By TIM ROWLAND
A new and longer but more durable trail up Cascade Mountain won’t be completed this year as originally planned, and will probably not open until 2021, according to Bob Stegemann, regional director for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.
When completed, the new trailhead will be located at the Van Hoevenberg winter sports center, which has plenty of parking and gives hikers an opportunity to opt for a shorter, easier hike up Mount Van Hoevenberg.
Stegemann said trail crews “have been going like gangbusters” on the new Cascade trail, but that the project is taking longer because of the care needed to construct a trail that must stand up to so many hikers.
“A sustainable trail is a little more complicated, but it will be time well spent,” he said.
Cascade has become the poster peak for High Peaks overuse. It’s a relatively short and easy hike with dazzling views, making it popular not just with hardcore hikers seeking to complete all 46 High Peaks, but with people who want to bag at least one.
As such, the number of hikers signing the trail register — which stood at 16,000 in 2005 — has more than doubled.
To make sure the new rail will hold up to such high use, Stegemann said crews are taking particular care with trail location, surface and water management. They will continue to work through the 2020 season, he said.
The new trailhead will also help the state deal with a thorny parking problem on Route 73, where cars jam into constricted parking areas that were not designed for so many users. DEC has announced it will lower speed limits over the Columbus Day weekend to 45 mph on Route 73 at Cascade and Roaring Brook, and at the Ampersand trailhead on Route 3 near Saranac Lake, to promote safety.
Parking has been a focus of DEC strategy to manage the number of hikers in the High Peaks. This summer it closed roadside parking for four miles between Rooster Comb and Chapel Pond and ticked violators.
When completed the new trail up Cascade will nearly double the distance of the hike, and the state hopes this might make some hikers who aren’t prepared for a high peak to think twice. According to the state, substantial numbers of hikers who start out on Cascade fail to summit, not understanding its difficulty.
From the same area as the new Cascade trailhead, a new, hardened trail leads up the easier Mount Van Hoevenberg — which itself has attractive views — and DEC has reported that the trail has received rave reviews and satisfied the appetites of hikers who want an alpine feel but may not be up to a harder climb.
When the state does close the current Cascade trailhead, it will also affect the hike to Pitchoff Mountain, which uses the same trailhead. Cascade has eight times the traffic as Pitchoff, but the mountain is still popular, particularly a bare shoulder known as Balanced Rocks.
The new trailhead for Pitchoff will be located at the east end of Cascade Lakes, making to hike the Balanced Rocks longer, but more moderate in terms of difficulty.