Over the past few years, Catskill Mountainkeeper has focused on educating folks about the increasing number of visitors to the Catskill Park each year, and highlighting the impacts this influx has on Park lands and resources. But did you know that the number of annual visitors to the Catskill Park has more than doubled since 2012? And in 2021, the park welcomed more visitors than the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone combined!
In order to protect the Park’s water, lands, and wildlife habitat for generations to come while also creating a safe and welcoming space for hikers, anglers, and day-trippers, New York State needs to adopt a whole-park management plan.
That’s why I was so honored to serve on the Catskill Advisory Group (CAG), a workgroup composed of local governments, business leaders, town and village leaders, tourism groups, and environmental advocates like Mountainkeeper. The CAG delved deep into the issues related to the growing number of visitors to our Park, and recently released its recommendations in a final report.
As CAG member Adam Bosch said so perfectly, “intensive use requires intensive management.”
Our report identifies some of the impacts that require this kind of intensive state management—overcrowding at trailheads, public safety hazards along busy mountainside roads, increased litter, illegal camping, and more. All of these pose considerable challenges for already-strained local emergency services and park managers.
In response, we’ve laid out a comprehensive plan to guide strategic, state-level investments that will improve access to the park without compromising on visitor safety and environmental sustainability. Protecting the pristine natural resources that draw visitors to the park year after year and ensure access to priceless clean air and drinking water for millions of New Yorkers is at the core of the CAG’s recommendations for action.
And while the report lays out some of the solutions right at our fingertips—increased trail maintenance, parking access, better coordination amongst government entities, and greater public education—one of its strongest recommendations is a directive to New York State to tackle the knowledge gaps that prevent it from effectively managing the park.
We need to know some critical information to get this right. What are the baseline ecological conditions at locations throughout the park? What are the carrying capacities of each area within the park so that we can understand how many visitors an area can tolerate before trails erode, wildlife is impacted, or important plants are trampled? What do visitors want at each area within the park?
Once this information is in hand, park managers and the public can work together to identify thresholds for acceptable conditions and limits of change, establish different visitor management strategies (like building more trails, or, conversely, limiting access), and then determine if management actions are working successfully.
Please give this report a read and then stay tuned for the opportunity to act. These recommendations hold no power if they’re only words on the page—it will be up to us to make sure they’re brought to life. Our first opportunity to have an impact will be the fight for substantial investment in the NY State budget between now and April 1, 2023, the state budget deadline.