Seggos: Adirondack trail work is ‘top priority’
State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos called Adirondack trail work a “top priority” during a public hearing on environmental conservation funding Monday.
Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Beach, asked Seggos if he could assure that stewardship funding for rebuilding and reconstructing trails in the Adirondack Park “is going to be there at the end of the day to help those repairs, in light of the overuse, as opposed to being swept up through the budget process into other areas.”
“You see the Adirondacks getting this incredible amount of use right now, and it’s a good thing,” Seggos said. “It’s a good thing for the Adirondacks to get that use. But we have to make sure when people get there it’s safe for them, and the trails aren’t being damaged.
“I want to get sustainable trail crews out there. Through this proposal, we have the opportunity to triple our effectiveness on trail building this year, when you match up the new crews we’re proposing with the existing crew that we have and the student crews out there,” he added. “It’s something we have to do. We have to meet this challenge of increased use and make sure people have safe trips up in the woods, and that they want to come back, because the trails are in good shape. That’s a top priority of mine.”
As part of his 2020-21 Executive Budget proposal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed $300 million for the Environmental Protection Fund, some of which is earmarked for additional trail crews and to help Essex County establish a hiker shuttle system along Route 73.
Kevin Chlad, director of government relations for the Adirondack Council, said in his testimony Monday that more needs to be done to address the impact of hiker traffic throughout the Adirondack Park.
“Throngs of hikers are enjoying our mountains, and every step taken contributes to erosion,” he said. “A detailed assessment found that impacts have resulted in more than 130 miles of trail in need of major repair or redesign just in the Adirondack High Peaks. The total need across the 2,000-mile-plus trail system in the Adirondack and Catskill parks is estimated to be much bigger. The limited state and partner trail crews are struggling to rebuild a mile or two of trail per year. At this pace, there is a backlog of more than 200 years of work.”
Chlad underscored six things that should factor into ongoing conversations between the DEC, stakeholders and the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group, a freshly formed committee that’s being asked to put together a “strategic planning framework” to recommend solutions to problems spurred by increased tourism. Those things include the development of a comprehensive plan; the expansion of outreach and user education; the development of “front-country infrastructure,” including a parking plan, bathrooms, a shuttle system and trailhead stewards; support for a “robust backcountry infrastructure” including stewardship resources for fragile ecosystems; enforcement of “limits for use at some times and in some places”; and provision of “necessary funding and staffing for all state management agencies to support the wilderness management objectives of the comprehensive plan.”
Chlad praised the governor’s inclusion of a $3 million increase to the State Land Stewardship Line of the Environmental Protection Fund, $1.2 million subcategory for an Essex County hiker shuttle system and recommended the Legislature “ensure there is dedicated funding for Forest Preserve Wilderness protection projects” to complement the county’s new shuttle network.
“The shuttle system will not succeed in a vacuum, and must be complemented with dedicated trail stewardship funding amongst other things,” he said.