New helicopter is needed and welcome

It’s good news that the New York State Police got a Huey (Bell UH-1A) helicopter from the U.S. military and is sending it up here, to supplement the helicopter already stationed at the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear.

The existing chopper has gotten a lot of use, largely to transport patients to the region’s trauma center in Burlington, Vermont, with flight nursing by the nonprofit North Country Life Flight. But as the number of hikers in the Adirondacks grew — and now they are all armed with cellphones with which to call for help — the number of mountaintop rescues grew significantly. The existing State Police helicopter wasn’t really designed for that.

The new Huey is much better suited for that kind of work, with landing skids instead of wheels. With it, a hiker can be rescued from a mountain at the same time as a patient is taken to a trauma center. It’s an improvement of service to everyone in our area, visitors as well as residents.

It’s also, however, a more expensive level of service. Maintaining a helicopter costs a ton of money in staff time and pricy parts, and now the taxpayers must pay for the State Police to maintain two here in the Adirondacks.

It has prompted some local people to renew an old cry — for the state to bill backcountry users who are rescued for the expense.

We’re not sure that’s the best solution, to punish people who may or may not have done anything wrong — and to deter people from calling for help when they need it but can’t afford it. But we agree the problem is real. Hikers are costing state taxpayers more money than they used to, with rescues, trail maintenance, parking lots and buying more land for the Forest Preserve. And that’s with the state being relatively cheap about it, since it keeps neglecting to add to its understaffed force of forest rangers.

Factors are adding up and, whether you like it or not, pointing toward requiring hikers to pay for licenses or permits — perhaps like the way one must buy a license to fish, hunt or own a snowmobile. We’re not sure this would be the best solution, either, but we expect it will become a point of discussion in the near future.

Meanwhile, we’re glad to see this new Huey bird in the air over the Adirondacks.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)