DEC balances out governor’s invitation

On June 2, the same day Gov. Andrew Cuomo invited every New Yorker to visit Lake Placid this summer, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced it will put a five-person trail crew in the High Peaks this summer, the largest it’s had in a long time. That’s on top of the crews from the Adirondack Mountain Club and Student Conservation Association, which contract with DEC. It’s needed.

Better yet, later that same weekend, the DEC went live with a new campaign on its homepage, suggesting alternate hikes around Lake Placid to steer people away from the busiest ones in the Route 73 corridor. Whereas Cuomo called Lake Placid a “gem” in his announcement, the DEC called its 13 hikes “hidden gems.”

Meanwhile, the DEC finally got an old, big job out the door into the public eye last week — the unit management plan for the sprawling Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. DEC started the project 15 years ago, and while it’s certain to prompt lot of comment and maybe controversy now that it’s public, it’s good to move forward and lighten the backlog.

The department is hopefully clearing its plate to deal with the High Peaks area, where heavy use demands relentless attention. One of the most popular Route 73 hikes, Owls Head in Keene, is now closed on weekends and will be permanently shut after this summer. The Memorial Day crowds were reportedly the last straw for the people who own the parking area and most of the trail. The DEC says it wants to cut a new trail entirely on state land, but that would require amending the High Peaks Wilderness UMP.

The state is also adding to the High Peaks Wilderness at the south, with land from the McIntyre tracts as well as Boreas Ponds — the latter linking it to the Dix Mountain Wilderness. That, plus the proposed “Gateway to the Adirondacks” at the old Frontier Town property in North Hudson, would probably increase traffic in the southern High Peaks, which might relieve pressure on the northern part but would require loads of planning and preparation.

With burgeoning crowds, new land and the continued importance of “Leave No Trace” principles, the DEC has a lot of work ahead in the Adirondacks, but it seems to be in a good place in terms of awareness and motivation.

We’re sure various officials regularly ask the governor to plug Lake Placid. Now we hope DEC officials get his ear as well so the next time he invites people here, he asks them to follow practices that will help these mountains stay beautiful for generations to come.