The Adirondack Park dates back to 1885, when it was created by the State of New York as a forest preserve. It contains more than six-million acres and is the largest park in the contiguous United States. Since its creation, it has been a huge draw for tourists who enjoy hiking, camping, fishing, boating and a host of other outdoor activities that the Park offers in its public and private lands.
That the Park is loved by so many is generally a good thing, especially for the 132,000 residents who live in the Park year-round and depend on tourism. However, there is a risk that the Adirondack Park is being loved to death. Estimates are that as many as 10 million people visit the Park annually—and their visits undeniably leave an impact in a Park that was meant to be “forever wild.” Managing the balance between these competing interests has always been an issue for the Park, but lately this issue has become especially acute in the Adirondack High Peaks.
In the past decade, the Adirondack High Peaks have experienced rapid growth in the number of annual visitors. Places that used to see a few dozen hikers a day now may see many times more than that number on a given day. On peak foliage days, it is not usual to see cars lined up on the roads leading to trailheads, parked illegally, because there is no way to accommodate all the visitors. The problems this overuse creates for the small Villages and Towns in the Adirondack Park is real and frustrating. These communities often lack the resources to deal with these problems in a meaningful way. See https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/stories/plan-for-high-use-trails.
To address this issue, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos announced on November 7, 2019 the creation of the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group. The Advisory Group is intended as “a new strategic planning initiative for sustainably managing public use in the Adirondack High Peaks.” Its members have expertise in local government, recreation, natural resource protection, business, tourism, and other priority areas and “will collaboratively provide advice on how to balance the critical issues associated with the increased public use of High Peaks resources in order to protect these resources for future generations.”
DEC has identified five goals for managing public use in the High Peaks Region:
● Ensuring public safety within communities, along roadways, at trailheads, and in interior areas;
● protecting natural resources and recreation infrastructure;
● providing a quality recreation experience;
● supporting local economic vitality; and
● making decisions based on science using the best available data.
According to the DEC’s press release, the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group will begin meeting this fall and will eventually include opportunities for public input—likely after the group submits a strategic planning framework to Commissioner Seggos sometime in 2020. At that point, DEC will develop a draft Strategic Plan for Managing Public Use in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondack Park and make it available for public review and comment. Unlike many of our other state parks, the Adirondack High Peaks currently have no permit or reservation system. Will this change after 2020? Logic dictates that could be one of the Advisory Group’s recommendations. If that is the case, expect to see a very spirited public debate, which is nothing new when issues arise on how to manage the Adirondack Park’s resources.