Press Releases

Leave No Trace Center Recommends 52 Actions to Curb Impact of Crowds on Popular Adirondack Wilderness Trails

Comprehensive Planning, Expanded Education, Recommended to Preserve National Treasure

ELIZABETHTOWN, N.Y. – The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has recommended a host of actions New York State can take to safeguard the Adirondack Park’s most popular destinations from harm as the number of park visitors continues to rise.  Chief among them are comprehensive planning, expanded education and outreach and improved visitor management in some locations.

The Subaru Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers visited the High Peaks Wilderness in 2019 to conduct a week-long series of workshops on curbing the impacts of overuse there, in partnership with the Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Council and the Deparment of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The Adirondack Council hired the Center to return for an assessment of the entire six-million-acre Adirondack Park’s needs. 

Leave No Trace’s full report is due soon, but the Council wanted to get the 25-page summary of 52 recommendations out now, so the state budget due April 1 can provide the funds and authorizations needed to begin work in 2020. The Governor has appointed a state task force on overuse, including local gov’t, the Adirondack Council and the ADK Mt. Club, which is expected to make recommendations after several months of research and discussion.

A recent study of trailheads around the High Peaks Wilderness showed visitor numbers continue to surge, beyond 250% of capacity, but slight reductions in visitors in the top 3 destinations due to state hiker education and visitor management efforts to date. 

“While visiting and auditing the Adirondacks we saw that this Park holds one of the country's most amazing protected public/private wildland complexes,” said Ben Lawhon, Education Director for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in Boulder, Colo. “We also saw overuse that was as challenging as anything we have seen in the United States. We recommend scaling up some of the responses New York has launched or tested over the last two years to address the pressing issues facing the Park. Furthermore, as part of a comprehensive management system, park managers should explore limiting use when and where appropriate to minimize resource damage and maximize visitor experience.”

“We are very pleased to see that Leave No Trace Center is recommending a comprehensive Park-wide approach by the state that includes limits on use in some locations at some times,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “To be effective and long-lasting, management solutions must be comprehensive and consistent across the entire Adirondack Park. 

“Managed right, this park could welcome many more visitors than the 12.4 million who came in 2018,” Janeway explained. “That would allow many more Adirondack communities to reap the economic benefits of green tourism, while we build a larger and more diverse constituency for wild land protection, stewardship and careful management.”

“Leave No Trace has been an important partner in educating the public on how to enjoy wild lands responsibly," said Seth Jones, Education Director for the Adirondack Mountain Club. "This assessment is aimed at helping the state make good choices when it invests in new methods and infrastructure to handle the ever-growing crowds of visitors in the Adirondack Park. Leave No Trace’s expertise and fresh perspectives have been very useful."

Several key themes emerge from the recommendations:

  • Build on Success: The state has enacted some successful management efforts and outreach; expand and broaden them.
  • Plan and Act Comprehensively: In planning, developing a permit system, data collection, and in education and outreach strategies, pick those with the widest application.
  • Solid Data:  need to base management decisions on scientific research and on good data.
  • Consistent communication:  Maintain consistent educational messaging across all platforms and groups concerned with stewardship of public lands in the Adirondack Park.
  • Partners: Capitalizing on and building partnerships, including with tourism entities.
  • Training: Consistent Leave No Trace training, whether for NYS Licensed Guides, volunteer groups serving under Volunteer Service Agreements with the state, camp and college groups, or DEC staff.

The Leave No Trace recommendations echo some of the input New York has already received from meetings and hiker surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019. The state held a stakeholder meeting in the Adirondacks in August of 2019 in which a trail permit or other system to enforce limits on the number of hikers in some places at peak times was the most frequent response to the challenges of overuse. A 2018 survey of High Peaks hikers conducted by the Adirondack Council and other volunteers found 80% would prefer that the state protect Wilderness from damage, rather than guarantee everyone access to every location all of the time.

Following and building upon the work of the Hot Spot, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics was retained as a consultant to look more broadly at opportunities within the entire Adirondack Park. Later in September, Lawhon of the Center spent four days conducting a site visit and meetings with stakeholders across the Adirondacks.

During that period, he visited campgrounds, hiked, got out on the water, and met with representatives from Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce, the DEC (Operations, Lands and Forests, and Forest Rangers), Adirondack Mountain Reserve, Adirondack Park Agency, Hamlets to Huts, Barkeater Trails Alliance, Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Adirondack Research, Paul Smiths College Visitor Interpretive Center, Town of Webb Visitor Center, Protect the Adirondacks!, Adirondack Wilderness Advocates, Adirondack Ecological Center and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Visitor Interpretive Center in Newcomb, among others.

“The Leave No Trace Center was happy to be called upon to asses ways New York can curb the negative impacts of increased visitation and recreation, while still encouraging the public to visit and enjoy this national treasure,” said Lawhon of the Leave No Trace Center. “New York has the means to improve and enhance the way the park greets and serves everyone who wants to see it and experience it. In the process, it will protect wilderness and wildlife. We are excited to be part of these improvements.”

“The Adirondack Council and its partners are dedicated to preserving the Wilderness experience for current and future generations of Adirondack visitors and residents,” said Janeway. “We want to protect our legacy of forests, waters and wildlife while guaranteeing equitable access for all who want to visit and enjoy our world-class public lands.”

For more information:

John Sheehan, Adirondack Council, 518-441-1340 cell

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Monday, February 3, 2020

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