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The need for more & better trail design/maintenance

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  • The need for more & better trail design/maintenance

    I thought this was a good item in Adirondack Almanac:

  • #2
    Good basic information, but not at all new. (And despite a brief mention, the discussion undervalues using solid rocky areas, and infrastructure such as man-made stairs. The "prescription" of LONG, LONG switchbacks does more actual damage to the forest than leaving the original eroded trail in place.)

    And unfortunately, it's not going matter. The state has demonstrated that they refuse to invest in this type of thing, despite the largest budget and the highest taxes in history. And if history is any guide, the $3 Billion "Restore Mother Nature" bond act will be spent on graft, and on green pipe dreams. I doubt any of it will be spent in the Adirondacks.

    Sorry to be negative here, but this is the reality; I have been watching it unfold for decades.


    • #3
      I haven't read the article yet, but a couple comments about my general understanding:

      - Does taking a natural, yet poorly designed trail and adding a number of man-made rock work degrade the wilderness aspect of the trail? I think it does, unfortunately.

      - Do long switchbacks degrade the forests? Again here I think people miss the forest from the trees - how much acreage does the trail "destroy"? What does the erosion do? Is it destabilizing the mountain and forests that hold the soils in place, on a whole? Is the erosion contributing to pollution or degradations of other parts of the watershed?

      As far as long switchbacks, in some forests you can build them without touching a single tree, mostly hardwood types. Even though they perhaps invade more forest acreage, they probably help keep the soil stable overall if graded properly to drain. In some cases you can keep a more natural trail that doesn't need as much reinforcement with unnatural rock work. The forests that will be more impacted are at higher elevations where you have dense balsam and spruce - those will need to be trimmed. What is the impact of losing a few of those trees is lieu of removing fall line trails where water will course down at high speed?

      Then, of course, there is the pleasure of hiking. Some people enjoy a well graded trail while to others it would be a boring "death march". Perhaps adding sections like this and linking into natural, existing, open rock sections will provide the proper experience?

      Then sometimes I think in terms of the Adirondacks, it doesn't matter much. It only really matters when you look at any form of recreation other than hiking. And in terms the actual environmental impact I tend to think it's a drop in the bucket. The only areas that could really be irreversibly damaged are the Alpine zones. Any existing slide is contributing far more runoff than 10's of marked trails. Once the trails have been eroded down to bedrock, the process slows down considerably. Likely we'd have to wait until the next ice age to measure any huge change in the actual bedrock that was taken away from hiking boots.

      As far as bike trails, and ski trails, it's a totally different story and more thought needs to be put in place in terms of the recreation.


      • #4
        Lots of good thinking here.

        Ski Trails and Bike Trails are definitely different animals, and specific to the equipment.

        But I think the article was trying to be about hiking trails.

        A key thing to remember: The "wilderness" is defined as being untrammeled by the works of man. The "trail" is by definition a work of man. So the trail is NOT part of the wilderness. It's easy to forget that, because the trail is often surrounded by wilderness, but it is NOT part of it. So applying "wilderness" thinking to the trail itself will result in the poor outcomes that we see today (this confusion is a big part of why DEC has done such a lousy job of trail work for decades).

        You are exactly right that the actual "environmental" impact of trails is nil. The woods is huge; the trails are tiny. All of the "impact" that greenies wring their hand over is aesthetic impact, NOT environmental impact. So let's make the trail aesthetically attractive. This is done most effectively by using durable man made materials (like pressure treated staircases, for example) not by chopping mile long switchbacks into the woods.


        • #5
          If it's purely for aesthetics and people (volunteers) want to put time and effort into it, then go for it. I'd rather they put the effort into dealing with the parking, camping, LNT enforcement issues - but whatever...

          For me it's just a slippery slope between some rockwork and this:

          There's not really much other option than to put man-made walkways through stuff like this, but it totally kills the natural appeal for me. I really don't want that in the Adirondacks. The rock work that was done on St. Regis mountain way way back never bothered me. It's seemed less prevalent in recent years, so perhaps 20 years or so has settled some of the man-made stuff to make it look more natural.


          • #6
            This is interesting. I do not see anything wrong with that stone staircase. Remember, there are many features in the woods, that are not on the trail, and retain 100% of their natural appeal. Another thing to remember - how many people have fallen and been injured or killed at the waterfall you showed, compared with Kaaterskill Falls? Would a trail like the one shown have saved lives at K Falls over the years?

            So imagine an attractive feature in the wilderness (waterfall, viewpoint, pond, whatever). It has 100% of it's natural appeal. Now, people start going there. Look at the spectrum of opinion on this:

            >Keep it secret so no one goes there (except **me**, of course; so there is a significant element of selfishness in this).

