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How should NY manage the millions of visitors to the Adirondacks?

A crowded summit on Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondack High Peaks in late September 2020
Emily Russell
A crowded summit on Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondack High Peaks in late September 2020

If you have thoughts about how the Adirondack High Peaks should be managed, you can share them Tuesday evening in Saranac Lake. The DEC is hosting a public meeting from 5:30 to 8:30 pm at the Harrietstown town hall on how best to manage visitors in the park.

Millions of people visit the Adirondacks each year, but in the last five years, the popularity of the High Peaks has surged. Trailheads started filling by 6 am, parked cars lined roads for miles, and there’s been serious erosion on certain trails. 

In 2021, a group of stakeholders released a report in 2021 on the High Peaks as a framework for how to promote sustainable recreation in the most popular part of the park.

The very first recommendation from the High Peaks Advisory Group was to create a visitor use management plan.

“This is something that’s long overdue," said Michael Barrett, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. ADK owns the land around the park’s busiest trailhead, the Adirondack Loj.

Barrett sees a visitor use management plan as a crucial step forward for the High Peaks, "so that we have a comprehensive strategy for managing the millions upon millions of visitors that are coming to the forest preserve each year."

New York State has hired Otak, a research and planning firm to put together the High Peaks management plan. At Tuesday’s meeting, Otak and DEC officials will present their goals and timeline for the plan. Then they’ll open it up to public comment.

Barrett said he’s eager for the process to move ahead.

“The Adirondack Mountain Club is looking forward to being a robust partner in helping the state collect the data and implement a plan so that folks can enjoy the Adirondacks while at the same time, doing what we can to lessen the environmental impacts on the resource.”

Other environmental groups will likely be at Tuesday's meeting, along with local officials and members of the public. In a statement, the Adirondack Council said it sees this process as a way to prioritize which High Peaks projects the state should fund and in what order, things like redesigning trails, building bigger parking lots, and maybe more advertising for the hiker shuttle.

Tuesday’s public meeting in Saranac Lake is just the start of the process. There will be a second round of public meetings next year.

Emily Russell covers the Adirondack State Park for NCPR.