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‘This weekend we were prepared’

With help from state, Keene supervisor calls holiday weekend hiker response a ‘short-term success’

Cars line both sides of Route 73 by the Giant Mountain/Chapel Pond trailhead in the town of Keene Saturday afternoon. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

KEENE VALLEY — The Columbus Day and Canadian Thanksgiving holiday weekend brought a now-familiar scene to this hamlet.

On Saturday and Sunday, hikers walked in packs along Route 73 as cars sped past. Trailhead parking lots overflowed, and vehicles were parked illegally at the roadside, in some cases directly below “no parking” signs the state Department of Transportation installed in May. For 10 hours each day, a town-funded shuttle carried visitors up and down a narrow, tree-shaded stretch to the popular Garden trailhead as strategically stationed volunteers tried to intercept excess hikers and direct them to lesser-trodden trails.

But this time, something was different:

A few days ahead of time, state and local officials collaborated on a plan to control the tide.

When the flow of hikers reached its peak, Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr. said they were ready for it, a stark contrast to the weekend prior when the crush of nature seekers overwhelmed local resources.

“This weekend we were prepared,” he said.

“I would call this a short-term success.”

Full force

Staff from multiple different organizations and agencies were involved over the holiday weekend.

This was perhaps most visible on AuSable Road, a half-crescent that connects to Route 73 at both ends, after the Adirondack Mountain Reserve parking lot filled to capacity Saturday morning.

Staff from the members-only AuSable Club were stationed at one end of the road. When the lot filled, they blocked hikers and other non-members from entering and redirected them elsewhere. At the other end, volunteers and state forest rangers placed a wooden barrier at the entrance to the road and redirected hikers who tried to enter the full parking lot.

Across the street at the Roaring Brook trailhead, rangers and volunteers did the same. All the while, State Police were seen patrolling the road and offering assistance.

“During the Columbus Day holiday weekend, forest rangers, environmental conservation police officers, New York State Police and the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, aided by town of Keene officials and volunteers, provided education and assistance to thousands of tourists,” state Department of Environmental Conservation spokesperson Erica Ringewald said.

The full-force response led to fewer parking tickets issued over the holiday weekend — around 50, according to Ringewald — compared to the weekend prior, when forest rangers issued more than 70.

A few cars that were blocking the road to the Garden trailhead were towed, but not as many as the previous weekend, according to Wilson.

“With all of these people,” he said, “hikers were happy, and it was much easier.”

Planning ahead

Wilson was quick to add that though the weekend went smoothly this time, this all-hands-on-deck response isn’t sustainable long-term.

“What we’re doing this weekend is a short-term solution,” he said Sunday morning.

Wilson said the time to start planning for next year is now, and though the busiest hiking weekend of the year has now likely passed, the town council will continue to discuss what can be done locally to accommodate visitors in the coming weeks.

“I think we’re going to have some very broad discussions in the next three to four months,” he said.

He hopes to see collaboration with the state continue in the lead-up to the next hiking season.