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Frontcountry stewards offer a point of contact in Keene

Roy Gilmour, right, a frontcountry steward with the town of Keene, speaks to hikers at the Marcy Field trailhead on Sunday morning. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

KEENE VALLEY — A new effort to educate hikers along the busy state Route 73 corridor kicked off this weekend, and one frontcountry steward said they’re providing a much-needed point of contact for hikers facing a number of changes.

Earlier this year, the state Department of Environmental Conservation enacted a roadside parking ban for 4 miles of Route 73, from the Rooster Comb trailhead to the Chapel Pond area. This was on top of last year’s painting of parking spots in paved parking areas.

While the parking ban is intended to reduce congestion on both the road and trails, hikers may face a difficult choice if the parking area they want to use is full. This issue has been exacerbated by the closure of the Garden parking area in Keene for the summer.

The new program is modeled after the Adirondack 46ers’ similar effort at Cascade Mountain, and it is a joint effort of the town of Keene, Paul Smith’s College and the PSC Adirondack Watershed Institute.

Roy Gilmour, who has worked at the Garden the past two summers, said the frontcountry steward program is being well received as hikers and locals adjust to the parking changes.

“We just had our first training session the other day, getting more formal experience informing hikers,” Gilmour said from a small hut at Marcy Field. “I think that a lot of people are glad to see that somebody is here at the trailheads, especially with the new postings for parking. A lot of people are just confused and need someone to talk to, so they’re glad to see somebody when they drive around.

“Most people are very, very responsive. (They have) a positive response to interacting with us; just getting information on where they need to go. There’s very little push-back to bridges being out or parking on the highway. Most people are pretty understanding.”

Although this was the first weekend the stewards were on duty, Gilmour said most people were well prepared or at least receptive to getting information on hiking, parking and Leave No Trace principles.

“I would say, statistically speaking, that there are enough people doing a lot of preparation that it skews the numbers favorably,” he said. “But a lot of people are coming here who have done no preparation at all (and) have no idea what the hike they’re going on entails. They just saw pictures online and figured it would be nice to go out and do someday.

“And those are also the people who go out and start at noon and have little water, no maps, improper footwear, cotton clothing, things of that nature. But I would say a high percentage of them are receptive to a learning experience and understanding what it takes to do all 46 (High Peaks) and be successful at it.”

The frontcountry steward program is supported by funds from the 46ers, the town of Keene and Paul Smith’s College. Stewards will be stationed at trailheads along Route 73 for the rest of the summer from Wednesday through Sunday, and then on weekends through Columbus Day.

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