Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.
When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.
Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.
Anyone who regularly drives Route 73 between the Northway and Lake Placid knows there has been a tremendous spike in activity in the High Peaks over the last few years. Parking has exploded, with vehicles sometimes lining the road for a mile between Chapel Pond and St. Huberts, dangerously crowding the trailhead at Cascade Mountain and overwhelming lots at Adirondac Loj, the Garden, Ampersand and elsewhere.
Trail use has soared correspondingly. The Cascade trail regularly sees hundreds of people on summer weekends. Many other trails are badly eroded and even remote summits can be crowded. This increase is no anomaly: the trend lines show it is the new normal. » Continue Reading.
Last summer my wife Amy and I took a trip to Norway. During part of our trip we camped at Lysefjord, famous for its sheer cliffs including Preikestolen, about which I wrote previously. Lots of Norwegians and visitors from other European countries car camp as their preferred mode of tourism, meaning those facilities see a brisk business.
Preikestolen is one of Norway’s most famous destinations, so we were glad to catch a spot at the nearby campground. It was well-run, with charming Dutch hosts, and we were quite happy with our stay. But by late morning of our departure our mood had changed to regret. That’s because twenty minutes after leaving we stumbled upon the most remarkable place for camping I’ve ever seen. It’s called Landa Park and its conception is brilliant. It left me thinking someone ought to try a similar thing here in the Adirondacks.
The decision by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) is in: by a vote of 8 to 1 the APA Board voted to recommend a classification for the Boreas Ponds Tract that will split the tract between Wilderness and Wild Forest, leaving Gulf Brook open into the heart to the parcel. In their comments many of the Commissioners lauded the “balance” and “compromise” they felt this recommendation represented.
Last Saturday night was the coldest night of the winter so far in Keene. Cold even by old-timers’ standards. These kinds of temperatures descend with considerably less frequency than they used to, and I hate wasting rare opportunities, so I concluded to rise early and take in the most frigid air of the year with a hike. » Continue Reading.
On Tuesday, November 7th, New Yorkers have an opportunity to vote on Ballot Proposition 1: whether the State will hold a constitutional convention in 2019. Many of my colleagues in the Adirondack environmental world are urging a “No” vote. Anticipating that such a convention would be heavily influenced by moneyed special interests, they are concerned with possible threats to the legendary “Forever Wild” constitutional amendment that protects the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves. They reason correctly that Forever Wild, being the gold standard in wilderness protection, cannot be improved, only weakened, and they don’t want to see State take that risk.
I share my friends’ concern about Forever Wild and I agree with their basic argument, but I do not join them in urging a “No” vote. My political DNA is too deeply imbued with grassroots, democratic activism for me to oppose this opportunity for the people of New York to directly act on the condition of their government. I also recognize that simply convening a constitutional convention does not expose the welfare to the Adirondack Park to unfettered abuse by special interests who would exploit it. No matter the goings on among the delegates to the convention, the people of New York will have the final say in the process, by virtue of their vote on any amendments in November of 2019.
This Columbus Day weekend I decided to put the issue of overuse in the High Peaks region to a little test. I visited three of the most crowded trail heads in the area and hiked from two of them. I also investigated the State’s grand relocation of the Cascade trail and parking.
What I saw confirmed a working theory I have been informally discussing with both private folks and local and state government employees. The theory isn’t mine, indeed a number of people have the idea. It’s a simple concept, really: back country overuse can be mitigated in large part simply by addressing parking issues. In other words, we can manage recreation capacity by more effectively managing transportation capacity. » Continue Reading.
What happened to the Adirondack Park Agency’s classification of the Boreas Ponds Tract? Months have passed with no sign of it on the APA’s monthly agenda. Information does seep out here and there, and it’s not encouraging. By now it’s no secret that plans are afoot for the Boreas classification that have nothing to do with the intended, legal process: namely development of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS), public hearings and public written comments and analysis, all leading to a recommended alternative.
Instead, the State is scrambling to find a way to accommodate the wishes of Governor Cuomo, who fancies a “hut-to-hut” system in the Adirondacks that includes facilities at Boreas, a development not contemplated in any of the four currently proposed alternatives. This is not how it is supposed to work and it raises questions of who is accountable for a classification process gone wrong.
Regular Almanack readers are used to hearing me stress the importance of perspectives from outside the Adirondack Park. Today I’ve got one from way outside the Adirondack Park, specifically Norway, where my wife Amy and I are traveling for two weeks. While here I have enjoyed the geologic kinship Norway shares with the Adirondacks. I have also enjoyed the fact that my experiences so far have reinforced the sentiments I expressed in my last Almanack column, namely that we should not overreact to busy trails in the High Peaks. If you think we have a problem in the Adirondacks, you should see the hiking traffic here. And if you think that pervasive cultural experiences of pristine, wild places can’t place their fragile value at the heart of an entire society, you should see this country.
