North Hudson town supervisor advocates for creating new route to southern High Peaks
By Tim Rowland
Essex County supervisors are asking the state to expand its hiker shuttle network this season to areas outside of Keene Valley and south of the High Peaks.
In a March 10 meeting with the Department of Environmental Conservation, Essex County supervisors and transportation officials proposed a three-bus rotation that would extend from Keene Valley down to North Hudson and trailheads south of the High Peaks.
Supervisors also hope a front-country steward can be stationed in the A-frame at Frontier Town, a restaurant and service center off of Exit 29.
The shuttles would begin to run over the July 4 weekend, according to the proposal.
While hopeful that the routes can be expanded, Supervisors Chair Shaun Gillilland said there are potential pitfalls, including difficulty finding drivers, and no firm idea of whether hikers will return to the trailheads after a down year.
“There’s a consensus to run the shuttle again, and we’re looking for ways we can increase services,” Gillilland said.
In its 2021 inaugural year, the state ran only one of four buses it purchased to transport hikers, and only in the tail end of the season. Those rides didn’t fill up, because trailheads along Rt. 73 at Giant and Rooster Comb seldom reached capacity, meaning hikers had little need for a shuttle.
That followed a year, in 2020, of tremendous crowds at the trailheads, as COVID-19 closed indoor destinations and made hiking a safer and more attractive alternative. As those indoor venues reopened in the summer of 2021, it drew people away from the trails which, in combination with the continued closure of the Canadian border, sapped the number of hikers.
This year, Gillilland said he expects a rebound as Canadians return to the mountains. “It will be interesting to see what happens,” he said.
Last year’s numbers weren’t strong enough to provide any patterns that could be predictive of future needs, but it did begin to ingrain the hiker shuttle in the public consciousness. “We were getting the word out and building trust among the hikers, but we’ll definitely need another year to get our feet under us,” Gillilland said.
More to explore
A NEW LIFE FOR AN ICONIC LANDMARK: The A-frame that used to serve as the gate way for Frontier Town has re-opened. READ MORE
UPPER WORKS TRAILHEAD RENOVATION: The gateway to the southern High Peaks gets a new look. READ MORE
HIKER SHUTTLES IN OTHER PLACES: How successful park shuttles could be an example for the Adirondacks READ MORE
Photo by Tim Rowland
North Hudson Supervisor Stephanie DeZalia said she hopes the shuttles will fill the twin roles of bringing more hikers, and more commerce, to her small town, and also disperse crowds of hikers that tend to gravitate to Keene Valley.
The southern side of the High Peaks includes attractive destinations that include Boreas Ponds and the Upper Works trailhead. Last year the Open Space Institute cut the ribbon on a redesigned Upper Works, with more parking, a trail along the Hudson River and a pedestrian road interpreting the ruins of the historic mining town of Adirondac.
DeZalia said she’d like to see people have the option of taking a hiker shuttle to a Keene Valley trailhead in the north, and then wandering their way down through the Peaks to the Upper Works trailhead in the south, where they could catch another shuttle back to their cars.
The county is also hoping to further develop attractions at Frontier Town off Exit 29, which the state envisioned as a public-private partnership to fashion a High Peaks gateway.
Architectural plans are in the works for an arena that would be available for concerts and equestrian events to complement the state’s new Frontier Town campground on the Schroon River a couple miles south of Exit 29. “We also need more miles of (equestrian) trails,” DeZalia said. The county is considering new mountain biking trails as well, on 100 acres of ground it owns between the Frontier Town A-frame and the campground.
DeZalia said, with all this activity and tourist traffic, it would make sense for the DEC to station a steward at the A-frame. She said a request for the position is in the offing, but it will ultimately be contingent on the state budget.
Following Thursday’s meeting, DeZalia said both the county and state took each other’s viewpoints under advisement, and a final plan will be hashed out at a later meeting. Ultimately, both want the same thing. “We want to see some of the cars that are parked up there (in Keene Valley) parked down here,” she said.
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Shouldn’t we wait to see if the EXISTING route(s) are successful? It hasn’t really been tested under normal demands.
I’m not sure any of these people have looked at a trail map, but there’s very few hikes any normal person would do that start in Keene and end up at Upper Works or Boreas ponds, especially with the limited hours they run the shuttles. The type of person doing this sort of traverse will have figured out the logistics of spotting two cars at each trailhead so they aren’t at the mercy of a shuttle arriving at a certain time. Hikes traversing that route would start in the dark and end in the dark, long before and after the shuttle opens and closes for the day, and the shuttle itself would take over an hour between stops. Perhaps a few intrepid campers would use it but even with them added I have my doubts.
The only added value shuttles bring is the ability to park at one trailhead, catch a shuttle to another, then hike back to your car (ideally in that order). Nearly all hikes (high peaks and otherwise) are done today as out and back only and semi-loops.
Parking at Frontier Town is not really useful to anyone but local businesses, which of coarse the supervisors are rightly advocates for, but that’s a round peg in a square hole. Parking 20+ miles away and taking two shuttles makes no sense. This is why Marcy Field works. It’s a quick drive on a frequent schedule and worst case it’s a simple 3.5-mile downhill walk back to the car if you miss the shuttle.
Everything else is a bandaid for other problems — namely unbuilt parking and poor trail maintenance that is defined in UMPs. Increase a few spots that need it, and let them fill up on the 5 days a year. It is reasonable that up to five days per year certain lots are full and people must go elsewhere — no permits, no fanciness needed.
Use Marcy Field. Use Mt. Van Hoevenberg. Build the Loj Road Parking defined in UMP, enlarge few select parking lots and the let things fill up a couple days per year. It’s okay to make hikes longer and it makes things more sustainable in the long run too.
Give it a go for anther year, but if the cost per rider is anything like last year — 89 total riders in 2 months costing tens of thousands in payroll, marketing, and equipment. Let’s stop throwing good money after bad and reallocate to more useful things (trail maintenance teams!).
On another note, if a shuttle is used, why is it not stopping at AMR — after all closing that was about “safety” and people walking on the road right? … right?
ADK Camper says
Ridiculous that shuttles won’t stop at AMR.
Why would anyone drive to Keene Valley to get on an hour long shuttle to Upper Works?
Frontier Town Campground is a money pit. So let’s waste more money on horse trails…. Why not invest in trail crews for the foot trails that are a complete mess.