By MIKE LYNCH
Hikers value protecting the Adirondack Park’s wild character more than expanding recreation opportunities.
That one was one of the key findings in a survey of roughly 1,000 hikers at High Peaks Wilderness region trailheads earlier this year by the Adirondack Council and Colgate University’s Upstate Institute.
About 70 percent of those surveyed favored wilderness protection over accommodating unlimited recreation, according to the Council.
More than 80 percent of hikers want more information made available to them regarding appropriate trail use, etiquette and safety by the state and stakeholders.
About 75 percent of hikers said the Adirondack Park should receive additional state funding and the state Department of Environmental Conservation should hire additional staff and forest rangers.
“We spoke to a broad range of hikers and found most prioritized the health of the wilderness itself, its water quality and its ability to support wildlife, over their own access,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway in a press release. “Hikers were least likely to support wider trails or bigger parking lots, and favored protection over recreation, knowing that it might mean they might have to be more flexible regarding which of their favorite locations to visit on peak-use days.”
Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director and CEO Neil Woodworth agreed with the survey findings that said the DEC should get funding to hire both additional assistant forest rangers for educational purposes and forest rangers.
ADK is also a hiking club that is consistently doing outreach to hikers about conditions, Leave No Trace Ethics, and other relevant topics through a variety of outlets, including social media and its print publications and maps. However, Woodworth said there is more work to be done.
“I think everybody could always to do more,” he said. “We are dealing with a generation of new people hiking in the High Peaks and elsewhere in the Adirondacks. They just haven’t had the initial training when they were youth, like Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts.”
He also said educating users would help protect wilderness areas. That’s because the user impact would be lessened.
The survey found that two-thirds of hikers agree that the number of hikers should be limited at busy High Peak trailheads on high-use dates. Another two-thirds agree that trailhead parking should combine reservations and first come-first served options to control the maximum number of vehicles. The Adirondack Council has advocated for a parking permit system that would do just that.
The survey was conducted over 25 days from June to early October. Respondents came from 31 states and six countries.
The average age of the respondents was 37, with a male-to-female ratio of 1.5 to 1. Eleven percent of the hikers were non-white and 55 percent of the hikers were from were New York state.
More than 50 percent of the hikers identified themselves as experienced, taking more than four hiking trips annually.
The Adirondack Council has done past studies on High Peaks usage that have determined that the carrying capacity of some trails has been exceeded on busy hiking weekends. A preliminary analysis found roughly 130 miles of trails needed to be reconstruction or repaired.