Summit stewards report busy spring, slow summer

Adirondack Mountain Club Summit Steward Kayla White speaks to a group of hikers at the summit of Algonquin Peak in the High Peaks Wilderness Area in 2018. (Provided photo — Seth Jones, Adirondack Mountain Club)

LAKE PLACID — In its mid-season report, the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program reported a busier-than-average spring followed by a drop in visitor contacts to start the summer hiking season.

On the four peaks with the most coverage by stewards — Marcy, Algonquin, Wright and Cascade — summit stewards spoke to an average of 109 hikers per day in May, which is the highest May average for the program in five years. June, by contrast, dropped to an average of 63 hikers per day.

“While our June contacts are consistent with recent data, this past May was the busiest since 2018. Weather is likely a major factor here, as the spring was unusually warm and dry,” Liam Ebner, summit steward coordinator, said in a news release. “Overall, though, our contacts are still below the peak high use figures that we experienced in the mid-2010s.”

As the Summit Stewardship Program continues to welcome and educate hikers, analysis of its most recent round of “photopoints” is ongoing. Using photos taken of the same 59 locations at roughly five-year intervals, summit stewards create visual timelines that they then use to measure the recovery of Alpine vegetation. In 2021 and 2022, stewards took a new round of photos and expanded the program, which included adding 132 new photopoints and increasing the number of represented summits from nine to 16. Results are expected this winter and will provide insights into the well-being of New York’s Alpine ecosystem.

“The last photopoint survey took place in 2015 and showed no statistical decline in Alpine vegetation on summits with a stewarding presence,” said Kayla White, stewardship manager. “However, in the years following we experienced an even bigger spike in visitor use, so we look forward to analyzing this new data set to determine if and how this impacted Alpine vegetation.”

The Summit Stewardship Program’s mid-season report is available online. The final season report, which provides a more comprehensive analysis of hiker contacts and trends, will be released in November.

Founded in 1989, the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program is a partnership between the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and the state Department of Environmental Conservation

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