It turns out the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Adirondack Park Agency are discussing potential ways of managing them.
“A running event with 90 people in it — to the person who happens to be camping or hiking — that doesn’t look like a real routine type of circumstance,” APA Commissioner Richard Booth said. “So I think we need to think about that.”
Booth didn’t name a specific event, but in the past at least one environmental group has expressed concern with the Great Adirondack Trail Run that takes place every June with part of the course in the Giant Mountain Wilderness Area. I would assume this is the running event Booth is talking about. The other trail run I’m aware of is the 32.6-mile Wakely Dam Ultra that takes place on the Northville-Placid Trail between Piseco Lake and Wakely Dam.
Booth’s comment was a quick one and he didn’t elaborate on the issue, so I’m not going to jump to conclusions regarding what he may or may not think. That wouldn’t be fair without interviewing him first.
What I will say is that as an outdoors writer who covers many similar events — and I admit I’ve never actually gotten to the Great Adirondack Trail Run due to scheduling conflicts — is that they play an important role in the Park.
First of all, the Great Adirondack Trail Run raises money for both the Boquette and AuSable River Associations, two stewardship organizations that do things such as fight invasive species and educate the public on environmental problems that plague the rivers.
Beyond that, in general, what I’ve found is that events conducted by outfitters often serve as a gateway for many future Park users who lack the confidence or skill to go into the wilderness on their own. For some participants, the event allows them to have what they consider a wilderness experience. Events often serve as a safety net for participants and are more family friendly than competitive. Participants meet people with similar interests and find themselves returning on their own to go hiking, camping or trail running in the future.
Outfitters play a key role in educating backcountry users in the Park. And that role will be ever increasing and important in the future with the APA closing its Visitor Interpretative Centers and the DEC’s dwindling resources that have forced them to make cuts to programs like the assistant forest ranger program.
The events also usually provide a big economic boost for the weekend that they occur. Before and after the event, participants fill restaurants and hotels, spend money in stores and buy gas, contributing to the local economy.
As for their impact on natural resources when the event takes place, there’s no denying that the 90-Miler, Black Fly Challenge mountain bike race and Great Adirondack Trail Run send a lot of people through an area when they take place. At the same time, anyone who has ever visited places such the Mount Marcy, the Bog River or Cascade Mountain knows that this can occur in the backcountry without an event taking place.
On a warm August weekend, a couple hundred people may climb Mount Marcy. You’ll be hard-pressed to have a solitary experience on top of that mountain. Drive by Cascade Mountain in the summer and you’ll see the packed parking lot at the trailhead. As for the Bog River, you may have a hard time finding any solitude on the river on a warm summer day.
I think it’s also important to point out that many outfitters and event organizers also know that July and August are high traffic times in the backcountry, so they often don’t schedule events during those seasons. Instead, many are scheduled for the shoulder seasons. The Black Fly Challenge and Great Adirondack Trail run take place in June before the rush that starts Fourth of July weekend.
After some thought, I wonder if it’s fair to point fingers at a half-day event like the Great Adirondack Trail Run for interfering with someone’s wilderness experience, especially when there’s comparable activity on any given day during the peak seasons in places like the High Peaks Wilderness.
Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
More than a dozen hikers sit atop Mount Marcy.