The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reminds visitors to recreate responsibly in the Adirondacks this spring to help protect State lands for future generations. Spring is an excellent time to get outdoors and enjoy warming temperatures, but it can also pose many risks to outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife, and natural resources. DEC encourages visitors to public lands to recreate responsibly to protect themselves and the resource.
Practice the Seven Principles of Leave No TraceTM: Leave No Trace™ principles provide a framework for safe and sustainable recreation. Based on outdoor ethics rather than rules, the principles provide guidelines that can be tailored to a variety of outdoor activities and an individual’s specific experience. Before heading out to visit State lands, DEC encourages outdoor adventurers to review and familiarize themselves with these principles to help be prepared, stay safe, and minimize damage to shared lands and waterways.
Follow the Muddy Trail Advisory: Hikers are advised to avoid hiking on high elevation trails above 2,500 feet until further notice. Despite recent warm weather, high elevation trails are still covered in slowly melting ice and snow. These steep trails feature thin soils that become a mix of ice and mud as winter conditions melt and frost leaves the ground. Sliding boots destroy trail tread, damage surrounding vegetation, and erode thin soils, increasing the likelihood of washouts; rotten snow and monorails are a safety hazard even with proper equipment; and high elevation and alpine vegetation are extremely fragile during this time.
Hikers can encounter thick mud, flooding, ice, and deep slushy snow even on low-elevation trails.
- Walk through the mud, slush, or standing water and down the center of the trail. This helps to reduce erosion and trail widening and minimizes damage to trailside vegetation;
- Do not attempt to walk through high or fast-moving water;
- Waterproof boots, gaiters, and trekking poles are recommended to safely and comfortably traverse these variable trail conditions; and
- Choose from DEC’s recommended list of hikes found throughout the Adirondacks that are great alternatives to popular high elevation hikes.
Avoid wet and muddy mountain biking trails: Trail systems can be severely damaged by eager mountain bikers who hit the trail too early in the season.
- Avoid biking on trails until they are dried and hardened;
- Check with local organizations for conditions and consider alternate trail options like multi-use recreation trails, durable gravel road systems, or paved roadways;
- Research area regulations for bike allowances ahead of time; and
- Consider volunteering time to trail work and help local organizations repair trails and prepare for mountain biking season.
Plan and prepare for variable conditions: Spring weather can change rapidly. Prepare for every occasion by bringing the 10 Hike Smart NY essentials, including food, water, navigation, warm layers, snowshoes and traction devices, a headlamp, first-aid kit, and matches or a lighter. Stay up to date with current weather reports and if the forecast calls for harsh conditions, consider rescheduling. Always check the forecast the morning and evening of a planned trip and the day after a trip so the proper gear is brought in case of an emergency or unplanned overnight. Make a timeline, including a turnaround time, and stick to it. Visitors should leave their trip plans with a trusted friend or relative that will call for help if they don’t return on time.
Safely enjoy spring water recreation: Paddling, fishing, and boating are great ways to sustainably enjoy the outdoors this spring if done responsibly. Waterways are still very cold and with spring snow melt, high water and swift currents are always a possibility.
- Always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) (required by law between November 1 and May 1). Water temperatures are cold. A person in the water can quickly lose the ability to keep their head above water;
- Use caution entering and exiting canoes, kayaks, or boats;
- Heed high water warnings and do not attempt to fish or paddle during times of high and swift waters;
- Research a trip ahead of time and follow any warnings or advisories for select paddling routes;
- Watch closely for trees, branches, rocks, and debris both above the surface and underwater while paddling; and
- Always clean, drain, and dry boats, wash boots and waders, and check for aquatic hitchhikers upon exiting a waterway to avoid the spread of aquatic invasives species.
Know how to protect against ticks: Ticks are very small bugs that can spread Lyme and various other diseases through their bites. Deer ticks live in shady, moist areas at ground level. Be tick free:
- Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily;
- Wear enclosed shoes, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots, and shirt into pants;
- Check clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks while outdoors;
- Consider using insect repellent on clothing; and
- Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails. Walk in the center of trails. Avoid dense woods and bushy areas.
Give wildlife ample space: Spring is a vulnerable time for wildlife. Some come out of hibernation and most begin to search for fresh food wherever they can find it. This can mean wildlife encounters closer to trails, parking areas, and roadways.
- Never follow, approach, or feed wildlife. Human food can harm wildlife and feeding wildlife can create bad habits that lead to unwanted human interaction and habituation;
- Keep pets on a leash to avoid startling wildlife;
- If you care, leave them there – Do not disturb young fawns or other young wildlife. View from a distance and call a wildlife rehabilitator if concerned the animal is orphaned or injured;
- Many rock-climbing routes are closed to protect nesting peregrine falcons. Check closings before going;
- Know how to reduce bear encounters while hiking and camping. Bear canisters are required to be used in the High Peaks Wilderness April 1-November 30 and are recommended for all backcountry users throughout the Adirondacks and
- Before heading out to camp, learn more about bear canisters and avoiding human-bear conflicts.
New York State lands belong to all of us, and we all have a responsibility to protect them. Love Our New York Lands this spring by practicing responsible and sustainable outdoor recreation, Leave No TraceTM, and giving back through volunteer work and stewardship.
Photo at top: A muddy trail in the Adirondacks (Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Mountain Club, Almanack archive photo.)