In December, when the state awarded the North Country Regional Economic Development Council $90.2 million for 82 economic development projects, one of those grants went to the Adirondack Mountain Club.
ADK received $221,073 to upgrade the High Peaks Information Center, nearby campground and related infrastructure.
"That was not the full amount requested, but it was certainly a large part of what we wished for, and obviously we're delighted to have that grant," ADK Executive Director Neil Woodworth said. "We'll begin work on that project in 2013."
The High Peaks Information Center provides campers and backcountry users with supplies and information.
(Enterprise photo — Morgan Ryan)
Currently, the ADK Wilderness Campground has 32 campsites, 16 lean-tos and six canvas cabins. Woodworth said plans aren't final yet but the club would like to add another loop to the campsite. He said up to 12 campsites could be added.
"We have to turn away a lot of campers that would otherwise stay at Heart Lake, and they end up going into the interior of the High Peaks," Woodworth said. "We would prefer, essentially that they stay with us, and we can handle bear control and we can handle garbage control. We can handle human waste control. We can provide clean, fresh water and we can provide firewood that is safe (from invasive pests)."
As for the High Peaks Information Center, Woodworth said that the club would like to build out within its existing footprint. That expansion would allow the center to better serve visitors, he said.
"The High Peaks Information Center is a single building that tries to provide two important missions," Woodworth said.
One is to provide information to hikers, campers, skiers and other backcountry users. The other is to provide some essential items, such as maps and headlamps, for people to pick up at the last minute.
Right now, those services are provided at a single small countertop in the corner of the building. During busy times, the line can be slow moving and one can lose time waiting in line.
"It's sometimes awkward and frustrating to be behind a person who is getting safe instructions for getting to Lake Colden," Woodworth said. "So what we will do with the expansion of the High Peaks Information Center is essentially separate those functions, have a store facility that can provide everything that someone going into the interior is going to need as a necessity and a separate information center where several people will be there to answer questions."
The club will also explore drilling a new well that can be used by the public.
There are about 70 to 75,000 people a year who visit either the High Peaks Information Center or use the parking lot, Woodworth said. The trailhead there is the most used one in the state because it leads to Mount Marcy, the state's highest mountain.
"It's been picking up," Woodworth said. "I'd say in the late 90s and the early 2000s, High Peaks usage was quite down from what it was in say, the 70s and early 80s. Now, fair weather given, the numbers are starting to pick back up. They are not anywhere near what they were like in the mid-70s and certainly the amount of camping in the interior is not anywhere near what it was when it was causing issues at Marcy Dam, at Lake Colden, Flowed Lands and Four Corners and other places."
But the amount of traffic is still significant with the parking lot completely full on many weekends and summer days.
ADK will have to contribute about $55,000 to the money it received in order to complete these projects and there still is a lot of planning to do, including hiring an architect or designer to come up with the final plans.
"We're going to try to start as early as weather and the provisions of the grant allow us too," Woodworth said. "We're still awaiting a formal letter from the state and then we'll have a grant officer from Parks that we'll work with."