As the state invests in tourist attractions in the Adirondack Park, four nonprofit organizations are calling on more investment to address overuse.
The Adirondack Mountain Club, Protect the Adirondacks, Adirondack Council and Adirondack Wild, want more forest rangers and a $10 million investment toward preservation and stewardship projects in the 2020-2021 executive budget.
“The state needs more staff to manage the landscape and manage the crowds visiting it,” said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, in a news release. “Rangers are handling an average of about 30 rescues a month. The state needs more conservation officers, planners, biologists, engineers and trails crews.”
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The Adirondack Park sees around 12 million annual visitors. That’s more than the average number of annual visitors to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park combined. The Adirondack Park also has 130,000 year-round residents.
Parking lots and trailheads are inundated with cars, and some trails are seeing a 200 to 300% increase in use over the last several years, according to the groups’ joint news release.
The Adirondack Council released a study this summer, too, that said 56% of the trails in the Adirondack Park’s central High Peaks Wilderness Area are too steep and eroding away.
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The groups argue that the state is investing in more tourist attractions, like the $16 million visitors center on the Northway and the $180 million investment in the Olympic Regional Development Authority’s sports complex, but not enough in protections.
“Governor (Andrew) Cuomo made a huge investment in the State Parks system through the Parks 2020 Program, and now we need to make a similar timely and massive investment in the management of the Forest Preserve in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks to enhance public recreation and stewardship of these magnificent mountains, rivers, forests and lakes,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, in a news release.
The state did add two more forest rangers to the High Peaks region earlier this year. That means eight rangers and one supervisor cover about 275,000 acres. The DEC has pointed out, too, that staff are assisted by New York State Police, 15 county sheriff’s departments, volunteer first responders and local search and rescue organizations.
It has also experimented with shuttle services and parking bans on certain stretches in the High Peaks.
In July 2019, DEC and a number of stakeholders discussed ways to address overuse, but environmental groups said nothing has come of that brainstorm yet.
In an emailed statement to The Post-Star, DEC spokesperson Erica Ringewald said DEC “is undertaking a comprehensive effort to promote sustainable tourism,” and is working on a number of issues pointed out in the environmental groups’ news release.
“For some time, DEC has been working closely with the hiking community, local governments, environmental organizations, and tourism offices and others with a vested interest in the High Peaks,” Ringewald added. “We welcome constructive feedback from interested stakeholders as we adaptively manage our efforts to address increased visitation to the amazing outdoor recreation opportunities in the High Peaks region.”