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Old 03-13-2019, 12:33 PM   #1
Addwolanin
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New York State Trail Rating System

Hi everyone, first time poster, long time lurker.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the increase in SARs and burden this places on the Rangers, and in resources in general. I found this article interesting, as it seems like NYS is at least taking a swing at addressing the issue by creating a trail difficulty rating system. (Similar to ski run trail difficulty)

http://goeast.ems.com/trail-difficulty-rate-oped/

I don’t necessarily think this is the most effective idea, but I was wondering what people thought.



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Old 03-13-2019, 01:49 PM   #2
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While it's never a bad idea to give this a go, my experience in both skiing and biking says it doesn't actually work. I often see very obviously novice riders and skiers head down trails that are clearly marked "most difficult" only to be completely terrified.

There's nothing wrong with pushing yourself and progressing, but I think a fair deal of people overestimate their abilities. And it's scientifically proven the less intelligent you are, the more you think you know. So it's the same thing at work. Those who don't know what they don't know will continue to get themselves into bad situations.

I guess back in the old days before the internet you had to have some higher level of knowledge rather than just typing something into a search engine to find these sorts of things, so that probably has something to do with the increased S&R.
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Old 03-13-2019, 02:55 PM   #3
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My three word answer about trail difficult ratings. Waste of money.

On the other hand ADK club group hikes and Meetup hikes assign difficulty ratings to hikes already. No need to re-invent this stuff; just use it.

It is a national problem. I wonder if National Park Service and National Forest Service are considering the same thing?

I also wonder what a pareto of the big(people and time) rescues teach us. I speculate it has to do with rescues from Mt Marcy and Algonquin. It might be worthwhile to do a pilot there.

I think the PSAR effort would be more inclined to put a person at the trailhead to offer advice to hikers. However if that person is not a Ranger advice could easily get ignored. It looks like the state is more interested solving the problem with capital rather than hiring Rangers. My benchmark is Maine Baxter park where there's a Warden that talks to each group as they arrive to sign the register for the Chimney Pond/Knife Edge/etc area.

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Old 03-13-2019, 03:48 PM   #4
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Agree. Waste of money. The people that get in trouble generally choose not to read this information anyway.

You are correct that part of the solution is to have a person talk to people at the trailhead. I have been advocating this for a LONG time. NY steadfastly refuses to put that kind of program in place, even though it would be easy, moderately effective, and relatively inexpensive. Don't know why Albany is fighting so hard against this idea.

Part of me suspects this new "trail rating" program is just another cover excuse for not doing anything that works. Kind of like the nonsensical "Dig It!" signs that were supposed to solve the poop and TP problem...
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Old 03-13-2019, 04:15 PM   #5
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While it's never a bad idea to give this a go, my experience in both skiing and biking says it doesn't actually work. I often see very obviously novice riders and skiers head down trails that are clearly marked "most difficult" only to be completely terrified.
I would say that in some cases, certain (usually male) novices are even drawn to the "most difficult" trails specifically- almost as if labeling a trail "most difficult" is a surefire way to encourage certain inexperienced users to be even more likely to try to traverse it.

And yeah, a rating system is just absolutely going to be so subjective that it will ultimately be meaningless. It's particularly telling that there is not even any uniform standard by which ski resorts rate the difficulty of their trails- they just rank them against each other and arbitrarily pick where to separate the trails into "easy," "more difficult," and "most difficult."

I can also see the inevitable law suit- "this trail was rated as easy, but when I tried to hike it during a raging snowstorm in the dead of winter without a flashlight, no snowshoes, and a 4:30 pm start, I got lost and spent the night out and they had to amputate my feet because of the frostbite! NY State is 100% to blame for this accident because they told me the trail would be easy!" (At least to ski at a ski area, you have to agree to fine print that says, among other things, that you explicitly understand that the conditions can change and an "easy" trail might not always be so "easy.")

