Thursday, June 8, 2023

Visitor use, education initiatives for state forest preserves

hiker shuttle

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced new and continued efforts planned for the 2023 outdoor recreation season to protect public safety and promote sustainable recreation in the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve. DEC’s actions are designed specifically to improve Adirondack and Catskill visitor safety and build on ongoing wilderness protection support strategies to improve safety, sustainability, and equitable access of those enjoying the outdoors during the upcoming warm weather months.

Visitation to State Forest Preserve lands is typically highest during the summer months. In partnership with State agencies, local municipalities, and private entities, DEC is working to protect public safety, improve the visitor experience during the busy season, and safeguard sensitive ecosystems. Using recommendations outlined by the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group (HPAG) and Catskills Strategic Planning Advisory Group (CAG), as well as input from local and community partners and outdoors enthusiasts, New York State continues to implement new strategies and adaptively manage the ongoing safety and resource needs of both Forest Preserve regions.

Protecting Public Safety

Pedestrian safety continues to be a significant concern, particularly in the Route 73 corridor of the Adirondack High Peaks and Route 23A in the Catskills. DEC worked closely with New York State Police, the State Department of Transportation, and local law enforcement to address pedestrian traffic, illegal parking, and roadside stopping. There is no parking allowed on the roadside in unsafe sections of Route 73 in the Adirondack High Peaks or on Route 23A in the vicinity of Kaaterskill Falls and several other Catskill destinations. Measures include:

  • The pilot parking reservation system for visitors to the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) returned on May 1. Following another successful summer in 2022, safety initiatives designed to mitigate risk to pedestrians and motorists along a busy stretch of Route 73 in the town of Keene return again. The pilot parking reservation program requires visitors to make a no-cost parking reservation in advance of their visit to access trails and trailheads located on AMR lands. In 2022, the reservation system accepted 10,122 reservations. Since its inaugural season in 2021, more than 35,000 users have registered to make parking reservations. In addition to promoting visitor safety, reservations assist with trip planning by guaranteeing a parking spot. In the past, it was not uncommon for parking spots to fill before dawn. Reservations can be made by visiting AMR’s website (https://www.hikeamr.org/);
  • DEC hired 26 Assistant Forest Rangers to assist Forest Rangers and provide on-the-trail stewardship in areas of high use including six in the Catskills, 17 in the Adirondacks, and three in high-use areas in DEC Regions 8 and 9, including Zoar Valley;
  • In the Adirondacks, DEC is partnering with Essex County again this year to operate the pilot Route 73 weekend shuttle service. It will be available only during busy weekends this fall. The shuttle will run the same route as 2022, stopping at several popular High Peaks region hiking destinations. Last year’s shuttles ran Friday through Monday, starting at Marcy Field in the town of Keene with service to the Rooster Comb, Giant Mountain, and Roaring Brook Falls trailheads at no cost to riders. Shuttle routes and schedules for the 2023 season will be announced soon. When the Route 73 shuttle is running, DEC will also continue to help fund the town of Keene’s shuttle from Marcy Field. In the Catskills, a privately operated, free shuttle is operating this season in the Route 23A corridor and may include stops for popular State lands;
  • DEC will share weekend parking and reservation status via @NYSDECAlerts on Twitter and DEC’s website. In addition, DOT’s 511 traffic management system will note when certain parking locations on Route 73 have reached capacity and provide information about the AMR reservation system. Visitors are encouraged to check these resources before and during travel to make adjustments if parking availability changes. First come, first served parking lots at popular trailheads and roadside destinations in both the Adirondacks and Catskills often fill quickly and early, leaving some visitors to find alternate parking or new destinations entirely;
  • “Your Speed Is” signs and delineators were again installed along Route 73. The signs and delineators are in addition to ongoing parking enforcement by DEC, State Police, and local law enforcement; and
  • Continued closure of the Molly Smith parking area on Route 23A in the town of Hunter to improve visitor safety. DEC recommends visitors access Kaaterskill Falls by parking at the Laurel House Road, Schutt Road, or South Lake parking areas. Please be advised the Laurel House Road and Schutt Road parking areas fill up early during the summer and plan accordingly.

Visitor Use Management

New York State continues to implement HPAG and CAG recommendations to encourage sustainable use in the Adirondack and Catskill parks. In addition, DEC is enhancing its actions to improve the user experience and prevent trash and other human impacts on State lands, including:

  • DEC and Otak, Inc. kicked off the Visitor Use Management Project this spring in the Adirondack High Peaks and Kaaterskill Clove project areas. The two-year Visitor Use Management (VUM) planning contract will help develop sustainable recreation solutions in two highly visited regions of the Forest Preserve. Otak, Inc. will assist with developing strategies that ensure these popular destinations provide positive visitor experiences while continuing to protect the Forest Preserve;
  • DEC is preparing a draft Visitor Use Management Plan for the formerly trail-less Catskill High Peaks to protect unique habitats and sensitive species that are currently being impacted by informal, user created trails;
  • Adirondack and Catskill Coordinators will continue to coordinate final and interim recommendations of HPAG and CAG and advance actions to address increased visitation in each preserve. This includes finalizing a Work Plan Policy to ensure consistent management and best practices for recreational facility development across the Forest Preserve, while ensuring transparency and opportunities for public input on all new construction projects;
  • DEC will continue to require a permit for visitors to the Peekamoose Blue Hole and Peekamoose Valley Riparian Corridor along Rondout Creek in the Catskills from May 15 to Sept. 15. DEC will also have stewards at these locations to support enhanced public education efforts. Major upgrades to the Blue Hole parking and access, which will improve the visitor experience and safety, are planned for later this summer;
  • DEC continues to improve the Hudson River Recreation Area and Shelving Rock, including: designating parking and campsites; barricading unauthorized motor vehicle access points; improving signage; and contracting with the towns of Warrensburg, Lake Luzerne, and Fort Ann for routine maintenance, including increased trash pickups;
  • DEC deployed portable toilets in high use areas of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks to help reduce waste in the environment. In areas where portable toilets are not available, visitors are encouraged to learn more about how to dispose of human waste outdoors (https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/112949.html) to prevent negative impacts on the environment and public health

