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This Month in ADK History: The Trailhead Stewardship Program

This Month in ADK History: The Trailhead Stewardship Program

August 24, 2022

Shortly after ADK’s founding in 1922, Robert Marshall, a founding member, stated that one of organization’s goals was “…to educate the public to keep the camps clean and the woods from being burnt.” This, in many ways, speaks to the educational objective that underpins all of ADK’s work. Whether it’s teaching volunteers how to build trails or inspiring visitors to protect alpine vegetation, ADK has always worked to teach people how they can both explore and protect New York’s public lands and waters.

Few things embody this founding goal better than ADK’s educational outreach at the Heart Lake Program Center, home to trailheads for numerous popular high peaks. For decades, ADK has maintained a consistent hiker education presence there through the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC). Built in response to a hiker boom in the 1980s, the HPIC has since served hundreds of thousands of hikers with everything from trail information to rentals to public restrooms.

For many years, this outreach was sufficient to support the many hikers traveling through the property. But an even bigger outdoor recreation boom in the 2010s pushed ADK to take its efforts to new heights. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of hikers arriving during July and August doubled from 15,000 to 30,000. At its peak, the Heart Lake Program Center was seeing some 100,000 annual visitors, a massive increase over years past.

In response, ADK piloted a volunteer trailhead education program at the HPIC in August 2017. The goal was to put a roaming educator in the hiker parking area to answer questions about trail conditions, share Leave No Trace information, and otherwise help visitors prepare for their trip into the backcountry. In doing so, ADK was hoping to help reduce backcountry rescues and impacts by equipping visitors with knowledge before they hit the trail. After a successful pilot, the program was officially adopted and named the ADK Trailhead Stewardship Program.

Since then, volunteer trailhead stewards have reached over 50,000 hikers before they enter the backcountry. Furthermore, ADK has used this program’s model to help train trailhead stewards in other parts of the Park, including those led by the Adirondack 46ers, Town of Keene, and at Buck Mountain in Lake George. In many ways, what started as a small, local program has quickly become a Park-wide effort to help visitors have a safe and responsible experience. As we celebrate ADK’s centennial and look toward the future, programs like this give us a glimpse of how ADK can continue to stay true to its founding vision as it helps people enjoy outdoor spaces like the Adirondacks.

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