Press Releases

Analysis Shows Overuse is Harming Adirondack Lands

Adirondack Council says Redesigning and Rebuilding Hiking Trails Can Help Solve Problem

KEENE, N.Y. – The Adirondack Council today published an illustrated analysis showing the damage being done to the forests, waters and wildlife of the Adirondack Park by unaddressed overuse of the most popular public trails, especially during busy holiday weekends.

The Adirondack Park protects the world’s largest temperate deciduous forest, including most of the old growth forest and wilderness remaining in the Northeast, as well as 11,000 lakes and ponds, and more the 30,000 miles of rivers, brooks and streams.

 “These world-class natural resources are being degraded by overuse in many locations across the Park, especially during busy weekends,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway.  “Our analysis finds unaddressed overuse is causing harm to natural resources, putting visitors at risk, and threatening the quality of the wilderness experience that is so central to Adirondack Park’s allure.”

The analysis includes before-and-after photographs taken decades apart, at the same locations, showing how overuse and poorly maintained trails have resulted in worsening damage.  It also shows locations where redesign and proper maintenance have succeeded in protecting the environment, while improving conditions for visitors and boosting public safety.

The kick-off of the Adirondack Park hiking season traditionally begins with the Canadian holiday Victoria Day (today), due to the Park’s proximity to Canada.  This year there is still snow and ice on many higher elevation trails. The State of New York is urging hikers to postpone hikes above 2,500 feet until trails have dried and hardened. The busy season gains momentum through Memorial Day (a week later) and continues through October.

The 9,300-square-mile Adirondack Park hosts 12.4 million annual visitors.

Overuse occurs on a trail when the volume of and wear from use exceeds the trail’s capacity to withstand erosion or damage to nearby vegetation and wildlife habitat.  This results in water pollution down slope, loss of rare plant species and less suitable space for wildlife. It often conflicts with, or defeats, state management objectives for that section of the Forest Preserve. 

“The state has recognized that the problem of overuse threatens the continued successful preservation and enjoyment of this national treasure,” Janeway explained. “Some steps have been taken in response to symptoms of overuse in a couple of key locations, but a comprehensive plan is needed.”

Janeway was director of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s (ADK) trails program from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, and also worked on a professional trail crew for the Appalachian Mountain Club in New Hampshire.

Much of the negative impact of overuse and many of the trails that can’t handle current levels of use can be seen on popular hiking routes in the High Peaks region. Hiker use has soared.  

From 1985 to 2005, hiker registrations for the primary trail up Cascade Mountain increased 27 percent, from 6,746 to 8,601. It’s estimated that in 2010, 12,000 people hiked this peak, and in 2016, over 34,500 people climbed the same trail. Hiker registrations for the Ausable Club/Adirondack Mountain Reserve available through 2018 show use levels increased from less than 5,000 in the 1970s to over 25,000 in 2017, and slightly higher for a new record in 2018.

Actual use levels across the High Peaks repeatedly reached more than 200 percent of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) targeted daily capacity limits established in the 1990s.  

"This popularity of the Adirondacks is a good thing,” Janeway said. “However, the millions of feet are negatively impacting poorly designed and under maintained hiking trails. This damage is preventable. We can preserve the Adirondacks and enjoy it too.”

National experts and the DEC have said: Six Best Management Practices are essential for Wildlands Management and to address overuse.  They are:

1) Comprehensive planning

2) Expanded education and outreach (including teaching of Leave No Trace outdoor skills and ethics)

3) Front-country infrastructure – suitable signage, parking and trailheads

4) Backcountry infrastructure – trails, markers, campsites, shelters where appropriate

5) Limits on use at some times in some locations

6) Additional staffing and funding

“Without all six, visitors, nature and wilderness will suffer,” Janeway said. “With all six essentials, the DEC and Adirondack communities can welcome more visitors and preserve the legacy of Adirondack wilderness for current and future generations.”

By partnering with various stakeholders and local governments, the state is expanding efforts at education and outreach, starting to test systems that limit and redirect peak use, and beginning to improve infrastructure, Janeway said.

“Our online analysis demonstrates that the Adirondacks have people with the knowledge needed for another element of a comprehensive solution, a redesigned and rebuilt sustainable trail system that provide the world-class backcountry infrastructure the Park needs,” he said.

Among the themes explored in the analysis are:

  • Overuse is causing poorly built trails to get worse  
  • Trails are becoming wider 
  • Trails get better when redesigned and rebuilt 
  • Problems happen when trails are improved, but not maintained 
  • Trail Improvement Protects Natural Resources

“Trail erosion and natural resource damage can be prevented with sustainable trail redesign, reconstruction and maintenance,” he concluded. 

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, Adirondack Council, 518-441-1340 cell

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, May 20, 2019

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