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High Peaks hiker parking changes proposed

High Peaks hiker parking changes proposed

Public meeting set for May 23 in Albany
High Peaks hiker parking changes proposed
The Boreas Ponds tract in the Adirondacks is pictured.
Photographer: Adirondack Council

ADIRONDACKS -- Hiker parking at congested lots along state Route 73 from Keene to Lake Placid would be shifted elsewhere under changes being reviewed by state agencies.

Parking for the often-congested Cascade Mountain trailhead would be permanently shifted to the Mount VanHoevenberg ski center under proposals released this week, while parking would be expanded at the Chapel Pond/Giant Mountain trailheads.

Those are among ideas for dealing with overuse in the High Peaks Wilderness contained in a new plan being reviewed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency. The proposals were released for public comment this week, and a public comment meeting has been set for 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 23, at DEC headquarters in Albany.

"You haven't solved the problems of High Peaks overuse, but you've certainly tried to address them," APA Chairman Sherman Craig said following a staff presentation Thursday on the proposed management plans for the High Peaks and Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest.

The new unit management plans will incorporate the Boreas Ponds, MacIntyre property other new state properties into a single expanded High Peaks Wilderness -- the first update to the High Peaks management plan since 1999. Since then, the popularity of the High Peaks has grown enormously, due at least in part to social media posts and state tourism promotion, and in recent years the state has added thousands of acres of land to its holdings.

On Monday, the Adirondack Council released a parking survey to document overflowing parking lots, especially along Route 73 between the Northway and Lake Placid. It found that trailheads sometimes have two or three times the number of vehicles their parking lots were designed for. That means there are dozens of vehicles parked on road shoulders around popular trailheads.

One of the plan's proposals is to move the Cascade Mountain parking to the Mount VanHoevenberg complex, where there's a much larger off-road parking lot built for the 1980 Olympics, and where a welcome center and other new facilities are being planned. The change will add 3.8 miles to an eight-mile round trip Cascade climb.

DEC diverted visitors to the Mt. Van Hoevenberg complex during last fall's busy Columbus Day weekend. Trails to Cascade and Porter would be re-routed to accommodate the change, and a new trail would be built from there to Mount Marcy, the state's highest peak. That could reduce use pressure on the Adirondack Loj, where most hikes to Marcy now begin.

"We've learned that Cascade is a really tough management area," APA Commissioner Art Lussi said. "We've added parking areas to the point where it is just not the best experience for hikers, or for people who are coming into the Adirondack Park and seeing this vast mass of cars."

The plan also proposes building a larger parking lot at Ampersand Mountain near Saranac Lake, where there's parking for 10 vehicles, but the study, done last fall, documented an average of 64 vehicles.

Also in the High Peaks, the plan proposes making bear-proof canisters mandatory for backcountry camping food storage throughout the wilderness, instead of only in certain areas. "This makes it easier for the public but more importantly it protects the wildlife resource from the kinds of interactions that lead to dealing with problem bears," said Tate Connor, a DEC forester who worked on the plan.

The proposals in the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest include development of new trails and primitive roadside campsites in the southern part of the 20,000-acre Boreas Ponds tract. At Boreas Ponds, five or six primitive campsites would be built, probably regulated through a permit system.

DEC and the APA are holding simultaneous public comment periods hoping that the plans can be adopted and work on some of the changes can start later this year. The agencies play different roles, though, with DEC approving the unit management plans, and the APA determining if they comply with the greater state land use management plan.

In addition to the May 23 daytime meeting in Albany, there will be a meeting that evening in Essex County at 6 p.m. in the Newcomb Central School gym. The public comment deadline is June 27. Written comments on either the High Peaks or VanderWhacker plans may be emailed to r5.ump@dec.ny.gov.

The Adirondack Council said it was disappointed that the comment period was only 45 days. It has called for separate 90-day comment periods on the High Peaks and VanderWhacker plan amendments. The council has called for state action to address overuse in the High Peaks.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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