The Adirondack High Peaks’ popularity did not dwindle this year with coronavirus pandemic. The 46 peaks beckoned hikers across the northeast seeking solace and safety outdoors. But the argument that the mountains are getting too loved and overused continued.
The state-appointed High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group has been meeting behind closed doors to discuss different strategies for managing the increased visitor use. The group is made up of local government officials, environmental nonprofits, local guides, state staff and academics. In June, the group released an interim report with some recommendations, though the pandemic caused members to focus the report on more short-term things for keeping visitors safe.
Hiking permits and limits continued to be a point of discussion this year. The advisory group suggested a three-year pilot plan for limiting use on a private property in the High Peaks. Over the summer, Adirondack Explorer learned that the Adirondack Mountain Reserve and the Ausable Club were considering implementing their own limits. The reserve trustees own the popular entry point to a number of High Peaks, but allow the public to use it through a foot traffic easement with the state. The reserve trustees suggested they would be limiting the number of hikers on their property in 2021.
The pandemic shoved aside plans for hiker shuttles as a parking solution for the ever-popular Route 73. It also took a toll on the state budget, providing little room for adjustments to handle crowds. Though the Canadian border was closed to non-essential traffic for the majority of the year, people from all over the northeast flocked to the High Peaks. Local government officials and forest rangers saw crowds very similar to normal years, causing them to question what will happen when northern borders are back open.
With new hikers came more rescues, more trash, more trail erosion and more crowded summits. Summit and front country stewards continued their public outreach and education and forest rangers remained as busy as ever. But the crowds were also a reminder of the special place we have in this corner of the state. Even during a tumultuous and heartbreaking year one could head for the High Peaks and find a moment of relief—if there weren’t too many people. — Gwendolyn Craig