By Gwendolyn Craig
Despite record numbers of hikers in the Adirondack Park High Peaks this summer, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said that hiker permits and more forest rangers are not on the docket for now.
Seggos said until the state gets a better handle on its budget, and until other methods for managing visitors are explored, both efforts would be premature. The commissioner’s comments were part of a video press conference on Friday about crowds, unprepared hikers and trash in the Adirondacks and Catskills.
The state is facing a $14 billion budget deficit, due to the pandemic. Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pulled the $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act from going to a public vote, leaving local leaders and environmentalists wondering the fate of the $300 million Environmental Protection Fund. That fund supports a number of projects in the Adirondacks, including trail maintenance.
Seggos said Cuomo has been a “stalwart defender of the EPF,” and he expects it to be a “core component” of funding for projects this year.
“The bond act is a different animal,” Seggos said. “The cancellation of the bond act this year, I think there’s no one who has taken it more personally than the governor and myself, but it was an important decision to protect the state’s financial picture.”
The pandemic is also getting more people outside, which Seggos said the state is thrilled to see. But, a small percentage of individuals are leaving large amounts of trash. Others are hiking unprepared.
“Hiking in flip-flops—I’ve seen it myself this summer—is totally unacceptable,” Seggos said. “It’s dangerous to the hiker, and it’s a real tax on the state’s resources when we have to perform these very difficult rescues.”
Forest rangers, especially in the Adirondack Park High Peaks, have been calling for more staff for years. Scott van Laer, a High Peaks ranger and union delegate, posted on Twitter July 22 that he responded to three search-and-rescue incidents in the High Peaks on July 23. “It was a Tuesday,” van Laer wrote. “Staff is completely overwhelmed. We can’t ignore that this area is equivalent to a National Park any longer.”
The crowds are coming even with the Canadian border closed.
Seggos pointed to the “massive hole” in the state budget and said leaders in Washington need to backfill some of the state’s budget gaps. Partner agencies and divisions have helped with policing and resource management, he added.
The commissioner said it’s too early to say what 2021 could bring as far as staffing levels. Seggos said he doesn’t know when the Canadian border will reopen, but he hopes it does. When and if that happens, the state will work on English and French Canadian messaging to educate visitors on Leave No Trace, principles focused on outdoor recreation ethics.
Another strategy environmental organizations have suggested for managing crowds is permits. A proposal for limits on use was part of the state-appointed High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group’s report, issued last month.
“Whenever you talk about a permit system, something as rigorous as that, you always want that to be the last place you go,” Seggos said. “Here in the Adirondacks, you’ve got roads, dozens of communities and lots of people living there, so it’s difficult to envision a very effective permitting campaign.”
For now, the commissioner is hoping the public will do its part by being safe and smart.
“This is a plea for people to use common sense,” he said.
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The DEC released a number of reminders on Friday about recreating in the High Peaks. They include:
- No campfires in the Eastern Zone of the High Peaks Wilderness
- Group Size Maximums: Day Trip maximums are 15 people. Overnight maximums are 8 people. Permits for oversized groups are not available in the High Peaks Wilderness
- No camping on summits
- No camping above 3,500 feet (except at lean-to)
- No camping in areas with “No Camping” signs present
- Whenever possible, camp in designated sites. If necessary, at-large camping is permitted as long as campsites are at least 150 feet from any road, trail, water body, or waterway. Place your tent on a durable surface, such as hardened soil, leaf litter, or pine duff. Do not place your tent on vegetation.
- Bear canisters are required for all overnight campers in the Eastern Zone of the High Peaks Wilderness
- Carry out what you carry in. Properly dispose of waste and pack out all gear and garbage. Do not leave waste at trailheads.
- Dogs must be leashed at all times in the Eastern Zone of the High Peaks Wilderness and at trailheads, campsites and above 4,000 feet everywhere else. If accessing the High Peaks from the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) trailheads, dogs are not allowed on AMR property.
- Bikes are prohibited
- Drones are prohibited
- ATVs are prohibited
- No fixed anchors for climbing on Forest Preserve at this time
- Adirondack Mountain Reserve-specific rules for this property include no camping, no dogs, no drones, and no off-trail travel.
The DEC is also promoting a number of Leave No Trace guidelines, including:
- Carry out what you carry in. Don’t leave trash, food, gear, or any other personal belongings behind.
- Trash your trash. Use designated receptacles when available or carry your trash in a small bag so you can throw it out at home. Never put trash in outhouses or porta-potties.
- Use designated bathroom facilities when available. If traveling, use the rest areas closest to your destination before you arrive. Learn how to dig a cat hole (leaves DEC website) and properly dispose of your human waste for the times when nature calls and a bathroom is not available.
- During the COVID-19 public health crisis, take extra precautions when picking up trash you find on the trail. Wear gloves and make sure to hand sanitize when you are done.
With the number of license plates from “restricted” states I have been seeing in Essex and Clinton Counties, I would be concerned about hiking anywhere hikers are numerous and face mask protection is as lax as in the main photo.
