Loved to Death, Overuse in the Adirondacks

As it gets warmer, more and more people are planning their annual trips to the Adirondacks this summer.

Since 2001, the Adirondacks have seen the number of visitors rise from 10 million to 12. 4 million. About 88 percent of people that visit the Adirondacks hike, 50 percent of people that visit paddle, and many fish, birdwatch, shop, eat, and enjoy all the Adirondacks have to offer.

The Adirondacks have plenty of room for millions of visitors to join residents in enjoying the 6-million-acre park of protected “Forever Wild” public land, mixed with communities of private land.

But much like we are seeing at our National Parks, a high volume of people visiting the Adirondacks looking for hikes are visiting the same few natural landmarks. Popularity, due to easy accessibility from several cities, social media popularity, a desire to “unplug,” and many other factors, is causing these best-know places to become loved to death.

trail in the Adirondacks

Trail use Adirondack Mountains, on a summer day in August, Ampersand Mt. photo by Nancie Battaglia

In 2016, one popular trailhead in the Town of Keene saw around four times the traffic than it did in 2005. The impacts are adding up. A recent assessment by Adirondack trail crew professionals shows that roughly 130 miles of trails in the High Peaks Wilderness Area are heavily damaged due to overuse, poor design or lack of maintenance.

Why Overuse is a Problem

It’s great so many people want to explore their Adirondack Park. But the most popular trails we have today were created many years ago with one thing in mind, how groups could get up New York State’s tallest peaks as quickly and easily as possible. Unfortunately putting thousands of people on these older trails today means parking on very busy and dangerous roadways, erosion of soil into waterways, damage to sensitive vegetation, littering, visible human waste, degradation of the visitor experience and the Wilderness and a variety of other issues.

Today, we know much more about trail design, and we can look at other state and national parks that are managing high visitor numbers in a sustainable way. Ignoring the problem and leaving New York State’s most beautiful wild places at risk for being loved to death by the people who enjoy them most isn’t a practical option.

Eroded trail in the Adirondacks

Trail use Adirondack Mountains, on a summer day in August, Ampersand Mt. photo by Nancie Battaglia

What Can Be Done

Some small steps New York State has already taken have shown to be successful. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has implemented parking restrictions, shuttle services, sustainable trail design, and preventative search and rescue education, at key locations on peak weekends. The DEC has also increased its online educational outreach.

The Adirondacks need a comprehensive approach that follows the experts reported six best wild lands management principles that combines various solutions into a cohesive strategy that will help keep overuse at bay year-round.

The six best wild lands management practices are:

  1. Planning
  2. Leave No Trace education
  3. Safe parking
  4. Sustainable trails
  5. Managing use
  6. Funding for more Forest Rangers and other staff

How You Can Help

Nothing can be achieved to tackle overuse without the collaborative efforts of those that love and visit the Adirondacks. When using your wild lands, there are a few things you can do to make sure that you are doing all that you can to leave as little of an impact as possible.

    – No matter if you’re hiking, camping, paddling or visiting a local swimming hole; start any visit to the Adirondacks with the first principle of Leave No Trace- “Plan Ahead and Prepare.” Check the trail and weather conditions, and bring a map and compass and know how to use them. Make sure you’re wearing the right footwear, have a flash light, and extra food and water.
  1. Follow NYSDEC advisories, rules & regulations– Before you head out, know where you can park, what types of recreation is allowed, dog leash rules, drone regulations, motor vehicle access, camping permits, trail closure information, and how you should prepare for your trip.
  2. Advocate – Sign up to learn more about issues impacting the Adirondacks. Write to your representatives and let them know that prioritizing funding and staffing for preserving the Adirondacks is important to you. Join a non-profit organization advocating for the Adirondacks or sign up to volunteer on a trail crew day.

Hikers coming to the Adirondacks often unprepared, unsafe

New York state forest rangers face a growing pace of searches and rescues in the Adirondack Park. Today we’re looking at one of the big factors.

