As many of Plattsburgh’s avid hikers may know, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Mountain Reserve has piloted a new reservation system beginning May 1 and lasting through Oct. 31.
The new, no-cost system will apply only in Keene trailheads accessed through the AMR gate and the Round Mountain and Noonmark Mountain trailheads accessed through AMR lands, with reservations only available up to two weeks in advance. This system does not apply to all trails in the Adirondack Park, but will apply to popular trails such as Indian Head, and some high peaks such as Gothics and Upper and Lower Wolfjaw. Hikers can sign up through the Hiker Reservation web portal, hikeamr.org.
When the system was announced by the DEC on Instagram, controversy began in the comment section. Fans of the trails shared their worries about reservation availability and time restrictions, while others expressed pure frustration and disbelief. With the new system being called into question, the DEC was quick to respond with another post that elaborated on why the new system was so necessary.
“It’s dangerous,” Their Instagram caption said. “Illegal parking along Route 73 and dangerous turn-arounds from drop-offs near the AMR property have created unsafe road conditions.”
The AMR trailhead parking lot has 70 spots available for reservation, and is accessible between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily with the exception of overnight parking. Reservations will need to be made regardless whether hikers arrive by foot, bike or vehicle, alluding to the larger problem at hand.
“With the increasing number of visitors to trailheads accessed through AMR, exacerbated in 2020 by New Yorkers looking for a nature break as a respite from COVID-19, DEC and AMR are working together to promote sustainable recreation and protect public safety,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said.
“I think it’s an effort to manage an overloved resource,” Kimberly Coleman, of the center for earth and environmental science at Plattsburgh, said. She explained that there are four typical environmental management strategies; increase supply, reinforce the resources, limit use and modify visitor behavior. This could mean expanding trail access, rebuilding trails or enforcing stricter guidelines.
Sophomore Cal Seeley, an expeditionary studies major, discussed the first hand effects he saw over the summer while working in Keene Valley with the Adirondack Mountain Reserve.
He observed that trails “were way over their capacity, human feces literally in the middle of the trail, undesignated campsites and other illegal camping, trampled alpine vegetation as well as accelerating trail erosion caused by the massive increase in foot traffic.”
Seeley is not upset with the people coming to hike the trails in the Adirondack, but he is frustrated with the “lack of infrastructure, education and outreach programs that are available in the park.”
A fellow student in the expeditionary studies program, Ben Koblensky, agreed with Seeley that the park needs to do a better job of teaching ‘leave no trace’ practices. Leave no trace is a set of outdoor ethics that involves the promotion of outdoor conservancy. There are seven principles of leave no trace; planning and preparation, traveling and camping on durable surfaces, the proper disposal of waste, leaving what you find, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
The two week period for reservations was repeatedly mentioned as “crucial” for maintaining some sort of fairness in the system. Additionally, it forces trail users to plan ahead, looking at what the weather will be like, thinking of the equipment needed, and looking up the rules and regulations of the AMR, according to Seeley.
When the equity of the system was brought into question, it was unanimously agreed that there are unaddressed issues.
“Unfortunately, issues of overuse and gentrification have always been prevalent in mountain towns and only gets worse with the influx of traffic. As more tourists flock to the mountains, locals begin to lose access to the trails,” Koblensky said.
Coleman’s concern comes from a stance on the accessibility of the reservation system after seeing the trends of inequity made prevalent during the pandemic due to increased online interactions.
“If you don’t have great broadband, you don’t have the technology to access an online reservation system, then you’re essentially excluded. So, yes, I see equity issues,” said Coleman.
Overall, there is a general sense that while this system stands to address what seems like just a parking problem, many of the underlying issues are being left unaddressed. Seeley stresses this point heavily, first bringing up the fact that the ratio of park visitors to rangers is nearly 93,000 to 1.
Seeley argued that “ancient or non-existent trail design is to blame for extreme trail erosion within the Adirondacks,” which should be able to withstand the current use, according to the trail theory.
“In general, I would say that COVID has highlighted an infrastructure problem rather than an overuse problem,” he said.
All around, those who have made subjects of the environment, infrastructure management and justice their profession and passion, are agreeing that reform and education are going to be essential in fixing the greater problems at hand in the Adirondack trail system.
“Eventually, the DEC will need to face the larger problem at hand: an almost non-existent Park infrastructure that is nowhere near capable of handling 12.4 million visitors annually,” said Seeley.
For those looking to continue to enjoy the joy brought about from the nature and beauty of the Adirondack Park, please do so responsibly this summer, and adhere to park guidelines, rules and regulations.