LAKE PLACID - The Adirondak Loj and most of the trails in the eastern High Peaks and Giant Mountain wilderness areas opened today.
"The areas certainly are open, but the conditions aren't great back in there," DEC Region 5 spokesman Dave Winchell said Wednesday.
The trails were closed shortly after Tropical Storm Irene hit the region on Aug. 28. Many of them sustained blowdown, landslides and washouts. In other cases, trailheads were unaccessible because of road closures.
The Dix Mountain Wilderness, which was also closed after Irene, will remain closed for now because of damage to its trails and the closure of state Route 73.
The Adirondack Loj Road also opened to the public Thursday after town of North Elba highway crews made repairs to culverts this week. Contractors hired by Essex County had previously repaired a bridge that had been damaged, although it is only open to one lane of traffic.
Winchell warned hikers to use extra caution on the trails because some have changed drastically. Other trails require hikers to cross streams where bridges have been washed out.
"With high waters it's going to be tough to get through there," Winchell said. "Trails are going to look a lot different to people."
The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) issued a press release Wednesday stating that "many trails have been rerouted to avoid heavily damaged sections and eroded drainages can be mistaken for trails. Hikers should be able to navigate with a map and compass."
Winchell said the DEC has been forced to reroute some trails, such as the Van Hoevenberg Trail to Mount Marcy, which starts at the High Peaks Information Center parking lot. The trail had previously crossed the Marcy Dam, but the pedestrian bridge over that structure has been washed out. Hikers will now cross Marcy Brook below Marcy Dam at a place known as the "Squirrel Crossing."
Winchell said hikers may want to start at South Meadow Road if they are hiking to Mount Marcy to avoid this stream crossing, which could be high and difficult because of the recent rains.
Winchell said the DEC has to consider whether or not it should replace the pedestrian bridge over Marcy Dam.
The road and trail openings means that ADK can reopen its facilities, including the Adirondak Loj, High Peaks Information Center and campground, in addition to the John's Brook Lodge and two nearby camps in the John's Brook Valley.
"The main issue with us was the washout with the bridge," said ADK Deputy Director John Million. "Our properties in good shape, and we're anxious to welcome the public back to our property."
The John's Brook Lodge, which is 3.5 miles from the nearest road, is usually accessed from a trailhead at the Garden parking lot in Keene Valley. The town of Keene has opened the access road to the parking lot to restricted traffic, but the bridge over John's Brook has been downgraded to a 6,000-pound limit, according to ADK.
Town officials are urging caution and are asking people to limit travel and carpool. The John's Brook Lodge is reopening on a caretaker basis, which means guests must pack in their own food but will have the use of the lodge kitchen. Guests are also urged to bring sleeping bags.
The DEC is expected to release a full list of trail openings and closures today.
In the meantime, Winchell said the Orebed Trail up Gothics, Wolf Jaw Trail, Southside Trail in John's Brook Valley and the Cold Brook Trail between Lake Colden and Indian Pass remain closed.
Open trails in the Giant Mountain Wilderness include all trails starting from the trailheads on U.S. Route 9 and state Route 9N. Giant Mountain may also be accessed via the Hopkins Mountain trail from the Ranney trailhead.
Open trails in the High Peaks Wilderness include all trails from the Adirondak Loj trailhead, the Cascade Mountain trailhead, the Garden trailhead, the Rooster Comb trailhead, the Upper Works trailhead and the East River trailhead.
All trails out of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AuSable Club) remain closed due to the closure of a section of Route 73 and the damage to the trailhead parking lots.
The Elk Lake trailheads are also closed.
Winchell said DEC crews from other regions will be coming to the Adirondacks next week to help work on the repairs to backcountry. Groups like the 46ers and ADK are also continuing to work with the DEC.
"I think it's going to be a changing landscape for the rest of this season at least, as repairs get made and crews get out to do reroutes and replace bridges and those types of things," Million said.