Adirondack Park Success is Bringing Problems

Dec 9, 2019

According to the Adirondack Council's website, over 12 million visitors come to explore the beauty of Adirondack Park each year. Having so many visitors, however, makes it more difficult to maintain the trails and park using existing resources.
Credit Adirondack Council

Tourism advertising campaigns that show-off the beauty of the Adirondack Park and the charm of its villages are proving to be successful in attracting more visitors there – maybe too successful. 

The crowds in some areas present problems that are begging for answers.

You might have seen I Love New York advertising that shows off the Adirondack Park … and maybe it encouraged you to go.  The Adirondack Council’s John Sheehan with says visitor numbers jumped around 25% over the past decade.  But in some areas the extra visitors – and their hiking boots – have trampled the nature people come to see.

“We're really calling on state government to try and match the enthusiasm of the public with the program that will help to repair the damage and long-term make the place more sustainable, more attractive.”

The uptick in visitors is, of course, good for villages, local hotels, restaurants and shops, the people who live and work there – and basically count on tourist spending.  But what’s good for those main streets is wreaking some havoc on some of the most popular wild and natural areas.

“We've seen a 3- and 4-fold increase in the number of people coming to specific places in the park, mainly driven by social media and the attractiveness of the region.  People seeing an Instagram photo of what it's like at the top of Cascade Mountain, want to go and see for themselves.”

And while that sounds great, it’s bringing a number of problems: parking at popular trailheads far exceeds spaces; the trails themselves become muddy ever-widening messes that channel water and kill vegetation; and in cases like Cascade Mountain, high peaks hikes are tough for many to manage and they get in trouble.  Sheehan says the Adirondack Council, along with Adirondack Wild, Protect the Adirondacks, and the Adirondack Mountain Club, are calling for more help repairing trails … which now, due to low manpower, are maintained at less than a mile a year.

“What we need is a comprehensive plan to rebuild about 130 miles of trails. We don't have 260 years for that to happen. So, we really would like to see, the state, make an investment in trail crews and  infrastructure, capital expending, it's not going to take a huge pot of money, but it will take a dedicated effort [to make sure that this gets done].”

Adirondack trails such as this one have been eroded faster than the natural rate due to extra foot traffic from hikers. This also makes it easier for water to keep eroding the trails, causing them to weather even more quickly.
Credit Adirondack Council

And on top of more trail crews, and rangers and parking lots and shuttles … groups would like more outreach and hiker education.  Sheehan says that might steer crowds to other locations and become better stewards. 

The groups are asking the Governor to include in his 2020-21 executive budget:

  • targeted investments in growing the DEC’s Forest Ranger and natural resources staff, which have remained static since the great recession;
  • a state investment of $10 million in preservation and stewardship of Wilderness areas by fully funding, staffing and implementing a comprehensive plan including:
  • expanded visitor outreach;
  • hiker education;
  • front-country infrastructure including trailhead stewards;
  • backcountry infrastructure including rebuilt and well-maintained sustainable hiking trails;
  • an experimental permit reservation or limited entry system to limit use at some of the most overused, degraded locations, allow natural resources to recover and ensure a better wilderness experience; and,
  • carrying capacity studies, including wildland monitoring to assure that desired resource and recreational conditions are met and maintained.

The state is spending $200 million on the Olympic facilities, a visitors’ center and equestrian area.  They argue a fraction of that in the next state budget could go a long way in alleviating the problems success is having on the very nature that attracts many visitors.