Thursday, March 23, 2023

Why we don’t use the term “overuse”

Panelists speak about diversity, equity and inclusion at Camp Chingachgook in Fort Ann last week. Photo by Gwendolyn Craig

Camp Chingachgook in Fort Ann hosted a diversity, equity and inclusion panel on Friday evening providing interesting perspectives and discussion. The evening was sponsored by the Lake George Land Conservancy’s Next Generation Committee. The panel included Raul “Rocci” Aguirre, acting executive director of the Adirondack Council; Martha Swan, executive director and founder of John Brown Lives; Tiffany Rea-Fisher, director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative; and Pete Nelson, co-founder of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates and the Adirondack Diversity Initiative.

It was one of the first public appearances for Rea-Fisher in her new role and one of the first for Aguirre since Willie Janeway announced he was stepping down.

The panel was asked a number of questions, leading with one about how social justice, equity and inclusion can plan a role in conservation and protecting natural resources. Rea-Fisher said other things need to be addressed first. She doesn’t come home to her house in Saranac Lake, for example, without doing a quick scan to see if there is any graffiti. Multiple generations of her family has experienced vandalism in some way. We haven’t even made it to the trailhead, she said, when it comes to discussing access and safety in the Adirondacks.

Rea-Fisher also addressed a common way many Adirondack Park advocates describe the number of visitors on popular trails using the word “overuse.” When she hears that word, she said, she believes, “oh, they don’t want me on the trail. It immediately feels like you don’t want me because of systemic racism, because of economic issues,” and many other reasons. Whether or not that’s the case, she said, “everything is coded constantly, and I’m having to sift through so much to understand what you’re actually saying. It’s really, very, very challenging to come into every conversation head and heart open.”

It’s an interesting thought about language, and something the Adirondack Explorer has discussed in its own coverage. Last year I spoke with NCPR’s Emily Russell about it:

Photo at top: About three dozen people attended a panel about diversity, equity and inclusion on Friday, March 10, 2023 at Camp Chingachgook in Fort Ann. Photo by Gwendolyn Craig

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.

41 Responses

  1. Kierin Bell says:

    Thanks for the chance to reflect on language. The word “overuse” does indeed stem from exclusion, and it relates to the reality that the only way that European and settler cultures have found to prevent degradation of resources has been to restrict access to (and use of) exclusive estates according to economic hierarchies. (Even the Forest Preserve is no exception, as evidenced by the appearance of the word ‘overuse’ in the APSLMP.) The current trend is that the word ‘overuse’ is merely being contracted to the euphemism of ‘use’, with little change in underlying meaning. What would the language actually look like for a truly viable alternative to “overuse”?

    • Maggie Jihan says:

      I’ve now read your initial comment a few times, to be sure I understand you and to consider if there’s truth in your account of “European and settler cultures” methods of restricting access to lands. I think you are stretching the truth of things considerably, in order to fit this notion that the word “overuse” is somehow racist/ableist/whatever-ist.

      Historically, the primary way of restricting access to lands has been through the possession of said lands as private property owned by individuals or corporations, plain and simple. I have no intention of attempting to whitewash the horrific realities of how people from all over the world and especially from Europe came to own and control the majority of what we now call America. Murder, rape, thievery, lying, cheating, genocide and ecocide are the foundations of this nation, of that there is no doubt. But the restriction of lands by those in power by claiming “overuse” has never been in the scheme–and IMO it is pretty disingenuous to make that claim.

      • Kierin Bell says:

        In case my previous comment below did not clarify all of this:

        Historically, recreational overuse has in fact been a major rationale for restricting access to lands in Europe. There are European species that have been saved from extinction by access restrictions (and very harsh penalties) imposed by nobility. There are historical parallels in the Adirondacks as well, where species that had been nearly extirpated on publicly-accessible lands found refuge on restricted-access private estates. And the Forest Preserve itself, as we all know, has benefited from modern restrictions on access and use, and it is not — contrary to what some seem to believe — an open-access commons that “we all own”.

        My point was not to say that access restrictions are inherently bad or unjust. On the contrary, I’m saying that anywhere that European cultural norms are predominant, the *lack of* access-restrictions becomes unjust, because bad actors are rewarded while good actors — or those that are most marginalized and excluded — are punished (by losing future opportunity).

