A study of visitors to Adirondack Forest Preserve lands has found many people are fiercely loyal to recreating in certain areas of the Park.
The Adirondack Forest Preserve Visitor Study was conducted by the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. A summary of its findings was presented last month by now-retired ESF professor Chad Dawson to state Adirondack Park Agency commissioners at their monthly meeting in Ray Brook.
Among other things, the study found 71 percent of visitors, vacation homeowners and seasonal residents who took part in a on-site survey, typically at a trailhead or other access point, said they visited the same Forest Preserve unit at least one or two times per year. Three percent said they visit the same unit more than 20 times per year.
Among full-time residents of the Park, 26 percent go at least one or two times per year to the same Forest Preserve unit, but even more, 28 percent, recreate in the same unit more than 20 times per year.
"These people have a site and an activity that they're very, very wedded to," Dawson said. "That's why you'll find many of them are very avid about the Adirondack Park, the kinds of regulations that are promulgated and the implications of those regulations, because they're so closely tied with the land and what they can do on the land. They're fiercely loyal, they're fiercely targeting these areas, and they feel they own it to some extent."
The study ran from Dec. 1, 2008 to Aug. 31, 2011. The Park was divided into four geographic quadrants, each of which was surveyed for 12 months. More than 15,000 visitors were seen at roughly 400 public access points in 46 Forest Preserve units. Sixty-five hundred were asked to be interviewed, and 5,900 agreed. Nearly half of all the interviews were conducted in the summer season, when visitor use is the highest.
Eighty-one percent of the visitors interviewed were on day trips while 19 percent were camping overnight. Thirty-five percent traveled from their primary residence that day to recreate while the rest stayed for one or more nights at either a campsite, hotel, rental home, second home or a friend's or relative's house.
Most visitors (72 percent) said they live in New York state, 12 percent came from other Northeast states, 7.3 percent from non-Northeast states and 7 percent came from Canada.
"That figure surprised me, actually," said Commissioner Art Lussi. "I thought Canada would be higher. I gotta believe the High Peaks would have a higher percentage from Canada then say, the Moose River Plains."
"You're absolutely correct," Dawson responded. "(The High Peaks) is the highest use area for Canadians. It's just a target for them."
Asked why they came to the Park, the most popular responses were to view the scenery, to hike or walk, to view wildlife, to study nature and to enjoy photography. Relatively few people said they came to ride all-terrain vehicles or pursue other motorized recreation "because we were talking to people who were on the ground in a Forest Preserve in which motorized activity is not allowed or is highly regulated," Dawson said.
All the visitors interviewed in person were asked to complete a more detailed mail survey about their trip experiences. Fifty-eight percent said they were willing.
Asked in the mail survey where they got information about Forest Preserve lands, 60 percent said it came from past experience because they've come to the Park so often. Only 15 percent said they found information on the Internet or a website.
"I'm very surprised the Internet number isn't higher," Dawson said. "We asked several people about that, and many of them said they were having trouble navigating some of the websites."
Asked what information they wanted more of, 44 percent of respondents said they want more maps of the area listing campsites and hiking trails, while another 34 percent said they want more information on trail conditions.
The mail survey also included questions about what other tourist activities people do while they're in the Park. Dining, driving, visiting museums or historical sites, nature photography and shopping for non-essential items were some of the most frequent responses.
"Some people refer to hikers and backpackers as carpetbaggers: They come here, they're self-contained, they keep all their money, and then they go home. That's not what the data suggests," Dawson said. "They do stop. They do share their funds, maybe not as much as the people staying in Lake Placid, but they do things along the way and enjoy all the activities in the Park as well."
Asked if they would return to the Park and to the same Forest Preserve unit, 94 percent of the people were likely or very likely to do so.
"These folks are really sold on the Adirondacks," Dawson said.
In a discussion about the implications of the study, Dawson said that while the Forest Preserve is popular among New York residents, there are millions of people living within 350 miles of the Park who could be using it. He also said the study found most of the people recreating here are caucasian while only 1 percent said they're Hispanic or Latino, well below the percentages those and other ethnic groups make up of the state's population.
"The point of this is the future of the Park rests on the fact that the people use it, they love it, they want it and they're willing to support it, and that the diversity of citizens learn to love it," Dawson said. "If you don't love it, you won't protect it."
"That 99 percent great-white-north sort of conclusion is pretty scary in terms of the future," said Commissioner Sherman Craig. "Looking at our Park regionally, our recreational opportunities regionally and our ability to communicate to the larger group of people in terms of advertisement, it seems to me very critical that if we don't do that, in another generation, we're going to have some serious problems."
Dawson suggested creating outreach programs for urban populations, particularly in big-city schools.
"An easy way to get them to appreciate the Adirondacks is via the Internet," he said. "Information, maps, histories, all those kinds of things can be accessible through the schools. Put up webcams of eagle's nests. You can engage a whole new generation with very little intrusion on the physical resource. It's very powerful."
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.