New Initiative Targets Hiker Education To Relieve Adirondack High Peaks Overcrowding

Aug 9, 2019

A new effort has been launched to educate hikers about overcrowding and how it impacts the Adirondacks. The Adirondack Mountain Club, the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Colorado-based Center for Outdoor Ethics are partnering to educate hikers about “Leave No Trace” principles to help address overcrowding in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks.  WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley was at the launch of the initiative.

At the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adirondack Loj near Lake Placid there are often more cars than available parking spaces. And that’s true at most of the parking areas in the High Peaks region, leading hikers and tourists to park on nearby roads.  There has been an effort this year to crack down on illegal parking and divert hikers to less used areas of the Adirondacks.  

The Heart Lake trailhead at the Adirondack Loj may be the busiest in the Northeast according to Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth. As people passed by to begin their hikes Woodworth noted that one of the most important things that can be done to address overcrowding is educate those exploring the High Peaks region.  “If we’re not careful about how we manage people and educate people we can accelerate trail damage, we can harm very fragile alpine vegetation, we can pollute our streams. And so education really is the key here.”

The Leave No Trace program from the Center for Outdoor Ethics is aimed at educating hikers.  Leave No Trace Outreach Manager Mitch Warnick explains that the Adirondacks has been designated a Hot Spot – an area experiencing severe impacts from overuse.   “The Hot Spot program is our flagship program where we work with select parks and protected areas that are experiencing extremely high levels of recreational impacts. And we work with the stakeholders and community to strengthen the stewardship efforts through trainings and workshops and service projects and other public events to further implement Leave No Trace and better the landscape as a whole.”

The Adirondack Leave No Trace effort is being coordinated in partnership with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.   Region 5 Director Robert Stegemann says DEC has been trying to address overuse for some time.  “We can’t do this alone. This has been going on for decades and we’ve got to a crescendo now.  We have a lot of people who come up here and they fall in love with it but they don’t have the knowledge to take care of it. And this is what the education and outreach is all about.”   

There are seven principles to Leave No Trace and over the course of a week, Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers Monica Baumgart and David LeMay will offer workshops and be on the trails to interact with hikers.  “During the Hot Spot week we are offering a variety of workshops and trainings.”
David LeMay:  “We’ll also be participating in some trailhead and summit outreach where we interact face to face with people who are actually on the trails and at the summit where we’ll have education material that we can hand out and just have those discussions because through our research we’ve shown that being able to have those face to face discussions really makes a big impact on the user.”

At the end of the Loj’s parking area is a trailhead with a constant stream of hikers.  Wilderness educator Andrea Burgess of Honeoye, NY went to Paul Smith’s College in nearby Franklin County but it has been some time since she’s hiked in the Adirondacks. She has mixed feelings about the increased numbers of people coming to the High Peaks.  “One it’s best to get people out to be able to appreciate and conserve and take care of but two more use is maybe more pollution, more wear on the environment. So am I concerned that there’s more people? There’s always going to be more people but you know no I guess not overly as long as they do become educated.”

The Leave No Trace principles include: plan ahead and prepare; dispose of waste properly; leave what you find; respect wildlife and be considerate of other visitors.