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Use buses to get hikers where they want to go

October 18, 2019
Editorial , Lake Placid News

The Columbus Day/Canadian Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest weekends of the year for hiking in the Adirondacks, and the increased popularity of this activity in the High Peaks was certainly apparent as we drove along state Route 73, which was lined with parked cars around popular trailheads.

There are nowhere near enough parking spaces at the most popular trailheads, and the state's biggest solution so far - a roadside parking ban for 4 miles of Route 73 in the town of Keene, where many of the busiest trailheads are - has routinely been ignored, evaded and raged against. Parking tickets haven't had an obvious deterrent effect, and cars have been towed to keep them from blocking corridors for emergency vehicles.

With the heaviest hiker traffic behind us this year, it's time to start planning for next year.

Environmental groups want the state to start a permit system for parking, and possibly even for hiking in the High Peaks Wilderness. That is bound to be controversial and complicated.

Some Keene residents want the state to build more parking areas near the busiest trailheads, but it's not easy for the state to cut down trees and convert land for parking.

Shuttle buses, however, could be implemented quickly and less expensively than most options. Essex County worked with other agencies to start a hiker bus run to Wilmington, but it hasn't seen much ridership. That's because it's not going where most hikers want to go. For the most part, the growth in hiking comes from people who want to hike all 46 High Peaks or see spots others have posted on social media. Most of the hikers whose cars are clogging the trailheads decided where they wanted to go before they came here.

A park-and-ride system could be established on summer and fall weekends along Route 73 from Lake Placid through the town of Keene. Essex County and state agencies could work with the town, which wants to expand its existing shuttle bus run but needs support from bigger agencies.

There are challenges, of course. Weekend busing would have to start early and end late, so as not to strand hikers, and run at frequent intervals in between. Roadside spots would have to be established for buses to pull off to load and unload passengers. But we think those obstacles are much more surmountable than those of a permit system, new parking lots or other proposed solutions.

Another great thing about buses is that a video could be shown to the captive audience of riders, teaching them about proper backcountry ethics and practices to help them protect themselves and the natural environment.

People understand shuttle buses - permits, not so much. We think most hikers would get on board if we give them a better, safer, more environmentally friendly way to get where they want to go. It could change the culture of Adirondack hiking, for the better.

This isn't just about Route 73. Other trailheads are overcrowded, such as those to McKenzie and Ampersand mountains. The popularity of local hiking challenges such as the Saranac Lake 6er and Tupper Triad is exploding, too, and we believe there is a lot more growth to come. If we figure out what works for hiking shuttle buses on Route 73, that model can be extended to other places relatively easily.

 
 
 

 

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