Some recent Adirondack High Peaks trail news from the DEC:
PHELPS BROOK FOOTBRIDGE OUT: The high-water crossing footbridge over Phelps Brook on the Van Ho Trail to Mt. Marcy just above Marcy Dam came to the end of its service life and was removed by DEC. When Phelps Brook is running high and the low water crossing is unsafe, hikers can use the newly developed Phelps Brook Lean-to Trail between the South Meadow (aka Marcy Dam Truck) Trail (0.5 mile north of Marcy Dam) and the Van Ho Trail (above the crossing). The trail is marked with red Foot Trail markers.
ELK LAKE TRAILS: The two trails on the Elk Lake Conservation Easement Tract which provide access to the Dix Mountain, Marcy Mountain, and the Colvin Range will close to public use on October 16 and will remain closed through Northern Zone Big Game Hunting Season.
A Siena College Research Institute poll of New York voters in September showed that by 68% to 22% they overwhelmingly want New York State officials to protect heavily used public lands in the Adirondack Forest Preserve by enforcing resource capacity limits. The poll results were released by the Adirondack Council.
The Governor and the State have acknowledged the overuse problem, expanded education and public information efforts, and appointed a Wilderness Overuse Task Force. The Center for National Center for Leave No Trace recommendations have been endorsed by the task force, and include testing hiker permits to improve visitor access and help communities.
Whether the time has come to install a permit system for hiking/backpacking in the High Peaks Wilderness has been in the news lately, and a topic for debate in this recent commentary by Dave Gibson.
Here are a few recent comments that came in via email:
“Sustainable Trail design, rather than our 100+ year old trails. One way trails on the 2-3 busiest peaks, one trail up a separate trail down. One half the foot traffic, and, except for the summit, hikers won’t be passing each other all the way up and down, especially since most people hike at roughly the same pace. Now the real problem is that this will take MONEY. We need a lot more Rangers as well, so that some of them can go back to their core duties, not just rescues. Gov. Cuomo is good at promoting tourism in the Adirondacks, but woefully lacking in the financial support this extra traffic requires. This is the People’s park, we all deserve to enjoy it, it soothes the soul. — John Marona
Thank you to reporter Gwen Craig of the Adirondack Explorer (and Times Union) for her recent articles about recreational user pressures created by all of us entering the High Peaks Wilderness from the private lands of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR)/Ausable Club off of Rt. 73.
I appreciate the Adirondack Council’s recent press release, which highlights the many benefits of permit reservation or limited entry systems and how such a system is needed and necessary now in parts of the High Peaks Wilderness Area. (Editor’s note: See the Explorer’s article about it here) Support from the Adirondack Council for such a system comes at an important moment, as overuse of the peaks continues to spike during this pandemic summer.
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve has been publicly advocating for a limited entry or permit reservation pilot project in the High Peaks since we met with Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Basil Seggos in September 2016. For the past four years we have advocated that such a system must be one part of a comprehensive management approach, including Leave No Trace education and use of many information platforms, including High Peaks social messaging to hikers and campers before they leave home.
People who spend a lot of time in the woods often develop favorite spots. I’ve had plenty of these over the years, and one of my chosen ones was a swimming hole in the Catskill Park.
I developed an affinity for this spot while living and working as a landscaper and dry-stone mason just outside of Woodstock after college. I loved doing this work because it was physically demanding and job sites were in scenic locations. Many days after work, my co-worker and I would be completely exhausted and overheated, so we’d take a drive to a place called the Blue Hole, a little-known swimming hole he’d discovered by word of mouth that was an easy walk from the road.
The ADK (Adirondack Mountain Club) Board of Directors voted last week to confirm the organization’s official position on when limits on recreational use, such as a permit system, are appropriate. ADK’s official position is summarized as the following:
It is the position of the Adirondack Mountain Club that before the state seeks to impose restraints on the freedom of the public to use and enjoy the forest preserve, such as a permit system, it must first make the appropriate investments to mitigate the effects on the resource by educating the public, increasing the Forest Ranger force, building sustainable trails, facilitating the spread of use throughout the Forest Preserve, and making determinations of high use based on the ongoing collection of objective data.
The following is commentary from Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve
Recognizing the initial efforts of the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group, which issued an interim report last week, Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson had this to say: “An advisory body of diverse stakeholders, all volunteers, has been meeting distantly during the pandemic but nonetheless has reached consensus on recommendations to address some key existing pressure points in the High Peaks Wilderness region. During these tough times, that is an impressive accomplishment.”
