On June 29, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos announced that DEC is working to help protect natural resources by identifying management solutions to address the adverse impacts of the expansion of informal trail networks on Catskill High Peaks (over 3,500 feet) previously considered to be ‘trailless.’ Informal trails created over time are having an impact and consistent with the Catskill Strategic Planning Advisory Group’s (CAG) preliminary recommendations to address increased public use in the region, DEC is seeking public input in this preliminary stage of management plan development.
“DEC is conducting a multi-year monitoring effort that is already identifying management concerns on many of these Catskill High Peaks,” said Commissioner Seggos. “DEC will be working outside of the conventional unit management planning process to develop a single document that will outline intervention strategies to help address adverse impacts in multiple areas as quickly as possible. We will be providing a variety of opportunities for public participation, including a public information session in the fall once the 2022 field monitoring season is complete.”
Informal trails are unplanned and can have many adverse impacts on the landscape. They are often very steep to cut the distance between two points and there are typically many duplicate routes in the same area. Some of the negative impacts of informal trails include loss of native vegetation, soil compaction, erosion, forest fragmentation, and introduction of invasive species into interior forest habitats.
These informal trail networks are especially harmful in high peaks as they can impact the breeding behavior and nesting success of endangered or special concern mountain birds that rely on these peaks as critical habitat. DEC also identified numerous locations where informal trails trample vulnerable populations of rare, threatened, and endangered plant species.
Hikers can already take several steps to minimize their impact to trailless peaks by avoiding these areas after heavy rains or during mud season and following Leave No TraceTM principles. For instance, hikers should travel on existing informal trails and avoid dispersing into untrampled vegetation. From May through July, hikers should pay extra attention to where they travel and keep pets leashed to avoid disturbing vulnerable mountain bird species, many of which nest on or close to the ground and have nestlings or fledglings during these months.
Members of the CAG issued a joint statement: “We are all pleased that DEC continues to take a science-based approach to protecting natural resources in the sensitive High Peaks habitats of the Catskill Park. We look forward to participating in the public process to identify visitor use management actions that will help mitigate environmental impacts that resulted from the proliferation of informal trails at high elevations. We encourage all who care about the Catskill Park to provide their input as well.”
To learn more about the monitoring effort and to see previous reports documenting the adverse impacts of informal trails on the Catskill High Peaks, please visit DEC’s website. The public is encouraged to share their ideas or provide input on the desired condition they would like to see for the areas via email: firstname.lastname@example.org and at the public information meeting, currently planned for fall 2022 and which will be announced later this summer.
Catskill-area visitors are encouraged to Love Our New York Lands all year by practicing Leave No TraceTM principles and by recreating safely, sustainably, and hiking in suitable conditions based on weather and experience level.
Photo at top: Map of the project area. DEC photo.