About Gwendolyn Craig

Gwen is an award-winning journalist covering environmental policy for the Explorer since January 2020. She also takes photos and videos for the Explorer's magazine and website. She is a current member of the Legislative Correspondents Association of New York. Gwen has worked at various news outlets since 2015. Prior to moving to upstate New York, she worked for a D.C. Metro-area public relations firm, producing digital content for clients including the World Health Organization, the Low Income Investment Fund and Rights and Resources Initiative. She has a master's degree in journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She has bachelor's degrees in English and journalism, with a concentration in ecology and evolutionary biology, from the University of Connecticut. Gwen is also a part-time figure skating coach. Contact her at (518) 524-2902 or gwen@adirondackexplorer.org. Sign up for Gwen’s newsletter here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Kierin Bell says

    It was reassuring to see the details of the official DEC/APA Visitor Use Management Plan fleshed out in the presentation, but I think that there is still a lot to be desired. For example, too much emphasis on rather arbitrary checklists in the VUMP could become problematic, especially if that were to supplant broader planning objectives. The more specific and focused approach of SUNY ESF’s “Ecological Scorecard” looks to be better in this regard. Targeted monitoring and adaptive management on smaller scales has the potential to inform and complement broader management objectives very well. But — since there will always be too many unknowns for adaptive management to effectively keep up — it’s still worth pointing out that these types of systems only work if higher-level objectives ultimately guide the process.

      • Eric says

        There have been plenty of studies on this. “Carrying Capacity” only becomes “a thing” when a lot of people are backpacking/staying out overnight. And this capacity can be increased with things like composting privies and durable tent pads. The high-peaks are mainly a day hiking area for 99% of visitors. The carrying capacity for day-hiking is near limitless.

        • Dana says

          Carrying capacity in this case is not simply figuring out how many people can fit on a trail at once.

      • ADKBCSkier says

        There is no “science” behind it that can be measured in footprints, soil erosion, parking spaces, etc. when most of the area in question was purchased for public use without numerically defining “use” or having a functional infrastructure plan in place to begin with. It simply cannot be quantified. There’s virtually limitless variables for and against the carrying capacity debate that primarily stems back to a single article written in the early 60s by a guy named Alan Wagar. The paper goes into pre/post-WWII global population growth, 1950s Boy Scouts regulations, and even delves into the post-colonial socioeconomic affects of European nobility in American hunting culture. The finer points have been cherry picked into oblivion and at the end of the day it comes down to funding, politics, and optics.

        Saying that carry capacity is a myth in terms of Adirondack land usage isn’t denial of science, its being a healthy skeptic of what has consistently been junk science all along. Even NYS’ DEC published in their WMUs that there hasn’t been a reasonable way to determine appropriate usage, which shouldn’t have needed a statement to begin with since there’s no singular definable way to standardize “usage.” If we cannot put “use” into a matrix, trying to do the same for “overuse” is nothing more than a verbal tool used to sway public opinion to gain financial/regulatory support for so-called “green” lobby groups and private land organizations like the AMR.

        • ChapelPondGirl says

          I would say that it is science. If you have a baseline in a given
          Eco type, then measure the same metrics in a “high use area”, that’s called science.

          For example. Watershed quality along foot trail corridors versus non foot trail corridors could be one metric.

          The behavior patterns of birds and mammals can be another.

          The movement of invasive species Into area with high use versus low use.

          Soil compaction of summits of mountains, and how that affects vegetation volume
          And type.

          And hundred other things that can be observed and measured. I’m not a researcher, so I don’t know, but I know that research science is absolutely attainable. It just needs the will and the funding.

  2. Edward OShea says

    KISS, keep it simple stupid! If a ranger at every trailhead required every hiker to demonstrate map and compass skills and carried proper equipment over crowding would disappear in a hearfbeat of course that will never happen because that would eliminate lots of commitys meetings and on and on . You get the idea. Ed

    • Tim says

      Keep it simpler. Just stop “rescuing” people who didn’t bring a headlamp or didn’t bring insulation. A few people die out there it’ll cut down the numbers significantly. Problem solved.

    • Dave says

      “If we only allowed people to use trails who do things I agree with, we wouldn’t have trail crowding issues.”

      Trails are for everyone, not just people who use tools that are familiar and comfortable to you and your life experiences. Lots of people can enjoy the outdoors without needing to be able to pass some kind of arbitrary test to be safe and responsible.

      As we’ve seen in recent local and federal legislation – the more people that use trails and the outdoors, the more support there is for funding them. We’re a long ways away from enough funding for public lands, but I attribute some of the recent federal legislation pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into public lands to the explosion of popularity of outdoor spaces post-pandemic.

  3. Boreas says

    “Clague said the third-party consultant hired will help the department understand the social carrying capacity for the two locations. He said it was a long-time coming.

    “It makes me cringe to say that out loud honestly, but we need to start somewhere,” Clague said. “We’re going to learn a lot.””

    I found this statement refreshing. DEC has been asleep at the wheel over the last 50 years in managing high-usage areas with supposed Wilderness protection. Maintaining the status quo is not compatible with their charge of managing the preservation of the resource.

