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Principles to guide Adirondack Forest Preserve protection, stewardship

The Adirondacks are a national ecological treasure and a world-class destination that offer some of the most incredible wildland recreational opportunities found anywhere. The Adirondack Park also preserves the East’s greatest wilderness and is within a day’s drive of almost 80 million people. As efforts to promote tourism increase and social media raises the profile of the region, the increase in visitation in certain areas of the Park is arriving without an increase in protection, user management and stewardship. This disparity threatens the sustained success of the largest park in the contiguous United States.

The park is experiencing record levels of extended high use, or overuse, across some of the most easily accessible portions of the Adirondack, and underuse of other areas. Overuse threatens visitor safety, the health of natural resources and the wilderness character so many seek. Overuse at certain locations means a missed opportunity to direct people to underused areas in the central and western areas of the park. For locations along the busiest entrance points into the park, businesses and visitors are suffering from crowding that are impacting local residents, the visitors and their experience, and having direct and negative, long-lasting impacts on the trails, wildlife and the backcountry ecosystem.

And while there are certain challenges posed by overuse, having an energized public engaged and drawn to this region is good. While overuse is being experienced in the High Peaks, on Lake George, on some other waters and near Old Forge, countless alternative destinations across the park are underused.

Nine principles to guide preservation, stewardship, management and recreational access to Adirondack Forest Preserve lands and waters should be:

1. Recognize the Adirondacks as a national treasure, a legacy to protect for future generations.

2. Prioritize protection of the Park’s ecological integrity and wild character.

3. Embrace a big, bold vision that challenges existing traditions and includes regional planning.

4. Use science and data to inform and improve Forest Preserve and natural resource protections.

5. Recognize that the Adirondack Park is the “people’s park,” and support access while remembering that the park is an asset even for people who might never visit. Ensure that any management systems are fair, user friendly, and flexible.

6. Foster stakeholder engagement, community involvement and transparency in planning.

7. Commit resources and utilize partnerships for implementation of management actions.

8. Monitor results and update protections as circumstances warrant.

9. Continually strive for best-in-class application of proven best management practices.

Resources and comprehensive planning, infrastructure, limits, education and outreach are the critical components of best-in-class best management practices or BMPs for a world-class park. With recreational opportunities interwoven into a mosaic of public and private land that preserve the natural qualities, including wild character, the park and the quality of the visitor experience can be protected.

The Adirondack Council endorses the following best management practices for Adirondack Park wildlands management:

I. Comprehensive planning: Holistic management of the Park across Forest Preserve units and adjoining private lands, based on current data and strong science, that emphasizes data and monitoring upon which to base sound decisions. Key elements include:

1. Monitoring of resource conditions

2. Establishment of wildlands monitoring protocols

3. Investment in State Land Master Plan-required carrying capacity studies as a component of the unit management planning process.

II. Education and outreach: Standardizing educational content and messaging and brand recognition (similar to National Park Service), audience appropriate targeting, and increasing the educational presence on public land access points. Key elements include:

1. Promote an outdoor ethic with Leave No Trace messaging at all trailheads, public and private, in English and French.

2. Include Adirondack specific Leave No Trace messaging.

3. Promote alternative recreational opportunities.

III. Front country infrastructure: Delineate and define front country and the types of activities and uses that can occur there, and the appropriate visitor expectation in these places. Messaging should be appropriate to use and location. Should include the expansion of staffed, visitor-center-style greeting stations networked across high visitation areas of the park that serve as information posts, parking lot centers, points of entry to the backcountry, permit authorization sites (as an example) and key education zones.

IV. Backcountry infrastructure: Improve backcountry infrastructure in conformance with the requirements of specific Forest Preserve classifications and mirror the world-class natural landscape. This should include a trail system that honors the primitive nature of the backcountry while fostering, to the greatest extent possible, a unique visitor experience. Trail construction should be durable, support the visitor experience and be regularly maintained as needed to address use and changing conditions.

V. Resource allocation: Across the park, funding and staff resources need to be dedicated to running a 6-million-acre park. Resources are needed for staffing across all sectors, from foresters to stewards, including rangers, other staff, natural resource managers and educators, plus maintenance and campground staff. Identify and fully fund infrastructure needs to include the creation of an educational presence at major visitor contact points.

VI. Limits on use: Wilderness in the popular Adirondack wilderness areas is not protected without some limits on use at some locations at some times, combined with all the above education and other efforts. This can and must be a fair and user-friendly system that recognizes access is important and the Adirondacks are the people’s park. This could include seasonal area closures, permits, parking limits, and visitor reservation systems.

Rocci Aguirre is conservation director of the Adirondack Council, an environmental advocacy group based in Elizabethtown.

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