KEENE VALLEY – As the traditional opening days of hiking season approach this Memorial Day Weekend, and the state is moving to partially reopen the North Country’s economy, hikers and campers are urged to continue using social distancing and personal protective gear to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Year-round and seasonal residents of the park have done a good job of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the communities of the Adirondack Park, allowing some of its economy to reopen in time for the start of the tourism season,” Adirondack Council Deputy Director Rocci Aguirre said in a news release.
“That’s a testament to the spirit of cooperation that sustains our communities through good times and bad. It shows that we are all in this together. Adirondackers look out for each other. Together, we will find our way to better times ahead.”
Hikers traveling to the Adirondacks should research local conditions and be well-prepared before they leave. While travel restrictions are in place for your home area, recreation close to home is still the best plan, Aguirre said.
As travel restrictions are lifted, visitors will find that summer-like weather at home doesn’t always translate to the mountains. The spring peepers are singing and blackflies are emerging from local streams, the release said.
There is still ice, snow and mud on many sections of the most popular high-elevation mountain trails, especially in the High Peaks Wilderness Area. The snow-pack remains feet deep on the highest peaks.
Best practices in mud season are to avoid trails above 2,500 feet.
Aguirre cautioned hikers to seek less-visited, drier locations to avoid crowds and avoid damage to wild lands. Potential park visitors should read the Council’s recent blogs on hiking local and hiking in mud-season, he said.
Aguirre also urged those who cannot visit yet to read tips on how to enjoy the park from a distance.
The next big test will be how the Adirondack Park’s communities can handle more than the 12.4 million visitors – the annual average as of 2018. This year could bring even more, the release said.
In times of turmoil, the park often serves as a "staycation" venue for New Yorkers, Canadians and New Englanders who might otherwise travel to national parks out west or wild places overseas.
It’s only May, but the trails are starting to take on a mid-summer feel in some locations, including overflowing parking lots at trailheads, the release said.
“If automobile traffic on Route 73 is any indication, we are already seeing a big influx of visitors who wouldn’t normally be here yet,” Aguirre said.
“Schools are closed already, so the traditional tourism season of July and August may get extended quite a bit. It is still mud and black fly season, yet people are coming anyway."
In this time of the coronavirus, finding new places to explore so popular trails and wild spaces don’t get overrun will be particularly important this summer, the release said.
“All of this tourism will benefit our hurting local economies,” Aguirre said.
"But it must be done responsibly. Visitors must be prepared for conditions that are not typical, be well-prepared for a different kind of trip, and have back-up plans. Trails and trailheads can get crowded. Visitors still need to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus to one another, on the trail or in town. Local businesses may be closed, and amenities such as restrooms may not be open."
The Adirondack public health safety net starts with forest rangers, volunteer fire departments, and rescue squad personnel. None of these are adequately staffed or funded for 12.4 million visitors, let alone more, Aguirre said.
The sheer dedication of local first responders keeps their institutions functioning, he said.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has posted a set of guidelines for recreating safely on its Adirondack Back Country Information web page, the release said.