            >Let it be known, but don't build a trail. Or, let it be known, and make a faint trail (Class 3 or some such nonsense?). Of course these positions get us what we have now, with mud, erosion, braided herd paths, etc..

            >Recognize that "the cat is out of the bag" and that people are going to go there. Recognize that on State Land, it's their right to go there (it's their land, after all). Build a trail that will allow people to get there safely, and not make multiple paths around poorly designed areas.

            Decades ago, I was visiting with a friend at Mt. Rainier, taking a short walk up the trail from Paradise. (I have posted before here about this.) I was astonished to see the trail was paved (yes, blacktop pavement). I challenged the paving of a trail in wilderness to my friend. He explained it very simply. This is a popular area, near a major city. You have three options: 1. Close it to the people who pay for it and want to see it; 2. let it become a mud trench; or 3. pave it. So they paved it, and now everyone enjoys it. If you don't like the look of the developed trail, just walk 100' on either side of it.

            So I think at Rainier they made a wise choice. Here in NY, we are choosing #2 in most cases, and leaning towards #1 in a few cases, and I don't think that's the best choice.
            Last edited by TCD; 09-28-2021, 09:42 PM.


            • #7
              Tacking onto TCDs reply about the steps.

              The CCC built these steps at Watkins Glen and people needed work.

              Would you rather have this?


              PS. Just in case no-one had noticed. Tony Goodwin had put up a reply on link the OP posted.


              • #8
                I think some replies are on the right track by noting that situations differ. There are some situations -- thinking here of the 46er peaks and other popular ones like St Regis, Blue Mt, etc. -- where serious trail redesign & work is needed to avoid ever-increasing damage. It's unpleasant & dangerous for the hikers and not good for the mountainside either. Other places, not so much.
                I also have to remind myself that there's a range of hiking abilities & mobility out there. I dislike mountains with roads & buildings on top, and sometimes get "snobby" about trails like paved sidewalks & steps. But they enable some people to experience some of the woods, cliffs, & waterfalls they'd never see otherwise.
                Thanks to Footsteps for mentioning the Goodwin reply -- I didn't see that & will go look now.


                • #9
                  Hey I totally get it. It's just par for the course when you have lots of use. I'm all for it if it's a safety issue where you have a "otter slide". I've never complained about a bridge being in place or a ladder for crawling up large steps of rock.

                  I mentioned St. Regis because work was done there over 20 years ago. I was at PSC when it was quite new and climbed up there frequently. It looks different to me now, but I think some bits were re-routed and some stuff settled out. Also my memory is probably not even close to 100% correct.

                  There was another trail done sustainably quite some time ago up Jenkins which has some rather long switchbacks. It's said it's quite a nice hike through many different forest types, so that's always a plus for me. I've never had the chance to hike it but AFAIK it requires a permit.

                  I know bits of Ampersand have had significant rock work done to alleviate the steep fall-line bits. And yes I'd rather have the steps that a slip-and-slide.

                  One other thing I'll mention with regard to Watkins Glen vs someplace natural like Grimes Glen is you definitely see a big aesthetic difference with higher use in a natural area. Also there are parts of Grimes Glen that are downright dangerous. I see why the stone paths are built - but I also value a rugged wilderness "trail", so my hope is not everything is paved over, only that which is popular and cries for it.


                  • #10
                    Good discussion by all. Lots of common sense here.

                    Taking into account the range of ability is important! I used to be a "middle-of-the-pack" trail runner (9 hour Great Range) and as such, I could literally fly over obstacles, and make any trail look easy. Now age (65) has caught up a bit in my knees, so I hike more "normally" and I really understand this point. The key is to recognize the user population for each specific route and do maintenance accordingly.

                    Also a very good point that this type of "hardened" trail is only needed in a few areas, and many areas can be left more rustic.

                    Now if we can only wake up Albany, which is failing spectacularly at all of this over the last 20 years.


                    • #11
                      Total revision and shortened the Reply because it dawned on me that I'd seen a Turnpike trail.

                      I happened to hike the trail that's the subject of the OPs link. It's Mt Van trail that starts from the new building at the Bob-Luge Track.

                      I would characterize it as a Turnpike construction start to finish. This based on similarity to trail sections seen redone in the park. Though much nicer and a bit wider. Rock support on the downhill side in a few places 2 or more ft high. Rock work on the ORDA more extensive and more like in a State Park.

                      Lots of stone steps, actually stair width. 720 stairs on this trail said one of the trail builders (counted by Tony Goodwin they say).

                      Lots of drainages across the trail. Mostly all rock...sides and bottom. With so many it seems to me it's the main approach to handling water. Saw a couple hand written tags indicating some work needed in immediate area. One to install a drainage.

                      Last edited by Hear the Footsteps; 09-30-2021, 12:22 PM.