DEC Announces 2022 Actions to Protect Public Safety and Promote Sustainable Use of State Lands

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DEC Announces 2022 Actions to Protect Public Safety and Promote Sustainable Use of State Lands

DEC and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Join Forces to Launch Second Year of 'Love Our New York Lands' Campaign to Encourage Responsible and Respectful Recreation

State and Local Partners Announce New and Continued Efforts to Bolster Visitor Safety and Minimize Impacts in Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today joined State and local community leaders to announce initiatives planned for the 2022 outdoor recreation season to protect public safety and promote sustainable recreation in the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve. Many of these actions, bolstered by $8 million from the State Environmental Protection Fund specifically for Adirondack and Catskill visitor safety and wilderness protection in the recently enacted 2022-23 State Budget, support a comprehensive strategy to improve safety, sustainability, and equitable access of those enjoying the outdoors during the upcoming warm weather months.

"The Adirondacks and Catskills draw visitors from near and far to appreciate their natural beauty and wild character, experience the outdoors, and contribute to local economies," Commissioner Seggos said. "New York State lands belong to everyone and in collaboration with our state and local partners, DEC is encouraging visitors to get outdoors safely and responsibly to protect themselves and others, as well as these irreplaceable natural resources. This year, DEC and our partners are getting out ahead of the 2022 hiking season to protect public safety, educate visitors on preparedness, and provide essential services that will protect visitors and New York's Forest Preserve now and into the future."

Visitation to State Forest Preserve lands is typically highest during the summer months. In partnership with State agencies, local municipalities, and private entities, DEC is working to protect public safety, improve the visitor experience during the busy season, and safeguard sensitive ecosystems. Using recommendations outlined by the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group (HPAG) and Catskills Strategic Planning Advisory Group (CAG), as well as input from local and community partners and outdoors enthusiasts, New York State continues to implement new strategies and adaptively manage the ongoing safety and resource needs of both Forest Preserve regions.

Protecting Public Safety

Pedestrian safety continues to be a significant concern, particularly in the Route 73 corridor of the Adirondack High Peaks and Route 23A in the Catskills. DEC worked closely with New York State Police, the State Department of Transportation, and local law enforcement to address pedestrian traffic, illegal parking, and roadside stopping. There is no parking allowed on the roadside in unsafe sections of Route 73 in the Adirondack High Peaks or on Route 23A in the vicinity of Kaaterskill Falls and several other Catskill destinations. Measures include:

  • In the Adirondacks, DEC is partnering with Essex County again this year to expand the pilot Route 73 weekend shuttle service to several popular High Peaks region hiking destinations. Last year's shuttles ran Friday through Monday, starting at Marcy Field in the town of Keene with service to the Rooster Comb, Giant Mountain, and Roaring Brook Falls trailheads at no cost to riders. Shuttle routes and schedules for the 2022 season will be announced soon. DEC will also continue to help fund the town of Keene's shuttle from Marcy Field. In the Catskills, a privately-operated for-fee shuttle is proposed to operate this season in the Route 23A corridor and may include stops for popular State lands.
  • The pilot parking reservation system for visitors to the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (AMR) returned on May 1. Following a successful inaugural summer in 2021, safety initiatives designed to mitigate risk to pedestrians and motorists along a busy stretch of Route 73 in the town of Keene will return this summer. The pilot parking reservation program requires visitors to make a no-cost parking reservation in advance of their visit to access trails and trailheads located on AMR lands. In 2021, the program served nearly 21,000 visitors. In addition to promoting visitor safety, reservations assist with trip planning by guaranteeing a parking spot. In the past, it was not uncommon for parking spots to fill before dawn. Reservations can be made by visiting AMR's website;
  • DEC is hiring 29 Assistant Forest Rangers to assist Forest Rangers and provide on-the-trail stewardship in areas of high use including six in the Catskills, with one assigned specifically to the Peekamoose area; 19 in the Adirondacks; and four in high use areas in DEC Regions 8 and 9;
  • DEC and DOT will deploy variable message boards as needed to help direct overflow traffic and indicate when popular parking areas are full or parking is limited;
  • DOT work is underway on a $8.3 million project to replace concrete barriers and portions of guiderail along three segments of State Route 73 in the towns of Keene and North Elba with new railing that will allow travelers to better enjoy the scenic views while maintaining safety;
  • DEC will share weekend parking and reservation status via @NYSDECAlerts on Twitter and Facebook. In addition, DOT's 511 traffic management system will note when certain parking locations on Route 73 have reached capacity and provide information about the AMR reservation system. Visitors are encouraged to check these resources before and during travel to make adjustments if parking availability changes. First come, first served parking lots at popular trailheads and roadside destinations in both the Adirondacks and Catskills often fill quickly and early, leaving some visitors to find alternate parking or new destinations entirely; and
  • Installing new "Your Speed Is" signs and delineators to restrict parking in two unofficial pull offs that have created parking safety issues in the past along Route 73. This will be in addition to ongoing parking enforcement by DEC, New York State Police, and local law enforcement in both the Adirondacks and Catskills.
  • Closing Molly Smith parking area on Route 23a in the town of Hunter to improve visitor safety. DEC recommends visitors access Kaaterskill Falls by parking at the Laurel House Road, Schutt Road, or South Lake parking areas.

