Founded in 1989, the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program has a clear goal: protect New York’s alpine zone and ensure it continues to recover from recreation-related impacts. For over 30 years, summit stewards have worked toward this end by engaging in hiker education, scientific research, and trail maintenance.

But how do summit stewards know if what they are doing is working? Data is crucial to showing a connection between actions and outcomes. To achieve this, summit stewards collect data on alpine vegetation recovery every two to five years through a process called photopoint monitoring.

Simply put, photopoint monitoring creates a long-term record of photos showing the same alpine plant plots over the course of many years. The current system was developed in 1999 by alpine biologist Matt Scott based on methodology used by The Nature Conservancy. Historical photographs of alpine summits in the Adirondacks from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s were used as the baseline, creating a long-term, systematic photographic monitoring system that is unique among Northeastern alpine stewardship efforts.

Two people stand behind a camera on a mountain

Kayla White

Periodically, summit stewards take new photos of the same locations to add to these photographic timelines, which can show if and how alpine vegetation is recovering, where social trails could be forming, and more. Analysis follows and thus far has yielded fascinating results: analyses of photopoint data in 2009 revealed that summits with a regular summit steward presence had shown substantial vegetation recovery since 1989 in comparison to summits that did not have a regular steward presence.

Furthermore, our 2015 analysis showed that summit stewards are continuing to hold the line in protecting alpine revegetation efforts despite a substantial increase in recreational use. It is information like this that helps showcase the powerful effect that boots-on-the-ground stewardship has in protecting sensitive ecosystems from recreation-related impacts.

This year, the Summit Stewardship Program will be adding additional photopoints and reassessing its methodology to ensure that the data collected remains accurate and relevant going forward. A report presenting the analysis of this round of photopoints will be completed by the end of 2022 and submitted for publication. Additionally, it will be presented at conferences such as the Northeastern Alpine Stewardship Gathering.

In pursuing this data collection, the Summit Stewardship Program not only measures its own impacts, but also provides a model for how to effectively study the success of educational outreach and conservation projects in sensitive ecosystems throughout the Northeastern United States.


Thank you to the many ADK members and donors who support the Adirondack High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program. If you are interested in supporting the program, you can do so with a donation today.