June 1, 2019
The past few weeks marked the beginning of another summer of stewarding for the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program. But this isn’t just any season: it’s the 30th anniversary of the program, marking three decades of successful public education and alpine stewardship. Here’s what you need to know about summit stewards and how you can help protect the beautiful, but fragile, alpine plants found on twenty-one Adirondack summits.
Hikers that frequent the Adirondack High Peaks Wilderness in the summer have likely encountered a summit steward before. Stationed on many of the busiest summits of the region—namely Marcy, Algonquin, Wright, Cascade, and Colden—these mountain stalwarts are tasked with protecting fragile arctic plants through low-key informal interpretation with the public. When you reach one of these summits, you will likely be greeted by a summit steward and asked if you have ever visited an alpine zone before. Their goal is to ensure that everyone understands how sensitive alpine vegetation is—just a handful of steps can kill it—and to encourage hikers to stay on durable bare rock and off of vegetation, soil, and gravel surfaces. Feel free to ask them questions as well; they are experts in their field, and will gladly share more.
A Storied Program
Founded in response to an alarming decline in alpine vegetation in the High Peaks in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the Summit Stewardship Program has yielded tremendous results in the form of revegetated summits and a better educated public. Dr. Ed Ketchledge is one of the most well-known figures related to the program. He started the alpine restoration effort in the High Peaks Wilderness, developing an active restoration project to stabilize soil in the alpine zone allowing alpine plants to recolonize. His efforts helped drive important organizations within the Park to consider an educational solution to the issue, which eventually led ADK (Adirondack Mountain Club), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy to join forces and found the Summit Stewardship Program in 1989.
Since the program’s establishment, summit stewards have made contact with over half a million visitors. Their efforts have continued to help revitalize alpine zones, as exemplified in the above image. As the Park sees more and more visitors, programs such as this one have become increasingly vital to the preservation of sensitive ecological areas. The Summit Stewardship Program’s tripartite approach to protecting alpine habitats through education, trail maintenance, and research has proven valuable and we are excited for yet another year of excellent summit stewardship in the Adirondacks.
How can I protect the alpine zone?
You don’t have to be a summit steward to protect the alpine zone. Here are some ways to make sure that you visit these beautiful summits responsibly:
- Stay on the marked path – this seems easy, but sometimes there are obstacles, like ice, that make it easy to want to go off-trail. Even if it is harder, stick to the trail so that you don’t inadvertently step on fragile alpine plants. Make sure you have the proper gear and be okay with turning around.
- Keep your dog on a leash – keeping your dog on a leash is critical to protecting alpine zones. They, naturally, want to run around, dig, and do whatever dogs want to do, but their actions can be just as destructive as people walking off-trail.
- Don’t camp above 4000 feet – camping creates a large footprint and can cause heavy damage to alpine plants. Camp only at designated sites marked with a tent symbol or at lean-tos.
- Remind others (kindly) to stay off the alpine vegetation – let them know that this is a rare, fragile area that can be easily damaged by our presence. Use the resource, and the power it holds as an awe-inspiring place, to relay this message.
- Pack it in, pack it out – make sure to pack out your trash, and save your bathroom business for areas below tree line.
- Donate – You can help support the work of summit stewards by making a contribution to the program today.
Ben Brosseau is ADK’s Content Strategist. After graduating from Grinnell College in Iowa with a BA in English with honors, he decided to return to the Adirondacks, where he was born, in order to spend more time in the mountains. When not at work, he can often be found hiking, making coffee, or working on photography.