The Coronavirus pandemic is asserting its influence on Adirondack summer recreation, amplifying worries about public safety and the increased number of visitors, especially in the High Peaks. There are many questions: will there be more hikers this season? Fewer? Will choked trail heads be COVID vectors? Will novice visitors seeking to escape both the coronavirus and social isolation mean an increase in unprepared hikers and rescues? Will a decrease in the usual resources such as open facilities, trail stewards and shuttles cause our visitor management challenges to be overwhelming? No one knows. Understandably, concern is high.
Peter Bauer’s recent article arguing that the State is facilitating unlimited access to the High Peaks raised some interesting points. Among those points was the idea that shuttle buses for hikers will result in potentially unprecedented usage levels of already popular hiking trails. This jibes with concerns I have heard from others that shuttles will lead to even greater activity in the High Peaks, when instead we should be limiting access to protect the Wilderness. » Continue Reading.
It was June and I was ensconced in the Adirondack Museum library, fortuitously avoiding an unusually muggy early summer afternoon. I had gone there to do a little research for a work of historical fiction that I thought I might write. By then my interest in Adirondack history was in full thrall, which made holding the document I had been presented by librarian Jerry Pepper something close to a religious experience.
It was an original letter, written in 1826, well preserved though the paper was a bit brittle and slightly darkened with age. The script was beautiful; fluid and robust but not embellished or overly fussy. The writing was sincere, filled with a youthful wonder and spirit of adventure but at the same time composed with a powerful energy and purpose. Its tone was mellifluous, phrased but unforced, the work of a superb natural writer. All in all it was – and is – a remarkable document, a singular account of a journey from the early written history of the Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Park Agency’s decision to classify the magnificent Boreas Ponds Tract to authorize motorized use of Gulf Brook Road is a done deal.
The State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC’s) management plan to improve that road, establish parking, and allow permitted cars to drive to within a couple hundred yards of the Boreas Ponds is in the implementation phase.
In other words, the governmental custodians of the Boreas Tract will be allowing vehicular access deep into the Boreas Tract. Now the only question is whether the Adirondacks itself will allow vehicular access deep into the Boreas Tract. I would not be too sure about that. » Continue Reading.
Another peak hiking season has come and gone and with it another year of concern about overuse in the High Peaks. A variety of steps have been taken by the State, Essex County, The Town of Keene, environmental groups and volunteers to deal with this use, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Now it seems that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is poised to try out a permit system in an attempt to address overuse by selectively limiting access. » Continue Reading.
I have spent a fair amount of time in Saranac Lake and have come to very much appreciate “The Little City in the Adirondacks.” While I recognize that tourism is a vital part of its economic identity, I have always seen Saranac Lake as a community distinctly of and for its residents, possessing quite a different feel than the international resort atmosphere found in its neighbor Lake Placid.
Yet Saranac Lake’s variety, its youthful vibe, its cultural amenities and its sophistication belie its small-town size (a shade over 5,000 people) and gives it a more urban feel than one would expect to find smack dab in the middle of the Park.
But if I already knew that Saranac Lake was a nice, even surprising town, it took participation in the inaugural Saranac Lake Street Fest last month to discover that it deserves a much more rarified descriptor. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Saranac Lake is hip. » Continue Reading.
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.
This is the first part of a multi-part strategy to develop the entire site into a gateway with a mix of private and public amenities, businesses and recreational assets. » Continue Reading.
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.
But count me as wary.
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.
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