By MIKE LYNCH
A surge in visitors to the Adirondack Park this year has led to a record number of search and rescue missions by forest rangers.
Through October 21, there were 245 search-and-rescue missions in Region 5 this year, and 40 in Region 6. The previous high through October 21 in the last 10 years for Region 5 was 208 in 2015, and 29 in Region 6 in 2017.
The annual record for Region 5 rescues was 224 in 2015, while the high for Region 6 was 37 in 2017.
Region 5 includes eight counties that make up the majority of the Adirondacks, including the High Peaks and Lake George. Region 6 includes the western edge of the park and includes Old Forge.
Forest ranger Scott van Laer, speaking as director of the forest ranger’s union, provided those stats to the Explorer. He said the increase in rescues is mainly due to there being more people recreating in the woods and an increase in new hikers and campers.
“There is certainly a COVID boost, but if you look at the trends from the past decade, it has been a consistent upward movement,” van Laer said. “This year is a bump, but it is part of this trend that has been happening for decades. I really caution people to think it’s one-off COVID thing. It’s not.”
He said the increase in usage and rescues are taking place in Lake George and the High Peaks, but the increases are part of a parkwide and even statewide trend.
Recently retired Region 5 forest ranger captain John Streiff told the Explorer in September that the Adirondack Park was seeing a high number of hikers throughout the summer and seeing “Columbus Day numbers” in August. In the past, Columbus Day weekend has generally been considered one of the busiest hiking weekends of the year because it coincides with peak foliage and the Thanksgiving holiday in Canada.
“The bubble was ahead of itself this year, I believe, because of the pandemic,” Streiff said. “People don’t have sporting events to go to, don’t have large social gatherings to go to, so they are coming and enjoying the outdoors.”
Streiff said some common rescues are lower leg injuries. Hikers are also having to be rescued because they are dehydrated or unprepared, he said. Some people are relying too much on smart phones instead of having gear such as headlamps.
“We’re seeing a lot of people who are calling because they have been overcome by darkness, and they did not have the proper equipment to see their way out of the woods,” Streiff said.
Van Laer agreed that some hikers are relying too heavily on technology instead of having a map and compass, while others don’t understand they are hiking in a wilderness area that is not maintained or marked at the same level as a community park.
Van Laer recommends that hikers and outdoor users coming to the park focus on learning the 10 essentials and Leave No Trace principles. He said the first LNT principle: Plan ahead and ahead is the most important because all the others will fall into place after that. The 10 essentials are part of planning and include items such as a map and compass, flashlight or headlamp and food and water. Extra clothing is also important, especially during the winter months.