        If we want to do away with the concept of “overuse”, we would need a radical culture shift. This is possible in principle, but given that the controversy here is a reaction against perceived (minor) infringements on the freedom to hike up mountains as a recreational pastime, I’m all but certain that the movement against ‘overuse’ is not a part of such a shift, but instead a manifestation of a doubling-down on the most harmful aspects of existing norms.

        Thatt being said, my opinion is that the APA Act/APSLMP framework, as much as it has endured, will not stand as-is without major changes. What worked 50 years ago — top-down restrictions designed to prevent overuse — is not working today, and we can’t roll back the clocks. We probably need a new concept — something extra — in addition to ‘overuse’.

        • Todd Eastman says:

          Open land access in the British Isles and in Scandinavia draws upon a land ethic that goes back for centuries and in the case of the British Isles, was supercharged by the mass land trespasses of the 1930s in northern England. Not all European land ethics involve exclusion.

          • Kierin Bell says:

            Of course, it is never all about exclusion. Land ethic is based on balance. But you’d need to go back a very long time in the British Isles to find anything close to the type of permissive access that we had in, for example, the Adirondacks a couple of hundred years ago. Even by modern American standards for many “public” lands, aspects of the British Countryside Code seem quite conservative, and I’m sure many here wouldn’t like some of the rules in parts of Scandinavia, either.

  2. Elizabeth Nolan says:

    Overuse is code for racism? Overcrowding signals systemic racism? Sometimes a cigar is a cigar.

    • Big Burly says:


    • ADKNative says:


    • ADKresident2 says:

      Sometimes whether a term is coded language or just a cigar is not black and white. Not everything is coded language, but coded language is a thing which, of course, the user denies using, plausible deniablity being the whole point. Not everything that purports to be a cigar is a cigar. It’s worth careful inspection.

  3. Bill Keller says:

    “Oh, they don’t want me on the trail. It immediately feels like you don’t want me because of systemic racism, because of economic issues,” and many other reasons. Whether or not that’s the case, Overuse: using too much, excessive use. Like some trails in the eastern high peaks are overused with 10s of thousands of hikers every season. But now it’s made into a racist word? Not a lot of good paying jobs with benefits in the park, just maybe that plays into a lack of diversity. Internet access is poor although it has improve over the last decade. 10% of the population has left the park and less people are moving here. And it isn’t inexpensive to visit if you stay in a hotel and eat out. Don’t get me wrong, diversity is a good thing no matter where it is happening. But to call the word “overuse” racist and a term used to discourage nonwhites from visiting the park is incorrect. With 90% of the population in the park being white, we all should be aware of the racist undertones in the park and work to change that not redefine the meaning of “overuse”.

    • Bill Keller says:

      Interesting note, the conference had about 36 attendees and by the picture it doesn’t look too diversified. Does this represent a lack of interest from our nonwhite citizens? I know I would prefer to hear from nonwhite citizens on the reasons why they don’t use the park not a bunch of white people

  4. George B Penrose says:

    When assessing the crowded conditions in the High PeaksI have never ever thought about race. I have never thought about not wanting anyone of person not enjoying the charm and allure of the Adirondacks. To bring systemic racism into this discussion is a mistake I believe. If the diversity project wants to increase awareness with regard to racial prejudice I feel by addressing the real problem of over use on our trails should be a separate and distinct issue. It is not a race issue.

  5. Richard Monroe says:

    Apparently, there are many terms we’re not allowed to use in the park. All defined by the self-anointed few.

  6. ADKresident says:

    People must be really bored. When you water down the true meaning of the word racism by linking it to “overuse”, its not only a stretch, you’ve trailed so far off from the true definition, its hard to take seriously. This is all but emotions on display wanting everyone to conform to this made-up and farfetched narrative. How about fixing why ‘you’ feel that way inside and stop expecting everyone on the outside to conform to your feelings and make ‘you’ ok with ‘you’.
    That’s what it appears to be the real root of this discussion, not any real facts about ” overuse”- which has nothing to do with “systematic racism”. Connecting the two is simply ridiculous and made up in someone’s head.

    • Boreas says:

      Well said!!

