Keene committee to state: Help us make state land accessible
KEENE — Organizations and committees in the town of Keene are working to create more accessible, age-friendly places for people to recreate outdoors. They just wish they had some help from the state.
The state owns most of the land in Keene — around 72%, according to Jane Haugh, the chair of the Keene Diversity Advisory Committee. Her committee was created to explore and advise the Keene Town Council on how the town can be more inclusive to people of color, aging populations and people with physical disabilities, and one of their focuses is on recreation in Keene. The committee sees a lot of local people working to make land accessible — creating an age-friendly path through Keene’s hamlets, and working toward creating bike lanes along state Route 73 — but KDAC feels that the state isn’t pulling its weight in making its own land in Keene more accessible.
“The state has an obligation to do some work here and they’ve not done it,” Haugh said.
KDAC drafted a resolution asking the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office to commit to making the outdoors more accessible and inclusive in Keene — namely, for people with disabilities, the elderly community and families with small children, according to the resolution. At the heart of the proposal is a call to action. The committee wants the state to develop trails in the town that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act — or the ADA — and to outfit water access areas and campsites to serve those communities.
“We urge the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to prioritize creating space for communities that have been excluded for too long,” the resolution reads.
In the resolution, the diversity committee outlines a few ideas for where the state could start improving accessibility in Keene. The existing Roaring Brook Falls trailhead could be made ADA-compliant, the resolution states. An open area at the bottom of state Route 9N, south of the hamlet of Keene, could be used to create another ADA-compliant trail and campsite, the committee said. And at Chapel Pond, the committee believes the DEC could construct an ADA-compliant walkway from the pond to the pond’s parking area and convert the dirt road there to a canoe launch site with parking reserved for water users.
Haugh feels the DEC has shown a lack of urgency in making state land more accessible in Keene, as evidenced by the history behind the group’s Chapel Pond proposal. For nearly 20 years, the DEC has made plans to build an accessible parking area and hand-carry boat launch at Chapel Pond — outlined in both the 2004 Dix Mountain Wilderness Area Unit Management Plan and a 2018 amendment to that UMP — but the plans haven’t come to fruition.
“There are still plans for it, but no confirmed timeframe at this point,” DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino confirmed Tuesday.
The DEC has kept Keene on its radar in recent years, but the focus has largely been on managing visitor use in the High Peaks — especially as an influx of hikers came to the region after the coronavirus pandemic started in 2020. The state formed the High Peaks Advisory Group, or HPAG, in 2019 to look at visitor use in the area. The group’s recommendations issued in 2021 have informed a series of traffic safety measures — including the hiker parking reservation system at the Adirondack Mountain Reserve and the state Route 73 hiker shuttle — that have been put into practice over the last couple of years. Now, the DEC is working with an Oregon-based firm to study visitor use in the High Peaks and create a framework for managing that use, per HPAG’s recommendation.
Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson, Jr. said the Keene Town Council forwarded KDAC’s resolution to the DEC after unanimously approving it at the council’s Jan. 10 meeting. Josh Clague, the Adirondack Park coordinator for the DEC, responded saying the department had received the resolution and was taking it seriously, according to Wilson. He hopes the resolution will generate some new momentum for the old Chapel Pond proposal, as well as for new accessibility initiatives. HPAG also recommended that the DEC undertake its 2018 UMP plans to create accessible parking at Chapel Pond.
Haugh said that the sites outlined in KDAC’s resolution to the state have been somewhat “controversial” among some Keene residents on social media — she said some people are concerned about the specifics of how the changes might be implemented. But she said KDAC is looking at these recommended sites more like “starting points” to get the DEC’s attention — they’re flat areas of land that might best support accessible infrastructure, she said, and suggestions for where the DEC and other state partners might begin their investigation into making state land in the town of Keene more accessible.
“We need to start thinking about where it’s possible to do this work,” she said.