Foss: More people, more problems in the Adirondacks

The summit of Cascade Mountain in the Adirondack High Peaks.
The summit of Cascade Mountain in the Adirondack High Peaks.

I’ve always viewed the tourism boom in Adirondack Park as something of a mixed bag. 

I go to the woods for peace and quiet, not the hustle and bustle of the mall. 

So when I read that nearly 600 hiking groups signed in to Cascade Mountain over Labor Day weekend, I was glad I stayed away. Who needs all that noise and crowding? 

Of course, I’m a bit of a crank, and I can concede that the Adirondacks’ surge in popularity is, on the whole, a good thing. 

It’s good that more people are experiencing one of New York’s great natural attractions. It’s good that more people are spending money in a part of the state that’s lost population and jobs. It’s good that more people are hiking, boating and riding bicycles in an area that’s so rich with beauty. 

But with growth comes growing pains. 

A new report makes it very clear that the park’s increasing popularity has downsides — something the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been reluctant to address or acknowledge in any meaningful way. 

Titled “Challenged by Success,” the report depicts the Adirondack Park as “globally unique” but “threatened. 

“The success the Adirondacks enjoy is now one of our biggest challenges,” states the report, released last week by the Adirondack Council, an advocacy group. “The Park looks like a success. The maps show lands as protected. Government says it supports protecting clean water, air and wildlands. Everyone says they support the Park.” 

Unfortunately, “The science shows otherwise. The Adirondack Park is so popular that overuse is harming wilderness and communities.” 

These harms include dirtier air, untreated sewage and excess road salt polluting local waters and new development on lands mapped as protected. 

You don’t have to be a crank to see that more people equals more problems — and that ignoring these problems will be costly in the long run. 

What makes the Adirondack Park special is its unspoiled, rugged wilderness. People visit expecting a pristine outdoor experience. 

If the quality of that experience is diminished due to overuse and a failure to ensure the protection of sensitive ecological areas, people will look for other places to spend their tourism dollars. 

The report suggests that all these issues can be addressed, but only if the state steps up to the plate. 

It knocks the state Department of Environmental Conservation for not having a comprehensive plan to address overuse, noting that the DEC “has taken small steps with improved wildlands monitoring plans, primitive tent site management guidance, parking lots, parking restrictions and small sections of new trail. But leadership, more discussion, planning, engineering, construction, maintenance, staff and funding are needed.” 

The report also takes DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos to task for saying that the state doesn’t need any more forest rangers. 

“But after a decade, the Governor’s zero-growth policy for state agency staff is harming the DEC’s ability to complete its mission, the success of the Adirondacks, and sustainable tourism,” the report states.

This has been obvious for some time, and the state’s willingness to lavish oodles of money on expensive projects such as the new $16.2 million Adirondack welcome center near Northway Exit 18, while refusing to add more forest rangers, remains an enduring mystery.  

It’s easy to mock the price tag for the new welcome center, but you don’t make that kind of investment unless you expect tourists to flock to the Adirondacks for years to come. 

And they will — but only if the state takes steps to address the overuses that threaten the park. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: News, Opinion

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