KEENE — Last weekend was unexpectedly the Town of Keene's busiest of the year for hikers.
"It was just a tremendous number of visitors," said Town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr. who, along with Town Deputy Supervisor Bob Biesemeyer and Councilor Teresa Cheetham-Palen, spent all day Saturday helping hikers find parking and doing preparedness training.
"It caught me off guard. I think it caught the (State Department of Environmental Conservation) off guard."
The Adirondack Daily Enterprise reported that, early Saturday, parking lots along State Route 73 in Keene were filled to capacity and vehicles were parked on patches of grass — one of which, at the Giant Mountain trailhead, was parked on the trail.
On Wednesday, Wilson met with DEC representatives and staff to coordinate the state and town's plans heading into the upcoming Columbus Day/Canadian Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
"The DEC is really mobilizing and the State Police, too, are really mobilizing every available resource out along Route 73," he said.
Some of the DEC's plans for this weekend include posting temporary 45 miles per hour advisory speeds on State Route 73 on either side of the Roaring Brook Falls, Cascade Mountain and Pitchoff Mountain trailheads, and on State Route 3 on either side of the Ampersand Mountain trailhead in Harrietstown, according to a press release.
The DEC will post additional Forest Rangers at the trailheads and other locations, but also recommends hikers seek out alternative hikes to the area's High Peaks.
For more information, go to https://on.ny.gov/33jfpk4.
LAKE PLACID SHUTTLE
Essex County Deputy Superintendent of Public Works Jim Dougan said at this point, the county is trying to be an active partner with the DEC and the State Department of Transportation to deal with the parking issues along Route 73.
"I’m glad it’s not my road to manage because there’s definite traffic safety issues with that many cars in that area."
The county started a pilot program where, since Sept. 13, it has run a free shuttle on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Lake Placid to Whiteface which offers dropoff points that give riders access to six hiking trails.
This weekend, the shuttle will run Monday as well.
Over the past four weekends, the shuttle has had a total of 270 riders, not many, Dougan commented, considering how it runs three days each week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
People like to have flexibility with their own vehicles, he added, though in surveys, riders have said they would use the service again, found it convenient, and that they are getting information about it from their hotels and online.
For many years, Keene has run a shuttle from Marcy Field in Keene to the Garden trailhead, Wilson said.
This summer, the town started a frontcountry stewards program in partnership with Paul Smith's College.
The town's stewards, stationed at Marcy Field, help hikers figure out where they can legally park, and teach them about preparedness and leave-no-trace principles.
Stewards will continue that work this Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
On the weekend days, Wilson, Biesemeyer and Cheetham-Palen will take turns being out on the road to the Garden trailhead in the morning, then cycle through where they are needed.
The biggest scramble for parking and rush of people heading into the woods usually takes place during the first half of the day, with early birds arriving around 5:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. and the main wave running from about 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
"Although last weekend, it was still going on at 1:30 p.m.," Wilson said.
Both Wilson and Dougan commented on the importance of tourism for the area.
"The tourism economy is our lifeblood and we’re doing everything we can, as evidenced by town board members spending their weekend helping hikers find their way," Wilson said.
However, the small Town of Keene, with a population of about 1,000, has limited resources.
"We don’t have a big staff, we can’t throw money and people at this issue. We’re just too small. We need partners."
Dougan said the county wants first-time visitors to go to the trails along Route 73, since that is what draws them in.
"But ... we want their trip to be enjoyable enough that when they come back, they actually try to go someplace else, rather than just in that (Route) 73 corridor."
As hiking season closes, it is time to resume big-picture discussions about long-term and ongoing solutions to the parking and trail overuse problems, Wilson said.
The Town of Keene facilitated a meeting of the major players over the summer, and much of the focus for solutions is on transportation, including shuttles; how to deal with parking; and what role permits will play, he added.
As to what he would tell hikers looking to explore the trails in Keene this weekend, Wilson recommends they do research so they are not frustrated by parking or taking risks by walking alongside busy highways.
"Do a little planning in advance and then come prepared with a map so if you need to change your destination, you’re still prepared.
"Do that research, do that planning and come prepared to maybe be flexible if the parking is full."
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