JUSTIN A. LEVINE
LAKE PLACID — Somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 hikers began the trek up Cascade Mountain on Saturday, and each one of them was greeted by a team of 46ers who were handing out trash bags, telling people about Leave No Trace principals and offering suggestions to those hikers who were unsure if they would be able to climb the mountain.
Brian Hoody, president of the 46ers, said the new program was a few years in the making, but there are now about 50 46ers trained to greet people at trailheads.
“We worked with (the state) Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Mountain Club so we got the training that those guys get this spring,” Hoody said. “We have a large base of people and there’s a lot of people who volunteered for this. So we’re going to start here and see how it goes.
“And then a year down the road, two years down the road if they ask us to do something down at Giant (Mountain) we would do that.”
Cascade Mountain is undoubtedly the most popular of the High Peaks, and routinely sees more than a 1,000 people climbing it over the course of a weekend. Hoody said the demand on the trails, along with the seemingly ever-increasing number of hikers, was the main impetus behind the trailhead steward program.
“I think it helps disperse information out to people,” he said. “You can get a garbage bag, Leave No Trace information. You can get a little demo on what to do with human waste. (We) point out where the outhouses are.
“We’re just trying to get some education out there and try to get them while they’re young. When they’re first starting out, they get those principals and hopefully they’ll go through the rest of the mountains with those principals.”
Early on Saturday, there was a steady stream of people starting up the trail. Hoody said the 46ers are aware of the overcrowding problem in the High Peaks, and added that he’s never seen the trailheads as packed as they are now.
“We’re aware of this problem,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty dedicated crew of people who come out and volunteer. On Memorial Day, we had five trail crews out. Not only is our membership growing, but our volunteers are on a steady up-tick as well.
“We’re not going to try and stop people from doing what they want to do,” Hoody said, adding that he thinks most people who climb Cascade are unlikely to become 46ers. He also said that on weekends, the group hopes to have three stewards at the trailhead and at least two people each day during the week.
One young man had his fears assuaged by the stewards, who included Hoody, long time 46er Joe Ryan and local Ron Konowitz.
“They said we’re probably not going to see any bears,” Damian Jenne, a 7-year-old from Syracuse said. “They said they’re afraid of people. We’re not going to leave any garbage. And if we have any trash we’re going to keep it in here until we get to a garbage can.”
Damian’s mom Kristi said she was happy to see the stewards at the trailhead. The trailhead stewards are likely just one official face the Jennes saw Saturday, since the ADK also has summit stewards scattered around the High Peaks.
“I think that’s really going to help,” Hoody said. “I think that’s a great educational opportunity at both the bottom and the top. Hook them early, hook them young when they’re first starting this whole thing and hopefully they’ll take it with them.
“Even if there are a lot of people on the trails, maybe they’ll be a little nicer.”
Hoody said the trailhead stewards are not there for enforcement or to discourage people from hiking, but they can offer suggestions to people who seem unprepared.
But the main goal is to educate hikers to be better stewards themselves.
“We’ve had some really great conversations, but you’re not going to reach everybody,” he said.“But if you can get people to not, no offense, take a dump on the trail, then that’s a great thing.”