Visitor Education

Both the High Peaks and Catskills advisory groups identified increased visitor education as a critical component of sustainable visitor use management. Including those listed above, DEC is implementing the following education and awareness efforts in 2023:

  • ‘Love Our New York Lands’ campaign. Launched in 2021, in response to the steady increase in the number of visitors to State Lands, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the decade prior, Love Our New York Lands includes helpful information for the thousands of New Yorkers and visitors from other states and countries eager to experience our public lands in a responsible way. This year, DEC is investing additional resources to boost the reach of these educational materials and enhance audience engagement on both social and traditional media. For details and more information, visit the Love Our New York Lands page on DEC’s website. In addition, this year DEC is partnering with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to further amplify the Love Our New York Lands message and reach even more New Yorkers visiting the outdoors. Along with Parks & Trails NY, DEC will also host additional Love Our NY Lands stewardship days in the coming months;
  • Hiker Information Station program. This initiative is entering its fourth year with the addition of a mobile education station. The new mobile information station will further enhance hiker education at various locations during the 2023 summer hiking season in the Adirondack High Peaks Region. DEC plans to repurpose one of the four shuttles purchased in 2021 for use as an educational resource. In 2022 Environmental Education Assistants stationed themselves at key front-country access points and trailheads between May 27 and October 10. The Education Assistants reported more than 5,300 engagements over 178 days from 12 different locations;
  • Trail steward programs in the Catskills to assist in educating the public who visit several of the region’s more frequently visited trails. The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development will station trailhead stewards at Kaaterskill Falls, Peekamoose Blue Hole (Sundown Wild Forest), as well as a ridge runner on the Devil’s Path. Catskill Mountainkeeper will station stewards at the Neversink Fishing Access Site in Claryville, Beaverkill Covered Bridge and Campground, and Big Pond (Delaware Wild Forest). The Catskill 3500 Club will have volunteer stewards stationed at the Slide Mountain trailhead and Woodland Valley Day Use Area. The Student Conservation Association, working with DEC, will hire stewards to work in other areas of the region. In addition, New York New Jersey Trail Conference stewards will be working in the Catskill High Peaks. There will also be Catskill Center Fire Tower Stewards at Overlook, Hunter, and Balsam Lake Mountain fire towers on weekdays, complemented by volunteers for weekends;
  • New trailhead steward program at popular trailheads in the Adirondack High Peaks to assist in educating the public at more frequently visited trailheads. DEC released an Invitation for Bids to run the new program, which will support hiker safety and preparedness along Route 73 in the Adirondacks.
  • ‘Get Outdoors & Get Together Day’ will be held on Saturday, June 10, with events at more than 20 locations across New York State to bring people of all abilities, ages, identities, and backgrounds together for fun, healthy activities. As part of State efforts to broaden the diversity of users and ensure inclusivity of access to state public lands, DEC and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, in partnership with the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and the Department of Veterans’ Services, are hosting free events to connect people to nature and provide increased access to the outdoors.

Sustainable Trail Development

To ensure New Yorkers and visitors can enjoy the beauty of the State’s Forest Preserve for generations to come, DEC is once again increasing the size of the EPF-funded Primitive Trail Maintenance and Development contract for the Adirondacks and Catskills. The State’s ongoing trail building efforts will protect public lands through trail maintenance and similar stewardship activities that encourage responsible use of the State’s lands and waters.

EPF Investment

Many of these projects and other initiatives to bolster sustainable use are funded through the State Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) (https://www.dec.ny.gov/about/92815.html). Among the many environmental victories in the enacted 2023-24 State Budget, Governor Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders maintained the historically high level of $400 million in EPF funding. The EPF supports climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, improves agricultural resources to promote sustainable agriculture, protects water sources, advances conservation efforts, and provides recreational opportunities for New Yorkers.

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Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.




3 Responses

  1. Zachary Denton says:

    I would love to see an annual ADK hiking permit implemented for all hiking trails on state forest preserve. 15-30 dollars a year would fund so many conservation, safety and convenience (think the shuttles) in the ADK and Catskill parks. Think about all the trail maintenence that could be funded too. Give a discount to residents who live within the Blue Line. $30 for out of state. 25$ for NYS Res. 15$ if you live within the Blue Line. Kids under 16 hike Free. I’ve lived in other states and seen similar programs have great success.

  2. tim says:

    Unfortunately, I don’t think it works that way. A hiking permit fee would go to the State. The legislature and governor make the budget. No direct correlation.

    • Boreas says:

      Most likely Town or County coalitions “could” be set up as administrators without much State legislature intervention. But in that scenario, they would most likely need to enforce it as well.

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