By BEN WESTCOTT
Hikers exploring the High Peaks and Giant Mountain Wilderness areas this summer met trained professionals offering advice at some trailheads.
These professionals, known as front-country stewards, worked at the St. Hubert’s parking area, the trailhead to the Ridge Trail on Giant Mountain, and the Marcy Field parking lot in Keene. The staff of 10 included Paul Smith’s College students from the Adirondack Watershed Institute, and the Adirondack Adventure Guides program, as well as Town of Keene employees. They provide a service to the public similar to the informational stations that have been set up and staffed by the Adirondack 46ers at the Cascade trailhead since June of 2017.
The program, which ran on Thursdays through Sundays throughout the summer and will remain in operation with limited staffing through Columbus Day weekend, was funded by the Adirondack 46ers, the Paul Smith’s College athletic department, and Keene. Stewards help prepare visitors for the trail, said Zoe Smith, deputy director of the Adirondack Watershed Institute. They are available during peak hiking times to answer any questions people have about the length and strenuousness of hikes, Smith said.
A major function of the job is to explain Leave No Trace principles. Smith described those ethics as being “like a code among responsible hikers” that determines not only how one engages with nature, but also how outdoor enthusiasts interact with other people on trails and how they behave toward wildlife. But a crucial tenet in the Leave No Trace code of conduct, Smith says, is simply being prepared.
“That is kind of the foundation of it all,” she said. “Know where you are going. Know what limitations you have. Know what resources you need. It’s about protecting yourself and protecting the resource.”
“People really appreciate having a trained professional they can talk to,” Keene Town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson said of the steward program.
Paul Smith’s student Stephanie Tyski said some hikers in the Adirondacks are less prepared than others. “We did meet a lot of people who didn’t have maps or weren’t prepared,” Tyski said. “Without this kind of program, people are missing out on important information, especially those who are coming here for the first time.”
The stewards’ early-summer training involved going on hikes, shadowing Adirondack 46ers and listening to the Department of Environmental Conservation give an overview of rules and regulations on the forest preserve. They also learned “people skills,” such as the best ways to approach people, how to assess what information hikers need, and how to de-escalate potential conflicts.
Tyski, a senior, plans to produce a senior capstone project brainstorming ways to improve the front-country steward program. She hopes to present her finished analysis to the DEC.
“Considering it was a pilot program this year, there is always room for improvement,” Tyski said.
One of the biggest challenges that stewards faced this summer was communicating with people in different languages, Tyski said. French speakers were particularly prevalent at the trailheads. She thought that having sheets of paper on site with answers to commonly asked questions in various languages would be an effective way to address this problem.
The program’s future is undetermined, Smith said.
“We’d like to continue to engage with this issue,” she said. “I’m not sure exactly what that will look like. We are going to look at the success of this program, and do an evaluation to see if this is something we would continue and if it is something the DEC would like to continue.”