Pop-up High Peaks hiker info stations now open

Volunteer Lynn Taylen, of Keene, mans the hiker information station at the Marcy Field parking area in Keene Valley on Sunday, August 16, 2020. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

KEENE VALLEY — Visitors to the High Peaks region have a new resource for hiking information here.

Faced with historic levels of hiker traffic to the Adirondack Park — including many new visitors looking to get outdoors this summer following months of stay-at-home recommendations amid the coronavirus pandemic — the state Department of Environmental Conservation has set up three new information stations in Lake Placid, Keene Valley and North Hudson.

The stations, staffed by DEC and town of Keene stewards, opened for the first time this past weekend. The stations will provide another on-the-ground resource for visitors, supplementing existing frontcountry and summit stewardship programs that aim to educate hikers on land use rules and Leave No Trace practices.

The DEC plans to set up pop-up stations at Mid’s Park in Lake Placid on Fridays from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.; at Marcy Field in Keene Valley on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and at the High Peaks Rest Area off of the Adirondack Northway (Interstate 87) in North Hudson from 6 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

At these stations, visitors can find out where to park, where to hike when popular spots are overwhelmed with visitors, what the local land use rules are and how to be prepared before venturing out into the Forest Preserve. Information on Leave No Trace principles will also be provided.

Vehicles line state Route 3 near the Ampersand trailhead on Saturday. (Provided photo — Sue Miller)

The stations will be active through the Columbus Day weekend, according to DEC spokesperson Lori Severino.

Hikers flock to High Peaks

Improved communication and hiker education programming were among a slate of recommendations submitted to the DEC by the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group, a committee that focuses on ways to address the impacts of high levels of hiker traffic in the High Peaks region, earlier this summer. But Severino says these stations are part of a separate planning management effort.

The department has been looking at different ways to address the impact of human use on the state’s natural resources here for years. The issue received renewed focus last year amid what some long-term residents described as the busiest summer hiking season they’d seen in decades.

Last summer, waves of hiker traffic on good-weather days overwhelmed local resources, such as the town of Keene’s shuttle to the popular Garden trailhead. On one weekend last October, so many hikers arrived at once that the town’s supervisor, Joe Pete Wilson Jr., teamed up with other Keene residents and town officials to transport hikers to trailheads with their personal vehicles.

The effects of the busy season were compounded by a roadside parking ban along state Route 73 implemented by the DEC in May 2019. The ban was designed to address public safety concerns, but it ultimately caused confusion and frustration as visitors arrived with nowhere to park, prompting many to park illegally despite posted “no parking” signs.

Peak hiker tourism days were generally limited to good-weather weekends and holidays last year, but the coronavirus pandemic has somewhat derailed that norm.

This summer, despite the ongoing closure of the U.S. – Canada border, many High Peaks trailhead parking lots have been near or at capacity on almost every good-weather day, regardless of the day of the week.

The unprecedented circumstances many New Yorkers find themselves in may have something to do with that. Hiking is a free activity, and the Adirondack Park has historically been a so-called “rubber-tire destination,” largely attracting visitors who live within driving distance.

Most industries that were deemed “non-essential” and directed to close in March have been able to reopen in the last few weeks. But the state’s unemployment rate has remained high at 15.6% as of June, the latest month for which data is available from the state Department of Labor, with more than 1.4 million New Yorkers unemployed. In June 2019, the state’s unemployment rate was 3.8%, with more than 363,400 residents unemployed.

Employed or not, many New Yorkers have been stuck indoors for months, self-isolating in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. New York state has also implemented a travel advisory for 33 states and U.S. territories, requiring anyone who travels to those areas to quarantine for 14 days when they return. In response, some residents who were planning to travel out of state have either canceled or postponed their original plans, instead opting to remain within New York state.

In addition to the new Lake Placid, Keene and North Hudson information stations, those visiting the area to hike can also find backcountry information for the High Peaks region online at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/9198.html.


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