Parking Reservation System Needed to Protect High Peaks

KEENE VALLEY, N.Y. – Conservation advocates support the state’s new plans for better management of parking at popular Adirondack trailheads, but said a state parking reservation system should be included in the state’s proposed High Peaks plan to safeguard the state’s most sensitive mountain landscapes and wildlife from damage caused by too many visitors in one place.

The Council urged state officials to consider changes that would better protect water quality and fragile wildlife while still allowing the state to take action later this summer.

“The state is taking important first steps in managing successful tourism in the Adirondacks,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “We are encouraged by this progress. But more is needed to protect water quality and wildlife from being loved to death. Some of the most popular hiking and camping destinations are located in the park’s most fragile and sensitive landscapes.”

Preserving Adirondack wildlands for current and future generations by fixing overuse in a manner that is fair to all is a priority, he said. He lauded Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Department of Transportation and other state agencies for taking the first steps towards a comprehensive plan for managing sustainable use.

The Governor’s Adirondack Park Agency (APA) is now poised to approve amendments to the state’s High Peaks Wilderness Area and Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest unit management plans at its July 12-13 meeting in Ray Brook.

“Those updates fall short of what is needed to safeguard people, protect natural resources and preserve the wild character of the High Peaks Wilderness,” Janeway said.

He urged the APA to give the DEC another month to adjust the plan before judging its compliance with the legal mandates of state’s master plan for management of all Forest Preserve - the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP).

In an effort to save time, the APA had sped up its review of the DEC’s plan and ended its public comment period last month, before the DEC had an opportunity to react to the extensive public comments it received. Such an administrative short-cut is inappropriate for plans that  map out the future for almost 300,000 acres of the Adirondack Park’s roughest terrain -- perhaps the most fragile 10 percent of the Forest Preserve, he said.

“The state needs to add an online, parking-space reservation system that prevents mad scrambles to the most desirable locations by motorists hoping to secure an empty space,” Janeway said. “People who know where they want to hike or camp could reserve a parking space ahead of time and know it will be open when they arrive. New York State residents and those who live in the Adirondack Park should have some preference.”

A number of parking spaces could also be saved for those who don’t know about the system and just show up, to be distributed on a first-come/first-served basis. That could include distribution of unclaimed reservation spaces, after a grace period, he said.

“State officials should also invest in additional staff for the Department of Environmental Conservation, to include Forest Rangers, so it can operate the system, provide more timely information to campers and hikers, better manage the entire landscape and assist with the increase in search-and-rescue missions,” he said.

Janeway lauded the DEC’s plan to create a social media campaign to inform hikers and campers of new opportunities. Social media has helped to create crowds in some places, and can be used to help spread them to new spots.

However, Janeway cautioned that the DEC’s overall plan for the High Peaks Wilderness Area and Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest needed other revisions before they could comply with the master plan. Among the Council’s concerns were:

  • Natural Resource protection is not prioritized as it should be;
  • The Vanderwhacker plan lacks an accounting of new road mileage it would add to the Forest Preserve, as mandated by the Wild Forest guidelines in the SLMP;
  • No alternatives are offered for a new snowmobile route through an unbroken forest and the current preferred route does not accurately convey the amount of tree cutting needed to link the Boreas Ponds Road to Blue Ridge Road;
  • A proposed Day Use Area label for lands near Boreas Ponds would confuse and mislead people about what to expect in an area managed as Wilderness, and should be relabeled or removed from the plan; and,
  • The state is making decisions about the “acceptable levels of change” that it may allow public recreation to have on the wildness and health of the Forest Preserve without doing the baseline research needed to determine how much change has already occurred, thus it cannot accurately predict the environmental impact of its recreation-heavy

Janeway noted that the DEC’s presentation to the public in June cited six basic principles for managing the success of the state’s Adirondack tourism-promotion efforts. These six principles are recognized by experts across the country as essential for successful and sustainable wildland management. The state’s announcement the week of July 4 focused on the first three of those principles:

  • Planning;
  • Education and outreach; and,
  • Front-country infrastructure (parking and access roads).

Janeway said the next three items were equally important. They included:

  • Back-country infrastructure (redesign and maintain trails, rearrange/redesign/eliminate camp sites);
  • Limits on use (parking, hiking or camping permits); and,
  • Additional personnel.

“We don’t want to stop people from teeming into the Adirondack Park,” Janeway said. “We want visitors to love this place as much as we do. But some places are just getting worn out. The state needs to help people find new places to explore and love.”

Former DEC assistant commissioner for natural resources Christopher Amato and Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve have called for a permit system. Janeway, a former DEC Regional Director, noted that the Adirondack Council has supported permits as part of a comprehensive plan to provide for stewardship and protection of the High Peaks Wilderness since 1990. The DEC’s advisory board completed a draft of the plan in 1994, but the DEC had not yet released the plan for public comment in 1998, when the Council renewed its call for a permit system in its annual State of the Park report.

The state authorized permits in a 1999 High Peaks plan, but never implemented the system. The National Park Service and other states’ conservation agencies successfully use permit systems across the United States. The Governor’s DEC has reservation (and fee) systems for multiple Forest Preserve sites across the Adirondacks and in the Catskills.

Founded in 1975, the Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, as well as vibrant communities.

The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action to ensure the legacy of the Adirondack Park is safeguarded for future generations. Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.

For more information:
John Sheehan
518-441-1340 cell
518-432-1770 office

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, July 9, 2018

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