I've often wondered if maybe NY State should try pushing a curriculum change in public schools- by making a unit on "outdoor recreation" a mandatory part of gym class. I know that I had a unit on orienteering in gym class when I was in High School- which absolutely laid the foundation for my map and compass skills. Admittedly, orienteering specifically is a pretty complex subject for high school aged students and I think most of it was lost on my classmates. But gym class seems to me like the perfect vehicle to impart at least some general sense of "these are the items you want to take with you while hiking," "these are the things you need to consider when planning even an easy hike," and "here's some information about leave no trace- make sure especially to poop well away from the trail and bury it" into the broader population (especially younger folks that are more likely to take up hiking in the not-too-distant future).
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Old 03-13-2019, 05:37 PM   #6
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I would say that in some cases, certain (usually male) novices are even drawn to the "most difficult" trails specifically- almost as if labeling a trail "most difficult" is a surefire way to encourage certain inexperienced users to be even more likely to try to traverse it.



And yeah, a rating system is just absolutely going to be so subjective that it will ultimately be meaningless. It's particularly telling that there is not even any uniform standard by which ski resorts rate the difficulty of their trails- they just rank them against each other and arbitrarily pick where to separate the trails into "easy," "more difficult," and "most difficult."



I can also see the inevitable law suit- "this trail was rated as easy, but when I tried to hike it during a raging snowstorm in the dead of winter without a flashlight, no snowshoes, and a 4:30 pm start, I got lost and spent the night out and they had to amputate my feet because of the frostbite! NY State is 100% to blame for this accident because they told me the trail would be easy!" (At least to ski at a ski area, you have to agree to fine print that says, among other things, that you explicitly understand that the conditions can change and an "easy" trail might not always be so "easy.")



I've often wondered if maybe NY State should try pushing a curriculum change in public schools- by making a unit on "outdoor recreation" a mandatory part of gym class. I know that I had a unit on orienteering in gym class when I was in High School- which absolutely laid the foundation for my map and compass skills. Admittedly, orienteering specifically is a pretty complex subject for high school aged students and I think most of it was lost on my classmates. But gym class seems to me like the perfect vehicle to impart at least some general sense of "these are the items you want to take with you while hiking," "these are the things you need to consider when planning even an easy hike," and "here's some information about leave no trace- make sure especially to poop well away from the trail and bury it" into the broader population (especially younger folks that are more likely to take up hiking in the not-too-distant future).


I agree with all the sentiment that this is a poor attempt. I had optimism as I first started to read only because at least there is awareness in the assembly that SARs increasing is a bad thing.

However, a rating system is far to subjective. For example, my GF and I hiked UWJ/LWJ in a day a few years ago in mid-July. That is by no means a crazy hike; but the humidity was so high and god awful and it poured on us as we got back to the lake road, therefore, this hike was a struggle for both of us.

In the same respect, we hiked the 5 dix range peaks in a day in September with almost no humidity and we had an amazingly easy time, especially for the elevation gain in that range that we aren’t particularly adept at handling. The dix range should be rated as more difficult than uwj/lwj without much question, however; because of conditions, our experience was the exact opposite.

Also, funny you mention a curriculum change in public schools. My GF is a Phys Ed teacher in Waterville, NY and is working on her masters as part of the NYS requirement. She started an outdoor ed masters online and after finishing a semester was told by the state that it wasn’t applicable to her area of teaching and she had to find another program. She’s now studying Health Ed for her masters. So not only does the state not encourage outdoor Ed in gym, they actually actively push against it!


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Old 03-13-2019, 05:41 PM   #7
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You are correct that part of the solution is to have a person talk to people at the trailhead. I have been advocating this for a LONG time. NY steadfastly refuses to put that kind of program in place, even though it would be easy, moderately effective, and relatively inexpensive. Don't know why Albany is fighting so hard against this idea.
I don't think it's so much that it's being fought- I doubt that there's a DEC employee who is against the general idea of having staff posted at trailheads to interact with and guide hikers with the goal of ensuring both better preparedness and better compliance with the regulations. The notion that anyone has "fought hard" against this idea is almost certainly untrue. FWIW, this has already been happening for some time at certain trailheads- the Loj trailhead in particular often has an AFR posted there on weekends during the warmer months, and this has been the case for years.