    It can, and obviously WILL be debated the “best” way to begin to get a handle on the usage and protection of certain Wilderness areas. But we should not get caught up in debating the DETAILS and miss the opportunity to actually begin gathering data NOW. Methodology can be altered in real-time if needed, but without baseline metrics, there can be no objective measurement of where we are and where we are heading. Without this information, planning for the future — both sort and long-term — is impossible.

    We may need to use the “C” word and begin to compromise on timeline, methodology, and acceptance of science – in other words – CHANGE. Enough people are now aware that heavy usage in Wilderness areas like the HPW is anathema to preserving the resource as actual wilderness. Perhaps re-classification of these areas is also necessary to protect the resource.

  4. Tim says

    Seems like that 600K would be better spent making some adequate parking. It’s hard to have an “overuse” problem when nearly all the parking lots hold less than a hundred cars. Give us some adequate parking first.

  5. ADKBCSkier says

    There’s no such thing as carrying capacity. Land managers either keep up with infrastructure needs, or they don’t.

    For those who don’t see what’s happening here, every time “carrying capacity,” “overcrowding,” “overuse,” and other misused terms get thrown into the mix, more people join P2Ps, donate money into political lobby groups posing as conservation organizations, and stop questioning how public land is being mismanaged by people who are abusing the infrastructure funding that NYS is extorting from us to begin with.

  6. Kierin Bell says

    We all need to be logical.

    First, as some rightly point out, infrastructure effectively expands the recreational “carrying capacity” (however the term is defined) of natural areas. But, even if the extent of infrastructure on Forest Preserve weren’t limited expressly by the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (et al), doesn’t all infrastructure have an inherent carrying capacity as well? If we can accept that baseball stadiums have limits on spectators, why shouldn’t mountains?

    Second, society evolves (and science should too). The entirety of visitor management research does not rest on J. Alan Wagar’s 1964 monograph about carrying capacity. In fact, despite some obvious confusion about terminology, nowhere in any of the documents released by DEC and APA is there evidence of an inclination towards classical numerical carrying capacities. Instead, DEC is seeking to implement an “adaptive management” strategy that is more in line with George Stankey’s popular “limits of acceptable change” (LAC) than Wagar’s “carrying capacity”. While recreational carrying capacity seeks to establish a priori limits on numbers of visitors and types of use, the LAC contends that it is best to focus on more subjective, experiential criteria that change over time. Even the biophysical component of DEC’s visitor-use management strategy — the area where “carrying capacity” would potentially come into play — seems inherently biased towards visitor experience to the extent that the approach feels out of touch with hard sciences like conservation biology.

    But, away from semantics and back again to that logical notion that society changes over time, we need to at the least ask ourselves: If numbers of visitors continue increasing (and they will), and we refuse to incorporate some basic aspects of recreational carrying capacity into management strategies (either out of conceptual or practical concerns), what is likely to happen? Users with lower thresholds for acceptable change will be displaced by those with higher thresholds. Thus, in an LAC framework, there is nothing to stop incrementalism. (This is the argument made by Stanley Plog, Richard Butler, Peter Willams, etc.) This is fine if incrementalism is the desired outcome, but if that is the case, then we have even larger questions that we need to ask — like: Why aren’t we just rewriting the Adirondack Park Act altogether?

    In the end, it matters not whether “carrying capacity” is conceptually “a myth” (in this case, a legal fiction, since it is effectively codified into Adirondack law), or whether all aspects of the carrying capacity “matrix” cannot be quantified. It only matters how concepts are applied in practice. We’re getting too bogged down in details and abstractions here for our own good, or for that of future generations.

    • ADKBCSkier says

      A system to numerically track/limit usage per carry capacity was indeed published by the DEC. High Peaks region WMUs discussed this issue at some length throughout the years.

      In order to define carrying capacity, which must be numerically represented otherwise “capacity” is a meaningless term, one must be able to define use vs. overuse and separate overuse from misuse. None of these things have occurred because the DEC and other organizations are too busy counting cars and measuring trail depth at natural erosion points where engineered trails never would have been to begin with (also discussed in WMUs). Frankly, it might not matter anyway since this conversation wouldn’t be happening if NYS had taken the appropriate steps as land managers as greater needs became evident decades ago.

      “Users with lower thresholds for acceptable change will be displaced by those with higher thresholds…there is nothing to stop incrementalism.” If you’ve been listening to the people most ardently driving the carrying capacity debate, they’ve been making it very clear that their end game is to not only stop incrementalism but to drastically reduce current land usage throughout the region. This has already begun happening in one well-known area despite the legal framework in place to keep access open to the public. Most of us probably would not like to see this happen. In fact, the majority vote has been cast by those who show up and use the land for recreational purposes despite being told by lobby groups that its “overcrowded.”

      “It only matters how concepts are applied in practice.” I completely agree and many of us have been shouting this from the rooftops for decades. The area needs appropriate infrastructure, not more talking points.

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