Summit steward report shows 2022 saw fewer High Peaks hikers
By Mike Lynch
In its end of season report for 2022, the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program reported 32,844 hiker contacts between Memorial Day and Indigenous Peoples Day.
The program stated that summit stewards spoke to an average of 81 hikers per day over that period on 18 alpine summits, with the majority of those interactions on Marcy, Algonquin, Wright, Cascade and Hurricane — the five peaks with the most coverage by stewards.
Those numbers are down from recent years and are more similar to those from a decade ago.
The report also details advances made in its photopoint monitoring project, which documents changes to alpine vegetation.
In an interview with the Explorer, Adirondack Mountain Club Stewardship Manager Kayla White addresses those hiker numbers and talks about changes taking place with the photo project.
EXPLORER: There are a few things that stood out in the report, one of them was the photopoint monitoring project. The four images were pretty striking.
WHITE: That’s the work by New York Natural Heritage Program. Tim Howard, who we partnered on for other research, long-term monitoring, he’s been doing an analysis and letting the program differentiate the pieces: rock, soil, vegetation. We’re really trying to make it a little bit less subjective. It is amazing to be able to visually see that change.
EXPLORER: Why did you start working with him on it?
WHITE: He helped us set up this new methodology. It’s great that we have these historical photos. But there’s been damage that has occurred in different places that we haven’t been documenting. I wanted to expand the program, have more photos, more summits. We expanded from nine to 16 summits, which is really exciting. We also increased the number of kinds of photo points and added this line transect method, which we basically take photos, looking straight down. And that’s supposed to give us more quantitative data on more landscape shots.
This has been an amazing expansion of the work that we’re already doing. These new photo points will set up baseline data for us taking pictures to come. And we’re hoping to tie in management actions to these areas, (such as determining where to put scree walls and other trail features) …
We’re also trying to manage and document damage that’s happening from people bushwhacking over to Shepherds Tooth (on Iroquois Peak) and also people coming off of the Trap Dike on (Mount) Colden.
EXPLORER: Is there much damage on Colden from Trap Dike hikers?
WHITE: When they come up the Trap Dike, they can encounter alpine vegetation there. When they’re exiting the slide, they’re coming into the alpine zone. And pretty severe herd paths have been forming, not only at the top of the slide — and that’s where we want people to exit — but on the sides. They get to a point where they get a little scared, and they go off into the krummholtz and then bushwhack a different spot up to the summit, instead of staying on slide all the way to the top, which we want them to do, and then exiting. People using the Trap Dike definitely have caused impacts to the plants up there.
EXPLORER: What also stood out to me were the most recent photos after the surge in hikers in recent years. You don’t really see much damage. Is that accurate or was there some?
WHITE: We’re not completely done with the analysis, so I don’t feel like I can say I’ve definitely noticed (alpine vegetation growth) between the pictures that we took in 2015 to 2021. There are definitely areas that looks even better. But I have noticed there are areas that have some damage, and you see that from year to year. What’s really great about this (project), I think we’re going to be able to see those smaller changes that might be a little bit harder to see via the naked eye.
EXPLORER: Another topic I was interested in was the stewardship numbers. Can you walk us through some of the recent trends?
WHITE: I always liked the graph of Marcy and Algonquin in July and August, because I think that’s the best complete data set that we have. That shows the usage patterns. As you can see, last year was strange. 2020 was super crazy, super busy. We saw these people coming out and recreating during the pandemic. And then in 2021, we saw this real decrease in the number of people coming out. And there could be plenty of reasons for that — whether it has to do with the state opening up (after the pandemic restrictions were lifted), changes with dealing with the pandemic, the border still being closed, we had a rainy season last year, whatever that may be.
But we definitely saw a decrease, and as you can see, for this year we do have an increase from last year. But it doesn’t seem like it’s still as high as what we’ve been seeing for the last five years, or even a decade. If you were to look at Marcy or Algonquin, it’s more reflective of the numbers in 2010, 2011, that sort of time period.
EXPLORER: In 2010, 238 days were covered by summit stewards, and to 408 in 2022. Why there’s so many more days covered now?
WHITE: It really has to do with the expansion of our volunteer program. We’ve increased the number of volunteers. We’ve been able to cover more mountains for more days, and it has helped the professional staff be able to do high quality trail maintenance and research and all those things are important for continuing to protect alpine vegetation.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.