Preserving the Wild Character of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks
DEC is currently developing a Visitor Use Management Plan for the formerly trail-less Catskill peaks. A visitor experience survey is available online on the NY-NJ Trail Conference website. The survey is open until November 11. Learn more about the planning process and ongoing opportunities for public feedback and involvement.
DEC is also working with Otak, Inc to draft Visitor Use Management Plans for the Kaaterskill Clove and High Peaks regions. Learn more about the planning process and ongoing opportunities for public feedback and involvement.
Visitor Use Management ("VUM") is the proactive and adaptive process for managing visitor use on public lands with a variety of strategies and tools to achieve and maintain desired resource conditions and visitor experiences. First developed by a partnership of federal land management agencies, the VUM process is outlined in the Interagency Visitor Use Management Framework and is currently being utilized by DEC to better understand how many people visit the Forest Preserve, where they go, what activities they participate in, and what unintended impacts those activities may be causing to natural resources and visitor experiences.
The VUM process allows DEC to work with stakeholders and the public to identify desired conditions for visitor experiences, natural resource protection, facilities development and recreational opportunities in a given area. The process typically includes an action plan, monitoring protocols, and adaptive management strategies to achieve and maintain desired conditions for current and future generations.
By proactively engaging in VUM in sensitive and/or highly visited locations, DEC can maximize the public's experience and appreciation of the Forest Preserve while at the same time protecting this important natural resource, as mandated by Article XIV of the New York State Constitution, the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, and the Catskill Park State Land Master Plan (PDF).
Featured VUM Projects: High Peaks Wilderness and Kaaterskill Clove
In 2023 DEC awarded a two-year contract to Otak, Inc. to conduct concurrent VUM planning processes for the central High Peaks Wilderness in the Adirondack Park and the Kaaterskill Clove region of the Catskill Park. Based on recommendations found in the final reports for the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group (HPAG) and Catskill Strategic Planning Advisory Group (CAG), the projects will focus on developing data-driven management strategies to support and promote visitor safety and positive visitor experiences in each of the project areas.
Additional Information and Public Participation Opportunities
Featured VUM Project: Formerly Trail-less Catskill Peaks
In 2022 DEC announced a VUM planning process to identify solutions that address impacts to natural resources caused by the proliferation and expansion of user-created, informal trails on formerly trailless Catskill high peaks (over 3,500 feet in elevation). The majority of these peaks are part of the Forest Preserve, and have been previously identified by the Catskill Park State Land Master Plan as "trail-less."
In October 2023 DEC awarded an education and outreach contract to the New York- New Jersey Trail Conference to promote responsible recreation and sustainable use of the formerly trailless peaks over 3,500 feet in the Catskills. This project aims to enhance data collection and develop educational outreach opportunities that seek to better understand visitor use through projects including administration and analysis of a visitor experience survey; developing training materials for volunteers and stewards that incorporate Leave No Trace TM messaging; educating visitors on recreational impacts to vulnerable species and habitats on Catskill Mountain summits; and recommendations for improving messaging throughout the formerly trailless peak study area.
Current research to support this project includes field monitoring of montane bird species, which breed in dense and scrubby spruce-fir habitats found in small pockets and only at high elevations in the Catskills. This field work aims to collect data about the presence of such ground- and near-ground nesting montane birds as the Bicknell's thrush, Yellow-bellied flycatcher, White-throated sparrow, Dark-eyed junco, and Blackpoll warbler, among others.
This field research will help DEC to determine the impact of proliferating informal trail networks and bushwhacking behavior on montane birds. The results from the field monitoring will supplement data that DEC continues to collect as part of our visitor use monitoring efforts on trailless Catskills High Peaks. DEC staff plans to use the monitoring data and compare it with other relevant data from Mountain Birdwatch and other sources to make management recommendations aimed at lowering the recreational impact on vulnerable species this research may identify.
Public Participation Opportunities
A visitor experience survey is available online through Nov. 11, 2023. To participate, visit the NYNJ Trail Conference's website. Additional public comment opportunities will be announced once the draft VUM plan is available.
A draft Visitor Use Management Plan is currently being developed that will present recommendations for addressing the natural resource impacts occurring on the formerly trailless peaks. The exact date of the meeting and the type of venue (virtual or in person) will be announced at a later date.
The public is encouraged to share their ideas or provide input on the desired condition they would like to see for these areas, and can provide comments by emailing DEC at [email protected].
On October 19, 2022, DEC and its partners participated in a webinar about informal trail networks on Catskill peaks. A recording of the webinar is available on the Catskill Mountainkeeper website.
Visitor Experience Survey
Public feedback regarding future management of the Catskill peaks was collected via a public survey that closed on November 30, 2022. Additional opportunities for public participation will be provided when a draft Visitor Use Management Plan is released for public comment.
Management Solutions Currently Being Considered
- DEC will identify informal trails that are damaging rare, threatened, and endangered species and categorize these into specific zones. A comprehensive educational outreach plan will be developed to decrease the use of informal trails in these vulnerable zones.
- During the 2022 field season, informal trail networks will be evaluated to assess any trails that are good quality/have good qualities and are not located near rare, threatened, or endangered species. DEC will identify a "preferred informal trail" route to each summit while also working to develop more permanent solutions to damage caused by informal trail networks.
- Due to the damage caused by extensive informal trail networks on the high peaks, management interventions will likely be required. Solutions could include proposals to create formal trails that are designed for long-term use and will prevent further damage to natural resources and lead trail users along an established route.
Downloadable Preliminary Field Study Findings
2019 Visitor Use Study of the Trail-less Peaks 3,500' in the Catskills (PDF)
2022 Addendum to the 2019 Visitor Use Study (PDF)
Trail-less Peak Sign-in Analysis, 2009-2022 (PDF)
Effects of Informal Trail Use on Natural Communities in the Catskill Park (PDF)