By Tim Rowland
A long-awaited but COVID-delayed hiker shuttle through Keene Valley will begin Aug. 21, and run through Columbus Day weekend, according to Essex County and Department of Environmental Conservation officials.
The eye-catching, freshly painted lavender and white bus—festooned with mountains, evergreens and birds over a topo-map background—was parked on the grounds of the Essex County courthouse Monday morning for the inspection of supervisors.
“Ensuring public safety and enhancing access to the world class opportunities in the Adirondack Park is a top priority, and this new pilot shuttle system is a critical next step in our comprehensive efforts to promote sustainable tourism in the region,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos in a press release. “I commend our staff and our local partners Essex County, town of Keene, and others for developing this pilot program that will enhance the visitor experience for hikers, climbers, and other visitors to this incredible part of the Adirondacks, and look forward to learning from this experience as we continue to advance additional improvements in the area.”
A DEC schedule shows the bus running from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It will start at Marcy Field, stopping at the Rooster Comb trailhead before proceeding to its turnaround point at the intersection of State Routes 73 and 9. There will be no pick-up or drop-off at the turnaround. On its return, it will stop at the Giant Mountain/Ridge Trail, Roaring Brook and again at Rooster Comb before returning to Marcy Field. The total route will take 50 minutes to complete, with a dozen runs throughout the day.
The shuttle will not stop at the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) parking area nor is the AMR Parking area accessible from the Roaring Brook/Giant Mountain lot where the shuttle will drop off and pick up riders. Advanced reservations to access parking for Round and Noonmark mountains and the AMR gate are still required as part of the joint DEC-AMR pilot parking reservation system.
There is no cost associated with riding the shuttle and no fee for parking at Marcy Field.
The Town of Keene runs its own shuttle from Marcy Field to The Garden trailhead in Keene Valley.
The new shuttle will be operated by the Essex County Department of Public Transportation, and will work in concert with front-country stewards offering trail information and advice to hikers.
County officials said they have adequate drivers for the route, but the Town of Keene has put out a call for more stewards, since it will need to staff two more stations at Giant and Roaring Brook.
A further complication, said Keene Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson, is that the bus will start running at almost exactly the same time his current stewards go back to college. He said anyone interested in being a steward should contact the town office.
For the shuttles, designed as part of an overall plan to ease traffic and hiker congestion in Keene Valley, it has been a star-crossed year. In the summer of 2020 the state purchased four buses and turned them over to the county in anticipation of an expansive network that would run out of the Van Hoevenberg sports complex east of Lake Placid in the north, and the Frontier Town redevelopment in North Hudson in the south.
Covid put an end to that for the summer, and has at least partly been responsible for all but ending the program for 2021 as well. It took a while to know how the vaccine would play out, and whether the closed-in space on a bus would be safe.
A tightening workforce led to trouble finding stewards and drivers. There were also questions about where and how a bus could safely turn around on Route 73, which along with summer traffic, was being repaved and fitted with new guardrails.
If there is a silver lining, it’s that the record Adirondack crowds of 2020 didn’t return. A wet July and continued closure of the Canadian border are partially responsible, as is, town officials believe, a wider variety of events and venues for people to choose from that weren’t available during the 2020 shutdown.