The Adirondack Park is known for its vast wilderness and forests that are filled with rivers, lakes, and mountain summits for people and wildlife to explore. Scattered throughout the park, there are about 130,000 permanent residents and 200,000 seasonal residents. Additionally, the park has about 12.4 million annual visitors generating about one billion dollars a year. The amount of visitors has been increasing in recent years, and according to High Peak Wilderness’ research, visitor numbers have surged to 250% beyond capacity. Overuse occurs when an area cannot sustain the amount of use it experiences leading to negative impacts on the park and its resources.
This year, due to COVID-19, there has been a huge surge in the amount of people at the Adirondack Park. Canadians, who account for about 30% of the usual visitors, were unable to visit the park this year because the border was closed. However, the numbers of visitors to the park have continued to increase. This could be attributed to increased funding for tourism campaigns and people wanting to spend more time outdoors, especially during a pandemic, but can also lead to inexperienced hikers and too many hikers which can be dangerous.
Hiking is the most popular activity the Adirondack Park offers. The six million acre park includes over two thousand miles of trails. The most popular places to hike are concentrated in regions like Old Forge, Lake George, Lake Placid, and Keene communities. The trails in these areas have seen the consequences of overuse through soil loss, erosion, loss of vegetation, and negative impacts on wildlife. With more visitors, the park needs more resources and staffing to be able to protect the wildlife. Overcrowding also increases the amount of contact hikers have with each other which can destroy the feelings of solitude and freedom most search for in the Adirondack Park.
Traffic has also become a major issue with the increase in visitors. Parking lots are filling up faster, increasing the amount of cars parked along the roads. Parking lots outside of Lake Placid can fit up to 200 cars and typically fill up completely early on summer weekends. Now, parking lots are full by the morning most days in the summer.
To combat overuse, the park needs more planning, expanded outreach and education, front-country and back-country infrastructure, limits to use and more funding. In January 2020, Governor Andrew Coumo agreed to develop “a framework to balance public use needs, working in collaboration with the State’s newly formed Adirondack High Peaks Strategic Advisory Group”. The Adirondack High Peaks Strategic Advisory Group consists of 22 members chosen by the state to meet behind closed doors to find a short and long term solution to the issue of overuse and overcrowding in the Adirondack Park. Cuomo believes that there is a way to protect the park and solve the overuse issue while continuing to develop economically. In June, the High Peaks Strategic Advisory Group issued an interim report that is said to be pursued by the state.
NYLCV is working with our partners in the Adirondacks to address overuse so that generations to come can enjoy New York’s wilderness.