Cascade hikers must shuttle on Columbus Day weekend

Cars park along state Route 73 near the Cascade Trailhead in September 2016. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

LAKE PLACID — Hundreds of cars parked along state Route 73 at the Cascade Mountain trailhead will not be a problem this Columbus Day weekend.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Olympic Regional Development Authority announced, in a press release Wednesday, plans to manage use associated with the popular Cascade Mountain trail from Thursday, Oct. 4 to Monday, Oct. 8. These actions are reportedly part of DEC’s multi-year effort to balance tourism and safety in the Adirondacks.

The parking areas and shoulders along Route 73 near the Cascade-Pitchoff trailhead will be closed starting Thursday afternoon, Oct. 4. Starting that Friday, hikers will be directed to the parking lot at the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg’s cross-country ski center. Overnight parking will not be permitted. From there, folks can make the 2,940-foot climb up Van Hoevenberg itself or take a shuttle to the Cascade-Pitchoff trailhead.

The shuttle will leave from the parking lot on the half-hour, beginning at 7 a.m. each day, to transport hikers to the trailhead. Shuttles will also transport hikers from the trailhead back to the parking lot until 7 p.m.

The last shuttle to carry hikers to the Cascade trailhead will leave the parking lot at 3 p.m. After this time, the shuttles will only transport hikers from the trailhead back to the parking lot, ensuring hikers have enough time to reach the summit of Cascade Mountain and return to the trailhead before 7 p.m.

Only these shuttles are allowed to enter the Cascade trailhead for pick-ups and drop-offs that weekend.

ORDA and the DEC said the shuttles and their scheduling will ensure that no more than about 400 people visit the Cascade-Pitchoff trail each day, providing a higher-quality experience for hikers and protecting sensitive alpine vegetation on the summit. Recent years have seen numerous 500-plus-person days on Cascade during busy hiking weekends such as Columbus Day or Labor Day.

“DEC wants to ensure the safety of hikers and drivers this Columbus Day weekend,” said DEC Region 5 Director Bob Stegemann. “This plan provides for hiking opportunities while protecting the public and the sensitive alpine vegetation on the summit of Cascade Mountain. We appreciate the collaborative efforts of our partners for bringing this to fruition, including ORDA, the state Department of Transportation, State Police, 46ers Trailhead Stewards and the Summit Stewards.”

Volunteers, operating under a DEC Volunteer Stewardship Agreement, will be at the cross-country ski parking lot and Cascade trailhead to provide information about the recreational opportunities available, to ensure hikers are properly prepared and to educate hikers on trail etiquette and Leave No Trace principles for sustainable recreation.

ORDA President and CEO Mike Pratt said this program was successful last year.

“As many as 600 people came through the complex, and we expect more this year,” he said. “We’re excited to bring people to the complex and provide access to the trails on Cascade, Pitchoff, and Mount Van Hoevenberg mountains. Visitors can enjoy the incredible views from the mountains and the many amenities we have here.”

The DEC is also informing hikers that parking at the Adirondak Loj trailhead will fill early each day during the holiday weekend. A variable messaging board at the beginning of the Adirondack Loj Road will inform hikers when parking is no longer available and recommend alternate places to hike.

In addition to Cascade and Adirondack Loj, another trailhead that has seen crowded parking conditions in recent years is for Giant Mountain beside Roaring Brook Falls on Route 73. DEC announced this week that, starting this Friday, roadside parking will be permanently banned at that location. Once the parking lots fill up, no one is allowed to park. DEC said the ban will help reduce the number of hikers and increase safety for drivers, hikers and pedestrians.