I suspect it is more so that staffing even only the most heavily frequented High Peaks trailheads would be costly- the manpower necessary for every trailhead to have the educators ready and able to interact with every group is a lot higher than I think many realize. For the trailheads with the heaviest use, you'd need multiple people- 2 or 3 or 4 groups will slip past you in the time it takes to speak to 1 group.

At the staffing levels necessary to be maximally effective, such a program would be a not-insignificant burden logistical burden on state resources. The only way I'd see a program like this working on a large scale would be with extensive volunteer support- but said volunteers would still need to be trained. Hikers are there to hike- not to get lectured about how unskilled or unprepared they are, so there's a lot of tact, tone, posturing, etc., that is essential in any effective on site education- especially when it has the potential to become mildly confrontational (no one likes being told that they aren't as skilled at something as they might think).

Many hikers are also antsy to get into the woods- they got a later start than anticipated, backcountry campsites are filling up already and they're eager to get those last spaces in the lean-to, etc. And even for the worst of the worst unprepared hikers, the ones who really need it, you've often got maybe a minute or two at the most to get your point across before they start tuning you out entirely. Sometimes you need to pick the 1 or 2 worst things out of 10 to focus on, and ignore the rest. Again, some level of training and experience- both in being able to prioritize/pick your battles, as well as condense relevant information into relatively short interactions- is necessary here.

I did a quick count in my head- these are the trailheads in the High Peaks region that I think one could reasonably argue would benefit significantly from on site educators:
  • Heart Lake/Adirondak Loj
  • South Meadows
  • Cascade/Porter
  • Johns Brook
  • Ausable Club
  • Noonmark/Ausable Club
  • Roaring Brook Falls
  • Dix Mountain/Round Pond (maybe, this one surprisingly doesn't get that much use, relatively speaking)
  • Boquet River Herd Paths (These get a surprisingly high level of use)
  • Elk Lake
  • Boreas Ponds (maybe, I think this one has the potential to become a significant High Peaks trailhead, as more people figure out it provides easier access to Panther Gorge than coming from Elk Lake, and especially if a shorter route up Allen develops)
  • Santanoni Range/Bradley Pond
  • East River Trail (this one gets slammed with use for Mt. Adams in addition to Allen)
  • Upper Works
  • Long Lake Boat Launch (the Raquette River corridor has had a lot of issues with overuse and abuse in recent years)
  • Axton Landing (maybe, see above)
  • Coreys Road
  • Ampersand Mountain

That's kind of a lot, especially when considering again that you'd need multiple people at some of these trailheads to really be all that effective. And that's ignoring other areas that are starting to see issues- the rest of the Saranac Sixers, some of the fire tower peaks, etc. Obviously, the breadth of the effort that would be necessary to apply a program like this at the full needed scale is no excuse for not applying it in even a limited capacity- but like I said above, the DEC has worked to have educational staff posted at certain trailheads in at least some capacity for years now.

And on site education often isn't all that effective in the moment. Some people will listen and turn back if you tell them just how at risk they are, but even rangers can't physically prevent a determined visitor from entering the backcountry no matter how unprepared they may be. It's a hard task convincing anyone who's already driven 2 or 3 hours to get there to turn around entirely, even if doing so is in their best interests. If you can suggest an alternative option after they've had a chance to make a quick trip to EMS or the Mountaineer to pick up missing requisite gear, this is more likely to be effective, but this isn't always feasible at 3:00 in the afternoon.

Where on site education is more effective is in the long run- that group might still make the choice to enter the backcountry without food, water, a light source, map, etc. in the moment, but they'll probably remember your interaction and be better prepared in the future. I point this out not as an argument against trailhead staffing, but rather because I believe that even though trailhead staffing would undoubtedly do a lot of good, a not-insignificant number of "preventable" backcountry incidents will nevertheless continue to occur. I don't think that by itself it is the magic pill that some have suggested it might be. More appropriately (and like you say), it could be a valuable part of what should be an overall comprehensive response to issues in the High Peaks- a response that I think will necessarily include other components, some of which may be necessary despite being unpopular.

