In November of 2019 the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) convened a High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group (HPAG), to address the problems and challenges in the High Peaks, which see increasing use, parking contention at trail heads and along roadsides, poor and heavily eroded trails and pressure on fragile ecosystems, including the state’s highest summits. Under the auspices of the DEC, this group will work for the next several months to develop a planning and management framework for use of the High Peaks and Giant Wilderness areas and the Route 73 corridor that runs from the Adirondack Northway to Lake Placid. Adirondack Wilderness Advocates is one of only three environmental advocacy organizations named to the HPAG.
AWA has a strong perspective on this work. We are concerned that others are crying “overuse” and leading with solutions before the problems and challenges with visitor use are understood and measured. We believe science, data and planning need to come first, even as short term strategies are tried.
Consistent with that, AWA has called for the following as part of our participation on the HPAG:
- Use of a robust visitor management planning framework. We champion the Visitor Use Management Framework – VUMF – developed by the National Park Service and successfully used in the Northeast.
- Actively including experts. The HPAG is a good start on involving a broad spectrum of interests, but much more expertise is needed, including in wilderness ecology, trail design, public safety, transportation, biology, other sciences and more.
- Leading with education: AWA’s mission statement begins with knowledge, which is fundamental to addressing visitor use. The success of the Summit Steward program and the positive impact from trailhead stewards last season serve as excellent examples.
- Engaging in an open, public process. The HPAG must not work in secret, but rather share meeting information freely and solicit public input.
- Expanding remoteness and solitude. This is a core AWA value that we will continue pursue across the Park, including in the High Peaks.
The bottom line is that the High Peaks need to be better protected as Wilderness. AWA will actively work to support your interests in protecting a magnificent, wild place.
Link to the DEC web page and the meeting summaries
As we approach mid-February and four meetings in, the High Peaks Advisory Group (HPAG) is hard at work looking at short, mid and long range strategies and a planning framework for managing the High Peaks Wilderness. So far in our work on the group we have been impressed with the positive, good faith effort being made by all parties to address the myriad issues we face.
Real progress has been made on the specific interests for which AWA has been advocating. Among them:
- Employ the Visitor Use Management Framework (VUMF) as the planning framework for the High Peaks
A subgroup is evaluating the VUMF to recommend how it could be adopted for the group’s use. A decision on using the VUMF will probably be made at the next meeting.
- Actively include outside experts as needed
Outside expertise has been brought in on several issues. For example, we were able to bring in SUNY ESF Emeritus Professor Chad Dawson to consult on visitor information data gathering and surveying strategies. Another example is the evaluation and excellent draft report on recreational use in the Adirondack Park conducted by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Their draft findings have been released to the HPAG and are part of the discussion.
- Advocate for an open process with opportunities for public input
AWA voiced a strong interest in making sure the work of the HPAG was as open as possible and publicly available, including detailed summaries of every meeting and opportunities for public comment. The group agreed with this interest and the state has made meeting notes available and has a mechanism for public comment, here (http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/119187.html).
We expect the rest of February to produce a lot of progress towards AWA’s interests and will have another update soon.