They are maintaining the six foot distance and some are wearing masks. Everyone I’ve seen on the trails is stepping aside to keep a distance. It’s not easy to wear a mask hiking.
Maybe Mr. Seggos should research the Tarahumara Indians. They outperform all other long distance hikers and runners in all kinds of terrain wearing sandals. I wouldn’t do it myself, but this kind of finger pointing should be given a little more thought before publishing. Can he cite examples of sandal wearing hikers causing a rescue?
No surprises here. Boreas is often half right as usual with the skyrocketing number of new cases reported in Essex and Clinton Counties. Probably all related to hiking in the High Peaks. If concerned or compromised like Boreas says, then by all means, just don’t do it. Please do not die, especially here. Stay home, bushwhack, play checkers, wear a mask or buy some mace to protect yourself. Yes, the mountains will wait, but please, now more than ever, and hey, especially you outsiders, just send your solicited donations and tax dollars now more than ever, and remember, we’ll see you later. Whatever, nevermind.
reminder to all considerate hikers, 46ers, ADK members and anyone who wants to keep your hiking “privileges” (although we do pay for it with tax money)….pick up other people’s trash, if they are too inconsiderate we will do it for them! Even if you see disgusting TP, flick it off the trail and bury it.
Damian La Quay says
The best solution to the problem is to keep all the cidiots out of the woods and off the mountains. Having grown-up and lived in the Adirondacks my entire life, I’ve witnessed countless cases of the disrespect and disregard these clowns have for the woods and those of us who live there.
This is the blog article by steward, Michaela Dunn, shedding sobering insight into what is going on up high this summer.
It also shows why there is no substitute for a robust Ranger force. I hope Basil Seggos reads this blog article with his political glasses off.
Another related point. When people are supposedly maintaining a six-foot distance, significant trail traffic can only lead to trampling more vegetation and widening of what are supposed to be single-file trails throughout the HPW. Trail crews have been working decades to concentrate trail traffic, and this is likely to be a significant setback to that program.
Anyone else notice roadside parking is on the upswing?
I read that article last week and it was a little surprising to see what’s going on. It’s another good example of why more Rangers are needed. People who are completely uneducated about the regulations need to know what is allowed before they set out on a camping trip. Uniformed Rangers or assistants at trailheads could help the problem. Maybe there should also be some sort of camping pass program, so that all campers know what the regulations are. But these folks are outliers, most of the hikers know the rules, I think it’s more often campers that spoil things instead of day hikers. It truly is the bad apples that are causing problems. But why does everyone have to suffer because of them? This Steward says that he didn’t report some of the rule breakers, I can understand his predicament, but was he following his protocol? I’m not sure, maybe they have discretion. About trail trampling, there’s nothing that can be done this summer. It’s an unusual situation, never happened before. It’s not the hikers fault, they can’t levitate around each other, and they are still allowed to hike.
Hmm comments on this one are a bit spicy. Now that I’m paying attention to it, I’m seeing the “cidiots” epithet more and more. Really classy…
On other forums, I have cautioned that any permit system or restrictions on use have to consider enforcement or they’re not going to be effective. Further, deterring people who are being responsible and considerate isn’t good either.
Perhaps rather than potentially punishing everyone, can we focus more on discouraging bad behavior? A permit system is just a quota. What about giving citations in cases of clearly egregious behavior, like a campfire near a summit? If we fine people for illegal parking, I think it’s fair to fine people for environmental damage when they’re caught red-handed. Isn’t littering already a ticket-worthy offense?
I re-read the article that Boreas posted. The steward is actually a female. (sorry Michaela, I called you a he in a previous post). Anyway, the campers who camped way too high near Marcy did not know the rules. And they stated one of them had heat exhaustion and was very dehydrated and could not continue, so in a case like this, obviously, camping is permitted, I believe so they don’t like, die or something. But, they did have a campfire which is really odd to see, since they’re not permitted at all in that area, much less above 3,500 ft. And, the young drone flyers said they didn’t know the law about drones either. I don’t know if there are any signs indicating that at trailheads, but I’ll bet a lot of people don’t know that law either. So what we have here again are isolated incidents, nothing that should be used as evidence to close parking lots and send people away. I think that is at the heart of this whole overuse issue, over-reaction to the current problems. Things need to be thought out in a fair manner for all involved. The state and local economy has a potential windfall of profits on their hand if they figure out how to balance the overuse and accommodate the “throngs” in a welcoming manner. The new ADK Director called this a good problem to have. That’s a promising comment. But unfortunately, things aren’t going our way because they want to close more parking and increase the already ridiculous parking fine (250 dollars or more). But in recent news: “President Donald Trump signed legislation Tuesday that will devote nearly $3 billion a year to conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public lands following its overwhelming approval by both parties in Congress.” So maybe the park can get a chunk of that money to re-vamp the trails, and spend more on conservation efforts (and build MORE parking, not less) and then we can turn things around.