Data shows low ridership during 2022 season
By Gwendolyn Craig
The second year of a free hiker shuttle on state Route 73 through the Adirondacks’ eastern High Peaks did not transport as many hikers as some would have liked. The state and its partners are evaluating what to do about the service this upcoming hiking season.
The shuttle system is a joint venture between the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Essex County, and operated on the weekends, dropping people off at various trailheads from Marcy Field to Chapel Pond. The route expanded last year to include the Frontier Town Gateway in North Hudson. A total of 214 people used the shuttle from its opening on July 16 to closing on Oct. 10, 2022, according to the DEC.
The Town of Keene has operated its own shuttle for years. Riders paid $10, but last year the state gave the town funding, and the town eliminated the fee. Town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson said the bus ferried a total of 1,625 riders in 2022, including 210 on Labor Day weekend, the most.
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Shaun Gillilland, chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors, said efforts to attract hikers to the shuttles weren’t enough. He suspects American and Canadian hikers want to park their vehicles and go, rather than take a shuttle.
“We just weren’t getting the juice from the squeeze,” he said.
Fall foliage shuttles
The DEC also launched a fall foliage shuttle last year, which ran Oct. 1, 2, 8, 9 and 10. The free ride drove visitors from the Frontier Town Gateway to Marcy Field. The DEC said 47 people used that bus.
The DEC said it will be evaluating the first two years of the shuttle program with the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST), Town of Keene and Essex County.
Gillilland declined to say whether he was in favor of ending the shuttle program or not, but added he thinks there was enough marketing of the bus service.
Jane Hooper, communications manager for ROOST, said, “As with any new service it can take some time to become well-established.” She believes hikers will eventually get in the habit of using the shuttles.
“We don’t want to run buses up and down the road, increasing traffic congestion, pumping more diesel fumes and aging,” Gillilland said.
Pete Nelson, co-founder of Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, also noted the shuttles’ emissions. He’d like to see the state electrify the High Peaks fleet. Nelson was also a member of the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group, a state-appointed committee charged with brainstorming management ideas to address concerns about a growing number of visitors. In its final report, the group recommended a shuttle system, among many other strategies.
“It has to be structured so that it’s a more essential part of the Route 73 infrastructure,” Nelson said. “It’s great that they did the pilot, but I’m aware that the numbers didn’t get there.”
The DEC said, “partners will review the data collected to help determine what is necessary to enhance safety along Route 73 and provide equitable public access to area trails while effectively protecting the natural resources of the High Peaks region in furtherance of the recommendations outlined in the High Peaks Advisory Group report.”