From the Editors: We recently asked for your opinions on the implementation of a hiking permit system in the Adirondacks. There is a growing concern over the impact that overuse is having on our beautiful trails. As with any hot topic, we received a wide array of perspectives, each with their own merits. Our goal is to present your opinions as a way to open and facilitate discussion, as well as learn from one another’s perspectives. Please be respectful in the comments.
“Out in Colorado there is an idea going around about having 14er trail heads turned into fee areas. That way every heavily used trail generates money to support its own trail crew to perform work on over-used trails, as well as fund SAR operations affiliated with that location. People need to get over the dirt -lifestyle and the expectation that outdoor recreation should be free. Effective land management costs money, and if state and national budgets continually get cut while recreational pressures increase, we need to start looking at different funding schemes. The outdoor recreation community needs to understand the pressures they put on the land and wildlife and should be willing to contribute.” -Zachary Schwasman (PSC Alum)
“This should be a thing. I have said it for years back home in PA. Why should hunters bear the burden of paying to maintain all of the public land? I think to hike the trails, you pay a $25 year round hiking fee or buy a hunting license. I think without that hiking fee, the trails should be closed during hunting season to anyone without a hunting license. Everyone should chip in to maintain the trail and hire some new folks as well!” -Cody Speicher
“It might be an understatement to say that I love hiking in the Adirondacks, especially the high peaks. Over the past five years, I’ve seen a tremendous uptick in the amount of foot traffic on trails. So where is the balance between people and a protected area? Is there a balance or is it as simple as: If you use it, you will eventually wear it out?
I don’t know what the answer is. I strongly feel people are a part of wilderness. And like all things in an ecosystem, we impact it. I support a permit system that teaches LNT and wilderness ethic. I would pay an annual fee to recreate in the Adirondacks. However, I began hiking because I was a poor college student and it was the cheapest activity I could do. When we put a price on something, we create categories: Those who can afford it and those who cannot. Historically, wilderness areas, whether they are National Parks or our very backyard have largely been preserved to be playgrounds for the rich and elite.
Steps are being taken. On and off the mountains. Where they will go, I’m not sure. There are so many tremendous trails in the Adirondacks, even in the high peaks that you can hike on a Saturday and not see another soul. I highly suggest Rocky Peak Ridge via the ridge trail that begins on Route 9 between North Hudson and Elizabethtown, or Grace via the slide on the Bouquet trail.” -Bethany Garretson
“The Adirondack’s “State Park” status was built from the stubbornness of North Country natives who did not want leave their remote forest homes in the name of federal land protection. Since then, New York State did an excellent job developing and implementing the land protection classification and regulations of our 6 million acre home. Years later, this beloved park has a “Forever Wild” tension in its communities; the people want the land protected and respected, and they want the least amount of government interference. Living remotely, tucked in the wilderness comes with a price; tourism and visitors are a key financial resource necessary to support local life in the mountains. The locals have a love-hate relationship with the tourists; they love their money, and they hate their presence (ESPECIALLY in the Summertime). I worked as an Invasive Species Educator for the park over the summer, and an endless number of locals expressed to me that our worst invasive species is “Tourists!”. Most of the discontent with park visitors comes from the traffic, street-side clutter, and entitled behavior they bring. Once you add summit trash and feces into the equation, it can really push locals over the edge. One question of concern with the idea of a permit system is, will it reduce the tourism in the area? And a follow up question with that is, would decreased tourism be a good thing, or a bad thing? Then there’s debate over whether or not it is right to charge money for access to nature. Well in the beginning of this last summer, the Catskill Park made a move that turned the heads of every conservation land management employee in the Adirondack Park; they implemented a free permit system for one of their well-known swimming holes in Grahamsville, NY, the Peekamoose Blue Hole. My answer to our ADK issue is that I want what is best for nature and has the lowest impact on locals. A solution that fits that criteria is hard to definitively find. I think we need to see how the free permit system works for the Catskills, and consider if that would be effective for our popular/highly impacted hikes in the Adirondacks. Our trails deserve to be treated with more respect and be less trotted, and our locals also need to be able to put food on the table every night. Finding that balance isn’t easy, but what can’t be done is nothing.” -Katherine Gale
A in-depth anaylsis by Rebecca Sutter
“I moved to Adirondacks in 1995 and consider myself extremely fortunate to have experienced a few decades or so of true wilderness. True wilderness in my eyes, was protected from over-development and Lake Placid/Lake George tourism. It allowed me a freedom and isolation that I could find nowhere else. And being a true introvert, this place was heaven. I hiked from uncrowded trail-heads, camped at open lean tos, paddled quiet waters, and spent days at a time without another soul in sight. The flip-side of this wilderness coin was that the community I live in, and the entire Park, suffered economically in a dying region of New York State. The State controls where the money goes, and it wasn’t coming here (the Adirondacks) for many, many years.
