By MIKE LYNCH
Most years you can find Adirondack 46er volunteers clearing blowdown, hardening trails, and educating hikers on weekends from spring until fall.
This year has been different. The 46ers, like many organizations and businesses, have seen the COVID-19 pandemic disrupt their operations. As a result, the nonprofit organization has yet to get into the field and take on any trail projects and has shelved its trailhead steward program at Cascade Mountain.
The 46ers are a volunteer-based organization that promotes hiking of the mountains that are known as the 46 High Peaks, but they also contribute trail work, education and funding for projects such as trail work done by the Adirondack Mountain Club and the summit steward program.
46ers president Siobhán Carney-Nesbitt said the organization canceled the field work due to safety concerns regarding the pandemic, and an inability to get a volunteer service agreement with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to run its operations on the forest preserve.
She said the organization had meetings with DEC as far back as January and February and should have had their agreement renewed by April, but as of last week, it has still not been finalized.
“This has completely crippled us to do any sort of work,” Carney-Nesbitt wrote in an email to the Adirondack Explorer. “Others have their VSA’s and are out in the field (e.g. ADK, ATIS, Lean-to Rescue) and while I know that they (the DEC) are busy this could have been finished weeks/months ago.”
But she said trail work outings were also canceled because they often include people from outside the state and region.
“We felt that maintaining social distancing and proper sanitation/disinfecting would be far too challenging at this point in time,” she wrote. “We will hopefully be able to pick up with our trailwork schedule from this year next year with DEC approval, and we are also looking forward to continuing with our (trailhead stewardship program). “
Carney-Nesbitt did say if the VSA is approved this season some work that they will consider doing is clearing blowdown and maintenance of herd paths.
Asked about the volunteer agreement, the DEC issued a statement that said it wasn’t initially issuing or renewing VSA’s for trail crews in the spring due to safety concerns regarding the pandemic. But the department said it is now reviewing and finalizing agreements again, as long as they include the appropriate safety protocols.
Joe Bogardus, a 46ers trailmaster from Keene, said even if the DEC does issue the VSA soon the organization couldn’t undertake many of the project they normally do because they often involve 15 to 20 people and many of them are from outside New York State.
“It would be difficult to assure compliance with the government’s definition of social distance and personal safety,” Bogardus said.
But he said there are about eight to 10 people who are core maintainers who could get into the field and work safely on projects, such as clearing blowdown.
Carney-Nesbitt said that because volunteer work programs were canceled this year, the organization donated extra money to programs that did get off the ground and into the field. The 46ers donated an additional $10,000 on top of its $15,000 donation to the summit steward program this year, and committed $25,000 to the program for the next three years. They also contributed $41,000 to the Adirondack Mountain Club trail crew for preseason blowdown sweeps and pro crew trail projects.