Dare I say, where is everyone?
I may very well be eating these words in a couple of weeks, but for now, I will dare to say that it has seemed to be a fairly calm June here in the Adirondacks.
Over the past two weekends, there have been parking spaces open at the Cascade trailhead, Giant and even a spot or two at Roaring Brook. On a High Peaks hike last week, our group didn’t encounter another soul on the trail, though we saw someone from a distance at one point. Granted, that particular hike is off the beaten path, but last year when I hiked the same mountain, there were dozens of people. Even this past Sunday, on a gorgeous Fathers’ Day, we had an Adirondack lake almost entirely to ourselves.
And so, it seems fair to ask, “Where are all the teeming crowds?”
That’s not to say it hasn’t been busy. Town has been bustling, future Ironman participants can be seen training in their normal spots again, and plenty of people are still out hiking, boating, swimming and climbing. That said, it has, so far, not matched up with the dire predictions and worried expectations from last year’s seeming surge in traffic here. On both the hike and the boating day, my friends and I couldn’t help but express amazement at what felt like solitude and left to wonder why so few people were out enjoying the incredible weather.
Is it possible that, with cities beginning to reopen, people are gravitating back toward social and cultural activities they couldn’t enjoy for the pandemic year? Perhaps the novelty of the mountains wore off after a couple of visits, and folks are just happy to be able to return to their regular forms of fun. Perhaps, after a year of struggle and hardship, there is a move toward maintaining the comfort of home instead of sweating on the way up a mountain while bugs chew on you. Or maybe so many people are mad with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Mountain Reserve for their new parking innovations that they’re actually refusing to recreate here.
At one point in this conversation, one of us quipped that perhaps they had all finished their 46 in a summer and had moved on to another challenge. That point quickly turned from idle speculation into a very interesting conversation about how challenges and challenge culture impact tourism in the long term per individual. I would be curious to know how many aspiring 46ers aim to hike each mountain once and then be done with it, or how many folks who have finished all those hikes return to the area instead of moving on to a new set of mountains with a fresh challenge in mind. But that’s a point of curiosity to expand on another time.
In all seriousness, though, it’s not hard to imagine what made last summer feel so busy. The conversation about overuse has been increasing in volume every year as more people discover for themselves how beautiful the Adirondacks are and how much there is to do here. With millions of people out of work, schools completely remote, and indoor group activity essentially outlawed, it’s not a huge logical leap to see trying for some fun in the outdoors as a viable option for maintaining sanity. What remains to be seen, however, is whether or not that will translate to an annual return of all the folks who found themselves exploring this place last year.
Frankly, this may all change in a week’s time. This early season sense of calm might be just that, and this column just another bit of pointless supposition. When schools are finally out for summer, we could likely see a surge of visitors return. Likewise if the Canadian border does reopen at the end of July. And perhaps Adirondack communities, as well as educators and regulators, are simply adapting to handle a higher rate of traffic, so it seems more diffuse and less overwhelming. But many of the key ingredients that made things feel out of control in 2020 are being mitigated by circumstance this year. As the Solstice arrives and summer truly begins, this season promises to be an interesting one, whichever way the crowds move.