Oct 11, 2017 — by Brian Mann & Martha Foley (Retired (2019) News and Public Affairs Director) , in Newcomb, NY

Oct 11, 2017 — New York state forest rangers face a growing pace of searches and rescues in the Adirondack Park. Today we’re looking at one of the big factors contributing to the spike of emergencies in the back country. State officials and outdoor experts say too many hikers and campers are coming to the North Country unprepared. Sometimes that leads to tragic outcomes.

Summits like Marcy are drawing more and more people, many of them unprepared. Photo: Brian Mann

State officials marked a map of Wallface mountain with a red

State officials marked a map of Wallface mountain with a red “X” apparently signaling the location where Alex Stevens’ body was recovered. Photo: Brian Mann

Unprepared to survive

Last month when forest rangers were searching for Alex Stevens deep in the Adirondack backcountry, it quickly became clear that the 28-year-old hiker from New Jersey was out of his element, without the right skills or equipment.

“He’s not very well prepared, be real clear on that,” said Lt. Brian Dubay the incident commander in Newcomb. “We believe any warm weather clothing that he thought he had we consider to be inferior. He had a lot of cotton. We believe that he purchased a hammock.”

Early in his trip into the High Peaks wilderness, Stevens was caught in cold rain. His lack of foresight proved fatal. Frank Whitelaw is the Essex county coroner called in after Stevens body was recovered.

“He certainly didn’t have any food with him, he didn’t have a compass, and he didn’t have the means to start a fire,” Whitelaw said. “When you don’t eat, you’re going to make bad decisions and you’re not going to be able to function after a while.”

Biting off more than they can chew

The Adirondack Park

Backcountry experts and outdoor guides say more and more people are turning up in the Adirondacks – even some of the most remote parts of the Adirondacks – without anything like the proper equipment or training. That’s contributed to a surge in the number of searches, the number of rescues and the number of deaths in the backcountry.

“Many of these rescues are happening because people bite off more than they can chew,” said Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“They’re coming into the outdoors, they’re not prepared for it, they don’t have a plan, they haven’t talked to anybody, they don’t have any emergency equipment. The public has to have safety in mind when they go and try to bag a peak.”

But many visitors are unprepared for the scale and scope of the Park

But many visitors are unprepared for the scale and scope of the Park’s backcountry. Photo: Brian Mann

There’s a growing sense in the Park that this message isn’t getting across. To many people are learning about the Adirondack Mountains through tourism marketing campaigns and social media but they’re not grasping the fact that wild country poses real risks.

When a day trip turns into a night in the north woods

Eric Lahr, head of the New York state Forest Ranger division, said they have tried to warn visitors about the risks of backcountry recreation. Photo: Brian Mann

Eric Lahr, head of the New York state Forest Ranger division, said they have tried to warn visitors about the risks of backcountry recreation. Photo: Brian Mann

Eric Lahr heads the New York state forest ranger division. He says even people planning a short outing in the Park should think about survival. “If they’re planning for a day hike, they need to come prepared to stay then night. You can only teach folks that so much.”

Another thing that forest rangers say visitors aren’t grasping is that conditions here often differ wildly from what they experience back home or at lower elevations. “Bring the appropriate equipment not only for the weather you’re experiencing at home,” said Lt. Brian Dubay. “You go up on the summit of Marcy and it’s like going up to James Bay in Canada, temperature-wise, and then you add winds on top of that.”

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Talking about readiness

Martha Foley: Brian, you reported this story and you spend a lot of time hiking and camping in the Adirondacks. Let’s talk a bit more about readiness. What do people need when they go into the backcountry?

Brian Mann: The basic idea that you heard there from the experts is that they should plan to spend the night. If things go wrong and you wind up out there, are you ready? Can you handle a cold rain shower? So, some kind of good layered warm clothing with a rain shell. A way to make fire and the skills to actually get a fire lit. Bring plenty of food, and even more importantly, plenty of water. A lot of hikers are just getting dehydrated. And bring a flashlight or headlamp. If you start to lose daylight, having a light to show you the trailmarkers can be key.

