Press Releases

Study of High Peaks Trails Finds 130 Miles Need Major Work

Relocation, Reconstruction Needed to Prevent Damage to Water, Wildlife, Forests  

ELIZABTHTOWN, N.Y. – A preliminary assessment of the foot trails in the Adirondack Park’s High Peaks Wilderness Area shows that roughly 130 miles are heavily damaged due to overuse, poor design or lack of maintenance, the Adirondack Council reported today.
“These trails need much more than maintenance -- not for user convenience -- but to correct and prevent further damage to the park’s forests, pure waters, wildlife and wild character,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway.  “The experts we have consulted concur that these trails are in need of significant redesign, reconstruction and repair.  And all trails need improved annual maintenance.”
“There’s no question that a significant portion of High Peak trails suffer from overuse and less-than-adequate design, despite the best efforts of the state, ADK and other limited trail crew efforts for decades,” said David Gibson, Managing Partner of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.  “This initial assessment was based on the recommendations of four focus-group meetings that took place last spring, which we had first called for the DEC to undertake over two years ago.  We support fully the Adirondack Council’s call for sustainable trail redesign and ecological restoration.  At the same time, we must deal with the root of the problem: vastly unsustainable hiker numbers, without permit controls.  We need to set responsible limits for day use hikers.  Otherwise, we compound the landscape’s ecological vulnerabilities and degrade the wilderness experience.”
The Adirondack Council’s assessment included a map of the High Peaks Wilderness Region, showing the portions of these popular hiking trails that need attention. 
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The Adirondack Council drew upon the expertise of trails professionals and others, who provided input for this assessment. This includes individuals from the Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack 46ers, Adirondack Hamlets to Huts, Adirondack Trail Improvement Society, and Split Rock Stonework and Trails.
The Adirondack Council made all decisions regarding which trails, or trail sections, were included in the report, Janeway said. 
“Absent proper, effective, inclusive and easily adaptable permit controls, limiting and mitigating far too high hiker numbers on these long identified impacted trail segments, trail designs and trail management will always, eventually fail,” stated Dan Plumley, Partner, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.  “Effective and true wilderness management requires both: sustainable trail design and re-construction, as well as proper wilderness limits on the number of daily users on the most popular trails.  One without the other is merely a fool’s game, which is what we have been playing for 19 years.”
Janeway said this report is a preliminary snapshot, designed as a prelude to the comprehensive study, needed to assess the cost and timeframe of all repairs, reconstructions and annual maintenance.
“We need to consider hiker safety, erosion, wildlife habitat degradation, user experience and other natural resource impacts on overused and under-maintained trails,” he explained.  “Many trails were created without the benefit of sustainable trail design standards.  Trail design and maintenance should account for slope, soil types, water, vegetation and other physical features.  So each trail presents a unique set of challenges.  The state can play a significant role in controlling the impact of trails by following sustainable standards, while dedicating funding to user education and new staff who are dedicated to trails and wildland management.”
Janeway said much of the success of the Adirondack Park is due to the extraordinary men and women who work for the Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC). 
“What they accomplish is amazing, since their staffing levels have been reduced by close to 25 percent from 10 years ago,” he said. “Over that same span, we have seen the Forest Preserve, state Environmental Protection Fund capital monies, community economic development funding and the DEC’s responsibilities grow, along with the explosion in the number of annual visitors.
“Governor Andrew Cuomo and state agencies, in contrast with leadership in Washington, have positioned New York to be a national leader on the environment,” said Janeway. “The state purchased and designated as Forever Wild Wilderness Adirondack lands and waters including the Boreas Ponds while successfully promoting the Park as a world-class outdoor destination. Sustained successful preservation requires world-class management and stewardship.”
Janeway explained that “Sustainable Trails” is a term used by trail professionals such as Jeremy Burns of Split Rock Stonework and Trails. Burns also leads the Student Conservation Association (SCA) Americorps trail crews, which work alongside the Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Trail Improvement Society paid trail crews, volunteers and state staff.
Burns says the three components of “sustainable trails” are: 1) Physical – they must adhere to certain design standards; 2) Social – they should provide a positive user experience appropriate for the planned user group, and; 3) Environmental – they must protect the resource.
Much of the current High Peaks trail system does not meet these criteria because these principles were not well known when most of the current trail network developed, Janeway said.
These and other principles of trail design, construction and maintenance are presented in greater detail in a series of books including:
“Complete Guide to Trail Building & Maintenance” by the Appalachian Mountain Club.
“Appalachian Trail Design, Construction, and Maintenance” by the Appalachian Trail Conference: William Birchard, Jr. and Robert Proudman;
“Lightly on the Land; The SCA Trail Building and Maintenance Manual,” The Student Conservation Association: Robert C. Birkby; and,
“Natural Surface Trails by Design: Physical and Human Design Essentials of Sustainable,
Enjoyable Trails.” Troy Scott Parker.
“The Adirondack Park is a world-class outdoor resource that needs a world-class trail system that is well-designed and well-maintained,” Janeway said.  “A new investment in clean water and wildlands, wildlife and user safety would preserve the Adirondacks as Forever Wild.”
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, September 10, 2018

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