DEC addresses Route 73 parking stakes at town meeting
By Tim Rowland
Controversial delineators put in to prevent parking on State Route 73 in Keene Valley may not be permanent, depending on the results of an ongoing experiment to manage an abundance of hiker traffic. That’s what Department of Environmental Conservation officials told a gathering of town residents and officials in Keene on Monday, May 10.
Delineators — metal pickets pounded into the pavement to prevent parking — rapidly entered the Adirondack lexicon last month when, unannounced, the state used them to block off shoulders and pull-offs between Keene Valley and Chapel Pond.
DEC Deputy Commissioner of Natural Resources Katie Petronis was reluctant to concede the point that the project had been done without the town’s knowledge, saying the town has been aware the agency is working to manage traffic, and the delineators are part of that management. But she added the state will redouble its communication efforts. “We are going to be in regular touch with the town, and if there are negative impacts, absolutely we will be ready to adapt,” she said.
But semantics aside, Keene board members said they want to be kept in the loop next time. “It really caught us by surprise,” said Keene Deputy Supervisor Bob Biesemeyer. “People called and asked me what was going on, and I didn’t know.”
Board member David Deyo said he was concerned the stakes in one sense make the road more dangerous, because they eliminate a safety valve for trucks that need to get out of the road, particularly in the snow.
“I’ve seen log trucks that stop there because they can’t make it up the hill,” Deyo said. “And I don’t think it’s great PR with no one in town learning about it until it happened.”
The meeting, which attracted about 40 people, was called to inform local residents about hiker management plans for the coming season. Also on the panel were Deputy DEC Commissioner Steve Smith, Adirondack Mountain Reserve General Manager John Schuler and Forest Ranger Kevin Burns.
Petronis said the state is faced with a sense of urgency as hiker season approaches, and all signs point to another record-setting hiker count. “Last season was really challenging, and we felt there was a risk that something really bad could happen,” she said.
Residents are in agreement that the situation is dire, particularly at the Roaring Brook and AMR lots where throngs of hikers congregate along the highway at the bottom of a mountain pass. “You only have to spend 10 minutes at AMR or Roaring Brook to see the danger,” Smith said.
Petronis said the delineators will be removed in winter, and some of the parking pull-outs may be reopened once hikers realize that they can no longer park roadside and walk to the AMR trailhead, which is now limited to permit holders under a new pilot reservation program.
That would open parking to rock climbers, who would no longer be in competition with hikers for space. “I’m hoping that’s what happens,” said Will Roth, president of the Adirondack Climbers Coalition after the meeting. “But so far their track record (for facilitating climbers) has not been good.”
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Instead of permanent barricades, Petronis said the delineators allow the state to “actively manage” parking in the Route 73 corridor, sticking with measures that work and changing those that don’t.
Potentially, the state could build two more parking lots near Chapel Pond, which it had planned to do prior to the advancement of a court case against tree cutting on snowmobile trails. Environmentalists won the case, but the court differentiated between the wider Class 2 “community connector” snowmobile trails and the more-limited cutting that occurs on hiking trails. Limited cutting for things such as hiking trails and parking lots have historically been uncontested under the law.
Petronis said the DEC is reviewing the decision, and is also looking at a redesign of the Chapel Pond area, which is central to climbing cliffs, water, and the popular trail up Giant Mountain. It is also working to get a hiker shuttle system up and running, although there remain concerns about logistics and Covid guidelines.
In response to citizen questions, Smith said the state has considered lowering the speed limit, but the Department of Transportation has discouraged the practice. “The DOT says it won’t work, because people will travel at the speed the road can handle,” he said.
Smith said the state has also looked at the possibility of a pedestrian walkway, but finances don’t allow it at the moment.
Another concern of residents is that, with all the prohibitions, Keene will start to get a reputation for being unfriendly. “People feel like they’re being criminalized when they come to our town,” Biesemeyer said.
AMR’s Schuler, who sees the daily comments on the new hiker-permit program, said hikers themselves appreciate a more structured experience. “One of the things they most often say is thank you, and when are you going to do this in the rest of the park,” he said.
In 2019, AMR welcomed 27,600 hikers at its main gate; in 2020 that number leaped to 36,800. Had the Canadian border been open, Schuler estimated the number would have been closer to 45,000.
As it manages the problem, Biesemeyer encouraged the state to communicate its plans and not make what the public views as arbitrary decisions. Like the speed limit, the public won’t adhere to rules it feels are unfair.
“If you think that just shutting things off is going to work” it won’t, he said. “No rule will ever work with just enforcement.”