DEC outlines plans for summer hiking season
As the summer hiking season ramps up, the state Department of Environmental Conservation on Monday announced several initiatives designed to promote public safety and wilderness protection in the Adirondacks and Catskills this year, including the hiring of 19 assistant forest rangers to work in the Adirondack Park.
Many of these initiatives are funded through the state’s $400 million Environmental Protection Fund, according to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, who presented the department’s campaign in Keene on Monday. Seggos touted the state’s increased investment in the EPF — which he said was a $136 million fund when he started at the DEC six years ago — as well as the state’s proposed $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, which will go before voters this November.
“What we’re looking at right here is a value to New York state, that’s what the budget says,” Seggos said Monday, gesturing to the mountains around him. “And it’s important that we leave it this way for future generations, and improve it — of course — where we can.”
Seggos stressed the importance of being prepared when recreating in the park, urging the public to engage with the department’s public safety information. He said forest rangers have countless stories about people running into danger in the park because they weren’t prepared. Just this past weekend, Seggos said, forest rangers rescued a man who broke both of his legs on Giant Mountain.
The DEC plans to increase its public safety measures this year, including bringing in 19 new assistant forest rangers to the Adirondacks to help forest rangers and offer on-the-trail stewardship in high-use areas.
Some public safety measures that were implemented last year are continuing this year, including the pilot parking reservation system at the Adirondack Mountain Reserve — which returned on May 1 — and the pilot state Route 73 weekend shuttle service that runs from Marcy Field to Rooster Comb, Giant Mountain and Roaring Brook Falls trailheads. The shuttle routes are set to expand this year, according to a press release from the DEC, and the new shuttle routes and schedule will be announced soon.
The DEC, in partnership with the state Department of Transportation, also plans to put up message boards when needed to direct overflow traffic or indicate when popular parking areas are full or limited. The DEC plans to share weekend parking and reservation statuses on Twitter and Facebook @NYSDECAlerts.
The DEC also wants to install new “Your Speed Is” signs in two unofficial pull offs along state Route 73 where there have been issues in the past.
Visitor use management, education
This year’s EPF includes $600,000 to support a new visitor use management framework similar to those in national parks. The DEC plans to send out a request for proposals to support new visitor use management initiatives — largely informed by recommendations from the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group — in June, according to a press release from the DEC.
Part of that work includes a public comment period on the AMR pilot parking reservation system. The survey is part of a study on the system that the DEC contracted with Dr. Jill Weiss, assistant professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The survey will launch online in a few weeks at https://tinyurl.com/tfvwxv8b. People will also be able to take the survey at hiker information stations.
The DEC also plans to expand its hiker information station program this year. Last year, there were stations at Mid’s Park in Lake Placid and the High Peaks Rest Area on Interstate 87.
The DEC is also working with the Adirondack Mountain Club — which closed on its purchase of the Cascade Ski Center on state Route 73 earlier this year — to provide information for hikers at the center this summer, according to ADK Executive Deputy Director Julia Goren. She said ADK hopes to open the doors at Cascade to the public “very soon.”
The DEC is also adding more portable toilets to high-use areas in the High Peaks this year to reduce waste in the environment. The Ausable River Association is partnering with the ADK 46ers to add more portable toilets around the Ausable River this year, too, adding new toilets at the Marble Mountain and Cascade trailheads.
The DEC is doubling its EPF-funded contract with Tahawus Trails to perform sustainable trail work in the Adirondacks and Catskills. Trail work this year will include work on the Cascade and Mt. Van Hoevenberg trails, plus new footbridges in the Independence River Wild Forest, according to the DEC.
Little town in a big park
Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson, Jr., who hosted Tuesday’s press conference, said that Keene’s success is made possible by the town’s partnerships with the DEC and other organizations that are invested in the park.
“With our small footprint that this town has, and the number of visitors we see, we couldn’t do anything without the many partners,” he said.
He said many of the groups represented at the press conference — like ADK, AMR, NYSDOT, New York State Police and others — have worked together to form genuine partnerships and share resources over the last several years.
“This press conference isn’t just lip service to that,” Wilson said.
Because of a computer error, the press — including the Enterprise — were not notified of the press conference with Seggos on the DEC’s plans for the summer until eight minutes beforehand. The DEC later provided video of the event.