KEENE VALLEY — For the first time in years, Keene City Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson, Jr. was out of town on Columbus Day weekend.
In recent years, the town of Keene, home to around 1,000 people, has seen a rush of hikers flock to the High Peaks over the holiday long weekends. Columbus Day weekend is one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year. In the past, the rush of hikers has left state rangers, volunteers and local officials like Wilson scrambling to accommodate the influx of traffic, keep roads clear and attempt to educate as many hikers as possible on the principles of Leave No Trace before venturing into the wilderness.
This year, Wilson said he doesn’t feel the same pressure to control crowds.
“I’m not at Keene for the first time in a long time,” Wilson said over the phone Saturday afternoon. Instead, he was at his son’s college to attend a parents’ weekend.
Wilson said the “systems” that have been put in place to accommodate High Peaks hikers – the City Hiker Shuttle, the new County Hiker Shuttle at Marcy Field, and the new parking reservation system at the Adirondack Mountain Preserve — helped him feel comfortable leaving town this year. He said that with all of these systems finally in place, the city was able to keep hikers moving and happy, making for “a busy but good day” the Saturday.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and AMR have taken action to address parking hazards along State Route 73 and the overflow of the AMR lot this year. The HikeAMR pilot reservation system requires hikers to make a reservation to park on the lot, and reservations can be made up to two weeks in advance. The Essex County Department of Transportation also launched a new hiker shuttle this year that travels from the Marcy Field parking lot to the trailheads of the Rooster Comb, Giant Mountain Ridge Trail, and Roaring Brook. The Keene Town Shuttle resumed operations from Marcy Field to the Garden Trailhead in June after being closed in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Wilson said he was out all day last Friday to prepare for the weekend, and hiker traffic was already increasing by then. He spent time at the Garden trailhead, where he had to deal with a traffic jam, but he said people were “well-mannered” globally. He said he easily got to the Chapel Pond and Ridge Trail lots while setting up county shuttle stops along State Route 73.
“People are really, you know, following the ‘no parking’ signs and delimiters and I didn’t see a single problem there, and nobody was walking on the freeway,” Wilson said Saturday. “People have learned about the new parking rules and restrictions and they are following them. I was pleasantly surprised (Friday), when it was so busy, to see that there were no real obvious security issues and no illegally parked cars.
There were still a few illegally parked cars on Saturday, but not as many as in years past. On Monday, DEC spokesman Jeff Wiernen said the DEC issued just six parking tickets over the entire three-day weekend.
“Existing controls have been effective in mitigating parking violations, including the parking reservation system at AMR and the shuttle,” he wrote in an email.
Stewards Joe Ryan and Barbara Rasmussen were stationed at an Adirondack 46er information table near the Cascade and Porter trailheads, and Ryan said that while on his feet all day, they saw some interesting behavior from hikers and motorists.
“People are people. If you stayed here for a day, you wouldn’t believe it. said Ryan.
He said he saw someone pull over in the middle of the road on Saturday morning and try to park with the bumper of their car still on the road.
“The thing is, the car behind him was a state trooper,” said Ryan.
He said the soldier immediately turned on his lights and arrested the person.
It was a busy weekend for Ryan and Rasmussen. Ryan said by Saturday afternoon they had already spoken to 377 hikers. Other stewards at the trailhead with a similar table at South Meadow had spoken to 318 hikers midday Saturday.
In addition to his duties as track steward, Ryan said he was counting cars for the DEC for the first time this year. He said he had to count the cars parked on a small stretch between two traffic signs near Cascade, and on Saturday morning he said he counted 60 cars parked between the signs around 11 a.m.
Naomi Hodgson, a frontcountry steward and Jay resident who oversaw shuttle operations at Marcy Field over the weekend, also saw high numbers of hikers on Saturday afternoon. She said the Marcy lot briefly filled around noon for the first time since 2019. She said from the start time of the two shuttles at 7 a.m. it was constantly operational until at around 11 a.m.
Hodgson said that in 2019, the Keene shuttle to the Garden trailhead field had a total of 164 riders on Saturday of Columbus Day weekend. By Saturday afternoon, Hodgson had already seen 169 runners with several hours to go before the 7 p.m. stop time. This is despite ongoing travel restrictions at the land border between the United States and Canada.
Hodgson said the county’s new shuttle, which launched Aug. 21, has yet to see many passengers. Most people who took the shuttle didn’t know it beforehand, she said.
At the Roaring Brook parking lot, the county shuttle’s third stop, the parking lot remained full throughout the afternoon as Marcy’s parking lot dwindled. At one point, a few cars were illegally parked at the entrance to the Roaring Brook lot, and the young group of hikers who owned the cars debated their plans. When asked if they knew about shuttle stops, hikers said they didn’t know there was a shuttle to begin with.
However, the new parking reservation system at AMR is used. AMR spokesman Joshua Poupore said in an email Monday that the reservations system was full for Columbus Day weekend last Thursday, and when he arrived on the grounds at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, he saw only a few free places. In September, AMR reported that more than 15,000 hikers had registered with the system in 2021, just four months after the system launched.
More beginner hikers, more problems
Ryan and Rasmussen spent the weekend giving hikers information on Leave No Trace practices, including a demonstration with emoji toys on how to do a cathole correctly. Ryan is the program’s coordinator and he said that when they started five years ago, the trails in Cascade and Porter were littered with litter and excrement.
These educational efforts complement a recent study by the Adirondack Council, a local conservation organization, which shows overuse of the Cascade Trail. In a statement late last month, Adirondacks Council researcher and executive director Willie Janeway said the state plans to close the old trail and rebuild a more durable trail with a higher carrying capacity. .
Ryan said part of the overuse problem stems from an increase in novice hikers who don’t plan ahead.
Since the start of the pandemic, places like the Adirondack Mountain Club, which oversees the Adirondack Loj trailhead, have seen an influx of first-time hikers who haven’t spent much time outdoors, according to the assistant manager. of the club, Julia Goren.
When two hikers approached Rasmussen for information at the steward’s table, Ryan looked at them quickly and could tell they were new to hiking.
“I can tell by looking at their shoes how much they’ve walked,” said Ryan.
When Rasmussen asked the two hikers if they were heading to Cascade, one of them replied: “I’m not exactly sure yet.”
Some new hikers take longer and more difficult trails than expected. County shuttle driver Ken White said he saw a couple sitting on the railing near Rooster Comb and took them to the AMR field. Hodgson said they looked like they had been in the woods for days, and White said one of the hikers looked like they had walked through an eggbeater.
With a limited number of rangers stationed in the High Peaks region, a high number of calls for help at a time – whether from unprepared hikers or those who were – can strain resources. .
Both Hodgson and Ryan said they believe the AllTrails hiking app could be a source of misinformation for new hikers. Hodgson also said it seems like some new hikers want to have good eyesight without having to work their legs. A shuttle passenger simply asked her where they could take an Instagram photo on top of a mountain.