Policies needed to secure access for all

AMR lot access in the Adirondack Park
Adirondack Mountain Club, Explorer file photo by Mike Lynch

By Tracy Ormsbee

Inclusivity is something we’re working on in the Adirondacks, knowing that the visitor demographics are skewed toward the privileged and white. At the same time, stakeholders are working on ways to ensure hikers coming to the High Peaks region can safely navigate Route 73, that they are prepared for challenging hikes and that they won’t harm the fragile environment—its beauty being the very reason people want to come. 

Any solutions we adopt around managing use, though, should encourage rather than discourage visitors—especially those who have not had the benefit of growing up with time in the Adirondack Park, and people from groups who historically haven’t participated in hiking, climbing and skiing here, including those from minority groups. Visitors are the region’s economic lifeblood and equal owners of a park that state law says “shall be forever reserved and maintained for the free use of all the people.” 

READ MORE: A page dedicated to the Explorer’s solutions reporting

A study of national parks revealed that minorities are more likely to lack information about park resources, as well as the transportation and financial means to pay user fees. They can also be deterred by marketing that makes some recreational activities seem out of reach because they require special equipment and behavior.

Rolling out the welcome mat can start with small steps—with something even as simple as a choice of words. For example, the terms “overcrowding” and “overuse” suggest only a certain number of visitors should come to enjoy some of the region’s most spectacular hikes and views. These words are thrown about; in fact, we at the Adirondack Explorer have been guilty of writing them. It’s worth stopping to consider: Are too many people coming, or do we have inadequate systems to handle parking and transportation, and to provide such fundamental services as restrooms and visitor education? 

The Explorer has been presenting ideas tried elsewhere to manage the traffic at popular state and national park attractions. We’ve reported about solutions that may strike a balance between welcoming and protecting, including education.

More discussion on Adirondack Park user management

Join the Explorer, with the Adirondack Mountain Club, for a panel discussion around some of the plans already in place and others being considered for the region with a focus on education for visitors and data collection for decision-makers.

Taking place from 7-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 20, at the former Cascade Ski Center in Lake Placid, now owned by Adirondack Mountain Club. Free admission, but space is limited so click here to RSVP.

Visitor centers and front- and back-country stewards are essential for visitor safety, trail protections and research. The Adirondack Mountain Club’s Summit Steward program is a wonderful example of restoring rare alpine plants when hikers understand the environment.

Adequate parking and shuttles are another way to keep hikers safe. Yet a solution to one problem can add new concerns. Maine’s Acadia National Park is changing its own rules against adding more parking so it can safely accommodate turnout. New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch State Park dealt with its ample yet remote parking by adding buses to move hundreds of weekend hikers. But the shuttles encouraged more visitors, putting stress on a few trails. 

In the High Peaks, the state began running shuttles in 2021, adding to what the town of Keene was providing. There are now pleas to expand the program. Thorough and regular data collection is the only way to make truly informed adjustments. If we’ve learned anything in these past couple of years, it’s the importance of science in decision-making. The National Park Service collects annual visitor statistics, which are also accessible to the public. Jill Weiss, a researcher at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is looking into Adirondack stewardship and hiker motives. 

A natural notion—permits—arrived in a test in 2021 to get a handle on a 400% increase in hiker traffic over 40 years. The second year of the experiment with a parking reservation system continues this year at the privately owned Adirondack Mountain Reserve, where, by easement, hikers can reach several of the 46 High Peaks. 

Early evaluation suggests a drop in dangerous parking, and that many people are using the system. But there are clear signs that the program needs to be better promoted and explained, and accommodations made for those without internet access. This past season, people were still arriving at AMR only to learn they could not use the trails without a reservation—even if they didn’t come in a car. 

“Access for all” policy involving the High Peaks must move forward backed by data for a deliberate strategy, keeping users and potential visitors in mind. A two-year pandemic has highlighted the importance of nature—and the Adirondack Park specifically—to health and happiness. The park belongs to the people, and its use should be encouraged for all.

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About Tracy Ormsbee

Tracy Ormsbee is publisher of the Adirondack Explorer. When she’s not working – and it’s not black fly season – you can find her outdoors hiking, running, paddle boarding or reading a book on an Adirondack chair somewhere.

Reader Interactions


  1. JB says

    Forward-thinking policy is indeed the key to achieving environmental and social justice! But, if justice is what we’re after, we won’t get there by rolling back restrictions in favor of the more laissez-faire approach. “Access restriction”–whether that access be to timber, game, development rights, or non-extractive recreation–is the foundational ideal of the Adirondack Park. Without that, we would not even be talking about social justice; we’d be talking about large-scale luxury subdivisions, luxury ski resorts, luxury short-term rentals, increased parking for luxury vehicles… Wait! We are talking about those things right now! …When we start to relax fundamental restrictions, the Adirondack Park starts to look a lot more like everywhere else–not like the model for the rest of the world that it should be.

    • Boreas says


      Too many stakeholders view the Park as another resource to be exploited rather than protected. There is a way to provide “access for all” and still preserve the resource. It is done by temporal restriction – restricting not who but WHEN you can hike a particular trail. This is essentially permitting or limiting parking. As you say, eliminating all restrictions will do nothing to preserve the resource – which should be our goal – but it seems fewer and fewer people care about preservation and protection if it involves inconvenience or sacrifice.

      This unique resource can easily be lost by many small decisions that are made without any clear goal. Band-aid fixes are never good policy.