Enter Andrew Cuomo. By golly, our Governor loves this place. He fondly recalls spending time here as a boy and grabbing a bald eagle feather off the water as it floated from the sky. He wants the Adirondacks to be “the Mecca” of tourism for New York State. To name a few milestones, our Gov awarded 10 million dollars to Saranac Lake in a 2018 revitalization grant to save our town, Cuomo inaugurated the Adirondack Challenge event in Indian Lake five years ago to highlight recreational tourism in the Adirondack Park. The Adirondack Challenge has become a reflection of the governor’s interest in the Adirondacks as a recreation and tourism destination. In an article in the Adirondack Almanack, Peter Bauer summed things up clearly. “…The Cuomo Administration made (sic) it abundantly clear early on that they take a dim view of Wilderness, were committed to building an east-west community connector snowmobile trail through these lands, and that land acquisition under Andrew Cuomo must have an economic development component…too important for such shortsighted planning. These lands contain ecological gems that demand the state’s highest protections. The Governor should use the time to step back and reflect on what is working and what is not working on the Forest Preserve.”
He states, what is working is the High Peaks Wilderness and wonders why the Cuomo Administration refuses to ”… invest millions of dollars in protecting the High Peaks and ensuring resource protection and positive user experiences for the tens of thousands that go there, and eat and sleep in places like Lake Placid. (See that? No mention of anywhere else) The High Peaks Wilderness is seeing public use at an all-time high, yet investment in trail maintenance and staffing of Rangers is at an all-time low. It is time for the Governor to get off his snowmobile and visit the High Peaks.”
What is not working, according to Bauer, is the Essex Chain Lakes classification. It has been a failure.
“The Cuomo Administration went all-in with something-for-everybody planning at the Essex Chain. There is motor-less canoeing, a wide and long motorized Wild Forest corridor, new motorized bridges, bike riding, DEC patrolling in motor vehicles, public motorized access to the heart of the Essex Chain Lakes, roads (like that between Third and Fourth Lakes with “The Tube”) were retained when they should have been removed and the filled wetland restored, and there is CP-3 access.”
In an effort to maximize public recreational opportunities, the opposite has happened. Public use has been light because nobody knows what to expect. (https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2017/03/governor-andrew-cuomo-and-the-boreas-ponds-part-1.html)
Governor Cuomo and the DEC doubled down with the same approach and the same set of poor planning principles at the Boreas Ponds.
In January 2017, Governor Cuomo unveiled a new marketing campaign designed to increase visitors and generate interest in New York State’s top winter tourism attractions and destinations. The winter marketing campaign promoted New York as a world-class winter destination. “Increasing upstate tourism continues to be a top priority for our administration and with this ad campaign and free snowmobiling weekend, we are building on our past success, and leveraging our natural assets to bring more visitors to New York during the winter season,” Governor Cuomo said. “I encourage New Yorkers and tourists alike to visit these unparalleled winter destinations and snowmobile trails and take advantage of all New York has to offer.” (https://www.governor.ny.gov).
You get the picture. This is a double-edged sword we’re playing with in the Adirondacks. We need tourists to maintain vital, thriving communities. There is no industry other than tourism/hospitality from which communities can rely on, and there are strict regulations on development. There used to be a prison industry here which employed many and kept our coffers full, but fortunately that has been shut down rather than expanded. So now we’ve arrived at that all too familiar place between the rocks.
Half Dome, Mount Whitney, Kalalau, The Wave, Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim, Enchantment, and Teton Crest are but a few splendid natural wonders that require a permit to experience. One side of me gets irked that there are strict controls on usage of natural resources. I feel like we should be able to see the damage we do and regulate ourselves. Alas, we all know this is a dream. The other side of me is thankful that someone is protecting these magnificent gifts of nature from man’s destruction. Permit systems work when they are enforced. Here’s the crux. Who decides what and where permits are issued for? How does one obtain said permits? How will permits be enforced in a place as vast as the High Peaks Wilderness? I’m all for reducing hiker numbers on Cascade and Porter (and the entire region for that matter). They’re trashed beyond repair at this point. Let them turn into Fish Creek and Rollins Ponds of the High Peaks. Any easily accessible peak that has parking for 100 cars on the side of the road is going to get trampled and disgustingly overused. We’re witnessing that.
I say implement a permit system for Cascade and Porter and follow through with the necessary enforcement. Run a 2-3 year trial and see if it works. Set reasonable objectives. These mountains will take a long time to recover, if they ever do. Maybe hikers who have to pay to use these trails will take some ownership and responsibility for their actions, and trail litter and irresponsible use of these areas will diminish. Maybe not. Maybe they’ll find somewhere else to trash. I think the bottom line is reducing numbers and reducing harm. Permitting may accomplish those objectives.” -Rebecca Sutter
“A fee and permit to hike is going to discourage a lot of hikers. There’s not much left in this state that you can do without having to pay for it, and this will just cause more people to stay home. Hiking fees and permits are about the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.” -Bryan Giguere
“It’s state land and free to use for all and any. if you’re going to charge or apply permits to hike free land, then it is no longer free and the park will be used as a tourist ground, and I would expect the locals to be offended and bothered. There’s another way to solve this. It called maintenance.” -Matt Martin