KEENE VALLEY — Comprehensive planning, better funding and a pilot program for permits were the leading tools identified by participants in a state-sponsored stakeholder forum who met recently to tackle the problems associated with overuse of the Adirondack Park’s most popular hiking trails.
The meeting was held by the NEW YORK State Department of Environmental Conservation, which convened about 60 partners and stakeholders from across the park.
NEED FOR A PLAN
The main focus was on the heavily traveled central portion of the High Peaks Wilderness Area, where the state’s tallest mountains are located, according to a news release.
“Clear consensus emerged on the need for a comprehensive plan, the money to carry out the plan and a pilot program for permits,” Julia Goren, Adirondack Vision Project Director for the Adirondack Council, said.
“A comprehensive plan is needed to address each of the challenges, goals, and strategies in a holistic manner. Planning was identified as a vital need in every topic discussed. Planning takes money, which was also at the top of stakeholder requests. Money has been in short supply for trail improvements or even basic maintenance. By far, the most popular single tool identified by the participants was a pilot program for permits.”
NOT WOVEN TOGETHER
Goren noted that the state’s comprehensive plan to address overuse must address these challenges not only as they impact the High Peaks, but as they affect other areas.
“The strategies proposed by the DEC to date are many of the pieces that would fit within a comprehensive plan, but have not yet been woven together,” she said.
“Each segment, and the whole, would be strengthened by knitting them together under a broader framework. A second area of broad consensus was a need for increased funding and resources, whether on the subject of trails, staff, partnerships to accomplish educational objectives, or research.”
Goren also said that a third area of consensus was a need to start testing ways to limit overuse at some locations and at some times.
“Piloting a permit system was supported via an informal vote by a majority of the participants,” she said.
Finally, participants identified a need for good data to base decisions upon, Goren explained.
OVERUSE OFFERS CHALLENGES
At the conclusion of its meeting, the DEC committed to continuing to update stakeholders, to refining their strategies and plans, and to moving the process forward.
“Overuse offers challenges that will not go away without a sustained effort by the DEC and many partners,” Goren said.
“Many actions have been taken by the DEC to date to address this problem, and these are positive steps. But the challenge is complex and will require a long-term investment of time, resources, and energy. The Adirondack Park deserves no less. It is a national treasure.
Goren said that with planning, effort, and proper implementation, a comprehensive trail and visitor management plan for the Adirondacks can serve as a model for stewardship of public lands around the world.
The Adirondack Council has proposed a parking reservation system that could be used to limit visitors to overuse locations by limiting the legal parking spaces.
Goren is leading the Council’s Vision Project, which is a comprehensive plan for the protection of the Adirondack Park in the 21st Century.
It is an update and extension of the Council’s award-winning 2020 VISION plan for the completion of the Adirondack Forest Preserve and conservation of private timberlands.
The Council has more recently completed research identifying 130 miles of High Peaks Wilderness Area trails in need of maintenance and reconstruction; a similar number of trail miles where the slopes are too steep to be sustainable; dozens of overcrowded parking lots at popular trailheads; hiker-opinion surveys revealing a desire for less crowded conditions, better maintenance and better public education about alternative hiking opportunities.