wildernesses have limits in place, or at least a mechanism to impose them should it become necessary. And I understand your concern about permits, even agreeing with you in that regard–any meaningfully effective change here will need to be much more clever than that.

                  But the fears of “shutting down the Park” are misplaced, emphasis on degraded trails are misplaced, emphasis on litter is misplaced. It is the degradation of wilderness ethic that is dangerous. Perceptions are everything in managing a publicly owned resource that by its very definition must have limited human impact. And if perceptions of the Park continue to shift into the negative, towards connotations of a land of mismanaged crazy hypocrisy and bashful billboard enterprise, then that’s what it will become. That’s how human culture works.

  14. Charlie Stehlin says:

    JB says: “a spiritual crisis is unfolding on our curbsides, our highways, our trails, our human networks.”

    It’s ‘been’ unfolding JB, and it didn’t just start happening since Donald Trump. It goes back 200 years at least! At least that is what I am getting from the history I’ve been reading. There’s the old adage, “If it takes 200 years (or 2, or whatever…) to walk into the woods, it will take 200 years to walk back out. Let us hope that it does not take that long to walk back out as I just don’t think we have that much time left to correct our course. Optimist me!

  15. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Sincerely, I like your optimism Zephyr, and there are rays of light in the 2009 study, and it sure as heck don’t hurt to keep in the positive vein, but the author does conclude, “there was considerable variability across the country” as I suggested when I said “circumstances, timing & location” I don’t like that I have so much doubt on these matters Zephyr and I would be the happiest camper if half of what I portend proves false.

  16. Paul says:

    I was listening to a story on this on the public radio station in Albany on my travels this weekend. I found it funny that they didn’t study any trails in the actual high peaks. I guess what is at these lower elevation mountains is relevant but maybe not entirely. It was just funny how they framed it as a “high peaks study”? Maybe it was just framed wrong in that story.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *