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DEC will study trailhead transit

Some Essex County supervisors want to make hikers get licenses, pay fees to cover cost of impact

ELIZABETHTOWN — The state Department of Environmental Conservation is in the early stages of commissioning a transit study of state Route 73, due to pressure from hikers and climbers parking at the road’s popular trailheads.

The study will look at whether there’s a need for hiker transportation from designated parking areas to trailheads, if current programs in place adequately address those needs, and what sort of transportation may be needed to facilitate safe travel, according to DEC Region 5 Director Robert Stegemann.

He said the entirety of Route 73, from Lake Placid almost to Interstate 87, will be looked at. It’s unclear when this study will be put out for bids or how long the study will last; both Stegemann and a DEC spokesperson said they didn’t immediately have that information.

Stegemann mentioned the transit study in a meeting with the Essex County Board of Supervisors on Monday.

In the past, some lawmakers have questioned where hikers who arrive after parking lots are full will go to park, how they’ll get from point A to point B, and who’s going to foot the bill for that transportation.

This map of state Route 73 shows where roadside parking is now prohibited. (Provided image — New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

Stegemann told supervisors the possibility of shuttles for hikers is a “subject ripe for discussion.”

“We probably have a shuttle need along Route 73 itself,” he said.

Stegemann didn’t mention the possibility of Essex County being responsible for that.

Essex County Department of Public Works Deputy Superintendent Jim Dougan told supervisors in May that he’d been approached by the DEC about the possibility of using county transport to shuttle hikers from one place to another, but that no formal agreement has been reached.

Hundreds of cars line the sides of state Route 73 near the Cascade Mountain trailhead outside Lake Placid during Labor Day weekend 2016. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

Parking ban

Stegemann’s mention of a new transit study comes as the DEC begins to crack down on roadside parking on Route 73.

The DEC announced May 28 that roadside parking is now prohibited between the Rooster Comb Mountain trailhead in Keene Valley and the Chapel Pond trailheads. The state Department of Transportation had already started putting up “no parking” signs along the route.

The following weekend, June 8 and 9, the DEC doled out 70 parking tickets to hikers parked along the roadside in that area. That number was significant because it represented roughly 70% of the total tickets the department had written in the area since last September, indicating that the DEC was significantly stepping up parking enforcement.

“I think that’s helped quite a bit,” Stegemann said. “We’re starting to ticket now. I think we’re trying to go into that gradually and not ticket everyone all at once.”

Stegemann also said new parking lots in the Chapel Pond area will hopefully “take some pressure off the Route 73 stretch.”

This parking ban along Route 73, the accompanying signage and new parking lots, are just a few pieces of an overarching, multi-pronged effort by the DEC to ebb overcrowding at trailheads and manage the ensuing effects.

“I think it’s really important for our economy to get this right,” Stegemann said. “It’s very important for our resources, and it’s very important for safety.”

Multi-pronged effort

“How do we protect the tourist economy and not turn people off from coming here?” Stegemann said.

The first step is to encourage hikers to come on weekdays rather than weekends, or to encourage them to choose another place to hike altogether, he said.

State forest rangers are on the front lines of this effort. Soon, new trailhead stewards will be added to the mix.

The town of Keene, Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute and Paul Smith’s College adventure guides are providing information to hikers through a new “frontcountry steward” program. Starting as soon as this weekend, the college’s stewards will work in the Roaring Brook, Giant and Chapel Pond areas each Friday through Sunday in the summer and weekends through Columbus Day. They’ll supplement existing stewards provided by the town of Keene at the Marcy Field parking lot in Keene Valley, Wednesday through Sunday and on holidays.

Beyond redirecting hikers, the stewards will educate hikers on the Leave No Trace program’s principles when using the trails.

Adding new portable toilets to curb human waste is another part of that effort.

“We want to help people understand that when they’re in the woods, they have a responsibility to take care of it,” Stegemann said.

The state is also either relocating or closing overused trails. As an example of this, Stegemann cited the pending relocation of the Cascade Mountain trailhead away from Route 73, and the opening of a new trailhead at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex. He said the new Cascade trailhead won’t be completed until the next hiking season, however.

Supers push for hiker fees

Multiple town supervisors spoke in favor of implementing some sort of hiking fee or license, both to generate revenue — which they hope could be used to hire more forest rangers or trailhead stewards — and to cut down on the number of people heading into the wilderness unequipped.

“You have to get a hunting license from New York state,” North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi said. “You have to have a fishing license. Maybe you need a hiking license.

“This is a big park with a lot of hiking trails. We have trailhead stewards helping with the educational experience, but a lot of those (hikers) are asking, ‘Where do we go to park or stay overnight.’ I don’t know that we’re answering those questions with the trailhead stewards.

“We need to find ways to generate revenue so we can have more people helping out. Hiking fees is one way.”

Politi said he’d also be in favor of parking fees.

“I’m going to tell you: It makes a lot of sense,” he said. He referenced a controversial plan floated in the past of making Adirondack Loj Road a toll road. “Parking fees would generate substantial revenue for your department.

“I think it’s a tough undertaking, but we need to find ways to generate revenue and make it easier for people hiking in the Adirondacks.”

Stegemann said the DEC is “looking at a whole host of opportunities” but declined to elaborate on hiker or parking fees in the public session.

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