New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said, "The Adirondacks and the Catskills are renowned for their majestic beauty, wildlife and countless recreational activities. As hiking season begins in earnest, New York State DOT continues to take steps to ensure that everyone can visit these gems of New York safely, by enhancing mobility on key routes, while complementing the natural beauty of these magnificent mountain ranges."

New York State Police Superintendent Kevin P. Bruen said, "With summer upon us, we encourage outdoor enthusiasts to take advantage of all the natural landscape that the Adirondacks and Catskills has to offer. While enjoying our State, we ask that all do so in a safe and considerate manner for themselves, others and to preserve the environmental character that makes New York distinct. I want to thank the DEC and our State and local partners for providing resources that will help protect citizens and our State lands."

Visitor Use Management

New York State continues to implement the recommendations from the HPAG and interim recommendations from CAG to encourage sustainable use in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. This year's enacted budget includes $600,000 in new funding from the State's Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) for DEC's Visitor Use Management framework that will serve as a tool to guide future management and stewardship decision-making for the Forest Preserve. DEC will release a request for proposals to support visitor use management efforts in June. In addition, DEC is enhancing its actions to improve the user experience and prevent trash and other human impacts on State lands, including:

  • Adirondack and Catskill Coordinators will continue to coordinate final and interim recommendations of HPAG and CAG and advance actions to address increased visitation in each preserve;
  • The collection of public comments on the AMR pilot reservation system is being launched soon as part of a contracted study conducted by Dr. Jill Weiss, Assistant Professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF). Comments will be collected digitally as well as in person at Hiker Information Stations and at ESF tabling events. The survey will be available on DEC's AMR conservation easement website in the next few weeks.
  • DEC will continue to require a permit for visitors to the Peekamoose Blue Hole and Peekamoose Valley Riparian Corridor along Roundout Creek in the Catskills from May 15 to Sept. 15. DEC will also have stewards at these locations to support enhanced public education efforts;
  • DEC is working to improve the Hudson River Recreation Area and Shelving Rock, including: designating parking and campsites; barricading unauthorized motor vehicle access points; improving signage; and contracting with the towns of Warrensburg, Lake Luzerne, and Fort Ann for routine maintenance, including increased trash pickups;
  • Six new primitive tent sites are planned in the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest adjacent to Gulf Brook Road; and
  • DEC is deploying portable toilets in high use areas of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks to help reduce waste in the environment. In areas where portable toilets are not available, visitors are encouraged to learn more about how to dispose of human waste outdoors to prevent negative impacts on the environment and public health.

"It is rewarding to see the results of our collective work to bring attention to the needs of the Catskill and Adirondack Forest Preserves," said Jeff Senterman, Executive Director of the Catskill Center. "By investing in efforts to protect natural resources, promote sustainable recreation, and ensure public safety, we are doing the necessary work to protect our Forest Preserve for generations to come. I am grateful to the Governor and the Legislature for making much needed investments in the Forest Preserve and to the DEC for putting that funding into much needed initiatives."

Julia Goren, ADK Deputy Executive Director, said, "ADK is excited work in partnership with the DEC this summer to support a strong set of public education and safety programs in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks. Our public-private partnership, which is bringing educational stewards to Cascade Welcome Center, will help visitors have a safe and responsible experience."

