As it gets warmer, more and more people are planning their annual trips to the Adirondacks this summer.
Since 2001, the Adirondacks have seen the number of visitors rise from 10 million to 12. 4 million. About 88 percent of people that visit the Adirondacks hike, 50 percent of people that visit paddle, and many fish, birdwatch, shop, eat, and enjoy all the Adirondacks have to offer.
The Adirondacks have plenty of room for millions of visitors to join residents in enjoying the 6-million-acre park of protected “Forever Wild” public land, mixed with communities of private land.
But much like we are seeing at our National Parks, a high volume of people visiting the Adirondacks looking for hikes are visiting the same few natural landmarks. Popularity, due to easy accessibility from several cities, social media popularity, a desire to “unplug,” and many other factors, is causing these best-know places to become loved to death.
In 2016, one popular trailhead in the Town of Keene saw around four times the traffic than it did in 2005. The impacts are adding up. A recent assessment by Adirondack trail crew professionals shows that roughly 130 miles of trails in the High Peaks Wilderness Area are heavily damaged due to overuse, poor design or lack of maintenance.
Why Overuse is a Problem
It’s great so many people want to explore their Adirondack Park. But the most popular trails we have today were created many years ago with one thing in mind, how groups could get up New York State’s tallest peaks as quickly and easily as possible. Unfortunately putting thousands of people on these older trails today means parking on very busy and dangerous roadways, erosion of soil into waterways, damage to sensitive vegetation, littering, visible human waste, degradation of the visitor experience and the Wilderness and a variety of other issues.
Today, we know much more about trail design, and we can look at other state and national parks that are managing high visitor numbers in a sustainable way. Ignoring the problem and leaving New York State’s most beautiful wild places at risk for being loved to death by the people who enjoy them most isn’t a practical option.
What Can Be Done
Some small steps New York State has already taken have shown to be successful. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has implemented parking restrictions, shuttle services, sustainable trail design, and preventative search and rescue education, at key locations on peak weekends. The DEC has also increased its online educational outreach.
The Adirondacks need a comprehensive approach that follows the experts reported six best wild lands management principles that combines various solutions into a cohesive strategy that will help keep overuse at bay year-round.
The six best wild lands management practices are:
- Leave No Trace education
- Safe parking
- Sustainable trails
- Managing use
- Funding for more Forest Rangers and other staff
How You Can Help
Nothing can be achieved to tackle overuse without the collaborative efforts of those that love and visit the Adirondacks. When using your wild lands, there are a few things you can do to make sure that you are doing all that you can to leave as little of an impact as possible.
- Leave No Trace – No matter if you’re hiking, camping, paddling or visiting a local swimming hole; start any visit to the Adirondacks with the first principle of Leave No Trace- “Plan Ahead and Prepare.” Check the trail and weather conditions, and bring a map and compass and know how to use them. Make sure you’re wearing the right footwear, have a flash light, and extra food and water.
- Follow NYSDEC advisories, rules & regulations– Before you head out, know where you can park, what types of recreation is allowed, dog leash rules, drone regulations, motor vehicle access, camping permits, trail closure information, and how you should prepare for your trip.
- Advocate – Sign up to learn more about issues impacting the Adirondacks. Write to your representatives and let them know that prioritizing funding and staffing for preserving the Adirondacks is important to you. Join a non-profit organization advocating for the Adirondacks or sign up to volunteer on a trail crew day.