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New DEC initiative aims to reduce need for search and rescues

New DEC initiative aims to reduce need for search and rescues

The National Park Service's successful Preventative Search and Rescue Program was used as a model
New DEC initiative aims to reduce need for search and rescues
New York state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos is shown in this file photo from May 22, 2017.
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation is launching a preventative initiative to reduce the number of search and rescue (SAR) incidents in the Adirondacks.

Announced through a press release issued Saturday, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos outlined the effort that the state organization and its partners, stewards and educators from the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) and members of the Adirondack 46ers’, will make to ensure the public has an enjoyable and safe outdoor experience.

The project, according to the press release, will increase engagement between hikers and experienced backcountry users and is part of DEC's multi-year, comprehensive effort to promote sustainable tourism while also addressing public safety in the Adirondack region.

"New Yorkers are discovering the incredible treasure that is the Adirondacks, and outreach and education are the most effective means to protect the natural resources of the area and ensure the safety of backcountry users,” said Seggos in a prepared statement. “Hikers who properly prepare and plan before going out on the trails are less likely to get lost or injured. Hikers who are knowledgeable about proper backcountry practices have significantly less impact on the natural resources, infrastructure, and other users. This effort will increase face-to-face interactions with hikers—the most effective means of educating visitors to the backcountry.”

DEC Forest Rangers and volunteer trailhead stewards will promote proper planning and preparation through direct conversations with hikers at trailheads and on the trails.

The initiative, which builds on DEC’s efforts to work with the communities and recreating public to address issues associated with the popularity of the Adirondack region, will start in the High Peaks Wilderness on Saturday, Feb.16. 

DEC Forest Rangers, ADK Summit Stewards, and volunteers from Keene and the Keene Backcountry Rescue organization will interact with hikers to ensure they are properly dressed, equipped, and prepared for the conditions they are likely to face on their hikes.

“We are excited to continue our partnership with DEC and the 46ers to promote responsible recreation,” said ADK Executive Director Neil Woodworth in a prepared statement. “Planning ahead and preparing for your adventure is the most important principle of 'Leave No Trace.' These outdoor skills and ethics protect recreationists and our valuable natural resources. Our cumulative voice in sharing this message is a powerful way to protect our public lands.”

Hikers can expect to see forest rangers, stewards, and volunteers at the ADK’s High Peaks Information Center, at trailheads, and on the trails of popular hiking routes in the High Peaks. The DEC encourages hikers to stop and speak with the staff they encounter, ask questions, and listen to what these backwoods experts have to say so that everyone’s experience is safer and more enjoyable.

Due to the rising popularity of the Adirondacks, DEC Forest Rangers have seen an increase in backcountry search and rescue incidents requiring response. This is especially true in the High Peaks Wilderness, where the most recent four-year average rose to 97 search and rescue incidents per year.

During the previous four years, forest rangers responded to an average of 65 incidents per year. Many of these incidents are the result of hikers being improperly prepared.

DEC representatives could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

DEC's initiative is based on the successful Preventative Search and Rescue program developed by the National Park Service.

That program has decreased the number of search and rescue incidents on popular backcountry routes in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks. Face-to-face education is a vital component of the program.

DEC reminds hikers recreating this winter to not only plan ahead and be prepared for the elements, but also know their skill level and physical capabilities and to choose trails within their own or their group's ability. 

The DEC also recommends that hikers inform someone of their travel plans, including their planned route. It is also recommended that hikers wear base layers of moisture-wicking fabric to keep skin dry and insulating layers such as wool or fleece, waterproof or water-resistant outer layers, thick socks, a winter hat, gloves or mittens, gaiters, and waterproof, insulated boots, snowshoes and skis. 

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