Officials brainstorm Route 73 solutions

KEENE VALLEY — Representatives from nearly 40 state and local organizations convened at Keene Central School Tuesday to brainstorm ways to address public safety, environmental and traffic concerns at trailheads along the Route 73 corridor.

The stakeholder meeting, led by representatives of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, revolved around five key topics:

¯ Traffic and possible transportation solutions for hikers displaced by roadside parking restrictions

¯ Whether implementing a hiker or parking permit system would be effective or feasible

¯ Ways to educate the public about Leave No Trace practices and changes in the High Peaks

¯ Sustainable trail construction and maintenance practices

¯ Ways to assess the use of trails along Route 73 and use that data to bolster safety.

Roughly 60 attendees weighed in.

Some participants were in favor of implementing a hiker or parking permit system. Others were vehemently against it unless it’s deemed absolutely necessary. Some were against spending money to put together a shuttle system for hiker transportation. Others liked the idea.

Participants weighed in at the end of the session with an informal “dot” poll to gauge which topics or action items were most important to the group.

The most popular idea, according to the dot poll, was the creation of a pilot permit program, which could be revised or expanded as needed. Other popular ideas were related to the creation of a comprehensive plan, the expansion of parking within hamlets to bolster economic activity, and either an annual capital investment or more money in general allocated for assessment, usage, standards and planning for the High Peaks trail system.

One thing came up frequently: the need for more data that would pave the way for a comprehensive plan.

The brainstorming session came as the DEC continues to explore different strategies to promote sustainable tourism, address public safety issues and manage increasing human recreation in the High Peaks Wilderness.

The department is also in the midst of implementing a multi-year, multi-pronged effort to help accomplish those goals.

Faced with an increasing number of visitors to the High Peaks Wilderness, the DEC is encouraging hikers who come to the High Peaks area to visit during weekdays rather than weekends, when the demand is generally lower and parking is available in lots near trailheads.

The state is also either relocating or closing overused trails. One trail to Cascade Mountain is being relocated away from Route 73 to the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg, which is currently under construction.

On May 28, in a move designed to address safety concerns as a result of hikers parking at the roadside and walking up Route 73, the DEC announced that roadside parking is now prohibited between the Rooster Comb Mountain trailhead in Keene Valley and the Chapel Pond trailheads. “No parking” signs were put up along the 4-mile stretch by the state Department of Transportation, and the DEC stepped up enforcement of the ban shortly afterward.

Between June 14 and July 12, the department issued 90 parking tickets, according to David Winchell, a DEC spokesman. Each ticket carries a fine of up to $250 along with court fees.

State forest rangers — altogether there are six who patrol the High Peaks Wilderness — have largely been the ones enforcing the parking ban. As of last week, New York State Police hadn’t issued any tickets as a result of the parking restrictions, according to State Police Public Information Officer Jennifer Fleishman.

On June 29, the town of Keene and the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute and adventure guides announced a new volunteer-based “frontcountry steward” program. There are also existing stewards provided by Keene at the Marcy Field parking lot in Keene Valley, Wednesday through Sunday and on holidays.

The frontcountry steward initiative is designed to place volunteers at High Peaks trailheads to provide hikers with information. Beyond possibly redirecting hikers to less-busy areas, the stewards educate hikers on the Leave No Trace program’s principles when using the trails. They are not authorized to write parking tickets.

The department is also considering adding new portable toilets to curb human waste.

DEC officials told the roughly 60 attendees at the stakeholder meeting that the feedback the department received from the session would be compiled, and the DEC’s strategies and priorities may be updated based on discussions held there.

As it turns out, the meeting was invite-only. The Adirondack Daily Enterprise did not receive an invitation; however, a reporter was allowed to enter the meeting and was welcomed by officials there. Toward the end of the session, a DEC official told the reporter the meeting wasn’t public and said members of the media who asked to attend in advance were told they couldn’t attend. The reporter wasn’t explicitly told to leave and wasn’t removed from the session.

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