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Keene suspends hiker shuttle indefinitely

Some cars are parked at the Garden trailhead in Keene Valley, a popular access point to the High Peaks Wilderness, on March 18. The town of Keene normally runs a shuttle bus to and from this trailhead in summer and fall. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

KEENE — The hiker shuttle run by the town of Keene will not operate for the foreseeable future.

The shuttle, which transports hikers from Marcy Field to the popular Garden trailhead, will not start service for the upcoming season amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr.

“I can’t even begin to guess when we’ll have clearance to hire people and have somebody driving a bus,” he said Thursday. “It’s a big question mark, of when we’ll get our operations up and running.”

The town issued a call last month asking nature seekers from out of town to stay home and hike closer to where they live, rather than travel to visit the Adirondack High Peaks. The Essex County Board of Supervisors added to that request last week with a call for downstate residents to stay home and refrain from visiting this area, in part because of local hospitals’ capacity and supply limitations.

Despite those requests, cars can still be seen in trailhead parking lots between Lake Placid and the hamlets of Keene Valley and St. Huberts every day, though many seen in the last few days have had New York license plates. On recent weekends, Wilson said the parking lot for the Garden trailhead has still had upward of 12 to 15 cars parked there.

“I’m worried as this goes on, and the weather gets nicer, we’re going to have more of a problem with people getting cabin fever and wanting to go out,” he said.

DEC guidance

— The state Department of Environmental Conservation has recommended hikers use lesser-trodden trails and, if hiking in a group, to continue to practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from others.

Before going out for a hike, check out backcountry trail conditions at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/9198.html and bring appropriate clothing, wayfinding materials and equipment.

Many DEC forest rangers, who conduct search-and-rescue operations on state land, are being deployed downstate to aid with the state’s coronavirus response. Scott van Laer, a forest ranger and representative of the ranger’s union, has said an extensive search-and-rescue call could pull rangers away from the COVID-19 response.

In a news release on Thursday, the DEC recommended another activity residents can do while being outdoors: birding. More information on how and where to catch a glimpse of the state’s avian residents can be found at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/109900.html.

High Peaks advisory

–The High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group, a committee tasked with advising the state on how to mitigate the impact of increasing hiker traffic in the Adirondack High Peaks, has continued to meet in private via video conferencing software.

“I think it’s been a good way to work,” Wilson said of the virtual meetings. “I feel like people are focused, we’re getting a lot of good ideas, and we’re doing some good stuff.”

As of Thursday, the June 2020 deadline for the group to deliver its strategic planning framework for addressing High Peaks overuse remained the same.

Public comments, as well as recommendations for ways to address issues spurred by the increased influx of hiker traffic into the High Peaks Wilderness, are still being accepted by email at info.r5@dec.ny.gov.

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