ST. HUBERTS, NY – Nick and Matthew Golebiewski climbed to the top of Gothics Mountain in the Adirondacks with backpacks, water, good boots and a new must-have item: pre-register.
The free reservation system recently went online to cater to the rapidly growing number of visitors to the privately owned Adirondack Mountain Reserve. Similar management systems are in place for outdoor attractions from Maui to Maine this summer season, usually in response to the pandemic or to the crowds that encouraged more wilderness visits even before the closures.
Trails elsewhere in New York’s 6 million acre Adirondack Park will remain reservation-free. But hikers like the Golebiewski brothers through the reserve are now checked in by staff in the parking lot and at the starting point.
The reservation system offers visitors a compromise, as spontaneity and easy accessibility are sacrificed in favor of advantages such as a guaranteed parking space and more freedom of movement in the forest.
“I’ve been avoiding many of the high peaks for years because they’re so crowded, I’ve just done other trails,” said Matthew Golebiewski on a sunny Saturday on the mountain. “It’s nice that I have a guaranteed spot and that we can hike today without stress.”
Outdoor reservation systems are not new, especially for campsites. But they keep popping up as the parks prepare for a busy summer, now that the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. is easing and more restrictions are lifted.
Waianapanapa State Park in Hawaii has since requested entry and park reservations for non-residents. Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Parks have entry reservation systems.
In Maine, Acadia National Park required a $ 6 reservation Wednesday for vehicles traveling on Cadillac Summit Road, a hugely popular spot to watch the sunrise. The move, part of a larger park transportation plan, should reduce traffic congestion, said park spokeswoman Christie Anastasia.
“Sometimes people would call 911 because they are literally on the street and they can’t go up, they can’t go down, they can’t turn around to turn off the road,” she said.
Glacier National Park in Montana recently launched a similar pre-booking for vehicles on its 80-mile going-to-the-sun road and quickly sold out first spots, causing complaints from frustrated tourists on social media. Park spokeswoman Gina Kerzman noted that more reservations are being made every day on a rolling basis.
In the Adirondacks, Shanzeh Farooqui said her group of friends initially couldn’t get reservations for a hike to a popular lookout point called Indian Head on their favorite Saturday of the month. But in the end they were able to get a canceled seat and their friends enjoyed the panoramic view on their desired day.
“It’s a little more difficult,” said Farooqui on the precipice, “but if we have to do that to preserve the land, then it’s not too cumbersome.”
Proponents say the inconvenience is outweighed by the need to protect the wilderness from overuse. Although the day-use reservation system was introduced in Yosemite National Park due to the pandemic, it has helped resolve congestion problems that plagued the attraction, said Neal Desai, a senior program director for the National Parks Conservation Association.
“We need people’s experience that matches their expectations, and there’s a massive breakup going on right now,” said Desai, who is an advocate for Yosemite. “People think they get nature and beautiful hiking trails and instead breathe in car exhaust for hours and find paths and facilities overcrowded.”
According to the Outdoor Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Outdoor Industry Association, the number of Americans who grew in the last year rose 8.1 million, the biggest gain ever.
Visits to national parks fell sharply last year due to park closings and restrictions in connection with a pandemic. But the decline followed years of heavy usage and crowds are expected to come back this year.
“We expect visitor numbers to many parks will increase significantly as measures to contain COVID-19 decrease, vaccination rates rise, and Americans increase their travel,” said Shawn Benge, assistant director of operations for the national park Service, on Wednesday before a Senate committee.
The valet parking service launched its #PlanLikeARanger campaign on Thursday, which encourages advance planning.
In New York’s Adirondacks, popular trailhead parking spaces are usually filled before sunrise on summer weekends. Peaks like Cascade Mountain are full.
In the private Adirondack Mountain Reserve, the number of registered hikers rose from 16,500 in 2014 to 29,100 last year, General Manager John Schuler said.
The 7,000 hectare reserve, exclusive Ausable Club, is private land that is open to the public under a long-term easement.
The three-year pilot reservation system announced by the reserve and the state in March is designed to protect both natural resources and public safety. State officials hope the controlled driveway will reduce illegal roadside parking.
State Department of Environmental Conservation officials who signed the reservation system said they now have no plans to expand it to public lots and trailheads despite overcrowding concerns.