By Gwendolyn Craig
The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics published a report, commissioned by the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club, calling on the state to invest more in managing trails and crowds in the Adirondacks, especially the eastern High Peaks.
The center conducted a survey and site visit last year. It found that overuse, crowding, trail degradation, trail erosion, human and pet waste, unprepared visitors and parking were all pressing issues in the Adirondack Park.
A number of its more than 50 recommendations were focused on how the state Department of Environmental Conservation can bolster its efforts, acknowledging that funding would be needed.
Some of the report recommendations included:
- Have adequate staffing for park management;
- Have better social media engagement;
- Create an Adirondack Park Wildlands Stewardship Committee;
- Create a better catalogue of existing rules and regulations in the park;
- Build a designated website for the High Peaks;
- Have greater enforcement of existing regulations;
- Build better infrastructure;
- Establish a formal visitor center in the park.
The report also suggested Gov. Andrew Cuomo should take a greater role in promoting responsible recreation. It also suggested Cuomo take a tour of the park, particularly where trail degradation is apparent.
“His office should be engaged to help promote responsible enjoyment of the park,” the report read. “Every message coming from the Governor’s Office about the Park should include a message about wildlands stewardship and Leave No Trace.”
Cuomo’s office did not return a request for comment.
In response to the report, a spokesperson for DEC said with help from partners, the agency “is leading ongoing efforts to promote sustainable use in the High Peaks. In addition to ongoing public outreach, including announcements, social media, and more, DEC and local law enforcement continue to increase patrols in the busiest areas and take immediate action with strict parking enforcement.”
The DEC did not say whether any of the suggestions in the report were feasible or if any would be added to the list of things it is already doing to address crowds and trail use.
The DEC did say it has been a Leave No Trace partner since 1999, and it has included the outdoor ethics messaging in its public service announcements.
In a news release on Wednesday, the Adirondack Council highlighted the center’s recommendation of a permit or reservation system for hiking in the High Peaks. The center did not specifically state a permit system was needed in the High Peaks, but said “permitting use can benefit the natural resources and the visitor experience.”
The Adirondack Council has often been in support of some sort of visitor limits, and Executive Director Willie Janeway said in a news release that “the time has come to stop resisting.”
The Adirondack Mountain Club was not strongly supportive of a permit system, in its news release about the report. Cathy Pedler, director of advocacy for the club, said “Limits on use, such as a permit system, can be a valuable tool for land managers if other efforts fail to protect the resource, but without adequate investment into staffing, education, and infrastructure to manage and monitor these limits, they could actually exacerbate the problem.”
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos had told Adirondack Explorer during a press conference at the beginning of August that a “permit system, something as rigorous as that, you always want that to be the last place you go.”
The Leave No Trace report adds its recommendations to a growing list of reports on High Peaks crowds. One was recently published in June by the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group, made up of stakeholders appointed by the state to brainstorm recommendations for managing crowds. The group, which includes the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club, is expected to release a second report later this fall.
A DEC spokesperson also pointed to the advisory group’s work as a way the state is taking issues in the High Peaks seriously. The agency highlighted actions it has already taken from the advisory group’s June report including:
- Establishing a visitor information group to collect data;
- Enforcing parking restrictions;
- Educating hikers on social distancing and face masks;
- Reducing parking capacity at the Adirondack Mountain Reserve and Rooster Comb lots;
- Posting message boards about trailhead parking;
- Coordinating with municipalities on waste management;
- Using social media to educate on Leave No Trace.