Bill would rate hikes for difficulty

Griffin Kelly hikes up a new trail to Mount Van Hoevenberg near Lake Placid in October. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

A bill introduced in the state Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee would create a three-year program intended to increase hiker safety through a rating system and trailhead signage.

The bill, A4698, was introduced by Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, and “directs the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to establish a three-year hiking trail safety pilot program.”

Those agencies would have to rate hiking trails for difficulty, similarly to how Alpine ski trails are rated: black diamond for difficult, blue square for intermediate, green circle for easy.

“In light of an increased number of injuries and deaths on trails, many in or around State parklands, this program would develop safety markers and a notification system similar to those used at ski resorts around the State which offers those accessing the trail a sense of the relative difficulty and preparation required on such trails,” the justification for the bill says.

“The sponsor believes that a set of uniform safety standards, with clear and posted markers at trailheads, would give those using these trails a clearer sense of the associated physical demands and risks, and work to reduce future incidents leading to injury and loss of life.”

The bill has no corresponding legislation in the state Senate. It would need to be approved by both houses before it could go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature.

The bill was introduced last year as well but did not make it out of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee. There is no funding associated with the legislation, so DEC and OPHRP would use their existing budgets to develop the program.

The bill comes on the heels of a years-long effort to make hikers safer by hiring more state forest rangers, as the state has bought more land in the Adirondacks that rangers must patrol. Rangers conduct an average of one search-and-rescue mission each day statewide.