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Part of me suspects this new "trail rating" program is just another cover excuse for not doing anything that works. Kind of like the nonsensical "Dig It!" signs that were supposed to solve the poop and TP problem...
What about the "Dig It!" signs do you think was nonsensical? Why do you believe that they have been ineffective? I personally don't think that anyone expected them to solve the problem alone, but I do think that they were a good idea. A large part of the issue with human waste I believe is due to it being a topic of conversation that a lot of people just aren't comfortable with, no matter how necessary it may be. Many hikers just don't know how to properly dispose of human waste- because as they were getting into hiking and backpacking, no one ever took the time to discuss it with them. I think providing at least some of that education through non-personal interpretation is a really good way at reaching out to people who aren't comfortable discussing the topic in person even with close friends.

(As for why people poop in plain site of the trail, that aspect still confuses me. I think that some folks are just so petrified of getting lost that they are unwilling to get out of sight of the trail even to defecate. I think there's also some group dynamics at work- people afraid that if they take too long to poop, the rest of the group will hike on without them, so they do it as quickly as possible without taking the time to do it right.)
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Old 03-13-2019, 07:25 PM   #8
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Come to recall that there has been a rating sheet already available for some time.

I found a printed copy at Whiteface Mountain summit house.
It's also available by a link at Adirondack.net. Maybe the printed copy and web copy are really the same source just different versions.

It lists 46r peak, miles, difficulty (1-7 hardest) rating, and range of hours to hike, elevation gain. You all probably know it as the one that has the wrong elevation gain and mileage for Phelps Mountain (and that's still wrong). I sent a note to Adirondack.net to look into and correct. I sent them the figures from the ADK guide book. As you recall I was able to get the spelling corrected for Adirondak Loj on a tourist website just by making the effort and pointing it out to them.

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Old 03-13-2019, 08:29 PM   #9
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Thanks, DS.

I don't think it's DEC specifically that is fighting against common sense. After all, DEC is screaming for more Rangers; but the Governor says "no." All locals recognize the need. So the problem is coming from Albany. Probably not rank and file DEC, but certainly Albany. Which is what I said.

Yes it will cost some money. But with money available for 16 Million Dollar bathrooms, the "cost" argument just cannot be made with a straight face. Just do it, instead of the next 16 million dollar boondoggle. I fully understand the number of trailheads, the number of full time equivalents, benefits, training, etc. With the amount of money this state blows on nonsense, I'm sorry, the cost argument is just bull****.

On the Dig It signs: I don't object to them per se. And they may have helped, a little. But I know that signs don't accomplish much, especially these days. My concern with them is that they are just another cover and excuse for not doing more. "Look - we put in these signs! We have FIXED the problem." And then nothing more is done for ten years to address the problem. So I'd rather not see the signs, if they are an excuse to not pursue more effective education. The "trail rating" system is exactly that, and nothing more - an excuse to NOT spend any money on something more effective.
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Old 03-13-2019, 10:36 PM   #10
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When I hiked Tabletop and Phelps this past September, the Loj had a steward who was talking to hikers about to hit the trail from the parking lot as to their intended destination, how they intended to approach it and to make sure people were generally prepared for their hike, just based on a few simple questions. From talking to him briefly it seemed to be having an impact. Definitely agree that in those high SAR areas a steward could really be very beneficial.
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Old 03-14-2019, 11:15 AM   #11
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I don't think it's so much that it's being fought- I doubt that there's a DEC employee who is against the general idea of having staff posted at trailheads to interact with and guide hikers with the goal of ensuring both better preparedness and better compliance with the regulations. The notion that anyone has "fought hard" against this idea is almost certainly untrue. FWIW, this has already been happening for some time at certain trailheads- the Loj trailhead in particular often has an AFR posted there on weekends during the warmer months, and this has been the case for years.
I see this as a good opportunity for scouts,
could be a used as a service project
local troops could post a couple scouts at common trailheads on busy weekends
scouts would then be used as an information source for hikers,
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Old 03-14-2019, 11:23 AM   #12
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I see this as a good opportunity for scouts,
could be a used as a service project
local troops could post a couple scouts at common trailheads on busy weekends
scouts would then be used as an information source for hikers,
By BSA youth protection policy, you would need to post two adults over age 21 along with the scouts. It is hard enough to find adults (i.e. dads or moms) willing to accompany scouts on regular scout activities as it is.
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Old 03-14-2019, 11:37 AM   #13
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By BSA youth protection policy, you would need to post two adults over age 21 along with the scouts. It is hard enough to find adults (i.e. dads or moms) willing to accompany scouts on regular scout activities as it is.
yes that is true
one of my gripes over BSA, but separate subject
still see an opportunity for such as a service project
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Old 03-14-2019, 01:55 PM   #14
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yes that is true
one of my gripes over BSA, but separate subject
still see an opportunity for such as a service project
Two deep leadership, especially in this day and age is not a bad policy. It is there not only to protect the youth, but also to protect the adult. We know of the seriousness of false accusations.
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Old 03-14-2019, 03:04 PM   #15
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The 46ers have done a great job of covering this on a part time basis at Cascade, too; but it's a drop in the bucket.

