State says barriers will improve Route 73 traffic safety
Climbers decry lack of access to destinations around Chapel Pond Pass
By Phil Brown
As of this week, hikers and rock climbers have far fewer places to park off Route 73, near popular trailheads around Chapel Pond Pass, a development likely to intensify the competition for already-scarce car spaces.
On Monday, the state Department of Transportation installed dozens of steel stakes along Route 73 to prevent people from parking on the shoulder of the highway or in two pull-offs in the pass.
The steps were taken as part of the state’s efforts to crack down on illegal parking and to reduce the number of people walking along the road to reach trails in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve and Giant Mountain Wilderness.
“In recent years pedestrian traffic, illegal parking, and roadside stopping along Route 73 have created a dangerous environment for hikers and motorists alike,” said Erica Ringewald, a spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
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Critics say the measures—which caught users and others unawares—will frustrate hikers and rock climbers who drive to the Adirondacks only to find nowhere to park in the pass. Climbers may be especially disadvantaged since they had been the primary users of the two pull-offs now barricaded to cars. With its many cliffs, including the popular Beer Walls, the pass is the foremost climbing locale in the High Peaks region.
The Beer Walls parking area, located a bit north of Chapel Pond, remains open and can accommodate roughly a dozen cars, depending on how people park. The two closed pull-offs lie between the Beer Walls and St. Huberts. Together, these two pull-offs could accommodate perhaps 20 cars. Closer to St. Huberts, a smaller pull-off with a view of Roaring Brook Falls also remains open, but parking is limited to 15 minutes.
St. Huberts is home to two busy parking areas—for the Roaring Brook Falls trailhead in the Giant Mountain Wilderness and, across the road, for the trails in the privately owned Adirondack Mountain Reserve. On many days, especially on summer weekends, both lots have filled quickly, prompting hikers to park along Route 73.
Although DEC forest rangers sometimes ticketed cars parked on the shoulder, many visitors continued to ignore no-parking signs. To thwart the illegal parkers, DOT has now installed dozens of metal stakes along the east shoulder of Route 73 for the tenth of a mile between the Roaring Brook Falls trailhead and Putnam Brook. A shorter stretch on the opposite side of the road also is barricaded by stakes.
As an alternative to parking on the highway shoulder, hikers also would leave their cars in the now-closed pull-offs between the Beer Walls and St. Huberts and walk along the road to the trailheads. This practice left climbers with fewer places to park.
Will Roth, president of the Adirondack Climbers Coalition, predicts that DOT’s actions will force hikers to park in the Beer Walls pull-off and face an even longer walk (more than a half-mile) back to the trailheads. “By closing those other pull-offs, all you’re doing is pushing hikers farther up toward Chapel Pond, where parking is already limited,” he said.
Since many hikers hit the trail early, Roth fears that the Beer Walls pull-off could fill up before climbers start their day. “Bye-bye Beer Walls,” he said. “You just won’t be able to climb there. It’s a pretty pessimistic view, but that’s what I foresee happening.”
Ringewald said DEC will monitor the situation and work with the climbing community if problems arise.
The Adirondack Council supports the new parking restrictions, saying they will enhance public safety and help protect the wilderness from “the obvious negative impacts of overuse,” according to spokesperson John Sheehan. He added that the Beer Walls pull-off should be reserved for climbers.
The parking crackdown is one tactic in the campaign by the DEC and its partners to address overuse in the High Peaks region. Starting in May, the Adirondack Mountain Reserve will require hikers using the AMR trails to obtain a permit. Last year, the AMR cut back to 28 the number of cars allowed in its public lot. DEC also is building a more durable trail up Cascade Peak, which often sees hordes of hikers.
Roth argues that reducing parking is not a solution and will only frustrate visitors. The climbing coalition has advocated for measures that he said will benefit hikers and climbers. These include increasing parking facilities, improving trails to sustain greater use, hiring more rangers and trailhead stewards to educate people about resource conservation, building bathrooms at trailheads, and reducing the speed limit in Chapel Pond Pass. So far, he added, the coalition’s pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
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