By Gwendolyn Craig
Hiking some iconic Adirondack High Peaks trails will require a reservation for people looking to head out across the Adirondack Mountain Reserve this summer, reserve owners and state conservation officials announced.
Parking in AMR’s 70-spot lot near Keene Valley will require a reservation May 1 through Oct. 31. Hikers, whether parking a vehicle, getting dropped off or arriving on a bicycle, will need to make one of the reservations, according to a joint news release from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the AMR. Walk-ins will not be permitted. Each of 70 available vehicle reservations is good for up to six hikers, a DEC official added.
The system affects popular routes to places such as Rainbow Falls, Indian Head, Noonmark Mountain and Round Mountain.
The DEC said there is no cost for making a reservation. The parking lot will be accessible between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily, with the exception of overnight parking, according to a news release.
Reservations to hike on the property may be made two weeks in advance, and may include use for the day or overnight, including overnight parking. The AMR parking lot will have a bike rack, where all bicycles must be left. Bicycles are not allowed on the reserve.
A website, hikeamr.org, will take the reservations. It is not live yet, but DEC and AMR have said it will be online starting April 15. It was not immediately clear if there is a limit to the number of hikers who can reserve a hiking spot.
“Those arriving to Keene Valley via Greyhound or Trailways bus lines may access with a valid bus ticket from within 24 hours of arrival,” according to the news release. “Those arriving by bus must check in at the AMR hiker parking lot.” The nearest bus stop is at Noonmark Diner, according to DEC.
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The AMR is privately owned by a group of trustees who are also members of the Ausable Club. Through a conservation and foot traffic easement with the state, the trustees allow the public to access many popular Adirondack Park trailheads. The club was considering its own hiker limits to its property last year around Columbus Day weekend, but that ultimately did not happen.
Ausable Club President Roland Morris had told Adirondack Explorer that the club would pursue limits of some kind for 2021, regardless of whether the state was on board. The club said it keeps its own records of visitor use and has seen a significant increase in traffic. As a result “we are seriously degrading the resource,” Morris said. Ausable Club trail registers, for example, saw fewer than 5,000 hikers in 1978 but 25,000 in 2017.
There already were some parking limits enforced in 2020. The AMR lot reduced its vehicle capacity to 28, which DEC had attributed to the coronavirus pandemic and public safety. The pandemic appeared to drive even more hiker traffic last year, though, and the AMR lot would fill often before 6:30 a.m. The Roaring Brook Falls lot across the street and several pull-offs along Route 73 filled up shortly after.
“We’re trustees of that property,” Morris told Adirondack Explorer in September, “and we have an obligation to protect that property with the DEC. And it’s become clear, from our point of view, the AMR, that limits will have to be part of that program.”
Morris also said visitor numbers “would have been astronomical” if the Canadian border had been opened last year.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos has said in the past that a hiker permit system would be a “last resort,” and on Monday he reiterated that position. In an emailed statement, he said this new pilot reservation system is meant “to address concerns at this particular location,” while “DEC still considers a permit system to be the tool of last resort.”
“With the increasing number of visitors to trailhead accessed through AMR, exacerbated in 2020 by New Yorkers looking for a nature break as a respite from COVID-19, DEC and AMR are working together to promote sustainable recreation and protect public safety,” Seggos added, in a news release.
The reservation system is meant to address the growing traffic, parking and public safety problem on Route 73 in Keene. The state has already cracked down on illegal roadside parking, added state Department of Transportation message boards and increased law enforcement presence.
The pilot reservation system was also a suggestion in the recently released High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group’s report. That state-appointed group convened over the last year to come up with solutions to the growing visitor use.
AMR has other rules as part of its easement with the state:
- Bicycles are not allowed past the parking area;
- Hikers must stay on marked hiking trails;
- Dogs are not allowed on the property;
- Hunting, trapping, and fishing are prohibited;
- The public is not allowed to enter on the shores, swim, or boat on any and all lakes, streams, or rivers, or cross the frozen lakes in winter;
- Entering buildings is prohibited.
Visit the Adirondack Mountain Reserve Conservation Easement Tract page on DEC’s website for a full list of rules and regulations.
The Adirondack Council and Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve are two advocacy groups who have been in favor of some sort of permit system. Both praised the measure on Monday.
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