By Gwendolyn Craig
It has been about four months since the public has heard from the High Peaks Advisory Group that’s been meeting privately to recommend crowd management in the Adirondack Park’s High Peaks. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is in charge of posting meeting summaries, and it has not since April.
The DEC created the state-appointed group in November 2019 with members from state agencies, nonprofits, local governments and private entities. While not subject to Open Meetings Law, the DEC and members of the group “agreed that public input and transparency are critical to the successful development of a strategic framework,” according to the group’s website.
But for members of the public and stakeholders not part of the advisory group, the lack of information posted as of late has been a concern.
The last DEC posted any public information was the group’s interim report of recommendations in June. The coronavirus pandemic diverted some of the recommendations in the report, but the report did allude to possible hiking permits and use limitations. More on that was supposed to be available for the public to review and comment on through meeting summaries and eventually a final report issued sometime toward the end of the year.
David Gibson, managing partner of the nonprofit Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, wrote the DEC on Oct. 7 sending “another request that DEC continue to post notes of meetings.” Adirondack Wild is not a member of the advisory group.
“Transparency is important,” Gibson wrote, “especially if DEC expects the AG (advisory group) to issue a final report at year’s end. The public deserves to know what is being discussed at a reasonable level of detail.”
In a phone call, Gibson said that some members of the advisory group have been helpful providing his organization with information, but “the commissioner (Basil Seggos) is responsible” for posting the information publicly.
“He set this up and I think he’s accountable making sure these are posted,” Gibson said.
A spokesperson for DEC said eight meetings have taken place since the High Peaks Advisory Group’s June interim report was released. The meetings have “focused on building upon the interim recommendations.”
The advisory group, the spokesperson continued, has split off into seven smaller groups covering topics including: “Establishing Limits of Acceptable Change; Immediate Needs; Impacts to Wilderness and Ecology; Trails; Impacts to Visitors; Public Safety, Transportation, and Traffic Safety; and Community.”
The spokesperson said “additional information about these meetings will be posted online,” but the spokesperson did not respond when Adirondack Explorer asked when it would be posted. As of Thursday, Oct. 15, the website had still not been updated.
Rocci Aguirre, deputy director of the Adirondack Council, is a High Peaks Advisory Group member. Aguirre said he wasn’t sure why the DEC hadn’t posted meeting summaries. Aguirre is on the wilderness subcommittee, and Aguirre said “we are starting to see real progress towards a final report that we expect to be sent to the DEC commissioner this fall.”
“The challenges that this summer has presented area a unique backdrop to the work we are doing and the multitude of issues that we are attempting to address,” Aguirre continued. “Fundamentally, it is my hope that when we are done there will be an accepted framework agreed to by all members of the committee that will move beyond this group, include more stakeholders and greater transparency, and be part of a larger, more comprehensive planning process.”
Pete Nelson, of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, is also on the advisory group. Nelson said the advisory group has been “working hard, still reviewing public input,” adding that he is proud of their efforts.
James McKenna, CEO of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, is also part of the advisory group. He, too, didn’t know why DEC had not posted meeting summaries but said “things are moving forward.”
According to the DEC’s website, the High Peaks Advisory Group is still collecting public comments “regarding issues related to managing use in the High Peaks Region, and what might be done to address these issues.” Those may be submitted via email to info.R5@dec.ny.gov.