      • JB says

        Maybe a better way to frame this argument: The entire premise of the modern social justice movement is that there are social structures in place that perpetuate discrimination against marginalized communities (and hence the need for structural reform). Frankly, I don’t see a scenario in which a new focus on (economic) “agency”–e.g., “we welcome your business” signs, or ostensibly pro-diversity endowments–conflated with and even in place of the kind of structural reforms that the Adirondack Park has gotten quite right–land-use planning, sensible access restriction–does not ultimately lead to some catastrophically Aspenized and structurally discriminatory Park. There is always an inevitable danger that this type of messaging, however well-intentioned, only serves to perpetuate deeper structures. “Overuse” may read as discriminatory by some interperetation, but if terms like this help to accurately describe and illuminate real structural problems (and are there really better eqivalent alternatives?), then I’d go so far as to say that we probably aren’t using them enough.

    • Joan Grabe says

      Of course we are talking of these things right now ! Luxury subdivisions, luxury ski resorts, luxury short term rentals, increased parking for luxury vehicles etc etc. But luxury is not a term that should be thrown around lightly here. Outside of Lake George and the Tri Lakes luxury is in pretty short supply in the rest of the 6million acres.I would rather focus on the needs of the people of our communities, more meaningful jobs, more broadband, better housing stock, more services for all, medical, child care, services for the elderly, the list goes on and on. These people are here already, they are us and they should be our focus. Not some mythical large landowners who will be attracted to huge land holdings on the former Whitney lands or some racially diverse people who are eager to sample the wilderness and who may not know the “rules “. As for luxury ski resorts – there are none here. They are all out West altho our local ones are very enjoyable and locals love them. Tracy Ormsbee is totally right – we have to improve accessibility and inclusivity to attract new visitors and residents but the distance to major metropolitan centers precludes the Adirondacks from ever becoming Aspen.

  2. Susan says

    Why do you make it sound like “minorities” are too stupid or poor to pick up a book, read about our mountains, and say “I want to go there”, and then do it? It sounds so insulting.

    • Lawrence Van Garrett says

      I agree. What system is in place that is actually discriminating against any person of color? Look, I’m a boy from Kentucky who found himself traveling to the Adirondacks back in 2004. I was asked to go on a canoe trip and a hike. I had never experienced anything like the ADK. Big mountains, beautiful winters, etc. I liked it so much, I did everything I could to move here and I did. I wasn’t able to purchase waterfront property, or a camp. I got an apartment in Glens Falls. My job allowed me to be able to work from home. I immersed myself in the ADK whenever I could. It cost me nothing more at the time than a pair of hiking boots, a day pack and the willingness to read any book I could to find trails to hike. Could not any person of color do that? Who would them them no. I’d like to be able to afford a camp on the water, have two antique boats and a pontoon. I am unable to afford that so have a been discriminated against? Is there some systematic discrimination that Mew York(or maybe white”folk”) have in place preventing me from having what others have? No. It’s called we all make choices and those choices will determine how well your life is lived. I’m in the middle class, but where I spend my money and the things that I love to do are focused on the outdoors. I don’t drink, smoke or gamble which allows me to buy the things that puts me on the water and on top of Whitefece in late January every year.
      No one is stopping anyone from coming to Placid, Saranac or Loon Lake. But let’s be honest. If you don’t know how to be a good steward of any land that you are on in the moment, stay home. Lord knows the ADK does not need those who don’t know how to care for it, like “leave no trace.” More uneducated people will only leave the ADK riddled with garbage.

  3. louis curth says

    I agree JB that forward-thinking policy is the key to environmental issues, social justice and a whole lot more. I also join Boreas in thinking that the bane of our human decision making is the Band-aid fixes that sacrifice too much for expediency. (and also give an unfair edge to those with greater clout over less advantaged folks).

    Tracy Ormsbee’s essay boils down our Adirondack dilemma to three basic parts: inclusivity, safety of users, and protection of a fragile environment.

    With all that in mind, it seems to me that the template for all of us who love this place is to come together, put aside our differences and prejudices, and seek consensus for good long term solutions based on solid, fact-based reasoning. If we can do this, we will give future generations a chance to share and enjoy these wonderful Adirondacks. This is what “community” is all about, and sadly, without it, I fear for the future of democracy as a viable institution….

  4. Shawn says

    Visitors to the Adirondacks are privileged and white. What a bunch of bs If minorities want to come they will. Maybe they don’t want drive 5 hours to have to walk 6 miles in a bug infested environment to walk the shore of a pond just to turn around and walk 6 miles back out.

    • Lawrence Van Garrett says

      Privileged? Lol. One doesn’t even need an education to enjoy the Adirondacks. Proof of that is found in a story on here once a week about someone 5 hours away needing a search and rescue team to help them find their way out of a hiking trail. And who visit the ADK will take the “bug infestation” over the “crack and violence infestation” found 5 hours away.

  5. Zephyr says

    The AMR hiking restriction system doesn’t need to be “better promoted and explained, and accommodations made for those without internet access.” It needs to be scrapped for the discriminatory policy it is. No real data collected, except by the AMR, no real traffic study done for a location that has never had a hiker-related accident that anyone can recall, nothing done to study any supposed environmental degradation on trails that most would agree are some of the least disturbed in the High Peaks, and talk about a clear case of a highly select, affluent and well-connected bunch of people, mostly from away, getting the gears of government to provide them with special privileges at the expense of most ordinary citizens! The AMR hiking restrictions are the antithesis of providing access to all.

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