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DEC balances out governor’s invitation

June 15, 2017
Editorial , Lake Placid News

We obviously want our hometown to prosper and want to spread the word about how great it is, but we have to admit, we had mixed feelings when Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a press release on June 2 urging all New Yorkers to visit Lake Placid this summer.

He didn't give a general message about New York's many great vacation destinations, or do separate plugs for other tourism regions such as Niagara Falls, the Catskills, the Thousand Islands, the Finger Lakes or Long Island's beaches. He also didn't mention any other parts of the Adirondacks - just Lake Placid. Weird, huh?

"Hey, we'll take it," would be the reaction of a lot of local people. That's half of our reaction, too. We definitely appreciate that the governor sees this area as being worthy of special promotion.

But here's the other half, in two parts:

1. Lake Placid doesn't need the boost as much as many other places do. Its tourism engine is already churning, whereas other Adirondack towns struggle to get theirs going, yet are left with few other economic options. Over the last 20 years, at least, the state has bestowed a great deal of money and attention on the Lake Placid area - upgrading Whiteface Mountain and building a conference center, for example - and at the same time, the economic gap between Lake Placid and other Adirondack towns has widened dramatically. The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, which is rooted in Lake Placid, realized years ago that Lake Placid's core attraction is not its enduring sports legacy but the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park in which it lies. Why not just plug the Adirondacks as a whole, telling visitors they have a wide array of places to stay and play in an area bigger than all of Vermont?

2. The most popular parts of the backcountry are being loved to death. Visitors don't just choose Lake Placid because it has so much in the way of hotels, restaurants, shopping and events. They also love that it is nestled among the state's biggest mountains, offering probably the Adirondacks' most dramatic landscape. In summer, Adirondack visitors want to hike, but the more people who come to Lake Placid, the more who hike the same mountains nearby, such as Cascade, Marcy, Algonquin, Giant, etc. Those trails are getting pounded, human waste and garbage are accumulating in the woods, and there are more unprepared people in the wilderness, including more who need forest rangers to rescue them. Last year, it reached a point where everyone seems to agree it's a problem. Somehow, the people and officials of the Adirondackers need to spread visitors out more, to step up trail maintenance work and to increase staff at the state Department of Environmental Conservation so it can deal with the rescues, prepare for the crowds and educate people about outdoor ethics and best practices.

Thankfully, the DEC is on it, doing what it can with what it has. On the day the governor invited everyone to Lake Placid, the DEC announced it will put a five-person trail crew in the High Peaks this summer, the largest it's had in a long time. That's on top of the crews from the Adirondack Mountain Club and Student Conservation Association, which contract with DEC. It's needed.

Better yet, later that same weekend, the DEC went live with a new campaign on its homepage, suggesting alternate hikes around Lake Placid to steer people away from the busiest ones in the Route 73 corridor. Whereas Cuomo called Lake Placid a "gem" in his announcement, the DEC called its 13 hikes "hidden gems."

Meanwhile, the DEC finally got an old, big job out the door into the public eye last week - the unit management plan for the sprawling Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. DEC started the project 15 years ago, and while it's certain to prompt lot of comment and maybe controversy now that it's public, it's good to move forward and lighten the backlog.

The department is hopefully clearing its plate to deal with the High Peaks area, where heavy use demands relentless attention. One of the most popular Route 73 hikes, Owls Head is Keene, is now closed on weekends and will be permanently shut after this summer. The Memorial Day crowds were reportedly the last straw for the people who own the parking area and most of the trail. The DEC says it wants to cut a new trail entirely on state land, but that would require amending the High Peaks Wilderness UMP.

The state is also adding to the High Peaks Wilderness at the south, with land from the McIntyre tracts as well as Boreas Ponds - the latter linking it to the Dix Mountain Wilderness. That, plus the proposed "Gateway to the Adirondacks" at the old Frontier Town property in North Hudson, would probably increase traffic in the southern High Peaks, which might relieve pressure on the northern part but would require loads of planning and preparation.

With burgeoning crowds, new land and the continued importance of "Leave No Trace" principles, the DEC has a lot of work ahead in the Adirondacks, but it seems to be in a good place in terms of awareness and motivation.

We're sure various officials regularly ask the governor to plug Lake Placid. Now we hope DEC officials get his ear as well so the next time he invites people here, he asks them to follow practices that will help these mountains stay beautiful for generations to come.



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