Press Releases

Leave No Trace Center Recommends Permits for AdirondacksĀ 

Overcrowded Wilderness is Not Wilderness, Solitude Possible Only Through Limits 

ELIZABETHTOWN, N.Y. – The comprehensive report produced by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics on Wilderness overuse in the Adirondack Park recommends that New York State begin limiting the number of visitors to the most damaged locations in the Adirondack Park through a variety of means, including permits or reservations. 

The report reinforces the July recommendations of the Governor’s High Peaks Advisory Group, which also included permits/reservations in its lists of best practices New York should adopt. 

“Visitor limits based on capacity combined with robust education and outreach are the best way to ensure that the places people are flooding the Adirondacks to see will survive and be available to future visitors and future generations of visitors,” said William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council. “The state has been authorized to use permits or parking reservations in the High Peaks Wilderness Area since the first management plan was approved in 1999. It has resisted taking that step here.  The time has come to stop resisting. 

“There are very few places left in the world where a person can find the peace, serenity and solitude available in an uncrowded Adirondack Wilderness,” Janeway said. “People come from all over the world – when possible – just to see this place. All deserve a fair chance to experience it. Permits or reservations would create that fair chance for access. 

“Our ancestors have given us this priceless natural legacy,” he said. “It is ours to protect or to squander.  Leaving things as they are – with record crowds ascending daily and damage worsening – would squander that legacy.” 

Janeway noted that permits had been used by the Dept. of Environmental Conservation to reduce overuse in the popular Blue Hole camping area in the Catskill Park. In addition, permits, user fees, and capacity limits are already in use in Adirondack Park, in campgrounds, day-use areas, and special-use areas. The state’s own rules for how it manages the Adirondacks have required determinations of carrying capacity since almost fifty years ago. For the High Peaks Wilderness Region those determinations were made more than twenty years ago, but are not being enforced and as a result, the resource is being damaged and visitor’s safety compromised.  

The State of New York uses an online/telephone reservation system to administer admission to its campgrounds inside the Adirondack Park, which are state lands developed for the express purpose of withstanding intensive recreational use. Why then, he asked, should the same tools not be used to protect the rare and fragile forests and waters of the 20 last and largest Wilderness Areas remaining in the Northeastern United States? 

The Leave No Trace final report Managing Recreation-related Impacts in the Adirondack Park and Building a Culture of Wildlands Stewardship is available at: https://bit.ly/3gymPpP

Here’s how Leave No Trace report author Ben Lawhon described permit systems for high-use areas of parks and nature preserves: 

“Though not an appropriate option for every location, permit systems, when well thought out, well designed, and soundly implemented, can serve an important function in parks and protected areas,” he wrote. “Depending on the nature of the resource in question, permitting use can benefit the natural resources and the visitor experience. Additionally, a permit system allows for an educational touch point with visitors before they depart on their trip. Many parks and protected areas have existing permit systems in place such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” 

According to the National Park Service, visitors benefit from the system in several ways: “Through a combination of education and enforcement, park rangers assigned exclusively to the backcountry are expected to lead to better compliance with regulations and Leave No Trace ethics. Increased compliance with regulations and Leave No Trace also helps protect and preserve resources, such as wildlife, that most visitors highly value. All backcountry users stand to benefit from the changes [to the permit system in the park].  

In addition, by making all sites reservation-only, the new reservation system will have the capability to notify permit holders of site closures, safety issues, and other emergency conditions via email and text messaging prior to beginning their trip.”  

Lawhon cited the Great Smoky Mountains NP reservation system’s “frequently asked questions” page for more information. Readers should bear in mind that any Adirondack system would be operated by New York State, not federal agencies.  

He cited for more information the authoritative handbook on managing visitors. Visitor Use Management Framework: A Guide to Providing Sustainable Outdoor Recreation (2016). The handbook is the work of six federal agencies (Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Group Size Matters Too  

Lawhon also recommended revising the current group permitting system: 

Understanding and managing group use should be a priority for the Park as groups seeking permits offer many benefits including: educational and regulatory touch points with specific groups that use the Park; ability to collect reliable data on group use; and an opportunity to monitor resource conditions at sites used by groups.  

When providing alternatives to the High Peaks, ensure such areas are capable of handling the increased visitation – A well-utilized strategy by land managers is to direct visitors to other areas of a park or protected area that offer similar visitor experiences, challenges, or natural environments. One of the difficult issues with this strategy is ensuring such alternative areas are capable of handling the increased impacts associated with recreation.  

In the case of the Adirondack Park, some current suggested alternatives appear to be under-resourced to accommodate the additional influx of visitors. Lack of parking spaces, limited availability of toilet facilities, trails not designed for heavy use, and a significant lack of visitor education are a sampling of the current problems faced by many of the suggested alternatives. Other parks have successfully used this strategy by conducting assessments of potential alternatives to ensure they can in fact cope with additional recreational use prior to offering them to the public. Consider cataloging existing recommended alternatives to determine if infrastructure or educational programming are lacking. Identified gaps should be remedied and addressed to the extent possible. Areas being considered as new alternatives should be assessed for overall suitability before locations go public. 

The State Department of Environmental Conservation and others have acknowledged and reaffirmed support for natural resource capacity limits while questioning the timing, design, and scope of such efforts. The State was engaged by and provided input to the Leave-No-Trace Adirondack teams. 

The Leave No Trace Recommendations make clear what experts know, that a comprehensive approach that includes “all of the above” is essential. 

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. Adirondack Council advocates live in all 50 United States. 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, August 26, 2020 

For more information: 
John Sheehan, Director of Communications, 518-441-1340 cell 

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