LOCALadk Magazine

Local ADK Fall 2018

LOCALadk Magazine

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Page 28 of 71

Fall 2018 LOCALadk Magazine 29 LOCALadk Sifting through childhood memories, I stumble upon more hiking and lakeside-filled days in the 'dacks than I do of mo- ments from my home in the outskirts of suburban Albany. Frequent family trips to the Blue Line essentially made the Park my home and I remember countless days spent walking in the woods with my brother, sister, mom, and dad. We started hiking the High Peaks when I was nine. Initially, I was afraid of heights and my childhood blubber hated the difficult task of ascending the 46 tallest mountains in New York. Eventually though, I fell in love with spending time in the woods and found tranquility on summits over 4,000 feet. "Trails" like those found in the Sewards, Santanonis, and Dix Range were rugged but quiet—a welcome change from sub- urban Albany, which was a busy and noisy place. Though I could never abstain from the place that has made me who I am today, I've become increasingly bitter each time I head into the Adirondack High Peaks. Sometimes I'm irri- tated before I even leave the house. Perhaps it's the crowd- ed parking lots that contribute to my new acidic feelings, or maybe I'm already thinking of the peace and quiet that I won't have. Maybe it's the thought of mistreated hiking trails or litter scattered about the mountains. Or, maybe I've just become a snob. In 2006, when my family hiked Cascade and Porter— our first High Peaks—the total number of recorded 46er fin- ishers was 5,964. Seven years later when my mom, a family friend, and I finished the challenge with a happy summiting of Saddleback mountain, that number had risen by over 2,000 people. In 2017, the total number of finishers was 10,871. These numbers are powerful—they reveal that more and more people ever y year are getting outside and enjoying na- ture. But the question now arises: are we loving our trails to death? If so, what are the true causes and how can we miti- gate the damage? Having spent many hours in the woods before and during the adventurous 46er journey, my land ethic had ample time to form. I realized the power of quiet places where nature rules rather than man. In the mountains, we are merely visi- tors entering someone else's home. But it has become appar- ent that as hikers, backpackers, and adventure-seekers, we are ill-mannered guests. For two summers I was fortunate to find myself working in the mountains I loved so much. I felt that by working for the Adirondack Mountain Club's Professional Trail Crew, I was giving back to the trails that had given me so much. But during our days in the High Peaks, our crew witnessed im- proper Leave No Trace practices and the mistreatment of the mountains. While building a ladder on Colden we saw human feces and toilet paper in the middle of the trail. In Avalanche Pass the trail was extremely wide around sections of mud. Sometimes even after we'd finished new bridges or stairs, hikers would still go around the structures, paving new paths off the main trail. If you take a drive from the Ausable Club and Giant Moun- tain parking areas down to Loj Road and beyond, overcrowd- ing in the High Peaks is obvious. Recently, the Adirondack Council, a group founded in 1975 to "ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park," shared results from a 2017 sur vey of High Peaks parking lots con- ducted between Labor Day and Columbus Day. According to the analysis, "Thirty-five parking lots [with access to the High Peaks] designed to accommodate fewer than 1,000 cars frequently had more than 2,000 cars tr ying to park at them. As a result, over 1,000 cars were repeatedly parked along roads, on private property, and in other unsafe locations." More hikers on High Peaks trails don't help hiking condi- tions, either. "If a trail is designed properly it will last for generations with annual maintenance," said Wes Lampman, Chief Operating Officer of the Adirondack Mountain Club and veteran trail crew member. But trails in the High Peaks were originally created decades ago and many ascend direct- ly, which exacerbates erosion, rather than as switch-backs. Although trail conditions in the High Peaks have been poor for years and didn't happen just recently due to the spike in visitors, an increase in the number of hikers doesn't help the problem. Trails are repeatedly compacted, "creating a depression for storm water and snow melt, which can lead to increased erosion," Lampman said. But the Wilderness classification in the High Peaks means no power tools can be used, so trail work is slow and tedious. Plus, "There has always been a backlog of trail work in the High Peaks due to the fact that most of the trails weren't laid out properly to begin with," Lampman said. " With the proper resources, trails in the High Peaks region could sustain increased visita- tion and use." Is it just the beauty and Muir, Abbey, or Thoreau-esque ro- manticism of the woods that is attracting such high numbers of people to the Adirondack High Peaks? Or are we who love the mountains also contributing to the draw? As a landscape photographer and lover of the High Peaks, I frequently post images of the mountains on Instagram and Facebook for a few thousand viewers to see. But I'm always conscious of the catch-22: how do we encourage people to have experiences of their own in this area, hopefully leading to stewardship of the land, while also not loving the moun- tains to death. Perhaps we —myself included—should refrain from posting images of the High Peaks. Perhaps fire towers, lower-elevation mountains, lakes, bogs, and wetlands should be shared instead. But what happens when thousands of peo- ple visit these areas, too? Will we just keep moving people to different places, until all the Park is overrun and overused? To address this issue, Adirondack Mountain Club recent- ly began its Stewardship Ambassador program. The goal of Stewardship Ambassadors is to promote New York's pub- lic lands and also inspire others to help protect them. The Adirondack Mountain Club's Summit Steward program is an avenue for educated summit stewards to speak with hikers. Stewards discuss the importance of staying on rock at high elevations so that fragile alpine plants aren't destroyed. The Adirondack 46ers club has placed trained, volunteer

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