Yesterday Amy and I climbed Preikestolen, one of Norway’s most popular hiking destinations and a national icon. In some ways Preikestolen is Norway’s answer to Indian Head: a massive, open rock slab with a spectacular view, positioned far above a narrow body of water that is set between mountain ridges. However the scale is far greater: Priekestolen’s height above the water is three times that of Indian Head and the body of water is a sizeable fjord, not a small lake. For the purposes of this article, a better comparison is our own infamous Cascade Mountain. Cascade’s trail involves several hundred feet more vertical ascent than Preikestolen, but both routes are 2.4 miles and, more important, both trails are crammed with people who want an accessible but authentic regional mountain experience. Like Cascade, Preikestolen is a challenge that a neophyte hiker or ambitious family might take, an intimidating but doable workout with major parking problems down below and a show-stopper payoff on top. The difference, once again, is scale: Preikestolen’s foot traffic makes Cascade look like Allen Mountain. » Continue Reading.
Overuse in portions of the High Peaks is a real and growing problem, exacerbated by trends in social media and the expanding desire to count-off summits. It has been documented extensively here in the Almanack. But in the last few weeks these discussions have reached a rolling boil with a bit too much hyperbole for me. A range of ideas has been raised, a number of them falling under the general concept of limiting access to the High Peaks, including permit systems, licensing schemes, daily caps and so on. Some of these limiting suggestions have been accompanied by exclusionary rhetoric with which I strongly disagree, along the lines of “Why are we trying to get more people here?” or “I like my (town, street, access) the way it is, without all the visitors.” I agree that increasing use in parts of the High Peaks is a real issue, and I have written about various aspects of the problem for several years. But the exclusionary sentiments I’m starting to hear are where I draw the line. » Continue Reading.
On July 1st I attended the grand opening of the Adirondack Experience’s new multi-million-dollar exhibit Life in the Adirondacks. Situated overlooking Blue Mountain Lake, The Adirondack Experience (formerly the Adirondack Museum) is a regional icon with an unparalleled collection of Adirondack historical artifacts. Their new exhibit, intended to interactively place visitors in the context of the Adirondack Park in all its human dimensions, is located in the former Roads and Rails building.
Life in the Adirondacks is a dramatic change in approach and style for a museum renowned for its depiction of history through objects of every description from the last two centuries of human activity in the region. I spoke with one of the staff who manages collections and she told me the count of items on display in this exhibit space was down from 3,000 to roughly 500. Those who know the former exhibit will see a much cleaner, streamlined, modern presentation with a number of new “hands-on” interactive displays. Life in the Adirondacks is bracketed by two video presentations. The first is a visually striking short film in a small theater that introduces visitors to the spectrum of human passions concerning the Adirondack Park. The second, near the exit, is an excellent collection of short interviews with various leaders and advocates in the Park, representing different sides of the difficult questions we debate here, from land use to preservation to local economies. » Continue Reading.
Over the past few months Governor Andrew Cuomo has shown his economic love for the Adirondacks by putting his money where his mouth is, pledging $32 million towards an Adirondack Gateway facility at Frontier Town in North Hudson and another $20 million for improvements to the Gore, Whiteface and Mt Van Hoevenberg ski centers.
Seeing as generosity is in the air, I have a proposal: let’s take a small portion of the monetary love intended for these projects and turn Cascade Mountain from a dangerous and degraded poster child for Adirondack overuse to a model of Wilderness education that becomes an asset in the struggle to protect the High Peaks. » Continue Reading.
Those of us who cherish classic Adirondack winters suffered mightily through the depressing, bare-grounded blandness that was last winter. Thank goodness for sweet redemption: the accumulating snow pack in the mountains this year has purged a lot of disappointment.
Things started looking up early in the season. Although there were ups and downs through December, we eked out a White Christmas down in Keene and did better aloft: the upper portion of Pitchoff East rewarded our holiday family climb with nearly two feet of lush snow. My January expedition to explore the Opalescent’s source high on the shoulder of Mount Marcy found a good five feet. Snow in early February added to the total and had Amy and me breaking trail to Round Pond in a foot of new powder. » Continue Reading.
As the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) prepares for their March meeting, a decision on classification of the Boreas Ponds Tract is not on the agenda. That’s a good thing, indicating that more research and deliberations are ongoing and providing some comfort that the decision is not just pro forma.
Adirondack Wilderness Advocates believes that it is therefore an excellent time to review the status of the deliberation process. In doing so, we can justly say “hats off” to the Adirondack Park Agency staff. Their thorough analysis of the Boreas Ponds Tract, conducted as part of developing a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS), and presented to the State Land Committee at the February Agency Meeting, was a breath of fresh, evidence-based, rational air in a process that to this point has been in dire need of reason and facts. » Continue Reading.
One of the biggest Adirondack issues of the year will be the debate over how to classify the Boreas Ponds Tract. Anyone who has paid attention to land-use squabbles in the Adirondacks for the last fifty years can describe the lineups on either side just as well as I can: recreation, access and the welfare of local communities on one side and wilderness preservation, aesthetics, non-mechanized travel and ecological protection on the other.
But what if this debate is false, predicated on outdated ideas and a fading history? What if adherence to this old narrative is detrimental to the natural world and to the residents of the Adirondacks in equal measure? Suppose instead that Wilderness protection and the welfare of local communities is in fact a synergy ripe with opportunity? Lots of evidence from across the country tells us what ought to make sense looking at how Lake Placid, Keene and Keene Valley thrive: proximity to grand wilderness is an economic asset, and the grander and better protected it is, the more valuable the asset. » Continue Reading.
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