New route up Mount Van Hoevenberg hailed for sustainable design
By Mike Lynch
High Peaks Forester Tate Connor likes to joke that most people hiking many of the steep Adirondack trails wouldn’t notice someone in a pink gorilla suit standing in the woods a few feet off the trail.
That’s because many hikers are too busy looking at their feet as they navigate the rocks and roots sticking up in the trails.
But Connor says that’s not the case with the new sustainably designed trail up Mount Van Hoevenberg.
“This trail design isn’t meant to be easier,” he said. “It’s just meant to allow people to hike, and they can look around in the forest. They are not worried about the tripping hazards.”
Crews first cut the trail in 2018, and are hoping to complete it this fall. Trail workers are currently busy on a section of the trail near the summit. The trail was created to give the large number of people going up Cascade Mountain an easier and attractive alternative to that High Peak.
The summit of Mount Van Hoevenberg offers spectacular views of High Peaks from its 2,940 foot-summit that can be reached by hiking a 1.7-mile trail that ascends 920 feet from the trailhead at the Olympic Sports Complex outside of Lake Placid.
The name of the new trail is MVHE, short for Mount Van Hoevenberg East. Connor said the abbreviation was given to avoid confusion with other trails, including the popular Van Hoevenberg Trail that goes up Mount Marcy and the older trail up Mount Van Hoevenberg from South Meadow Road.
Why it’s needed
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is also working on a similarly designed trail up Cascade Mountain that would overlap with MVHE at the beginning and share a trailhead. Once the new trail for Cascade is done, the current one that starts on Route 73 will close.
When DEC officials announced several years ago that they wanted to move the Cascade Trail to the Olympic Sports Complex, they stated the area has a bigger and safer parking area and the new Mountain Pass Lodge will provide hiking info to visitors and sell basic gear. The lodge also provides bathrooms at the trailhead.
“The whole reason the MVHE exists is to provide an opportunity to address the use that we’re having in the Cascade area, provide a better experience for folks,” Connor said.
Connor said of the benefits of the new MVHE trail is that he expects it will remain in same basic condition for future generations to use because of the sustainable design features used in constructing it.
“We can’t say the same thing for any of the other trails that we have … just in my lifetime, we’ve seen sections of trail go from 5-feet wide to 40-feet wide,” he said.
In the Adirondacks, many trails go straight up the mountain because they were created by usage patterns in the 19th century when guides and others hiked the shortest route to the summit. As a result, many older trails suffer from erosion and have widened significantly, especially in recent years due to the high number of hikers visiting the forest preserve.
This MVHE trail, however, was built across the hillside and has an average slope of 10 percent, with a max of 15 percent. That’s a big difference when compared to the historic fall-line trails.
In addition, special care was also taken to ensure that hikers will want to stay on the trail, Connor said. When hikers leave the trail to avoid obstacles, they cause erosion along the edges of the trail and eventually it widens.
MVHE was built so that it sheds water naturally and the stone staircases are more user-friendly.
Connor said hikers often avoid many of the stone staircases that were built on fall-line trails because the risers between the steps are too big. People avoid steps with more than an 8-inch rise, so stones with 7-inch rises were used.
Plus, many staircases used rocks that were rounded and slippery in wet and icy weather. On MVHE, crews carefully selected rocks that were the right size and shapes.
The new standard?
While the new trail was hailed by now-retired DEC Regional 5 Director Bob Stegemann as a trail that will set the standard in the future, many new trails won’t necessarily be duplications of the MVHE trail.
“To build every trail in the Adirondacks to this standard right now, we clearly do not have the capacity to do that,” said DEC Region 5 Regional Forester Rob Daley. “And I would say that we really don’t need to build every trail in the Adirondacks to this standard now. We would certainly incorporate principles of sustainable design. That’s what we want to do going forward. That is what we plan to do.”
Daley noted that the trails up Mount Van Hoevenberg and Cascade are expected to among the most popular trails in the park. They also present challenges because of the soil types and wet conditions present on the mountains. Because of that, DEC has put extra effort into building them. Other trails in different areas of the park may require a lot less effort to construct because they have better soils and few terrain challenges.
But Connor said the techniques and lessons being learned on the MVHE will be applied to trails around the park when necessary.
“From the trail builder technical level, we’re building the laboratory that tests the different techniques ,” he said.
Sign up for the “Backcountry Journal” newsletter, sending trip ideas, info and more on Thursdays