Thousands of hikers out on Labor Day weekend

Forest ranger union rep says roadside parking ban has little effect on reducing numbers

A dozen people and two dogs had reached the summit of Giant Mountain — the state’s 12th highest peak — by 10 a.m. on Sunday morning. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

KEENE VALLEY — Despite a roadside parking ban, hikers continued to park illegally in numerous locations along busy state Route 73 this Labor Day weekend.

And while the nice weather Friday through Sunday helped draw crowds, one local forest ranger — who spoke as a union delegate — said the number of people needing assistance in the backcountry was lower.

Parking ban

A half-dozen drivers made their own parking spots at the Roaring Brook trailhead on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

Earlier this summer, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, in conjunction with local officials and the state Department of Transportation, instituted a roadside parking ban along 4 miles of Route 73, from the Rooster Comb trailhead just outside of Keene Valley to the Chapel Pond area. Due to ever-increasing numbers of hikers, the DEC said the ban would help improve safety and limit the number of people entering the High Peaks and Giant Mountain wilderness areas.

However, at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, the Roaring Brook parking area — which leads to Giant Mountain — was already full, with one car parked underneath a “No Parking” sign. Across Route 73, the Adirondack Mountain Reserve parking area, which works as an easement on private land, was also near capacity.

By 1:30 p.m. Sunday, more than a dozen cars were parked illegally along the shoulder of Route 73 at Roaring Brook, and a half-dozen drivers had made their own parking spots in the parking area, which is paved and has painted lines designating spots. Across the street at the AMR lot, drivers had blocked other cars in, two high-clearance SUVs had parked atop 6-foot high gravel piles, and numerous cars were parked next to and between “No Parking” signs.

Scott van Laer, who works as a DEC forest ranger and serves as a union delegate for rangers with the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, said he personally wrote 30 parking tickets along Adirondack Loj Road on Sunday. He said the parking ban has had little effect on the number of hikers.

“I dealt with parking all day yesterday (Sunday),” van Laer said. “That was my day. I wrote 30 parking tickets yesterday … on the Loj Road.

Dozens of cars are parked illegally, like these two on the Adirondack Mountain Reserve property, at and near the Roaring Brook trailhead early on Sunday afternoon. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

“I had people tell me, ‘Go ahead and write me a ticket.’ A couple people drove closer to the Loj figuring, ‘I’m going to get a ticket anyway; I may as well be a minute away.’ (But) having these no parking zones has shifted behavior. The people that are aware of it, it’s causing them to come sooner. And that means that now it’s shifting the use of the ranger to start sooner, and it doesn’t seem like management has adjusted.

“If a ranger is there before they start parking illegally, it is a deterrent.”

Van Laer said that while crowds seemed larger this year, there were no significant rescues, although the rangers stayed busy helping people who were unprepared or injured. He also said on Twitter that he thought the DEC didn’t have enough rangers working over the holiday weekend.

“We didn’t have enough rangers on this weekend to cover the crowds,” he wrote. “We are already short staffed but they (DEC) usually assign (overtime) shifts to cover the extra surge and this year they didn’t.

“There are only 6 rangers in the High Peaks district, one was assigned to the State Fair and another was sent to Florida for Hurricane response. We were running all weekend from incident to incident,” he wrote in another Tweet.

The state’s roadside parking ban on state Route 73 is routinely ignored by dozens of drivers on weekends. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

DEC offices were closed Monday for the holiday, but a spokesperson said in an email the department would be able to provide the number of parking tickets issued and rescues performed early this week.

The numbers

By mid-afternoon on Sunday, more than 60 groups had signed in to the Roaring Brook trailhead, which leads hikers to Giant Mountain, Giant’s Nubble, Giant Washbowl and both the top and bottom of Roaring Brook Falls. If the average group size was three, that would mean 180 people signed at the register. It should be noted that not everyone who hikes signs in.

This is the remnants of an illegal campfire at the summit of Giant Mountain. Giant’s summit is at 4,627 feet above sea level, and fires are prohibited above 4,000 feet in elevation. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

But there are four trails up Giant Mountain, and by mid-morning on Sunday, most of the 20 or so people who had summited said they came up the Range Trail from Chapel Pond. A majority said there was plenty of parking in the Chapel Pond area. Hikers can also reach the 4,627-foot peak by coming over another High Peak — Rocky Peak Ridge — or on the north trail from state Route 9N. There was no summit steward at the top on Sunday morning.

In comparison, Cascade Mountain — arguably the most popular of the 46 High Peaks — saw at least 590 groups sign in from Friday, Aug. 30 through Monday, Sept. 2. Again, assuming average parties of three, that’s 1,770 people who signed in, and that number is likely higher due to some hikers not logging in at the register. Van Laer said he talked to approximately 500 people while hiking Cascade on Saturday.

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