High Peaks UMP amendment lays out changes

Cars are parked on both sides of state Route 73, near the Cascade Mountain trailhead, on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend in September 2016 after the nearby parking areas filled up (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

RAY BROOK – The state Adirondack Park Agency released the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s plans for the vastly enlarged High Peaks Wilderness Area late last week, and with the addition of tens of thousands of acres, the High Peaks now clocks in at more than 260,000 acres.

The increase is due to state land purchases that will allow the DEC to combine the High Peaks and Dix Mountain wilderness areas, and necessitates an amendment to the unit management plan [UMP] for the High Peaks.

In addition to increased signage educating users to Leave No Trace and Wilderness Ethics principles, the DEC plans on improving trail registers and kiosks at access points. This is part of an effort to limit environmental damage as a result of exponentially increasing hikers and backcountry users over the past several years.

The department plans on adding name signs at the summit of the trailless High Peaks, but DEC says that only 15 of those mountains will have signs. DEC also plans on installing pit privies or vault toilets at all trailheads, where possible.

A couple of popular trailheads will see more major changes, including those for Ampersand Mountain, between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, and Cascade Mountain, perhaps the most visited High Peak, located just outside Lake Placid.

With the associated proposed amendment to the Mount Van Hoevenberg Intensive Use Area outside of the Lake Placid, the DEC plans to move the trailhead for Cascade to the cross-country and bobsled center permanently. The department gave this option a test run last Labor Day weekend.

If this decision goes through, the current parking areas on state Route 73 will be closed.

“Once the Cascade Mountain Trailhead is relocated, the Department will work with the NYS Department of Transportation, policing agencies, local government, stakeholders and partners to complete the closure of the three parking lots on the south side of Route 73 adjacent to the trailhead,” the DEC wrote in the plan.

The Ampersand Mountain trailhead on state Route 3 is also often overflowing, and while the current trailhead parking will remain, the DEC plans on building another large parking area down the road. A reroute of part of the Ampersand trail will lead to the new parking area.

While the Cascade trailheads on Route 73 will be closed, the DEC also plans to build two new parking areas in the Chapel Pond area of Route 73 to accommodate rock and ice climbers who frequent the area. The Giant Mountain Ridge Trail may also be rerouted to these parking areas.

Day use areas will also be built at the Chapel Pond slabs, and at the Boreas Pond and Henderson Lake dams. The plan says that each day use area will have an accessible privy in the vicinity. Those day use areas will also have hand launch boat launches.

New and improved trails loom large in the UMP amendment with about 60 miles of new trails slated. Several existing trails will also be improved, including the Indian Pass trail and the Mount Adams trail.

The DEC plans on building a trail to the summit of Boreas Mountain, but perhaps the biggest change in High Peaks trails will be the establishment of routes up the trailless High Peaks.

“DEC will work to identify sustainable routes and start to develop and construct official Class III and Class IV trails up the 21 traditional trailless peaks,” the DEC said. “Each reroute will focus on resource protection and user experience, trying to address use patterns, but not following historical routes at the detriment of resource protection.”

The reroute of the Cascade Trail will also be substantial, requiring about five miles of new trail as the trailhead is moved from Route 73 to Mount Van Hoevenberg. That plan is dependent on the passage of the Van Ho UMP amendment.

Some of the new or improved trails will also be built to cross-country ski standards, and the Wright Peak Ski Trail will be rerouted to connect with the Whale’s Tail Ski Trail.

While climbers will benefit from increased parking near Chapel Pond, the DEC will also place a temporary moratorium on the placement of bolts or fixed pitons while it conducts a focus group “including Department and Agency staff, members of the climbing community, environmental organizations and other interested parties to develop a park-wide policy on the management of fixed anchors on Forest Preserve lands.”

The plan also calls for the construction of dozens of primitive backcountry campsites, including five along the shore of Boreas Pond.

The current High Peaks Wilderness Area is split into two zones, the Eastern and the Western. The Eastern High Peaks will be renamed as the Central High Peaks Zone, while the new lands, western portion and Dix Mountain Wilderness will be folded into the Outer High Peaks Zone.

Several new regulations will be put into place, including mandatory leashing of dogs above 4,000 feet in elevation, the prohibition of glass containers in the entirety of the High Peaks and mandatory registration for users. The DEC does not say how the registration rule will be enforced.

The requirement for overnight users to utilize bear canisters will still be in place, but canisters will need to be from a DEC-approved list that will be updated annually.

The APA is set to vote on the plan to send it to public comment at Thursday’s agency meeting in Ray Brook. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at APA headquarters in Ray Brook.