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Hiker parking reservation system adapts

The Adirondack Mountain Reserve parking lot in St. Huberts is seen Oct. 5, 2019. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

ST HUBERTS — Hikers who choose to reserve parking at the Adirondack Mountain Reserve’s trailhead parking lot in St. Huberts will now be able to make reservations far later than before and leave their parking spots much later at night.

AMR and DEC announced on Friday that a new automatic gate has been installed at the entrance to the parking area to let hikers leave after the lot closes for the night. AMR, associated with the nearby Ausable Club, owns the private land, but New York state has an easement to ensure recreation access.

“One of the main points that kept coming up was hikers concerned about getting back to the parking lot before it closed for the night. We tried to accommodate those hikers by having our staff stay late, but our long-term solution was putting in an automatic gate, so now you can come back anytime and still exit the parking lot,” Adirondack Mountain Reserve General Manager John Schuler said.

The window for making reservations has also shifted.

Parking reservations can now be made just 12 hours in advance. Before, the latest a person could reserve a spot was 24 hours ahead of time.

Adirondack Mountain Reserve General Manager John Schuler, left, and state Department of Environmental Conservation Deputy Commissioner of Natural Resources Katie Petronis stand in the St. Huberts Parking Area Saturday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Those determined to get a spot on a specific date two weeks ahead of time can now snag a spot starting at noon rather than midnight, up to two weeks in advance. The reservation system website will now refresh with new dates starting later in the day.

The time slots attached to reservations are meant to be approximate arrival times, but once a reservation is confirmed, the spot is yours, according to Schuler.

In an effort to curb the number of spots taken by people who don’t end up showing up, the reservation system will now automatically send emails asking hikers to either confirm or cancel their reservations 48 hours ahead of time, according to AMR.

There have been many times since the system was launched that the parking lot would appear full online, but some hikers would never show up for their hike, and parking spaces would be empty despite others wanting to park there.

“When that email went out this morning, we received 12 cancelations,” Schuler said Friday.

The reservations that were canceled were put online as available, and within half an hour or so, other people had already reserved those spots, according to Schuler.

“It’s working, which is great, and people are using it correctly,” Schuler said.

Since the AMR and DEC first launched this pilot reservation system last month, hikers have reserved a spot in the St. Huberts trailhead parking area 3,108 times as of Friday afternoon, according to Schuler. Hikers have chosen to cancel their reservations before arriving 710 times. Hikers have changed their reservations 450 times.

There are 70 spaces in the parking lot, and it’s been just over five weeks since the reservation system first came online.

For years, the AMR lot has filled up quickly on long holiday weekends and some good-weather days in the summertime. Before the reservation system was created, the area near the entrance to the lot, on state Route 73, had become a pinch point on mornings when the lot was full. This trailhead is well-used because it offers access to a variety of trails, including those to Noonmark and Round mountains.

Rather than deter out-of-town visitors from making the trek to the Adirondacks, the coronavirus pandemic brought even more visitors to the High Peaks region last year as people looked for outdoor escapes after months of being indoors.

Schuler told the Enterprise last month that the AMR lot alone saw around 25,000 hikers in 2014. Last year, 35,000 hikers passed through the gates.

On the Saturday before Columbus Day last year, the AMR parking lot was full by 5:30 a.m. More cars kept arriving, creating a traffic backup at times as driver after driver made U-turns to exit the lot. Hikers started parking illegally along Route 73 and walked onto the AMR property in the darkness, some without headlamps.

This type of scenario, which has gotten worse in each recent year, is one the DEC has been trying to address. In 2019, the DEC extended a roadside parking ban on a section of Route 73 and upped enforcement of parking restrictions. But upping enforcement and extending the ban created anger and confusion among some of the hikers who were unaware of the changes and got ticketed. It also forced the relatively small group of state forest rangers assigned to the High Peaks Wilderness Area to spend more time in the frontcountry enforcing the parking ban, rather than in the backcountry.

The DEC created a committee in 2019 to submit recommendations for how to address hiker traffic in the High Peaks Region. The High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group recommended in its final report that the DEC consider parking passes or permits as an option to limit hiker traffic into wilderness areas.

The DEC has taken steps to limit parking rather than increase it. This year, the DEC blocked off two parking areas on state Route 73 near Roaring Brook Falls with metal stakes in an effort to address parking safety issues. This latest change was met with opposition from the Adirondack Climbers’ Coalition. Its members were “extremely disappointed” in the decision to block off the parking areas because the pull-outs have “traditionally been used only by climbers to access the Beer Walls and the Case Wall in the summer and the Chapel Pond Canyon in the winter,” the coalition wrote in a letter last month. The coalition claims it wasn’t until the DEC extended its roadside parking ban in 2019 that hikers started using the pulloffs, and called for the stakes to be removed and for the DEC create new parking areas.

Beyond these limitations, DEC Deputy Commissioner of Natural Resources Katie Petronis told the Enterprise last month that the department is focusing on education over enforcement.

The DEC has started issuing alerts about hiker parking availability through the 511NY traffic alert system. The DEC set up pop-up hiker information booths in Keene, Lake Placid and North Hudson last summer and plans to bring them back this summer. Last month, the DEC launched the “Love Our NY Lands” campaign, which aims to educate hikers about Leave No Trace principles and hiking preparedness.

Hikers can make a parking reservation at AMR’s lot by visiting www.hikeamr.org. Information on hikes outside of the busy High Peaks Wilderness Area are available at dec.ny.gov and http://tinyurl.com/protectadks100hikes. Backcountry information can be found on the DEC’s website at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7865.html.

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