New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced the award of a Visitor Use Management (VUM) planning contract to help develop recreation plans for two highly visited regions of the New York State Forest Preserve — a high-use portion of the High Peaks in the Adirondack Park and the Kaaterskill Clove area in the Catskill Park.
An announcement from DEC said that the private contractor “will assist with developing strategies that ensure these popular destinations provide positive visitor experiences while continuing to protect the Forest Preserve.”
“The Adirondack High Peaks and Kaaterskill Clove area in the Catskills are two of New York’s most popular outdoor destinations because of their outstanding beauty,” said Commissioner Seggos. “DEC is excited to partner with the experienced team at Otak, Inc., to explore strategic, innovative, and data-driven ideas and solutions for balancing conservation and public access in these beloved areas of Forest Preserve.”
Otak, Inc., a research, planning, and design firm headquartered in Portland, Oregon, was awarded the VUM planning contract following a competitive Request for Proposals process, funded by the State’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). Otak has experience conducting visitor use planning and research on wilderness and other recreation lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and other agencies. The company includes experts in recreation planning, meeting facilitation, stakeholder engagement, and data analysis DEC’s announcement said.
The two-year contract is effective immediately and extends through the end of 2024. Over the next several months, Otak is expected to engage State officials, stakeholders, and the public in outlining desired conditions and management goals for the project areas.
During the latter half of 2023, the plan is to shift the process to measuring and analyzing visitor use patterns to determine how closely current conditions in the two project areas compare to the desired management conditions.
During the second year of the contract, the plan will focus on developing management strategies aimed at helping DEC achieve and maintain desired conditions. Final project reports are expected to be provided to DEC that include recommendations for monitoring and maintaining the effectiveness of the strategies over time.
During the initial phase of the project, DEC’s announcement said, a public meeting will be held in each project area to highlight the project goals and timeline and solicit feedback on management objectives. A second round of public meetings is expected to be held in 2024 to present draft management recommendations. Otak will host and facilitate these meetings and dates and locations will be announced at a later time.
Protected by the New York State constitution as “forever wild,” the Forest Preserve comprises state land within the Adirondack and Catskill parks which is managed by DEC.
DEC tasked the Adirondack High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group (HPAG) and the Catskill Strategic Planning Advisory Group (CAG) in 2019 and 2020, respectively, with providing recommendations for sustainable management of the High Peaks and Catskill regions.
In their final reports, both groups recommended that the federal Interagency VUM Framework be used to identify solutions to the compounding effects of parking shortages, unsafe conditions along state highways, and busy trails, summits, and other points of interest.
The Interagency VUM Framework was developed by a partnership of federal land management agencies as a blueprint for addressing increasing visitation on federal outdoor recreation lands.
Otak’s team is expected to use the Interagency VUM Framework to facilitate collaboration between DEC and stakeholders and to deliver data before developing visitor capacities, adaptive visitor use management strategies, and long-term monitoring plans. Otak has worked through the Interagency VUM Framework for some National Parks.
Photo of High Peaks overuse courtesy High Peaks Advisory Group.