    • FreetheDacks says:

      what really is “overuse” anyway? It’s just one man’s opinion, in the end. Maybe it’s a marketing problem. Apparently the idea of hiking in the high peaks is very attractive, especially for white people. Attraction brings activity – and if it really is as good as all the social vloggers make it out to be, then, boom! Overuse. So we need a scare campaign, ya know, like what was used over the past couple of years to make people stay home lest they inhale some bad bug. Fact is, the high peaks are deadly. People have died, going there to find wilderness. People get lost and can’t find their way back out to their cars. That is scary. And then there’s all the bugs – disease carrying bugs. Why would anyone in their right mind want to go to a place where they could die, get lost, or contact a deadly disease? Now blast this message all over the media, pay some vloggers to tell horror stories of near death escapades, and then in no time at all, the parking lots will have vacancy, even during peak fall foliage. There, problem fixed. The woods can continue to be racist, but less people will notice.

  7. ADKresident says:

    And regarding this quote:

    “When she hears that word, she said, ‘she believes’, “oh, they don’t want me on the trail. It immediately feels like you don’t want me because of systemic racism, because of economic issues,” and many other reasons….”

    That is such a narcissistic statement. Reality check: 99+% of people who use the word “overuse” when referring to trails are not referring to ‘she’ or her skin color. I know it’s hard to believe, but ‘she’ isn’t even on their minds. Just because she believes it, doesn’t make it true. SMH

  8. Maggie Jihah says:

    Thanks to all those who have addressed the objection to the word “overuse”. I’m a bit beside myself with disbelief at what is indeed a narcissistic view of the word expressed by people quoted in this article.

    People! It’s not about you, or us. Life, that is. Life is not solely about us, and one might think that in a place wanting to be Forever Wild, that fact of Life would be most obvious. It’s the Forest that can’t handle excessive use, and that is exactly what most visitors do here: they USE the forest for their own purposes with little or no regard for their impact on the rest of Life that exists here. Get your badge for climbing or paddling! practice your extreme sport at will! have a vacation, get away from the cities! It’s *all about us, we think, and we don’t want a prejudicial word like “overuse” interrupting our fun and our self-centered worldview.

    It’s the health and well being of the Forest and all it’s denizens, waters, habitats and ecosystems that need our attention. It is people thinking we’re the only Life form that really matters, which has put Earth in such great peril. Overuse is a big part of that. People can take it personally in this era of extreme sensitivity and political correctness, or they can take off their narcissist’s blinders and ponder The BIg Picture for all of Life’s sake in the ADKs.

    Please, before it’s too late.

    • Kierin Bell says:

      This brings to mind a good word that we could potentially use instead of ‘overuse’: disrespect. Headline: “State policies, hikers disrespect mountain.”

      I doubt that there has ever been such a ferocious battle in all of human history over the right to take recreational walks. There is a great opportunity that is being missed here to come together around respect for something larger than ourselves. If we can’t agree on that, I don’t know how we can expect to be kinder to each other.

      • Maggie Jihan says:

        Respectfully, the disrespect of the ADKs manifests as overuse. To switch to the word “disrespect” is to leave the matter undefined, needlessly vague when we know very well that the specific issue is overuse which causes many different problems.

        Language matters, and so does kindness. Using real terms to describe real things does not imply lack of kindness. And kindness to the forest means using accurate words to describe real problems caused by people’s self-centered unkindness.

        • Kierin Bell says:

          To clarify, I agree with you. Doing away with the word ‘overuse’ is (extremely) problematic, because language and culture are inseparable. We can’t force either one to evolve simply by choosing to avoid certain words, because words exist for a reason.

          The point is:
          1) For better or worse, the types of strategies and concepts that we use to deal with recreational overuse in the Adirondacks (and beyond) have evolved from hundreds or thousands of years of tradition (specifically attested in writing since the 16c). That is, ‘overuse’ and ‘carrying capacity’ are not merely academic terms (as some of these editorials have suggested in the past).