MF: Another thing that seems key, Brian, is letting someone know where you’re going and when to expect you back.

BM: That’s right. Alex Stevens, the hiker from New Jersey who died last month, might be alive today if he had left clear information with someone about where he was going, for how long. It’s also important for people, especially people who don’t have a lot of skills, to hike with a partner. Going into the backcountry alone really increases your risk factor. It’s also important to have a map and compass and to have basic familiarity with how to use them.

MF: But right now a lot of people – a growing number of people – are heading for the Park without those skills or equipment.

BM: Right. You hear it more and more from guides, from outfitters, from forest rangers. I’ve seen it myself – more and more people in the deep woods, even in winter, who don’t have the right gear, who don’t have a back-up plan. I met a guy last winter on Hurricane who was attempting to climb over icy rocks in flat-soled shoes. He was wearing cotton and he told me no one knew he was up there. I finally convinced him to climb back down. Which raises another important point. Now that the weather is turning colder and we’re losing daylight, people need to be even better prepared, more vigilant.

MF: Brian, you reported yesterday that this surge in hikers experiencing emergencies has put a lot of stress on forest rangers and first responders. What have you been hearing since that story aired?

BM: I’ve heard from folks within the ranger ranks that the stress really is taking a toll. Morale has suffered because these men and women are tired. Rangers are responding to two or three incidents a day sometimes. And a lot of these are pretty serious incidents. The latest report for forest ranger activity for early October showed two more people needing to be evacuated from the backcountry with helicopters because of leg injuries. Those are complicated, risky rescues to pull off, especially when crews are tired.

Hikers coming to the Adirondacks often unprepared, unsafe

New York state forest rangers face a growing pace of searches and rescues in the Adirondack Park. Today we’re looking at one of the big factors.

Oct 11, 2017 — by Brian Mann & Martha Foley (Retired (2019) News and Public Affairs Director) , in Newcomb, NY

Oct 11, 2017 — New York state forest rangers face a growing pace of searches and rescues in the Adirondack Park. Today we’re looking at one of the big factors contributing to the spike of emergencies in the back country. State officials and outdoor experts say too many hikers and campers are coming to the North Country unprepared. Sometimes that leads to tragic outcomes.

Summits like Marcy are drawing more and more people, many of them unprepared. Photo: Brian Mann

State officials marked a map of Wallface mountain with a red

State officials marked a map of Wallface mountain with a red “X” apparently signaling the location where Alex Stevens’ body was recovered. Photo: Brian Mann

Unprepared to survive

Last month when forest rangers were searching for Alex Stevens deep in the Adirondack backcountry, it quickly became clear that the 28-year-old hiker from New Jersey was out of his element, without the right skills or equipment.

“He’s not very well prepared, be real clear on that,” said Lt. Brian Dubay the incident commander in Newcomb. “We believe any warm weather clothing that he thought he had we consider to be inferior. He had a lot of cotton. We believe that he purchased a hammock.”

Early in his trip into the High Peaks wilderness, Stevens was caught in cold rain. His lack of foresight proved fatal. Frank Whitelaw is the Essex county coroner called in after Stevens body was recovered.

“He certainly didn’t have any food with him, he didn’t have a compass, and he didn’t have the means to start a fire,” Whitelaw said. “When you don’t eat, you’re going to make bad decisions and you’re not going to be able to function after a while.”

Biting off more than they can chew

The Adirondack Park

Backcountry experts and outdoor guides say more and more people are turning up in the Adirondacks – even some of the most remote parts of the Adirondacks – without anything like the proper equipment or training. That’s contributed to a surge in the number of searches, the number of rescues and the number of deaths in the backcountry.

“Many of these rescues are happening because people bite off more than they can chew,” said Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“They’re coming into the outdoors, they’re not prepared for it, they don’t have a plan, they haven’t talked to anybody, they don’t have any emergency equipment. The public has to have safety in mind when they go and try to bag a peak.”

