The Adirondack Council on Monday renewed calls for funding to improve degrading trails in the popular Adirondack High Peaks.
The council for years has been highlighting the need to invest in trail maintenance and construction throughout the High Peaks region and to rebuild trails using modern trail-building methods that minimize erosion and other forms of trail degradation.
A recent Adirondack Council analysis of the trails on St. Regis and Ampersand Mountains, published on the Adirondack Almanack website this weekend, concluded that many of the region’s trails are “too steep to be sustainable” and would benefit from rerouting in the face of increased use in recent years. The Adirondack Council, a prominent Adirondack advocacy group that lobbies state lawmakers, proposed using money raised by an environmental bond act that will go up for voter approval next year to fund new trail maintenance and construction.
“New York must make new investments in managing the Adirondack Park like the world-class national treasure it has become,” Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway said in a statement. “Overuse and overcrowding have harmed the park’s most popular locations. We must revive and restore these trails and summits to better protect the natural wonders we all revere.”
Many Adirondack trails were established throughout the last century, before sustainable trail design practices were developed, and essentially run straight up the slope of a mountain. As trail use has increased in recent decades, many of those trails have suffered major erosion as the poor design leaves them susceptible to washouts and unwanted widening; many trails have eroded down to exposed roots and rocks. Trails in many places perpetuate their own erosion, serving as a funnel for water flowing down the mountains after severe storms.
“Trails in the Adirondacks were not built with a sustainable design in mind, nor to withstand current levels of use,” Charlotte Staats, a conservation associate with the Adirondack Council, wrote in the report. “As a result, Adirondack trails are suffering from trail degradation that impacts natural resources, human safety and the wilderness experience.”
The study focuses in on the trail slope at which erosion appears most severe, concluding that trails that exceed a slope of 8% suffer from the worst erosion. The council’s study of the trails found that “most sections of trail that have a slope greater than 8 percent show signs of erosion” and that the steeper the trail, the more it showed signs of erosion.
In 2019, a separate Adirondack Council analysis found that 167 miles of trails in the High Peaks exceeded 8% slope and that as many as 130 miles of trails in the High Peaks “suffer major resource damage from poor trail design, lack of maintenance and overuse.”
The council and other trail advocates have pushed for trails to be reconstructed or rerouted using modern sustainable trail design standards. Improved trail sections at the popular Cascade Mountain and Mt. Van Hoevenberg trails have showcased some of the sustainable trail design practices the council and others seek. Rather than climbing directly up a mountain’s slope, the new trail sections traverse across the slope at a gradual incline; the trails also slope away from the mountain, allowing water to run off of rather than down a trail. Steeper sections of trail are reinforced with boulders and other natural stone, including large sections of stone stairs.
“The hiking trails that draw so many to the region deserve and require comprehensive, science-based monitoring and management in order to preserve natural resources, safe access, and the wilderness experience for generations to come,” Staats wrote.