          2) For whatever reason (structural racism being a tangential one at best), if there is going to be a serious ideological movement to stop using the term ‘overuse’ — and make no mistake, there *is* a serious movement to do this, including by those in charge of managing state and federal lands — then there needs be a serious ideological discussion about the alternatives (as opposed to shortening ‘overuse’ to just ‘use’, as in ‘Visitor Use Management’, or to ‘change’, as in “Limits of Acceptable Change”). At the least, it will serve to slow things down enough to slightly dampen the blows of the reactionary, knee-jerk management strategy for the Forest Preserve. At best, those involved will realize the absurdity of the circumstances that have made this such a controversial topic to begin with. Perhaps there will even be a revelatory change in strategies and mindsets, and there will be a renewed appreciation for that which has been taken for granted — as you aptly point out, “before it’s too late.”

          Doing this gently is probably easier.

          • Maggie Jihan says:

            Fair enough. I appreciate your clarification.

            • Rainbow20 says:

              Word Salad! Makes absolutely no sense!

              • Kierin Bell says:

                Honestly, “word salad” is probably a fair criticism. Even if most here think that this entire ‘overuse’ controversy is nonsense, Gwen Craig and the editors aren’t making this stuff up. There is a serious national movement to increase access/use/overuse (whatever you want to call it), and the Adirondack Park is actually behind the curve so far. I may be wrong, but, to me, expressing outrage without trying to make logical counterarguments seems like a losing strategy that will only give the racism arguments more traction. Hopefully someone will be skilled and brave enough to make those counterarguments in a public and convincing way (there are some tourism scholars in Europe doing this, but that’s about it).

              • Maggie Jihan says:

                Yes, of course it is. But I understood the underlying message, which is all too familiar by now: we don’t give a sh*t about the forest, the waters, the Life that exists beyond US. As a nation, we take what we want and try to whitewash all the murder of Earth with euphemisms and covering the ugly with the pretense of giving sh*t about race, gender, ability, etc, etc, etc. It’s all nonsense, yes.

                But what I heard Kieran say is that there’s no point arguing because capitalism will do as it pleases, with the full support of the majority of the people who care solely about their own desires and think very little if at all about Life generally. We’ll overuse and oversell the hell out of any/every bit of the wild that we can, and then cry fat alligator tears when it’s all destroyed.

                Simple. Very clear to me now.

  9. nathan says:

    what foolishness!
    1) the highway is overused, that’s racist??
    2) the water table is overused and water is being used up. That’s Racist????
    3) the trails are overused and erosion is becoming critical~ that’s definitely racist!
    Some people look for any excuse to show their inner racism and look to express it over any reason or pretense. Just use language skills and read what is being stated and stop using racist excuses.
    So what’s next instead of no trespassing signs we will use “overused” signs?
    White supremist are going to march and carry overused signs?

    just about any word used could have some person upset, so we cater to a few malcontents or just use proper English and let them cry?

  10. Dave Brooks says:

    The term “overuse” in the Adirondacks is usually meant to describe trail and parking conditions in the High Peaks as a result of the pandemic driving people away from cities and enclosed forms of tourism. The restaurants have not been “overused.” The hotels and motels were not “overused.” The many non-High Peak attractions were not “overused.” Uttering “overuse” does not mean “if you don’t look like me, don’t come to the Adirondacks.” It should inspire constructive dialogue on how to intelligently finance and expand the blue line infrastructure so that actionable diversity programs can work.

  11. FreetheDacks says:

    So the myriad of groups trying to protect the Adirondacks from humans is not enough…we now need an Adirondack Diversity Initiative? Too many white people in the woods, is that it? And of course, too many leads to overuse – by white people, of course. Perhaps it would be more equitable if people of color and they/them who are gender confused could be a part of the overuse, too. Or better yet, let’s have the ADI install gates at every trailhead with a properly trained diversity officer there to count the colors and the pronouns of the hikers, and then impose “equity” by refusing access to the trails for certain people if their color/gender/creed is over represented on the trails that day. That way, inclusivity is assured, and the woods and mountains will be happy with the rainbow of representation of humanity in their presence.

    Or, just realize that some people want to play the victim card at all times, and blame other people for their internal egoic struggles.

    Cmon people, lets get real. Stop looking for problems where non exist. It’s not about you and your insecurities. Get out and enjoy the mountains and woods, and maybe while you out there, forest bathing in God’s creation, you’ll discover that we are all one, and that all the diversity you could ever want already exists – in the wilderness surrounding you.

