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Fractionlized Trails on the 3500' peaks

Report or discuss current events in the Catskill Mountains.
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Fractionlized Trails on the 3500' peaks

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For the past couple of years the New York DEC has been studying and watching the trail-less peaks in the Catskill Mountains. In particular, the peaks above 3500'. Most of the peaks have become fractionalized informal trails ("IT"). The DEC has been collecting Heat Imaging Maps to see where hikers are climbing the peaks. And, where the IF has formed.

This has become a significant problem since COVID-19 where many headed to the mountains to go hiking. There was a significant increase in hikers climbing the Trail-less peaks and increasing the number of IF trails on the 3500' peaks.


Here is a summary of the 73 page update from the DEC:

Summary of Developments Since 2019

In 2019, the first baseline data collection effort was undertaken on the informal trail (IT) networks on 17 trail-less peaks over 3,500’ in the Catskill Mountains. The objective of this effort was to document the lineal extent and spatial distribution of the IT networks on Forest Preserve peaks that historically were managed as trail-less areas. To begin to understand more about these IT networks, STRAVA heat map data was collected to determine which IT routes people were using and where to focus the monitoring efforts. During 12 weeks in the summer of 2019, over 39 miles of IT’s were assessed using an IT monitoring protocol that was developed by the National Park Service. Over the course of the past two years, several major developments occurred that have impacted the levels of visitation and the visitor use patterns that were documented in the original study area.

•In the Spring of 2020, Covid-19 emerged and a global pandemic ensued. Public lands experienced unprecedented levels of visitation while people took to the outdoors in record numbers.

•Over the course of the past 3 years, hundreds of new IT corridors have become established. 2020, 2021 and 2022 STRAVA heat map information indicates that the majority of ITs that were included in the monitoring effort in 2019 are rapidly transitioning into more entrenched and incised IT’s as a result of the significant increase of visitation to the trail-less peaks.

•In January of 2021, the private landowner of Graham and Doubletop made the decision to close those mountains to public use. In an effort to provide alternative hiking destinations for aspiring Catskill 3,500’ Club members, an agreement was reached between the Catskill 3,500' Club and the NYSDEC to temporarily designate South Doubletop in the Big Indian Wilderness and Millbrook Ridge, in the Balsam Lake Wild Forest to replace Graham and Doubletop. Ultimately, these peaks were removed as required peaks for aspiring Catskill 3,500’ Club hikers after March 21st, 2021.

•Sustained visitation to the South Doubletop summit continues through today and has resulted in rapid proliferation of new ITs to that summit. Several other hiking clubs are developing challenges that are continuing to drive people in record numbers to South Doubletop in the Big Indian Wilderness and Roundtop in Kaaterskill Wild Forest where this heavy new use is rapidly and adversely impacting the natural resources in those areas.

•Significant improvements to STRAVA mapping and route recording features are now available. These improvements will dramatically improve the accuracy of future data collection efforts on the IT networks. The new “Standard” map feature offers improved contour, hill shade and label information that makes it easier to see the exact location of the IT networks in comparison with the “Satellite” mapfeature that was used in the 2019 report. STRAVA now offers the ability to create custom GPS Routes from IT heatmap information. This feature will eliminate the need to geo-reference IT’s and will increase the efficiency of future assessments.

Lowest Priority Areas

Low Priority Areas
Four peaks are displaying visitor use patterns that appear to be currently acceptable meaning that visitor use is mainly concentrated to a single IT corridor leading to the summit and that IT corridor is relatively short in distance. The lowest monitoring priority peaks for the 2022 field season are Vly, Bearpen, SW Hunter, and Eagle.

Medium Priority Areas
Rusk and Halcott both have summits that have several ITs approaches and while concerning, it appears that hikers are staying within a loosely defined main IT corridor on the approach and descent on both of these mountains. These mountains are lower monitoring priorities for 2022 because the extent of dispersal of use on these peaks is not as extreme as several of the peaks listed below. IT herd path evaluation on these peaks should be a priority for the 2023 field season.

Highest Priority Areas
STRAVA heat map information from 2020 and 2021 indicates that nine peaks are showing significant increases in the number new and duplicative ITs. Visitor use in these areas has resulted in duplicative summit approaches and extensively braided and redundant IT networks. The peaks contained in the list below have a combination of concerning new visitor use patterns and known element occurrences for rare, endangered and threatened species. Consequently, these peaks have been classified as the highest monitoring priorities for 2022.

To read the report and see the Heat Imaging maps of the trail-less peaks in the Catskill Mountains, click on this link: http://www.catskillmountaineer.com/pdf/ ... um2022.pdf
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