Stars aligned to start educational programs

Hikers take a moment to enjoy the summit of Mount Marcy.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)

Hikers take a moment to enjoy the summit of Mount Marcy. (Photo — Joe Hackett)

As the summer season begins to wind down, traffic in the woods and on the waters will slowly begin to diminish. Although outdoor travelers are likely to find company wherever they travel, the end is in sight.

With a new school year looming on the near horizon, many families will too busy to travel. Prime travel dates will now center on holidays and long weekends, as the Adirondack outdoors slowly reverts to primarily local travelers.

It was a very busy, summer season in the Adirondacks, and the weather was cooperative for the most part. The bridge repairs along the main route from I-87 to the Tri-Lakes were well received.

On the downside, the apparent onslaught of novice or first-time outdoor enthusiasts served to tax the resources of state Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers and local volunteers who were regularly called upon to assist in search and rescue efforts. Evidence of the increase in outdoor travel is readily available at area trailheads, boat launches and canoe put-ins throughout the North County.

Although I am an avid proponent of outdoor recreation — especially with children — I also understand the concern of those who ask, “How much is enough, or too much?”

Low-lying clouds obscure the view from the top of Giant Mountain in St. Huberts as rain falls in the valley but not on the mountain summit.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)

Low-lying clouds obscure the view from the top of Giant Mountain in St. Huberts as rain falls in the valley but not on the mountain summit. (Photo — Joe Hackett)

While the very successful Saranac 6ers campaign in Saranac Lake has certainly been well received by the public, the toll on longer trails such as Ampersand, St. Regis and even little Mount Baker has been considerable. The lack of adequate trail infrastructure and regular trail maintenance has resulted in intertwined herd paths and a variety of open sewers.

In early July, there were more than 50 cars at the trailhead to McKenzie Mountain one morning, and still they kept coming. There is a single outhouse, which is rarely emptied, and the effects are evident.

Hikers climbing Mount Baker regularly take to the backyards, side-yards and even the driveways of nearby homeowners to go No. 1 or No. 2. On holiday weekends, the road circling Moody Pond is regularly reduced to a single lane.

Certainly, tourism success has costs we all must bear; it’s part of the equation. It is a small toll most are willing to bear, along with the bugs, long cold winters and a host of similar annoyances. It’s not easy to live in paradise.

But when the “free” recreational activities begin to intrude on the health, safety and security of local taxpayers and the public at large, it may be time to revisit the situation.

I have a unique perspective on the situation, as my occupation relies on outdoor travel and travelers. I meet them on the trails and on the waters. I also live in Ray Brook, where DEC and state police helicopters are based. My house is located on the flight path to the High Peaks, and air traffic has been steady again this year.

While it may be blasphemous for anyone in the tourism industry to question the ever-increasing crowds, I believe it’s warranted. Unfettered access to unlimited wild places teeming with woods, waters and wildlife is the prime attraction of the Adirondack region. It is our golden goose. However, it may be time to take an honest look at that old goose before it’s luster is irreversibly tarnished.

My occupation revolves around providing vacations that are educational, exciting and fun. I strive to provide private, personal outings in areas that remain lightly traveled. With more than 3,000 lakes and ponds, and more than 48,000 miles of rivers, streams, brooks and creeks encompassed within the Blue Line, there’s no need to fish with company other than your own. It’s how I’ve earned a living for more than 40 years.

Similar opportunities are available to hikers, birders and other woods wanderers, but only if they are willing to make the effort. Rather than following behind a long line of butts and britches on a singletrack trail, there are many lesser known, lightly traveled routes that remain relatively untapped.

As a rule, if there are more than three cars in the trailhead parking lot, it’s likely going to be too crowded. I don’t mind meeting new people at the

movies or a concert, but not on the trail. I go there to escape such encounters, and I purposely make efforts to give them their space.

However, on an average summer day, I am likely to encounter more people on the summit of Mount Marcy than I would at the supermarket. Such circumstances severely diminish the flavor and quality of the experience.

Wild lands should remain wild, regardless of their distance from the nearest road. The situation is a prime example of the ongoing deterioration of the wild character of our shared wild lands, which are in jeopardy of being loved to death.

The National Park Service has developed guidelines to deal with crowded conditions, which include closing or re-routing heavily utilized trails or limiting access during peak season. At the same time, it is also important to provide novice travelers with some of the basic guidelines and common courtesies of the trail.

While the DEC and the staff of the Adirondack Mountain Club do a wonderful job maintaining the trails and infrastructure in the wild, there remains a desperate need for basic wilderness education. With a wealth of local colleges providing recreation/education programs all across the Adirondacks — from SUNY Adirondack in Glens Falls to SUNY Plattsburgh, Potsdam and St. Lawrence in the north and SUNY Cortland in Raquette Lake complemented by two of the region’s oldest wilderness ed programs at Paul Smith’s College and North Country — I would expect there are enough outdoor educators available to fill the need.

Hunters and falconers are currently the only user groups required to take a class and purchase a license to pursue their recreational activities on public land in New York. With the development of a proposed Adirondack Park Gateway Visitors Center in North Hudson, it would appear the stars are readily aligned for the development of a Wilderness Wellness Program at the Adirondack Outdoor Center.

To ensure success of the effort, a companion program for youth, could be developed provided as a component wellness programs in public schools across the state.

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