    • rumrum says:

      “Or better yet, let’s have the ADI install gates at every trailhead with a properly trained diversity officer there to count the colors and the pronouns of the hikers, and then impose “equity” by refusing access to the trails for certain people if their color/gender/creed is over represented on the trails that day. That way, inclusivity is assured, and the woods and mountains will be happy with the rainbow of representation of humanity in their presence.” don’t think for a second that this isn’t their dream outcome.

      • Rainbow20 says:


      • ADKresident says:

        It just goes to show you can line the main streets with “all are welcome in rainbow colors” banners and cover the lawns with “no hate here” signs all around the 6 million acres of the ADKs, yet when someone has a perpetual victim mindset that the environment is racist and everyone is against them in their thought life, they will only see and even ‘look ‘for’ the very few incidents of racial graffiti done by the select few idiots while totally disregarding the 100s, if not 1000s of signs that state otherwise.

        It’s high time we stop choosing to magnify the few idiot’s actions by giving them so much more attention than those who do good , as if they represent the majority here, because clearly they do NOT. And it’s time we choose what we believe based off facts, not by perpetually offended emotions, triggered by various media outlets, & organizations that love to create false realities and asinine, unnecessary debates (such as this one), to keep division alive, never truly wanting to end it or they would see what they are doing isn’t working, even making things worse between people, not helping.

        After all, isn’t it obvious to us all by now that division is now a very profitable business model, and creates more $$ flowing in pockets of power and influence from academia to politics to big corp brands?

        Reconciliation, forgiveness, peace & good will towards your neighbor does not fill your pocket- it’s not profitable anywhere but in your heart and that would stop the flow of million$ gained by grievance$ , keeping it alive instead of killing it. It’s really up to us to stop being pawns on their chess board.

  12. Rainbow 20 says:

    What a load of crap! . Let’s add trying to protect the Adirondack trails by exploring different ways to contain the hoards ( oops.. probably a racist word ) of people coming here to pursue outdoor activity to the absurd list of things that are now considered racist and white privileged. The list goes on and on. I would have gotten up and walked out of that meeting, but we all feel obligated now to sit and listen to this garbage and pretend we agree with it,… or else!!

  13. Todd Eastman says:

    Is land and recreational management inherently racially and class biased?

    How would such management be performed without utilizing currently accepted modeling?

    Does true diversity evolve or is it legislated?

  14. louis curth says:

    Thank you Gwen Craig for posting this report on recent panel discussions on diversity, equity and inclusion held recently at Camp Chingachgook in Lake George.

    Who new that a boring semantic term like the “overuse” could elicit 31 reader comments. I wish that we could generate such lively discussions about some of the other existential topics that are hanging over the future of our young people.

    The value of these discussions is that they keep us talking to each other and, hopefully, leading us to greater understanding of our fragile Adirondacks and some possibilities for constructive problem solving. It’s a start…

  15. Mike says:

    I am reminded of a popular restaurant in Miami Beach I went to with my wife only to wait in a long line and then be eyed up and down by a snooty host only to be told we couldn’t be seated because I didn’t have a tie on (I was wearing a blazer). We said F that and walked a few blocks to a deserted little place where we were the only guests, but had a delicious meal for probably a tenth of the cost and were treated like royalty by the staff. The Adirondacks are like that. Skip the busy trail and head down the road a bit to an equally beautiful spot where you might feel a bit lonely on the trail and the summit. Plus, the fact is there is no scientific study of usage of trails even in the High Peaks, and every trail is in far better condition than 10-20 years ago. There is no accepted definition of overuse, other than some people want to reduce visitation by other people. And, I can guarantee you their ideas about how to do so are designed to not limit their own enjoyment or that of their friends. Everyone knows this, yet we persist in addressing this myth of overuse as if it is defined, measured, and observable. One person’s crowded trail is another person’s quiet walk in the woods. Which person is correct? There is no accepted definition of this term overuse.

    • Balian the Cat says:


      It would be silly to argue with such a reasonable statement. I would only add that in designated Wilderness Areas, there are specific criteria that can be measured, observed and, if you’ll forgive the term, managed for. That said, Wilderness designation is a practice that can be argued infinitely. I am a big believer in designated Wilderness but very open to the suggestion that the High Peaks (as a whole) do not qualify.

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