As sunlight begins to illuminate the surrounding mountains, I am already on the trail heading up Mt. Marcy. It’s my 450th trip up New York’s highest peak. This early in the morning, all I hear is the occasional whitethroated sparrow and the wind rustling in the trees. It won’t be long before these quiet woods are punctuated by the sounds of other hikers: far-off conversation, laughter, boots thumping against the ground.
I make this commute to Marcy and other summits—namely Algonquin, Wright, Cascade, and Colden—five days a week throughout the summer. More than 7500 miles so far. I repeatedly make this journey so I can greet
hikers and talk to them about the importance of alpine plants. With just 173 acres of alpine habitat spread across 21 summits in the High Peaks region, the alpine zone is New York’s rarest and most fragile ecosystem.
Plants there can die after being stepped on and take decades to grow back. Because of this, we nearly lost these plants back in the 1960s and ’70s. Had it not been for the visionary action that led to the founding of the
Summit Stewardship Program in 1989, we may have lost it entirely.
Over the subsequent 33 years, summit stewards have led a remarkable recovery in alpine vegetation. Through
educational outreach, we teach hikers about alpine plants and how to protect them. It’s a strategy that has proven results. Through a photopoint monitoring program, we know that mountains that have had a stewarding presence—like Algonquin and Marcy—have shown substantial alpine vegetation recovery. There may be no stronger evidence of the program’s effectiveness than that plant populations in these areas were maintained between 2009 and 2015, despite huge increases in hiker traffic in the same period.
Suffice it to say, being a summit steward isn’t easy. The heat, the bugs, the strain on the body. But without summit stewards, the Adirondack Park’s alpine habitat would again be in jeopardy of disappearing. But we can’t do it without you. We need your support, which allows me to boot up each morning and hit trail.
Funding also puts a camera into the hands of our photopoint techs so they can measure the recovery of alpine vegetation and secure evidence that our efforts are working. It guarantees that a steward is on each major alpine summit every day throughout the summer. And, above all else, it ensures alpine habitat protection through education.
New York’s rarest ecosystem is better off because of people like you. With your continued support, ADK can continue to protect alpine vegetation so that future generations can enjoy this ecological treasure tomorrow as we do today.