ADIRONDACKS -- The state is enacting measures to discourage people from hiking on the most popular trails off state Route 73 in the High Peaks region.
Starting this week, with big Fourth of July holiday crowds expected, the state will actively promote other hiking destinations to visitors and, by the end of July, will start cracking down on the widespread roadside parking around popular trailheads like those for Cascade and Giant mountains.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced the measures Monday.
"Today's announcement builds on our ongoing work to protect the public, conserve the resource and spread the economic benefits of outdoor recreation tourism throughout the Adirondack Park," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said.
Popular destinations that are close to highways are attracting what state officials say is an unprecedented number of visitors. It has gotten to the point where some environmental organizations called for a permit system to manage their numbers. The numbers, and poor preparedness by some hikers, have contributed to a growing number of forest ranger search-and-rescue operations.
DEC said it gathered ideas from four focus groups that met over the winter to discuss overuse of trails between Northway Exit 30 and Lake Placid, which combine easy road access with spectacular views.
Among the measures going into effect will be painting of parking lots to establish parking spaces, adding additional portable bathrooms and installing kiosks and electronic messaging signs at five locations that will direct people to nearby underutilized trails. All of those measures were complete or will be completed this week, said DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino.
By the end of July, state police will begin enforcing roadside parking rules when necessary to improve the sight lines for drivers.
"The New York state police will be working together with the Department of Environmental Conservation on the overuse issues on the Route 73 corridor," said state police Troop B Commander Major John Tibbitts. "Troopers will be patrolling the area to ensure motorists are obeying the parking restrictions. Those who are not in compliance may be ticketed, or their vehicles may be towed."
The locations where alternative destinations will be promoted include the King Phillips Spring pull-over next to Exit 30; Marcy Field in Keene; the Mt. VanHoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex; the northbound High Peaks rest area on the Northway; and the Lake Placid visitor information center.
DEC will also launch a social media campaign to promote Adirondack destinations outside the High Peaks and to help visitors plan safe and responsible day trips.
With the Adirondack Park Agency and DEC in the process of reviewing a new draft management plan for the High Peaks area, further measures are likely once that plan is approved. Among them:
-- Pemanent relocation of the trailhead for Cascade and Porter mountains to the Mt. VanHoevenberg complex.
-- Construction of a new sustainably designed trail up Mt. VanHoevenberg, to be open by Columbus Day weekend.
-- Initiation of a traffic study to look for traffic patterns in the area.
-- The addition of new campground ambassadors and expanding the number of trailhead stewards to help people properly plan their visits.
"This series of steps reflects the immediate concerns for health and safety of our residents and visitors while protecting the natural resources of the High Peaks," said Sherman Craig, chairman of the Adirondack Park Agency. "These are important but first steps toward resolving the overuse issue."
The APA board is due to review, and could approve, the unit management plans at its July 12-13 meeting in Ray Brook, though the final decision on whether to approve them is up to Seggos.