By Brandon Loomis
Hikers who tested the Adirondack Mountain Reserve’s hiking reservation system on its first day arrived to a mostly empty parking lot and a brilliantly sunny day on the trails.
State and club officials said all 70 permits slotted for Saturday had been reserved online, but a late-season snowstorm on Friday may have altered some hikers’ High Peaks plans. The lot, near the southeast end of Ausable Road in St. Huberts, held fewer than 20 vehicles by mid-afternoon.
Saratoga hiker Dave Pawlick hoped no-shows won’t become the norm, unless the hikers who change plans cancel far enough in advance for others to take their spots. The private reserve’s new system, a first for limiting potential hikers who can cross club land to reach public trails, assures visitors of a spot – but only if they beat others to the website to secure permits up to two weeks out.
“There’s a lot of days where you look out (on the site) and they’re grayed out,” said Pawlick, who hiked Rainbow Falls and Indian Head on Saturday.
He had made his free reservation on the website’s first day of operation, and found that it calmed his usual rush to reach the High Peaks on a weekend. On previous Saturdays, he might have arrived at 5 a.m. to beat the competition to a parking spot.
“I’m an early bird,” he said.
On Saturday, though, with reservation confirmation in hand and a relatively short mud-season hike ahead of him, he pulled in from State Route 73 at 8:30.
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That was part of the plan when New York State agreed to this reservation “pilot project,” said Katie Petronis, deputy commission of natural resources for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Although the reserve is private land, owned by members of the Ausable Club, it carries a longstanding conservation easement through which the state secured public access to the popular trails beyond it.
Making a reservation – as opposed to hoping and jockeying for a parking spot – should give hikers “some security of trip planning that they don’t normally have in the High Peaks,” Petronis said.
Hikers making a reservation must select an open time slot between 5 a.m. and 3 p.m., or choose one of the overnight slots for camping on state land beyond the reserve – a scheduling system that some had bristled at in the prodigious online chatter leading up to Saturday’s opening. There are a handful of slots each day at 5 a.m., when the lot opens, and many hikers want that early start for long hikes, Ausable Club General Manager John Schuler acknowledged.
The slots are only suggested arrival times, though, Schuler said, to discourage motorists from arriving together and creating Route 73 bottlenecks or safety hazards. The reservation is good for the day, he said, and someone with a later slot won’t be turned away if they arrive when the gate opens.
The state is also considering public complaints about the lot’s 7 p.m. closure, Petronis said, and will soon announce a change for after-hours departures.
“Indian Head is a pretty sweet spot to look at the Milky Way,” Schuler said, again acknowledging the public’s interest in early and late hikes.
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Officials also have changed the maximum number of hikers per reservation from six to eight, Petronis said, to ease the process for guides and camps that deliver hikers in 15-passenger vans. Now they’ll need to secure two permits instead of three for a full van.
The system’s opening follows the recent placement of steel posts blocking nearby roadside parking. Petronis said the state will work on finding a solution for rock climbers who fear this will force hikers to occupy a pull-off that they normally use. The closures were planned with the state Department of Transportation to reduce traffic danger, she said.
Keene Town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr. agreed that the strip of highway, with a hill descending to the turnoff to Adirondack Mountain Reserve lot, had become too hazardous.
“The DEC is in a bind,” he said, and will anger some people by restricting parking, but will risk motorist or pedestrian fatalities if it does nothing.
The combination of roadside barriers and reserved parking should help, he said. Testing them out now, while the usual spring wave of Canadian hikers is blocked by the COVID-19 border closure, makes sense.
“It’s a good way to ease into it,” he said.
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