By MIKE LYNCH
The impacts of recreation on wilderness and mountainous ecosystems isn’t an issue unique to the Adirondack High Peaks. It’s one that land managers and stewards across the Northeast have been dealing with for decades.
With that in mind, more than 100 land managers, researchers and stewards from the Adirondacks to Maine gathered in Lake Placid over the weekend for the three-day Northeastern Alpine Stewardship Gathering to get updates on the latest trends, projects and research. The conference focused on topics ranging from alpine vegetation research to trail building. Talks took place on Friday and Saturday, while participants took field trips to places such as Cascade Mountain and Route 73 on Sunday.
Adirondack Mountain Club Education Director Seth Jones said many areas are dealing with many of the same issues related to parking, human waste and vegetation being trampled near trails. As a result, he said, “it’s good to come together and share best management practices, best stewardship practices.”
Julia Goren heads the Adirondack Council’s “Vision Project,” but she ran the Adirondack Summit Steward Program prior to that. She said the Northeast region has a history of sharing management practices and noted that many of the strategies used by the stewards are derived from other states. For instance, the Adirondack program was modeled after a similar one in Vermont.
“The challenges tend to be fairly consistent across the region, but different areas are trying different strategies so we can learn from the successes and we can also learn from the failures or the ideas that were cast aside,” she said.
One of the new strategies coming from New Hampshire is the White Mountain Trail Collective, a new nonprofit that brings organizations together to work under one umbrella. The collective serves as a backbone organization for projects and provides administrative services and helps find funding, among other things. Matt Coughlan, of the trail collective, talked about the value of the groups working together and did a presentation about the major upgrades to the 200-year-old 8.5-mile Crawford Path, which traverses the Presidential Range to Mount Washington.
The collective took over the project in 2019, the second and final year. They worked on four miles of trail. They did that with 8,000 hours of crew time and roughly 1,500 hours of volunteer work.
“We took on this large-scale project to exemplify what we are trying to do in the field of conservation,” Coughlan said.
He said the trail collective was born out of “the recognition that a lot of our maintenance and large-scale restoration that needs to be happening out there isn’t happening and that any one organization doesn’t have the capacity to do so and doesn’t allocate their resources to do so.”
The keynote speaker at the conference was Ben Lawhon, education director with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in Boulder, Colorado. Two awards were given out Saturday before Lawhon’s talk. ADK Summit Steward Coordinator Kayla White received the Emerging Alpine Steward Award and scientist Charlie Cogbill received the Guy Waterman Alpine Stewardship Award. Cogbill has studied human impacts and management efforts on the Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire’s White Mountains for decades.
ADK hosted the gathering, in partnership with The Waterman Fund, Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The Waterman Fund is a Vermont-based nonprofit that works to conserve alpine areas in the northeast by funding education, trail rehabilitation projects and research. The fund is named for Guy Waterman, a hiker and author who died in 2000. Waterman and his wife, Laura, authored “Forest and Crag,” a tome that is considered the authority on hiking in the Northeast.
Laura Waterman, 80, is a member of the Waterman Fund’s board of directors. She recalled that land managers have been dealing with the issue of high use and carrying capacity on hiking trails for decades.
“It’s been a problem or an issue since I remember hiking, from the early 1970s, for me,” she said.
She recalled that in the 1970s, the Appalachian Mountain Club started trying to discourage people from hiking Mount Washington and were instead sending them to the Mahoosuc Range in western Maine.
“They very quickly stopped doing that because they saw the Mahoosucs was infrequently traveled. The trails over there couldn’t withstand that heavier use and so they backed off from that,” she said.
Despite the increasing number of users in the High Peaks, the Summit Steward Program highlighted that its educational efforts have been successful, backing that up by monitoring since 2006. Tim Howard, of the Natural Heritage Program, said research has shown that over that time period most of the alpine vegetation monitored remained intact or expanded.