We can dream up all kinds of schemes to somehow cover this with volunteers. But the reality is all these schemes are inadequate, and fraught with problems, as described above. I'm not opposed to any of the volunteer efforts except for one thing: All these efforts really do is provide yet another excuse for the State to continue to REFUSE to do the right thing.

As a taxpayer (in the highest taxed state in the country) and a frequent traveler in the resource, this is really quite disappointing. I have made my feelings known strongly to my State representatives. Others should as well.
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Old 03-14-2019, 04:45 PM   #16
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Update on the wrong Phelps information on Adirondack.net

I got a email from them just today. They updated the information!!

"Thank you for letting us know about the incorrect hiking details for Phelps Mountain. I'm not sure when we originally added the information, but I've updated it to reflect the official guide book. https://www.adirondack.net/hiking/high-peaks/"

Now about that paper copy. Not sure where I put it; so, might have to go to Whiteface Mt this summer and hope I can pick up a new one.

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Old 03-14-2019, 05:47 PM   #17
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I don't know much about it, but my experience has been that often the people who are most in need of some information or education are the ones who are least interested in getting it when it is offered. I don't know if the format or location in which it is offered really makes a difference or not.
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Old 03-14-2019, 06:07 PM   #18
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I don't know much about it, but my experience has been that often the people who are most in need of some information or education are the ones who are least interested in getting it when it is offered. I don't know if the format or location in which it is offered really makes a difference or not.
Zach
I've read about having people at Lafayette Place NH (Franconia Ridge) as having had a positive impact (VFTT). I was there a year ago and there was one guy there with an EZ UP setup speaking to people most of the day. Every bit helps.

This is why I'd say Baxter Park is the best. If you sign the register for Chimney Pond Trailhead Hamlin Ridge and Knife Edge (not saying you could not) you HAVE to speak with a Warden(Ranger).

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Old 03-14-2019, 06:19 PM   #19
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DSettahr,

I was at a couple of meetings around the area, you were there too, to hear Jack Drury's hut-to-hut proposal. Part of it was to set up a program for volunteers to talk to newcomer/tourist hikers in various towns near trailheads about gear and safety, etc..

Whateve happened to that proposed plan?
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Old 03-14-2019, 07:23 PM   #20
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I got interested in the actual bill rather than the GO East simplified version

Here is a link. It's asking for DEC to do 3 year pilot program. It is being introduced for the 4th time since 2011. Same document exactly. The sponsor represents in Greene and Schoharie Counties. The sponsor and co-sponsors are all from the Republican Caucus. Nothing bipartisan. In a Democrat controlled Assembly will this bill go anywhere?

A pilot could be directed at places such as Kaaterskill Falls (in the sponsors's district) where there are frequent injuries and rescues and where there have been fatalities. The state has already invested improving this area. Better signage, large fonts, pictograms, situated at the trailheads identifying hazards prominently might help some. There is already a sign at the path to the middle pool at Kaaterskill Falls with "Deaths Have Occurred in this Area" Perhaps it's better to place these signs at the trail head too - won't help people determined to put themselves at risk but a warning to parents with children well ahead of a hazard couldn't hurt.

https://trackbill.com/bill/new-york-...ogram/1673548/

Last edited by Hear the Footsteps; 03-15-2019 at 11:09 AM.. Reason: Read Through and General Revision
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