About 130 miles of popular hiking trails in the Adirondack High Peaks are in serious need of repair or redesign, according to a study released Monday by the Adirondack Council.
The trails analysis comes as Adirondack environmental groups call for permitting systems to limit trail and parking lot use in the High Peaks – an effort to mitigate further trail degradation. Reports and studies from the groups, along with information from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, indicate trail usage in the High Peaks has soared in recent years, as the popularity of hiking challenges, tourism promotion and social media have fueled interest in Adirondack hiking.
“These trails need much more than maintenance — not for user convenience, but to correct and prevent further damage to the park’s forests, pure waters, wildlife and wild character,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway, in a written statement released with the study.
The trails highlighted in the Adirondack Council analysis, which the organization promised will be followed by a more comprehensive study, include major parts of the trail network that connects dozens of High Peak summits. Trails that include parts of every approach to Mt. Marcy, the state’s highest mountain, are identified as in major need of repair and redesign.
The Adirondack Council listed major parts of the trails in the multi-summit Dix Mountain range, a herd path to Allen Mountain, the route up Cascade Mountain and over to Porter Mountain, both routes leading from State Route 73 up Giant Mountain and many more on the high-needs trail report.
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said the organization, in recent years, has urged DEC to take up a comprehensive accounting of trail conditions but decided to do its own study after state officials failed to act.
“We are hearing over and over and over again from the public that we needed to take a comprehensive look at the entire [High Peaks] wilderness area and try to heal the places that were being over-loved and harmed by that overuse,” Sheehan said on Monday.
Many of the trails in the High Peaks, the analysis noted, were never designed to support the level of use they now see. Old ski trails, routes used by surveyors and other herd paths, over time, have been converted into a large trail network. In some parts of the High Peaks, steep trails devoid of switchbacks erode gradually with each hiking season, while other routes have been nearly abandoned by hikers aware of their condition.
Current trail work to keep up with erosion, as well as unauthorized re-routing, flooding and other problems, is done by a variety of nonprofits that partner with DEC. But the Adirondack Council argued more state resources are needed for the effort, and that trail work should be pursued under a more comprehensive strategy.
“We think the outside organizations have played an important role in providing expertise and labor, but we also see the need for additional state staff and believe we should be doing more of both,” Sheehan said. “The biggest effort is trying to bolster the state workforce, so it will be equipped to handle the challenges the High Peaks are facing right now.”