Educating those who inform hikers

It was a long time coming, but gratitude is due to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for taking some good steps recently to deal with hiker overcrowding.

The DEC and the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism hosted a workshop last Tuesday, Sept. 11, training about two dozen service industry workers on what to tell visitors who want to get outdoors. They told the workers not to send everyone to the most popular peaks and trained them on Leave No Trace principles to keep people and the environment is safe.

Tourists to Lake Placid naturally want to experience the Adirondacks’ beauty by getting outside, often for a hike, but they don’t know where to go, what to expect or what to bring. So they often ask the locals closest at hand, who often happen to be those working at hotels and restaurants. These workers become de facto outdoor educators, but they cannot be relied upon to give good information unless they’re trained properly.

For too long, tourists have been directed up the most popular mountains, such as Cascade. Service industry workers aren’t entirely to blame, of course. Hikers spread the word themselves, especially with social media, and visitors come up knowing little about the area except that the place to hike is Cascade, or Algonquin, Marcy, Giant or Jo. The result, of course, is that those trails become mobbed. Cars sprawl along roadsides well beyond the areas’ parking capacity. Trails take beatings and have to be massively rebuilt. Also, many of these hikers don’t know how to prepare or what not to do. Those who don’t know how to go to the bathroom in the woods leave unwelcome surprises for others. The natural environment is degraded, as is the experience for other people.

It’s been two years since this scenario reached a crisis point. It would’ve been nice to see this workshop happen earlier — like before the busy summer season instead of after — but we are genuinely glad it happened.

It’s also good to see DEC permanently ban roadside parking around the trailhead for Roaring Brook Falls and Giant Mountain in St. Huberts. This spot is at the bottom of a twisty descent into the Keene Valley on state Route 73, and the number of cars sprawled along the narrow highway there is scary, especially since hikers are opening car doors and getting in and out just as drivers maneuver the winding, wooded road — one of the busiest in the Adirondack Park.

This, combined with DEC’s coming relocation of the Cascade-Pitchoff Mountain trailhead to the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg, will surely make Route 73 safer and also limit the number of hikers on these popular trails.

We do want new people to discover the joys of hiking in the Adirondacks. But everyone will be better off if hikers take the time to plan their trips a little better, prepare a little better, try to avoid the crowds and get a brief education on Leave No Trace principles — whether from a forest ranger or a hotel clerk.

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

4. Leave What You Find

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

6. Respect Wildlife

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors