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Hikers will be bused to Wilmington

Agencies try to divert people from High Peaks by running buses to different trails next week through Columbus Day

A hiker approaches the summit of Bear Den Mountain in Wilmington. (Provided photo — Spencer Morrissey)

WILMINGTON — A new shuttle bus system, designed to encourage hikers to explore mountains beyond the state Route 73 corridor, will start service this fall, state and local officials announced Thursday.

The free shuttle service will travel between Lake Placid, the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center and the Whiteface Landing, Copperas Pond and Bear Den trailheads from Sept. 13 to Oct. 6. The shuttle will also operate during the Columbus Day and Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, Oct. 11 to 14.

The new service comes as an increasing number of hikers visiting the High Peaks Wilderness in recent years has caused both safety and environmental impact concerns, especially along Route 73 from Lake Placid through the town of Keene.

On days with good weather conditions, trailhead parking areas fill up quickly, prompting some visitors to park on the roadside and walk along the road to get to their desired trailhead. The state imposed a roadside parking ban along a 4-mile stretch of Route 73 starting in May, but hikers have continued to park on the there despite state forest rangers occasionally handing out tickets with a fee of up to $250, plus court fees.

“This pilot shuttle is part of (the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s) ongoing, comprehensive efforts to promote sustainable tourism in the High Peaks region and protect this irreplaceable resource. The results of the pilot shuttle will inform our collective efforts to further expand a shuttle system in the future,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement.

Copperas Pond is in the Sentinel Range Wilderness Area, a short hike from state Route 86. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

Essex County is paying for the service. The DEC, the state Olympic Regional Development Authority and the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism are also involved.

Carrie Gentile, communications director for ROOST, said this service is “a way to really try to disperse the hikers out of the High Peaks area and maybe release some of the traffic congestion down in the Keene Valley area of Route 73.”

Officials hope the new service will introduce people to new trails they may otherwise not know about, and get people to the appropriate trails for their skill levels, Gentile said.

The DEC says it is in the midst of implementing a multi-pronged, multi-year effort to promote sustainable tourism in the High Peaks and to address safety issues. That plan includes either closing or relocating some overused trailheads, and continuing to encourage hikers who do visit to do so during weekdays rather than weekends, when the demand is generally lower.

“Essex County is proud to take the lead in this endeavor to relieve overuse and overcrowding on our gorgeous trails,” Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland said in a statement. “By offering this transportation we hope that our hiking and backcountry enthusiasts will take advantage of the opportunity to explore the breathtaking trails less traveled.”

The free shuttle will depart from the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort as well as the park at the busy corner of Main Street and Saranac Avenue in Lake Placid. Service will run every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and shuttles are scheduled to depart every 60 minutes. The shuttle will stop transporting hikers at 2:47 p.m. “to ensure hikers have enough time to enjoy their hike and not miss the last shuttle back to Lake Placid,” according to a news release from ROOST.

During the Whiteface Mountain Oktoberfest on Sept. 28 and 29, the shuttle will not stop at the Bear Den Mountain trailhead and the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center. Instead, riders will be dropped off and picked up at the entrance road.