The Adirondack Park is one of the most popular parks in New York, ahead of even Niagara Falls and Jones Beach.
However, many of the High Peak Trails have been extremely overused, making them not only too steep to be sustainable, but also causing harm to the ecosystem surrounding the trails, according to a recent Adirondack Council report.
Out of the Adirondack’s 46 High Peaks, Cascade is the 36th highest, drawing both tourists and beginners, making it a popular and heavily used trail.
Charlotte Staats, a conservation associate with the Adirondack Council, says Cascade is a perfect example of a trail that has become too steep to be sustainable.
“Adirondack hiking trails were built before a thing called sustainable trail design was a concept,” Staats explained. “Classic Adirondack hiking trails, like with this mountain, you'll see it's hard to go straight up the mountain, and it's usually very steep. A sustainable trail usually goes and cuts across the mountain.”
Cascade sees an estimated 35,000 hikers every year.
“On a Saturday in the summer, we'll see up to 300-plus people a day,” Staats said.
This heavily populated trail has now exceeded the capacity this trail was meant to hold, causing some hikers to avoid the steep climb and walk around it, creating an even wider path.
“The tread, which is like the walking surface of the trail, was probably around like two feet wide,” Staats said pointing up the mountain. “That's sort of the standard. But over time, as more and more people hike over it and as water runs down the trail, soil erodes away and exposes all of these roots and rocks, which creates an uneven walking surface.”
How do you go about fixing a problem like that?
“You can reroute the trail, which means that you select a new spot for the trail to go around,” Staats explained. “Or what you could do is if you wanted to keep this trail corridor open, you could build a trail infrastructure, like rock staircases.”
The soil erosion has caused parts of the trail to feel more like rock climbing than hiking.
“We call it a power step,” Staats said. “So when you're knee is like 90 degrees."
The trail up Cascade was actually laid out to replace an older, steeper and more eroded trail in the 1980s. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is working now to build out a new trail, but Staats says this is one trail out of many.
“At least 167 miles of trails are showing signs of some sort of erosion and degradation,” Staats said. “We at the Council, we're advocating for some dedicated funding to pay for trail maintenance and trail construction in the Adirondacks. And to address the issues that we're seeing, whether that's by reconstructing trails that are already built or by rerouting when necessary.”
Trails like Cascade and many of the other High Peak Trails, are vital to the surrounding communities, providing jobs and stimulating the economy.
“The Adirondacks are a source of enjoyment and employment for people who live in the park and visit the park,” Staats said. “It’s also really important to preserve the natural resources of the area. Setting up a fund that would maintain trails would make sure that folks can hike in the Adirondacks today and in the future.”
The Adirondack Council is hoping this fund can be set up through the proposed $3 billion “Restore Mother Nature” bond act, which New Yorkers will vote on next year.
Hiked Cascade Mountain this morning for a story on the overuse of Adirondack High Peak Trails pic.twitter.com/2rT39stya2— Morgan Mckay (@morganfmckay) October 1, 2021