To hike Baker for 6er challenge, start from Berkeley Green
SARANAC LAKE — To summit Baker Mountain as part of the village’s 6er hiking challenge, hikers will have to start at the 6er bell from now on.
The Saranac Lake Village Board has been working with residents near the Baker trailhead on Forest Hill Avenue to try to alleviate parking, traffic, trail erosion and safety issues on the residential road where the trail begins. On Monday, July 25, the board passed a resolution with several measures that aim to address the issues there and make Baker’s inclusion in the challenge work — including reducing the village’s promotion of the 6er challenge and changing the start point of the Baker hike.
If these changes do not have a “positive, lasting or adequate impact,” the resolution says the village will retire the entire 6er challenge on May 25, 2023 — exactly a decade from when it was introduced.
The village established the 6er program on May 25, 2013. The hiking challenge includes Baker, the shortest hike, along with St. Regis, Scarface, Ampersand, Haystack and McKenzie.
Trustees Matt Scollin and Kelly Brunette voted to approve the resolution, along with Mayor Jimmy Williams. Trustees Rich Shapiro and Tom Catillaz voted against it. The motion passed 3-2.
Shapiro felt the sections of this resolution to not promote or retire the 6er challenge altogether were “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
The approved resolution declares that starting from the Baker trailhead will no longer be considered a legitimate submitting of the mountain for the challenge. The hike must start and end at the 6er bell in the Berkeley Green gazebo.
This adds around a mile of road walking to the mile-long mountain trail, doubling the length of the route, but not adding much elevation gain.
The village agreed to remove the 6er mountain banners from its light pole banner program rotation, scrub mention of the 6er program from its tourism website saranaclake.com and to redirect the village-owned domain name saranaclake6er.com to its saranaclakeny.gov webpage, where there will be an online registration page for the challenge.
Trustee Kelly Brunette said the 6er page is the most frequented page on saranaclake.com, the village’s tourism website run by the Regional Office Of Sustainable Tourism. Shapiro said the village’s government website page on the 6er gets fewer hits than the AllTrails hiking website listing for Baker Mountain.
The village also agreed to dedicate future 6er revenue to the Saranac Lake Local Development Corporation to be used for trail stewardship, advocacy, education, maintenance and improvements.
Shapiro said he doesn’t believe it’s Baker’s inclusion in the 6er program that’s to blame for its high usage. He said it is a regional issue and felt Baker or the 6er shouldn’t be singled out.
To date, around 5,600 people have become registered 6ers in the hiking challenge. Shapiro said, assuming these are mostly in the summer months, that works out to only four people per day.
“Four people per day is not what’s driving the parking problem and the traffic problem you guys are seeing on Moody Pond,” Shapiro said. “It’s not the 6er program driving it. It’s the popularity of hiking all the peaks, all the trails, everywhere in the park. In the last 10 years, usage of all trails has gone up everywhere in the North Country, dramatically.”
Williams said he does not want to monetize a hike that is hurting residents.
“There’s 5,600 people who have climbed Baker because we challenged them to do it,” Williams said.
Shapiro asked if not promoting Baker or the 6er doesn’t work, why the village would then retire the program.
“If this doesn’t solve the problem for Baker, then it’s not the 6er program that’s creating the problem,” Shapiro said. “If this doesn’t solve it, then killing the program isn’t going to solve it.”
Williams said, even with these changes, residents on Forest Hill Avenue will still have problems with parking and traffic. But he does not want the village to be contributing to those issues.
“If that doesn’t fix the problem at Baker, how does retiring the other five mountains fix the problem at Baker?” Shapiro asked.
“Do you want to call it the 5er?” Williams said.
Brunette said this resolution is not the solution, but gives other groups time to find more solutions.
“This is taking some type of action which is long overdue,” Brunette said.
Several Forest Hill Avenue residents attended the July 25 meeting.
Jerry Bough, who lives on the North Elba side of the trailhead, said he believes the 6er program has brought more hikers to Baker.
“It’s progressively gotten worse and worse over the years,” Bough said.
The town of St. Armand has installed signs telling motorists where parking is allows and not allowed, but he said these are ignored.
“We need something done here,” Bough said. “They just park wherever they feel like it.”
The trailhead has existed at the Forest Hill Avenue location for 25 years.
Brendon Phelps said residents in the neighborhood brought the issue to the village before, but nothing was done.
He compared Baker to Cobble Hill in Lake Placid, which had a small trailhead parking lot provided by Northwood School. Last year, the Adirondack Land Trust, which cares for 79 acres of private land on and around Cobble Hill, said that parking lot was deemed off limits for hikers, and hikers were told to start their summit from anywhere in town.
Trevor Jackson, who lives on the North Elba side of the trailhead, said the use of the mountain exceeds the parking resources. He said Baker is an “awesome” but “over-marketed” asset.
“I don’t think that eliminating Baker from the 6er program or eliminating the 6er program is going to have a huge impact because it’s a popular hiking activity anyway,” Jackson said. “But I think it’s a good-faith effort on behalf of the village to try to solve the problem.”
“I get the brunt of it because my house is right there,” Bob Jaquish said.
He wondered if maybe he shouldn’t have built his home there, but said back when he did, it was a quiet and peaceful neighborhood. That’s changed, he said. He said motorists pull U-turns in the road all the time.
When Shapiro was saying he doesn’t believe the 6er is responsible for the increase in hikers at Baker, Jaquish shouted from the back of the room: “I beg your pardon, you don’t live there. You don’t see it every day. We see it every day.”
What’s the issue?
The Baker Mountain trailhead is actually in the town of St. Armand, just outside of the Saranac Lake village line.
Forest Hill Avenue runs through a point where the towns of North Elba and St. Armand and the village of Saranac Lake boundaries all meet. Though most of Forest Hill Avenue is in the village of Saranac Lake, the northern corner — a 0.2-mile stretch of road containing the Baker Mountain trailhead — is outside the village limits in St. Armand.
There’s no parking lot for the trail. There are a few spaces in the dirt next to the pond, but on busy days, cars are parked up and down the sides of the road. St. Armand town Supervisor Davina Winemiller pointed out on Monday that the road does not have a sidewalk or much of a shoulder.
Forest Hill Avenue is a narrow street with several blind curves. Hikers parking on both sides of the narrow Forest Hill Avenue, combined with the loop around Moody Pond being a popular place to walk and bike, make travel in the neighborhood dangerous, according to Winemiller. She said it’s been a “nightmare” for residents there.
Winemiller said residents on Forest Hill Avenue have asked her for help, so she was asking the village for help.
Last month, she asked the Saranac Lake board to consider swapping in Mount Pisgah for Baker in the challenge. The village is not currently moving forward with discussing this, as there were issues with Pisgah that have been brought up.
In 2021, the town formalized two volunteer parking enforcement officers to issue tickets and warnings to drivers of improperly parked vehicles there, enforcing a local law the town adopted a year earlier. Before that, Winemiller has been the one issuing tickets and warnings herself — going out and patrolling for improperly parked cars for 53 days straight.
The town issues $25 tickets for vehicles parked dangerously or where they shouldn’t be on the road.