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Keene community forum on hiker parking issue scheduled for Wednesday

A sign in Keene Valley Oct. 5 warns against parking on Johns Brook Lane leading to the Garden trailhead. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

KEENE VALLEY — The town of Keene is hosting a community forum on hiker parking Wednesday night.

The meeting, set for 7 p.m. at the Keene Valley firehouse, will focus on the current state of hiker parking and planning for the next hiking season. Town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr. said he will also provide an overview of hiker activity this past summer and update residents on the status of the town’s ongoing community master plan initiative.

“I want to update residents on how this summer went, how their money is being spent, and give them the current state of affairs,” Wilson said. “It’s also budget season, and Keene residents are concerned. How much is it costing taxpayers for hiker parking? I want to address that stuff.”

The town blew past the amount it had anticipated for running its shuttle bus this year, which transports hikers from the Marcy Field parking lot to the Garden trailhead. By the time the shuttle stopped service for the season, the town had spent $39,739 on the service, $18,109 more than had been budgeted to run the shuttle seven days a week during the spring and summer. The money spent beyond what was budgeted came from the town’s contingency fund and reserves.

The town adopted its 2020 budget following a public hearing on the preliminary plan Nov. 7. The budget is below the state tax cap and carries a tax levy of $906,505 to pay for projected general fund expenses of more than $1.2 million. The town hopes to save some money next year by returning the shuttle to its original schedule, before the Garden parking area was closed due to the replacement of the Johns Brook Bridge.

At the community forum Wednesday, Wilson hopes to hear feedback from residents on hiker parking, and how the influx of visitors this past summer affected them.

“Really, I want to hear from people and let them ask questions and share ideas, give them a chance to have some input and understanding of what’s taking place,” he said. “A lot of stuff that people share helps us understand how residents are experiencing this increase in visitor traffic, how residents are trying to cope with it and what it’s like in specific parts of town.”

This community forum follows a hiking season that attracted more visitors to the Adirondacks, especially to trailheads leading to the High Peaks and Giant Mountain wilderness areas, than many local officials had seen in years.

The town of Keene, which has around 1,000 residents, was inundated. The crush of tourism, paired with an expanded roadside parking ban along Route 73 in the hamlets of Keene and St. Huberts, created some confusion and frustration on good weather days as some visitors arrived to hike and were faced with few options for legal parking.

Wilson, alongside town Councilor Teresa Cheetham-Palen, was recently named to an advisory committee on High Peaks issues created by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The 13-member committee is being asked to put together a “strategic planning framework” that will include policy recommendations designed to accomplish five main goals: ensuring the public’s safety, protecting the trails and natural resources, providing visitors with a good outdoor experience, supporting the local economy and making science-based decisions based on data. The committee is expected to submit its suggestions to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos in 2020.

In addition to the hiker parking discussion Wednesday, residents will also hear the latest on Keene’s masterplan effort.

A volunteer committee released a town-wide survey in August asking residents to rank the top five issues they believe need to be addressed. From a list of topics, residents ultimately chose hiker parking, managing short-term rentals, promoting affordable housing, expanding preschool and day care options, and support for seniors, including the preservation of health services, as the issues that should be focused on.

The steering committee charged with leading the effort recently held its first public meeting to start organizing work groups around the five key issues identified by residents in a town-wide survey conducted in August and September.

“So much has happened with that, I want to give everybody a debrief and give them a chance to share their ideas and thoughts,” Wilson said.