Some High Peaks hiking requires more planning now
If you’re planning on hiking in the Adirondacks this summer, you may need to do a little prep in advance. One of the park’s most popular trailheads now requires a reservation, and the state has blocked some smaller parking lots in the High Peaks.
On a recent weekday, cars speed along state Route 73 past the new metal stakes the DEC had installed in April.
The state says these stakes, or “delineators” as it calls them, were put in for safety reasons. People would park along Route 73 near the Roaring Brook Falls trailhead and sometimes walk more than a mile to get to the trail.
They’re also blocking a few unofficial parking lots, including one near the popular Beer Walls climbing area north of Chapel Pond. Climbing guide Kel Rossiter is not a fan.
“When you’re coming to a natural area and the first thing you see is a row of jail bars, that’s not a welcoming and attractive view.”
Rossiter’s guiding business is based in Burlington, Vermont, but he often leads trips in the Adirondacks. He says the new restrictions will change where he brings climbers, which could be bad for business in small communities like Keene Valley.
Rossiter is frustrated the DEC didn’t reach out to the outdoor community ahead of these new restrictions.
“There’s been absolutely no attempt to get stakeholder input as to how to solve the problem. It’s just been a heavy-handed approach from the DEC,” says Rossiter.
The DEC says the restrictions were, in part, a response to the High Peaks Advisory Board, which recommended improving safety along Route 73.
A few DEC officials, including Deputy Commissioner Katie Petronis, have also since gone to a town meeting in Keene. Petronis says the state felt pressed for time when they installed the stakes in mid-April.
“We had a very short time frame between snow-out and the beginning of peak visitation season in that stretch of the Adirondacks and really wanted to act quickly to manage safety there.”
Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson says the DEC has been put in a tough spot.
“You ignore safety to give more access, or you put some constraints on access to address safety. Are those perfect? Absolutely not.”
But did something need to be done? Wilson says absolutely. He thinks the same is true for the Adirondack Mountain Reserve.
The privately owned AMR lot is one of the busiest trailheads in the park. This spring, the state and the Ausable Club, which owns AMR, now require hikers to reserve a parking spot in advance.
The pilot program was announced this spring, but not everyone has gotten the memo.
“I’ve had a lot of complaints,” says Ethan Schue, who works security at the lot. He’s wearing a bright orange safety vest and a green AMR face mask.
“People that have traveled far and didn’t realize they didn’t need a reservation — I have to tell them, ‘I’m sorry. You need one to park here.'”
For people who don’t have a reservation, Schue hands them a pamphlet that tells them how to make one in the future. The pamphlet also points hikers to Marcy Field up the road in Keene Valley. That lot is a lot bigger, and in the summer, hikers can hop on a shuttle up to the Garden, another of the park’s most popular trailheads.
On this day, Eric Popp did have a reservation at the AMR. “We did both Upper and Lower Wolfjaw,” explains Popp.
Popp, who is from Pennsylvania, took a couple of days off work when he saw there was a good weather window. He got a reservation on a spring weekday, so he didn’t have any trouble securing one, but he says he can see how that isn’t the case for everyone.
“It’s a bit of a hassle, so it’s tough to kind of plan this out,” says Popp. “I think for most folks they’re booking out in advance, but the problem there is they’re taking a gamble on the weather.”
People also need to have access to the internet to make a reservation and be able to adhere to those plans. Ultimately, Popp thinks the reservation system is worth trying. Others, like hiking guide Sarah Bacon, say it adds unnecessary uncertainty to her business.
“In order to guide people out of the AMR, we’re going to have to hope that not only we can get a reservation, but our clients can get a reservation as well.”
The DEC did double the size of the AMR lot this year to handle the increase in traffic. Bacon understands that it was unsafe and unsustainable the way it was in recent years when the AMR lot would sometimes fill up by 5 a.m. and overflow parking would stretch along Route 73.
But Bacon says the new restrictions are not the way to go.
“I think the answer isn’t to limit accessibility. I think the answer is to find a way to accommodate all the people who are looking to get outdoors.”
One thing Bacon would like to see is a shuttle service throughout the High Peaks. One was planned to begin last year, using Essex County buses, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed it. Recently it was announced that it will not debut this year, either, and will instead start service in 2022.