However, Adirondack Wild is concerned that the group’s recommendations should be connected to the 335-page, approved 1999 DEC High Peaks Wilderness Complex Unit Management Plan, or UMP. “Almost every one of the advisory group’s interim recommendations, including expanded use of Leave No Trace, Human Waste, Education and Messaging, Trail Inventory and Assessment, Data Collection and Visitor Information, and Limits on Use can be traced back to policies and actions in the adopted Wilderness UMP. Yet the interim report makes no mention of the UMP and that’s a worry,” Gibson added.
Adirondack Wild believes that ignoring the High Peaks Unit Management Plan invites management and user conflicts. “The UMP, which took years of stakeholder efforts and was adopted by the Adirondack Park Agency and DEC, is the coordinating document that ties otherwise disparate management activities together to benefit an enduring Wilderness resource. We know the UMP may need to be updated to meet current challenges. The Advisory Group ought to be devoting part of its time to recommend specific parts of the UMP that require updating,” he continued.
To quote from the DEC’s High Peaks UMP, “without a UMP, wilderness area management can easily become as series of uncoordinated reactions to immediate problems. When this happens, unplanned management actions often cause a shift in focus that is inconsistent and often in conflict with wilderness preservation goals and objectives. A prime objective of wilderness planning is to use environmental and social science to replace nostalgia and politics. Comprehensive planning allows for the exchange of ideas and information before actions, that can have long-term effects, are taken.”
“One concern we have is that the task force has recommended that the Limits On Use pilot study be conducted on private land adjacent to the High Peaks when, in fact, it is the overused eastern High Peaks Wilderness – public land – that is in need of a well-designed pilot program limiting use. The 1999 UMP called for a working group to develop a camping permit system, with any decision to implement based upon public input and UMP amendment. That was never done. A pilot program on private land over the next three years further deflects time and attention away from a critical High Peaks management tool that ought to be tested on public land.”
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve is a not-for-profit, membership organization which acts on behalf of wilderness and wild land values and stewardship. More on the web at www.adirondackwild.org.
Photo: Crowding on Cascade Mountain, eastern High Peaks Wilderness by Dan Plumley/Almanack archive
It seems pretty clear at this point that the state agencies that manage the High Peaks Wilderness Area, and adjacent Wilderness areas, are not interested in limiting public use.
The state is investing in new parking areas, new hiking trails, and a new hiker transportation system that are all designed to facilitate ever-higher levels of public use in the High Peaks, not limit it.
In 2018, state agencies combined the Dix Mountain and High Peaks Wilderness areas into one grand 275,000-acre Wilderness area, which is now celebrated as the 3rd largest Wilderness area east of the Mississippi River, behind the Florida Everglades and the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. This action certainly merits heralding as a major accomplishment in the history of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve.
It shines a spotlight on the High Peaks Wilderness as a world-class landscape and it begs the questions of how and when will state agencies start to put together a world-class management system that the High Peaks Wilderness deserves. » Continue Reading.
Every winter there are conflicts between backcountry hikers and skiers. While skiing I try my best to educate hikers on the trail, but it isn’t a time when people tend to be very receptive.
I realize there are many hikers who are naïve to the world of backcountry skiing. While there are those who will never alter their behavior, I believe that with considerate education most will realize that there are a few simple things they can do that will improve trail use for all users.
I thought a quick summary of the backcountry downhill skiing situation in the High Peaks Wilderness in particular might be helpful. » Continue Reading.
Given ongoing evidence of recreational crowding, overuse and resource damage of the eastern High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve has called on our DEC to institute permit systems, sometimes called Limited Entry systems, to assure and restore Wilderness preservation, character and opportunity in the most heavily used portions of the High Peaks. Such systems are widely used around the country.
The internal debate at DEC over whether to institute permit systems for the High Peaks has gone on for more than 40 years. Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is considering the expansion of such a system within 500,000 acres of federal Wilderness in Oregon’s Cascade Range. » Continue Reading.
While casting her vote for the Boreas Ponds land classification known as Alternative 2 on February 2, 2018, one Adirondack Park Agency board member told the audience gathered at the agency’s headquarters in Ray Brook that we should “take a leap of faith,” even if the public wasn’t getting the wilderness classification it wanted. She said that we should trust the Department of Environmental Conservation to protect the Boreas Ponds in its forthcoming unit management plan (UMP) for the area, where environmental safeguards would be written into the proposals for recreational access.
Unfortunately, that faith has proven to be unwarranted. DEC has released a pair of management plans that will impact the future of not just the beautiful Boreas Ponds, but the entire High Peaks Wilderness. The scope of these two documents far exceeds the available time to read and assess everything they contain, but even with a cursory review it is abundantly clear that our state agencies are failing to meet the public’s expectations. » Continue Reading.
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