By Tim Rowland
The town of Keene’s hiker shuttle from Marcy Field to the popular Garden trailhead will be back in action this weekend after missing much of the summer for lack of a driver, according to Keene Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson.
The bus will roll at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26, and will be in service on Saturdays and Sundays from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. through the balance of the season. The cost is $10, $13 Canadian. Payment is cash only. Further details can be found by clicking the “Hiker Information” button at townofkeeneny.com.
“It’s a relief to get the shuttle back and get it back on the road,” said Wilson as he picked up the bus following an oil change and safety check.
Ideally the town would begin regularly scheduled bus service to the trailhead for the height of summer after school lets out. But Wilson said that since the pandemic, the region has suffered from a critical lack of commercial drivers.
“It’s a hard license to get, and it’s been a struggle to find qualified people,” he said. “So many towns need drivers for snow plows and school buses, and businesses need them too. There just aren’t enough people.”
Commercial drivers are required to take a training course and test that cost thousands of dollars, Wilson said, which has further discouraged new drivers.
Governments are starting to recognize that they’ll need to provide a tailwind if they are to find drivers. Essex County, for example, is addressing this issue by hiring employees and putting them on track to become licensed, with the county picking up the cost.
The Garden hiker shuttle serves one of three major trailheads off of Route 73 in Keene Valley, with trails to the High Peaks interior. Parking at the trailhead itself is limited and the lot in summer is usually full.
Meanwhile, a wider shuttle system facilitated by the state to include more trailheads in Keene Valley has largely been shelved after a two-year pilot project failed to generate enough interest during the summer.
A DEC spokesman said the state shuttle will operate out of Marcy Field this fall on select weekends between Labor Day and Columbus/Indigenous Peoples Day.
Like previous years, the shuttle will begin and end its route at the Marcy Field parking area in Keene Valley, stopping to pick up and drop off riders at three trailheads along the Route 73 corridor. The shuttle will first arrive at the Rooster Comb trailhead headed eastbound, turn around at the intersection of Routes 73 and 9, and make stops at the Giant Mountain Ridge Trail, Roaring Brook Falls and Rooster Comb trailheads on its westbound return to Marcy Field. A route map is available on the DEC website and a schedule will become available close to the operating period.
In addition, the DEC said a new mobile information station will further enhance hiker education in the High Peaks. The DEC plans to repurpose one of the four shuttles purchased in 2021 for use as an educational resource for education and outreach. The station will first be deployed at Marcy Field for the 2023 fall hiking season.
The bus is equipped with a TV allowing for video education opportunities in addition to resources like maps, alternate locations, trail conditions, parking information and safety and preparedness information.
In 2022, Environmental Education Assistants were stationed at key front-country access points and trailheads between May 27 and October 10. The Education Assistants reported more than 5,300 engagements over 178 days from 12 different locations, the DEC said.
Wilson said the assistants had a positive effect. “The DEC has developed their own educational stewards and that’s been a tremendous help,” he said.
After record-setting numbers during the pandemic, Wilson said hikers have returned more typical averages this summer. “The Garden was full this morning on a Tuesday, but the overflow has dropped to a more manageable level,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include DEC shuttle information.