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Leave No Trace team makes recommendations to ease impact on crowded Adirondack trails

ELIZABETHTOWN — The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has recommended a host of actions New York state can take to safeguard the Adirondack Park’s most popular destinations from harm as the number of park visitors continues to rise.

Chief among them are comprehensive planning, expanded education and outreach and improved visitor management in some locations.

The Subaru Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers visited the High Peaks Wilderness in 2019 to conduct a week-long series of workshops on curbing the impacts of overuse there, in partnership with the Adirondack Mountain Club and Adirondack Council environmental advocacy groups and the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The Council hired the Center for Outdoor Ethics to return for an assessment of the entire 6-million-acre Adirondack Park’s needs.

“While visiting and auditing the Adirondacks, we saw that this park holds one of the country’s most amazing protected public-private wildland complexes,” Ben Lawhon, education director for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in Boulder, Colorado, said in a press release. “We also saw overuse that was as challenging as anything we have seen in the United States. We recommend scaling up some of the responses New York has launched or tested over the last two years to address the pressing issues facing the Park. Furthermore, as part of a comprehensive management system, park managers should explore limiting use when and where appropriate to minimize resource damage and maximize visitor experience.”

Leave No Trace’s full report is due soon, but the Council wants to get the 25-page summary of 52 recommendations out now, so the state budget, due April 1, can potentially provide the funds and authorizations needed to begin work in 2020.

The governor has appointed a state task force on overuse, which includes the Council and the Mountain Club as well as local government and others. It is expected to make recommendations after several months of research and discussion.

A recent Council study of trailhead parking around the High Peaks Wilderness showed visitor numbers continue to surge, beyond 250% of capacity, but slight reductions in visitors in the top three destinations due to state hiker education and visitor management efforts to date.

Several key themes emerge from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics’ recommendations:

¯ Build on success: The state has enacted some successful management efforts and outreach; expand and broaden them.

¯ Plan and act comprehensively: In planning, developing a permit system, data collection, and in education and outreach strategies, pick those with the widest application.

¯ Solid data: Need to base management decisions on scientific research and on good data.

¯ Consistent communication: Maintain consistent educational messaging across all platforms and groups concerned with stewardship of public lands in the Adirondack Park.

¯ Partners: Capitalizing on and building partnerships, including with tourism entities.

¯ Training: Consistent Leave No Trace training, whether for New York state licensed guides, volunteer groups serving under volunteer service agreements with the state, camp and college groups, or DEC staff.

“We are very pleased to see that Leave No Trace Center is recommending a comprehensive park-wide approach by the state that includes limits on use in some locations at some times,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway. “To be effective and long-lasting, management solutions must be comprehensive and consistent across the entire Adirondack Park.

“Managed right, this park could welcome many more visitors than the 12.4 million who came in 2018,” Janeway explained. “That would allow many more Adirondack communities to reap the economic benefits of green tourism while we build a larger and more diverse constituency for wild land protection, stewardship and careful management.”

“Leave No Trace has been an important partner in educating the public on how to enjoy wild lands responsibly,” said Seth Jones, education director for the Adirondack Mountain Club. “This assessment is aimed at helping the state make good choices when it invests in new methods and infrastructure to handle the ever-growing crowds of visitors in the Adirondack Park. Leave No Trace’s expertise and fresh perspectives have been very useful.”

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