Two conservation organizations and a state college today released the preliminary results of a two-month hiker survey in and around the High Peaks Wilderness Area showing that the 673 hikers surveyed came there seeking solitude and wildness, and would favor limits on visitation to prevent damage to the “forever wild” Forest Preserve.
The Adirondack Council, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the Adirondack Mountain Club released the preliminary results and initial analysis for a collaborative survey entitled “Recreational User Experience and Perspectives: Adirondack Park.”
While these are just initial results, the groups look forward to releasing a final analysis and published report in the coming months.
The Adirondack Park is the largest park in the contiguous United States, about half of which is a public Forest Preserve, protected from logging and development by the NYS Constitution. A little less than half of these public lands (1.1 million acres in 20 separate areas) are further protected as motor-free Wilderness under state law. Travel is limited to foot trails, skis and muscle- or wind-powered watercraft. Hikers in this survey were visiting the most popular hiking destination in the Park, the High Peaks Wilderness Area.
Wilderness Experience Expected
Of the 673 Adirondack hikers surveyed in the High Peaks region of the park, 79% said they came to enjoy the solitude and wilderness character of the Forest Preserve. Only 7% said they had no such expectation, while 13% said they were neutral. More than 90% said they had heard of “Leave No Trace” outdoor ethics, although they were not pressed to demonstrate their familiarity with them.
More than half of all respondents said they supported visitor management tools such as closing parking lots, requiring parking permits, shuttle buses that bring hikers to the trailhead from offsite parking areas and, limited trail-access permits and temporary trail closures to manage surging crowds.
Temporary trail closures (79%) were the most favored means of visitor control, followed by shuttles (72%); a limited number of trail-access permits (59%); parking lot temporary closures (57%); and parking permits (50%). All options had some portion of respondents say they were neutral; opposition rates remained near or below 25% for all visitor capacity-limiting options.
Respondents were also asked whether some combination of the tools would be acceptable. Given the open-ended aspect of that question, those results are still being analyzed, Janeway explained.
Planned Ahead, But Many Couldn’t Park at Destination
Only about half of respondents (345) were able to park legally at the trailhead where they had planned to park, while 210 had to use the shoulder of the road near a trailhead, 90 were shut out entirely and 13 said they had not planned where to park.
More than 60% said they had been planning their trip for between one week and one month ahead of their arrival; another 13% had been planning for even longer. Four percent said they live elsewhere and came without any plan; 2% said they live nearby and didn’t plan ahead.
The 22-question survey was conducted from August 5 to Oct. 11.
Consistent with Past Surveys, Polls
These results are consistent with a recent Siena College Research Institute poll of New York voters, which found in September that by 68% to 22% voters want New York State officials to protect overused public lands in the Adirondack Forest Preserve from further abuse by enforcing resource capacity limits, rather than building bigger and bigger parking lots to accommodate the surging crowds.
The Siena poll was consistent with a 2018 hiker survey that found – by a margin of two-to-one — hikers agreed that their own numbers should be limited at specific locations on high-use dates. In 2018, about 80% of hikers wanted more information made available/accessible to them regarding appropriate trail use, etiquette and safety, by the state and other stakeholders; and, also by a margin of two-to-one, hikers agreed that trailhead parking should combine reservations and first-come-first-served options to control the maximum number of vehicles.
Other interesting preliminary findings from the newest collaborative survey:
- Nearly 80% of respondents said COVID-19 had not influenced their decision to visit the Adirondack Forest Preserve, they would have visited regardless
- The largest concentrations of respondents hailed from the New York metro area and Capital District, followed by Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester. Philadelphia and Boston were two of the largest non-New York clusters, while some came from as far away as Colorado, Texas, Utah and California, as well as Washington, DC, Florida and Puerto Rico.
- More than half of respondents were hiking alone or in a pair (107; 319), while about 7 respondents said they were part of a group of 9 to 12 hikers (day-use limit is 15).
- Most respondents were between 25 and 44 years old (315), with the second-largest group between 45 and 64 (186).
- About 92% of survey respondents self-identified as white; of the non-white respondents, 15% were Hispanic/Latinx; 3% said they were black/African-American; 1% African; 2% Asian; 2% Native American; and 8% said they were “other.”
- Most respondents were here for the second time or more (318); while 237 said they had heard about it from a friend or family member; and 184 relied on the All Trails smartphone application; about 120 found it in a guidebook and 112 relied on materials/websites provided by the NYS DEC.
- Most (69%) came to the High Peaks to hike; about 15% to camp overnight; 9% said they were working to complete a “challenge” such as a 46er’s badge (for climbing all 46 peaks above 4,000 ft. in elevation); 1% was rock-climbing and 1% was trail running.
“The initial analysis of this summer’s survey data is still being reviewed and analyzed,” the Adirondack Council’s Deputy Director Rocci Aguirre said in an announcement of the survey’s preliminary results. “There were some open-ended questions where they are several possible combinations for the answers. Those results are still being compiled by Dr. Jill Weiss and her team at SUNY ESF who have been spearheading the data analysis on this project. ”
Illustration provided by Adirondack Council.
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