With other recreation options limited due to the pandemic, the Adirondack Park has been experiencing a large number of visitors this summer despite the closure of the U.S.-Canada border. The Labor Day weekend was no exception as hikers and visitors flocked to the High Peaks and other areas of the 6-million acre park.
The 9,300 square miles of the Adirondack Park is a mix of public and private lands with nearly 3,000 lakes and the highest mountains in the state. It has become a popular area for outdoor recreation, straining some of the already popular trails. Forest Ranger union director Scott VanLear says the Labor Day weekend was extremely busy. “The use for this past weekend was at the levels that we rarely ever see. I would say that it was one of the highest use days overall for the entire Park in the past decade.”
Bradley: “Are these in certain areas like the High Peaks or are you looking at all areas of the Adirondacks?”
VanLear: “It's broadened out to the entire park at this point. There's been a message to try and get people to look at other parts of the Park. And that's been successful to a degree. You know, I've been a ranger for 25 years and now I'm seeing full parking lots in places like Jay Mountain, Hurricane Mountain. So a lot of those areas were good opportunities for solitude in the past and now all the parking lots are over-full. While there has been you know, perhaps the dispersal of use that hasn't led to a decrease in the use in core peak areas.”
Keene and Keene Valley are popular starting points for hikers heading into the backcountry and High Peaks. In the Adirondack Council’s just-released 2020 State of the Park report, Keene Town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson was praised for “pressing state officials for assistance in controlling summer crowds that jam trailheads and gobble up public parking in his town.”
Wilson says parking lots were filling up as early as last Thursday in anticipation of the holiday weekend. “On Saturday morning I pulled into The Garden at quarter of six and traffic was backed up. I had to leave my truck in the road with the hazards on, go up, unscramble the parking lot, get a Jeep towed and then filter the traffic jam out of there. The first 45 minutes starting at about quarter to six on Saturday was just, you know, undoing a log jam in that tight little parking lot.”
The Adirondack Council’s State of the Park report notes that the state Department of Environmental Conservation has made some progress in addressing parking and trail overcrowding in popular areas. Wilson has been working with the DEC to disperse visitors to different areas of the Adirondacks. But he says many areas need infrastructure attention. “The more actively an area was managed the less congestion, road safety issues, the better experience I think the visitors have. But in the areas where, you know, there's no room no space to set up and manage, like out along Chapel Pond, it was a little bit more of a free for all and you know, the safety alongside the road was a real issue and, you know, visitors especially if they're not experienced with coming to the Adirondacks they really struggled with where do I park? Where do I go? You know, what do I do?”
Areas further from the High Peaks also saw an influx of visitors. Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun says businesses in the village were busy over the holiday. “The restaurants were extremely busy. A lot of out of state cars. The lake has been busier than I've ever seen Big Tupper Lake. There were a lot of canoes coming down the Raquette River. So I think that people, although they were going to the High Peaks and Lake Placid, that they were coming to smaller towns like ours. And I think they're not doing it as much because of the ads where you see, you know, spread out in the Adirondacks. I think they're doing it on their own and they're finding out that there are nice little communities and you don't have to be in the big high tourist areas.”
Officials in the Adirondacks are now gearing up for the Columbus Day weekend, traditionally one of the most popular hiking weekends of the year.