COLONIE — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has weighed in on the mounting overuse concerns leaving Adirondack High Peaks communities reeling.
“It’s a legitimate issue, we have to work on it,” Cuomo said. “It’s not black and white. We want tourism, we want people to enjoy it. We want the economic development, but we want to make sure we’re not spoiling the asset, and that’s the balance we have to reach, and there are legitimate concerns.”
Tourism is skyrocketing in the Adirondacks, fulfilling long-standing state goals fueled by events like the Adirondack Challenge paired with high-octane advertising campaigns — including plastering subway cars with mountain landscapes and Adirondack-themed lotto tickets.
But the promotional boost paired with today’s Instagram-dominated culture has saturated the High Peaks, causing everything from traffic concerns to search-and-rescue operations for unprepared hikers.
“The bad news is the tourism increase is actually creating issues,” Cuomo said during a briefing with reporters about improvements to the Northway-Albany Airport Connector on Wednesday. “Parking issues, traffic issues and there’s a real question of what’s the maximum use of the resources without damaging the resources. And it is a very real issue and a real concern for us.”
Officials and environmental groups have also decried stressed infrastructure, eroded trails, damaged plants and an uptick in trash and human waste.
The governor is an admitted fan of the Adirondacks, and once spoke wistfully about an eagle swooping down in a “beautiful graceful glide” and dropping a single feather into his canoe while in Saranac Lake.
Cuomo said he’s spoken with state Department of Environmental Conservation about the mounting concerns by local officials and environmental groups.
The state agency met with stakeholders in July to discuss all these strategies for managing overuse, but have not yet announced the next steps.
DEC has already launched several initiatives to address the uptick in visitation, including banning parking along the highly-trafficked Route 73 corridor, steering hikers to less-trafficked areas of the Adirondack Park through electronic signage and kiosks and launching a shuttle system.
The agency has also initiated a transit study.
“Through Gov. Cuomo’s leadership, DEC is undertaking a comprehensive effort to promote sustainable tourism in the Adirondack Park by working with all partners to advance solutions and projects that both improve user experiences and minimize impacts to the Park,” said a spokesperson. “Degradation of natural resources, increased rescues and roadside safety are just a few of the issues associated with the increase in visitors to the High Peaks and other areas in the state that DEC is working to address.”
The spokesperson said the agency welcomes “constructive feedback from interested stakeholders as we adaptively manage our efforts to address increased visitation to the amazing outdoor recreation opportunities in the High Peaks region.”
Local officials and environmental groups have floated numerous solutions, including a High Peaks permit system and usage fees, but have not reached consensus on the best way to move forward.