The High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group (HPAG) has submitted its final report on promoting sustainable recreation in the Adirondack Park to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos.
Comprised of various stakeholders, including some with expertise in local government, recreation, natural resource protection, business, and tourism, in 2019 the HPAG was tasked with providing DEC with recommendations on how to address critical issues associated with increased public use of High Peaks resources in order to protect these areas in the short and long term, as well as for future generations.
“I commend the efforts of the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group in developing this important report which provides solid recommendations to further enhance our ongoing efforts to manage use and protect our irreplaceable natural treasures. The work of these partners, particularly during these challenging times, is a testament to our shared commitment to protecting the Adirondack Park,” said Commissioner Seggos. “With the growing uptick in visitors to the High Peaks region, compounded this past summer by New Yorkers desperate to get outside as a respite from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical that DEC and our partners work together to protect these irreplaceable lands for future generations by promoting sustainable recreation, supporting local communities, and improving the visitor experience, and we look forward to working with all partners to continue and expand our ongoing efforts.”
HPAG members said, “We appreciate the opportunity to provide input from various partners on managing recreational use in the Adirondack High Peaks region. To address these challenges and protect the park, we must work together to manage recreational use of this revered wilderness region for the long term while recognizing the current short-term economic challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe these recommendations lay a foundation for future management of public recreation not only in the High Peaks, but throughout the Adirondack Park.”
The final report builds upon recommendations included in the HPAG Interim Report, released in June 2020, and includes recommendations to address immediate and chronic issues, including coordination of parking and pedestrian safety, implementation of actions identified in unit management plans, design and implementation of the trailhead shuttle pilot, portable toilets, increased support of public land stewardship programs, and expanded Leave No Trace (LNT) education and outreach efforts. In addition to identifying short-term actions to help address challenges related to use, the report addresses long-term actions such as coordination of current planning efforts, continued long-term planning for recreational use, and targeted data collection to sustain an iterative management process.
In a letter to HPAG, Commissioner Seggos committed to adopting recommendations from the Final Report, which includes an effort already underway in partnership with the Adirondack Park Agency to implement the National Parks Visitor Use Management Framework as a guiding tool for adaptive management of public lands.
Many of the report’s specific recommendations support DEC efforts that are currently underway with State and local partners to improve public safety and sustainably manage use of some of the High Peaks’ busiest trailheads, including:
- Enforcing parking regulations with an increased presence of New York State Police and DEC Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation Police Officers on State Route 73 and other roads;
- Educating hikers and visitors in person and via social media and other means about the seven principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) while hiking, as well as maintaining safe and responsible practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. DEC will be expanding upon these efforts this spring;
- Advising motorists about limited trailhead parking and closures using electronic variable messaging boards and additional signage on I-87 and Route 73, social media, and additional outreach;
- Continuing to partner with Essex County to implement a pilot shuttle service along Route 73, in adherence to COVID-19 guidelines and informed by the Volpe Shuttle Feasibility Study. If COVID-19 makes shuttle service not feasible for the 2021 season, DEC will work with Essex County and the town of Keene to develop the supportive infrastructure and educational components needed to operate as soon as feasible; and
- Working with area municipalities to coordinate human waste management.
Commissioner Seggos and DEC experts are reviewing the final report as the agency continues its efforts to promote sustainable use while supporting communities in the High Peaks region and throughout the Adirondack Park, as well as in other popular recreation destinations on public lands across New York State. DEC established a similar effort with Catskill Park stakeholders in October 2020.
HPAG members are:
- Dr. Jill Weiss, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
- Joe Pete Wilson, Supervisor, Town of Keene
- Rocci Aguirre, Adirondack Council
- Pete Nelson, Adirondack Wilderness Advocates
- Charlie Wise, The Mountaineer
- Seth Jones, Adirondack Mountain Club
- Teresa Cheetham-Palen, Adirondack Rock and River Guide Service and Lodge
- James McKenna, Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism
- Shaun Gillilland, Chair, Essex County Board of Supervisors
- Sandra Allen, Esq.
The final report and summaries of HPAG meetings are available on the DEC High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group webpage.
Photo of High Peaks overuse courtesy High Peaks Advisory Group.