New York state officials are partnering with the Adirondack Mountain Club and Adirondack 46ers on a plan to reduce the number of search and rescue incidents in the Adirondacks.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has announced they are launching a new initiative beginning Presidents’ Day Weekend that will have forest rangers and members of the Adirondack Mountain Club and Adirondack 46ers engage with hikers to make sure they are properly prepared for conditions in the High Peaks.

The measure will increase engagement between hikers and experienced backcountry users and is part of DEC’s multi-year, comprehensive effort to promote sustainable tourism while also addressing public safety in the Adirondack region.

“New Yorkers are discovering the incredible treasure that is the Adirondacks, and outreach and education are the most effective means to protect the natural resources of the area and ensure the safety of backcountry users,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Hikers who properly prepare and plan before going out on the trails are less likely to get lost or injured. Hikers who are knowledgeable about proper backcountry practices have significantly less impact on the natural resources, infrastructure, and other users. This effort will increase face-to-face interactions with hikers-the most effective means of educating visitors to the backcountry.”

DEC Forest Rangers, Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) stewards and educators, and the Adirondack 46ers’ volunteer trailhead stewards will promote proper planning and preparation through direct conversations with hikers at trailheads and on the trails.

The initiative will start in the High Peaks Wilderness on February 16-18, coinciding with the upcoming Presidents’ Day holiday weekend. DEC forest rangers, ADK summit stewards, and volunteers from Keene and the Keene Backcountry Rescue organization will interact with hikers to ensure they are properly dressed, equipped, and prepared for the conditions they are likely to face on their hikes.

Hikers can expect to see rangers, stewards, and volunteers at the ADK’s High Peaks Information Center, at trailheads, and on the trails of popular hiking routes in the High Peaks. DEC encourages hikers to stop and speak with the staff they encounter, ask questions, and listen to what these backwoods experts have to say so that everyone’s experience is safer and more enjoyable.

“We are excited to continue our partnership with DEC and the 46ers to promote responsible recreation,” said Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth. “Planning ahead and preparing for your adventure is the most important principle of Leave No Trace. These outdoor skills and ethics protect recreationists and our valuable natural resources. Our cumulative voice in sharing this message is a powerful way to protect our public lands.”

Due to the rising popularity of the Adirondacks, DEC forest rangers have seen an increase in backcountry search and rescue incidents requiring response. This is especially true in the High Peaks Wilderness, where the most recent four-year average rose to 97 search and rescue incidents per year. During the previous four years, Forest Rangers responded to an average of 65 incidents per year. Many of these incidents are the result of hikers being improperly prepared.

The initiative is based on the successful Preventative Search and Rescue program developed by the National Park Service. This program has decreased the number of search and rescue incidents on popular backcountry routes in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks. Face-to-face education is a vital component of the program.

“Plan Ahead and Prepare” is the first of the Leave No Trace Seven Principles and the main theme of Hike Safe’s Hiker Responsibility Code. DEC recommends that anyone hiking in the winter should plan ahead and be prepared for the elements by following these guidelines:

  • Know your skill level and physical capabilities – choose trails within your or your group’s ability. Remember it takes more effort and energy to move through snow;
  • Inform someone of your travel plans and let them know where you are going, your planned route, when you plan to return, and emergency numbers to call if you do not return at the scheduled time;
  • Wear base layers of moisture-wicking fabric to keep your skin dry and insulating layers such as wool or fleece, waterproof or water-resistant outer layers, thick socks, a winter hat, gloves or mittens, gaiters, and waterproof, insulated boots;
  • Wear snowshoes or skis and bring trail crampons or micro spikes; Bring plenty of food and water. Eat, drink, and rest often to prevent hypothermia;
  • Pack a first aid kit, extra clothing, a fire starter kit, headlamp with extra batteries, and a trail map;
  • Keep an eye on the weather, and if conditions worsen, head back immediately.