Visitor Education

Both the High Peaks and Catskills Advisory Groups identified increased visitor education as a critical component of sustainable visitor use management. Among the education and awareness efforts, including those listed above, DEC is implementing in 2022 are:

  • Continuing the 'Love Our New York Lands' campaign. Launched last year in response to the steady increase in the number of visitors to State Lands, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the decade prior, Love Our New York Lands includes helpful information for the thousands of New Yorkers and visitors from other states and countries eager to experience our public lands in a responsible way. This year, DEC is investing additional resources to boost the reach of these educational materials and enhance audience engagement on both social and traditional media. For details and more information, visit the Love Our New York Lands page on DEC's website. In addition, this year DEC is partnering with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to further amplify the Love Our New York Lands message and reach even more New Yorkers visiting the outdoors;
  • Expanding a Hiker Information Station program in the High Peaks region following successful education efforts in 2020 and 2021;
  • Stationing Education Assistants at key locations along major High Peaks transportation corridors on weekends from late May through October to provide information on hiker safety, preparedness, Leave No Trace™, parking availability, and alternate destinations. In addition to the program's flagship station at the High Peaks Rest Area on I-87, DEC plans to open a second anchor station at the Beekmantown rest area on I-87 southbound and host rotating pop-up stations at the Lake Placid Visitor's Bureau, Marcy Field in the town of Keene, Mount Van Hoevenberg Complex in North Elba, Frontier Town Gateway in North Hudson, and others to be announced; and
  • Continuing trail steward programs in the Catskills to assist in educating the public that visit several of the region's more frequently visited trails. The New York New Jersey Trail Conference will be working in the Catskill High Peaks (Windham-Blackhead Range Wilderness), Giant Ledge and Slide Mountain (Slide Mountain Wilderness); the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development will station trailhead stewards at Kaaterskill Falls, Peekamoose Blue Hole (Sundown Wild Forest), as well as a ridge runner; the Catskill Mountain Keeper will station stewards at Big Pond in the Delaware Wild Forest, Alder Lake in the Balsam Lake Wild Forest and Beaverkill Covered Bridge at the Beaverkill Campground and Day Use Area; The 3500 Club will have volunteer stewards stationed at the Slide Mountain trailhead; and the Student Conservation Association, working with DEC, will hire stewards to work in other areas of the region. There will also be fire tower stewards provided by the Catskill Center at Overlook and Hunter mountains on weekdays, complemented by other volunteers for weekends.

Office of Parks and Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, "New York State Parks and public lands are not only wonderful places for millions of people to explore and have fun, but they also shelter an incredible diversity of plants, animals and waters. We're pleased to join with DEC to encourage New Yorkers to take an active role to 'Love Our NY Lands' and help us strike the balance between offering much-needed places for recreation and taking care of our vulnerable natural wonders."

"The Adirondack Park Agency is very excited to build upon our shared successes as we continue to partner with stakeholders to advance sustainable use strategies inside the Adirondack Park which promote safe and responsible recreational use," said APA Chair John Ernst. "We thank Governor Hochul for her strong leadership. The prioritization of funding in this year's budget will expedite implementation of these important initiatives.

Sustainable Trail Development

To ensure New Yorkers and visitors can enjoy the beauty of the State's Forest Preserve for generations to come, DEC is doubling the size of the EPF-funded contract with Tahawus Trails to perform sustainable trail work in the Adirondacks and Catskills. These contractors and the State's ongoing trail building efforts will improve more public lands through trail maintenance and similar stewardship activities that encourage responsible use of the State's lands and waters.

DEC is undertaking a review of trail construction guidance and policies in light of the Court of Appeals decision and late last year formed a trail stewardship working group that is engaging stakeholders to develop draft policies which will ultimately be presented to the public through a full and transparent public comment process.

Last fall, a major sustainable trails project at Mt. Van Hoevenberg East was completed and looking towards this year, Tahawus Trails' Catskills-based projects will include improvement of tread and drainage on multi-use trails in Elm Ridge Wild Forest and continued enhancements at Kaaterskill Falls, and work on the Cascade/Mt. Van Hoevenberg trails and several new footbridges in the Independence River Wild Forest in the Adirondacks. This project is also funded through the Environmental Protection Fund.

Record EPF Investment

Many of these projects and other initiatives to bolster sustainable use are funded through the State Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). Among the many environmental victories in the enacted 2022-23 State Budget, Governor Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders increased the EPF to $400 million, the highest-ever level of funding in the program's history. The EPF supports climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, improves agricultural resources to promote sustainable agriculture, protects water sources, advances conservation efforts, and provides recreational opportunities for New Yorkers.