By Mike Lynch
A key hiking shuttle in Keene will resume operations on Saturday.
The shuttle from Marcy Field to the Garden parking lot has run on weekends for the past decade throughout the hiking season, but has been shut down since 2019.
Last hiking season, it didn’t operate due to COVID-19. This year, its start got delayed as the town of Keene looked for drivers to operate it.
The shuttle costs $10 roundtrip to use and runs from the parking lot on Airport Road in Keene, on the south end of Marcy Field, to the Garden parking lot. The town of Keene manages both parking lots and operates the shuttle. It owns the Marcy field lot, while a private landowner owns the access and part of the Garden lot. The state also owns part of the garden lot.
The Garden lot, which is small, provides access to trails for the Great Range, Mount Marcy, Big Slide and the Brothers, among other places.
The Marcy field parking lot has the capacity to handle 110 vehicles, up from 75 in the past.
Keene Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson said so far the number of visiting early-season hikers has been down a bit from past years, but the Garden did fill up by 6 a.m. last Saturday and he expects that trend will likely continue during the peak hiking season.
He said there several reasons for the slow start so far, including that the Canadian border has been closed, people are returning to pre-COVID activities, and people have learned to avoid Saturday due to the congestion in recent years.
But Wilson emphasized the town is going “out of its way to be welcoming” because he fears some people may have been turned off by the ongoing dialogue about high use and parking issues between stakeholders.
He did note that the Sunday farmer’s market at Marcy Field has had up to 1,800 people on Sundays, so people are still visiting.
“They are still coming. They are just planning their hikes to work around the higher use days. We’ll see if that holds,” Wilson said.
The Garden shuttle runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
In addition to the shuttle, the town has hired front country stewards to work at the Garden, Marcy Field and the Rooster Comb trailheads “to help hikers find their destination safely, and figure out alternatives if their intended hikes are over-crowded,” according to a Keene press release.
The town is also working with officials from Essex County and the state Department of Environmental Conservation on a another shuttle that would provide transportation to hikers in the Route 73 corridor.
Correction: This story was updated on July 14 to reflect the correct ownership of the Garden parking lot.