LAKE PLACID — About two dozen service industry workers participated in a Guest Information Summit and Leave No Trace Workshop on Sept. 11, at the Lake Placid Conference Center, hosted by the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The goal was to train people who have direct contact with visitors — specifically day hikers — to educate them on best practices for safely and responsibly using the Forest Preserve. The targeted audience for the training included hotel front desk staff, marketing personnel, and business owners and employees who are in contact with guests and are frequently asked to make hiking recommendations.
“We all have a responsibility to travelers who are coming to our region,” said Catherine Ericson, Lake Placid and Whiteface regional marketing manager at ROOST. “Many years ago when I first moved here from Nebraska, I got a job at one of the local motels at the front desk. I loved working with people, but it felt like I didn’t have the experience to answer one very important question that was asked to me every single day. And that was, ‘Where should I go to take a hike?’”
To help participants answer that question, and many others, they were each given a binder with helpful tips and resources.
Overuse of the High Peaks Wilderness Area — with problems ranging from human waste around the trails and unleashed dogs to parking congestion along highways and crowded summits — prompted ROOST and the DEC to hold this workshop.
“What we’re seeing is a significant impact on the resources,” said DEC Region 5 Public Participation Specialist Dave Winchell. “We’re seeing dangerous conditions along Route 73 with parking. And we’re seeing some people having a poor experience because of the impact on the trails and the number of people on summits.”
The popularity of hiking in the Adirondacks, especially the High Peaks, is creating problems in places such as Cascade Mountain, one of the 46 High Peaks people need to summit before they become an Adirondack 46er. It’s a popular hike because it’s the easiest and most accessible of the High Peaks to climb, with parking on state Route 73. It’s also popular, according to Winchell, because many workers in the service industry in Lake Placid send visitors to Cascade to hike.
“Don’t send people to Cascade Mountain,” Winchell said.
With recently approved amendments to the High Peaks Wilderness Area unit management plan, the DEC is currently in the process of changing access to Cascade Mountain. By Columbus Day next year, the current trail will be closed and a new trail — increasing the round-trip by 4 miles — will be opened with the trailhead at the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
During the Guest Information Summit, the DEC’s Erin Hanczyk and Eileen Mowrey began by going through a binder with tips on educating the public about using the Forest Preserve. The focus was on hiking, not camping. They spoke about hiker preparedness and alternative hikes before giving a brief workshop on the seven principles of Leave No Trace:
1. Plan ahead and prepare.
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
3. Dispose of waste properly.
4. Leave what you find.
5. Minimize campfire impacts.
6. Respect wildlife.
7. Be considerate of other visitors.
When talking about preparedness, Hanczyk and Mowrey said hikers should make sure they have the proper gear — particularly their clothing — for hikes in a variety of conditions. The weather on the summit will most likely be different than at the trailhead — windier and colder, mostly.
“It’s having extra layers, extra socks, the proper clothing, that’s going to make their trip more enjoyable,” Hanczyk said. “They’re going to see you as someone they continue to go back to for information, which is going to make them want to keep coming back here, and it’s going to keep them safe on the trails as well as their family.”
Lt. Chris Kostoss, a DEC forest ranger who supervises other forest rangers in Region 5, spoke about DEC regulations, and Winchell gave updates on some initiatives, including the trail work on Mount Van Hoevenberg and Cascade Mountain. One theme they tried to convey was safety. As traffic along High Peaks trails have increased, so have the number of searches and rescues.
“I’ve been lucky enough over the years,” Kostoss said. “I’ve experienced the extreme highs of rescues that went well, the big Algonquin one a few years ago. … I was there for that. … I’ve also experienced the extreme lows of people being ill prepared. I won’t give you the gory details, but we have a lot of tragedies that happen every year and it stems mainly from ill-prepared people taking on too much and not knowing when to turn around.”
ROOST’s Savannah Doviak also gave pointers on social media and best practices for posting from the backcountry.
ROOST and DEC officials said they see the Sept. 11 workshop in Lake Placid as a pilot program to hold similar training events in other regions around the Adirondack Park in the future.
Much of the information about safe hiking and alternative hikes can be found on the DEC’s website — www.dec.ny.gov — and at www.lakeplacid.com. For more information about the binder from the workshop, contact Catherine Ericson at (518) 523-2445.
Andy Flynn can be reached at [email protected]
For the Adirondack Daily Enterprise