There’s hardly a better word to describe Route 73 east of Keene Valley over Indigenous People’s Day weekend.
Despite peak foliage and opportunities to crank up the saturation and achieve Instagram fame, no member of our Editorial Board bothered to hike anything via Adirondak Loj on Saturday—we can only assume it was full by 6 a.m. Nearby South Meadows Road was once a convenient way to park and bypass Loj hordes, but just a week prior one member of the Paul Smith’s community told us of sacrificing vehicle paint in order to bypass a Suburban with New Jersey plates parked with such self-importance that even a small vehicles were unable to escape without scratches.
Instead, one intrepid Apollos editor braved the Chapel Pond area to rock climb with his sister and her partner. First stop, Walmart on Black Friday Stewart’s in Keene. Several miles later, at the Mossy Cascade Trail, parked cars straddled the white line, forcing traffic in the 55 mph zone into single-lane travel.
It was the same story at Roaring Brook Falls, with the added bonus of state police assisting forest rangers in the ticketing effort. Speaking of, some visitors were so bold as to parallel park between ticketed vehicles and sneak scrap paper under their own wiper blades, sad, selfish attempts to skirt their much-deserved $250 fines.
Further up the hill, one of the Adirondacks’ premier rock climbing crags, the Spider’s Web, didn’t have a soul on it on an otherwise perfect fall day. Much earlier had hiker traffic overflow into the small lots generally used by trad enthusiasts. The same would be said for Jewels and Gems, nestled between Chapel and Round ponds.
Eventually, the three did find a place to climb. The smell of tour bus diesel and human feces filled the air as the weekend warriors timed their communication with regard to traffic, staggered into waves by the 20 mph drivers indifferent to the three-dozen vehicles behind them with some apparent place to go.
In the weekend’s aftermath, we’re left once again to debate what this all means and what to do. Despite the rant above, we’re of the belief that “overuse” can be a subjective and, well, overused term. The Saturday High Peak ascensionist flabbergasted he’s to share a summit does not receive our sympathy. This area is popular for good reason, especially come autumn when temperatures are crisp and the foliage aflame. Who wouldn’t want to come here?
Though litigator-lobbyists like Protect the Adirondacks’ Peter Bauer will have you believe “areas are riddled with herd paths, some 30 feet wide,” and that all 200 miles of High Peaks trails need be closed and rerouted, many of this area’s popular routes are in fairly adequate condition.
Problem No. 1 is human traffic, problem No. 2 is what to do about it, and problem No. 3 is navigating the idea of what even constitutes a problem.
Let’s face it. People who live and work in the Adirondacks year-round are directly or indirectly supported by tourism, and right now, hiking is hot. Blame it on Instagram all you want—hiking is cheap, accessible, and people seem to like it. This phenomenon isn’t unique to the Adirondacks. Upticks in backpacker traffic have been noted around the country. If a young person wants a few social media likes and gives a hoot about the outdoors, who are we to complain? Move on.
Hypocritical as we may be at times, we have no pity for the outdoor recreation enthusiasts who chose to live in a massive state park a day’s drive from several major population centers. Nor do we for those wearing the Pikachu meme face when they learned that other people had the same idea to spend a weekend up north. Who woulda thought!
We need continued efforts to reroute and/or harden trails. This summer, the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Newcomb trail crew consisted of one individual. That’s outrageous. In that vein, three cheers to the Adirondack Mountain Club. We’re glad the Garden trailhead is back in action. Keep that sweet parking lot cheddar rolling in!
More rangers. Enough said.
More education at the earliest points of contact. We’re big proponents of the Summit Steward program, pesky or otherwise, but certain messages need to get across as soon as possible. Looking at you, surface poopers. Three more cheers to the Frontcountry Steward program, and the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute for its role. We can only begin to imagine what stories these brave people take home from the battlefront that is the Marcy Field parking lot.
Parking lots and shuttles. We all know what the voice told Kevin Costner. Well, they came before we had a chance to build it, but even retroactive is active enough.
And you know what? We’re going to go ahead and say it. New York, channel your inner Oprah. You get a ticket! And you get a ticket! Everybody gets a ticket! Seriously, it was refreshing to see the state police out there helping out. We surely have enough of them in the area, so let them handle traffic patrol and put the rangers where they belong, out in the woods. To circle back to the South Meadows anecdote, the escapee shouldn’t be the scratchee. The most egregious offenders should be towed. After all, if idiotic parking is going to be a cash cow, might as well get private area businesses in on the haul.
But lastly, let’s relax a little bit. We’re living in an era where environmental stewardship is paramount on local, regional and global levels. It’s easy and reasonable to knock the weekly influx of gas-guzzling, tri-state SUVs, but placing intrinsic value on the natural world often starts in the natural world. We’re fully on board with protecting polar bear habitat, but for some people it takes a not-in-my-backyard, locally-unwanted-land-issue kick to the face to spur thinking and action. That could and may well be in editorial in itself, that preservationist ideals have a long, self-serving history, but we need to start somewhere. If arctic wildlife is too abstract, let’s take a look at Trump’s environmental protection rollbacks and the resulting re-emergence of the acid rain threat in the Adirondacks.
At the end of the day, people want to be here. Let’s find ways to make that work.