But many visitors are unprepared for the scale and scope of the Park

But many visitors are unprepared for the scale and scope of the Park’s backcountry. Photo: Brian Mann

There’s a growing sense in the Park that this message isn’t getting across. To many people are learning about the Adirondack Mountains through tourism marketing campaigns and social media but they’re not grasping the fact that wild country poses real risks.

When a day trip turns into a night in the north woods

Eric Lahr, head of the New York state Forest Ranger division, said they have tried to warn visitors about the risks of backcountry recreation. Photo: Brian Mann

Eric Lahr, head of the New York state Forest Ranger division, said they have tried to warn visitors about the risks of backcountry recreation. Photo: Brian Mann

Eric Lahr heads the New York state forest ranger division. He says even people planning a short outing in the Park should think about survival. “If they’re planning for a day hike, they need to come prepared to stay then night. You can only teach folks that so much.”

Another thing that forest rangers say visitors aren’t grasping is that conditions here often differ wildly from what they experience back home or at lower elevations. “Bring the appropriate equipment not only for the weather you’re experiencing at home,” said Lt. Brian Dubay. “You go up on the summit of Marcy and it’s like going up to James Bay in Canada, temperature-wise, and then you add winds on top of that.”

NCPR provides this essential service.

You provide your essential support.

Talking about readiness

Martha Foley: Brian, you reported this story and you spend a lot of time hiking and camping in the Adirondacks. Let’s talk a bit more about readiness. What do people need when they go into the backcountry?

Brian Mann: The basic idea that you heard there from the experts is that they should plan to spend the night. If things go wrong and you wind up out there, are you ready? Can you handle a cold rain shower? So, some kind of good layered warm clothing with a rain shell. A way to make fire and the skills to actually get a fire lit. Bring plenty of food, and even more importantly, plenty of water. A lot of hikers are just getting dehydrated. And bring a flashlight or headlamp. If you start to lose daylight, having a light to show you the trailmarkers can be key.

MF: Another thing that seems key, Brian, is letting someone know where you’re going and when to expect you back.

BM: That’s right. Alex Stevens, the hiker from New Jersey who died last month, might be alive today if he had left clear information with someone about where he was going, for how long. It’s also important for people, especially people who don’t have a lot of skills, to hike with a partner. Going into the backcountry alone really increases your risk factor. It’s also important to have a map and compass and to have basic familiarity with how to use them.

MF: But right now a lot of people – a growing number of people – are heading for the Park without those skills or equipment.

BM: Right. You hear it more and more from guides, from outfitters, from forest rangers. I’ve seen it myself – more and more people in the deep woods, even in winter, who don’t have the right gear, who don’t have a back-up plan. I met a guy last winter on Hurricane who was attempting to climb over icy rocks in flat-soled shoes. He was wearing cotton and he told me no one knew he was up there. I finally convinced him to climb back down. Which raises another important point. Now that the weather is turning colder and we’re losing daylight, people need to be even better prepared, more vigilant.

MF: Brian, you reported yesterday that this surge in hikers experiencing emergencies has put a lot of stress on forest rangers and first responders. What have you been hearing since that story aired?

BM: I’ve heard from folks within the ranger ranks that the stress really is taking a toll. Morale has suffered because these men and women are tired. Rangers are responding to two or three incidents a day sometimes. And a lot of these are pretty serious incidents. The latest report for forest ranger activity for early October showed two more people needing to be evacuated from the backcountry with helicopters because of leg injuries. Those are complicated, risky rescues to pull off, especially when crews are tired.

Source https://www.adirondack.net/around-the-region/2019/07/loved-to-death-overuse-in-the-adirondacks/

Source https://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/34842/20171011/hikers-coming-to-the-adirondacks-often-unprepared-unsafe

Source https://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/34842/20171011/hikers-coming-to-the-adirondacks-often-unprepared-unsafe

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