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High Peaks committee seeks input on overuse

A freshly created committee, tasked with advising the state on how to mitigate the impact of increasing hiker traffic in the Adirondack High Peaks, wants to hear questions and concerns from the public.

The High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group was created by the state Department of Environmental Conservation this past November. Now it is asking those with input “regarding issues related to managing use in the High Peaks Region, and what might be done to address these issues” to send an email to info.r5@dec.ny.gov with their ideas, according to a news release from the department.

The High Peaks committee has now met at least three times at DEC offices in Ray Brook and Warrensburg. The meetings weren’t announced in advance — a DEC spokesperson, Erica Ringewald, said last year the committee would have “both public and private meetings” — but the department has now started releasing meeting summaries, which provide some insight into the group’s process to date. Those are available at tinyurl.com/highpeaksadvisory.

The state has asked the committee 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 group will also have the ability to make recommendations on the DEC’s priorities and determine whether more data is needed to inform decisions.

It was initially unclear when the group would be asked to submit their recommendations to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. In a news release Thursday, the department revealed that the deadline will be the end of this June.

As of Jan. 2, the members had collectively created a list of ideas for ways to address issues spurred by high hiker traffic in the short term. Some of those ideas included the potential creation of a volunteer and steward coordinator; the creation of a DEC “trail czar” dedicated to Forest Preserve lands in the Catskills and Adirondack parks; gathering more data on hikers’ motivations, trail conditions and the number of days that are busy in a season; opening at least one new parking hub and establishing a shuttle system; piloting a cellphone app with live information about trail conditions and parking availability; and conducting a one-season survey of high-priority trails.

The group also apparently suggested actions that have already been announced by the DEC, like conducting a transit study along state Route 73 and its popular trailheads, according to the meeting summary.

The committee’s formation was announced after 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 residents and local officials had seen in years. The crush of tourism on good weather days, paired with an expanded roadside parking ban along Route 73 in the hamlets of Keene and St. Huberts, created some confusion and frustration as visitors arrived to hike and were faced with few options for legal parking.

The increased number of tourists wading into the wilderness has coincided with state-funded marketing efforts to drive visitors to the Adirondack Park.

The committee has asked anyone with input on High Peaks overuse to submit their comments to the DEC “as soon as possible to ensure they are considered by the Advisory Group during their deliberations,” the department said in a news release.