Canadian hikers not always welcome

September 30, 2002|By Alan Wechsler | Alan Wechsler,ALBANY TIMES UNION

KEENE, N.Y. - Five years ago, the Adirondack Mountains were the site of a different kind of peace conference: Canadian hiking group leaders met with American land managers. Things haven't been quite the same since.

At the time, some felt Canadian hikers were getting a bad name. There had been three recent Canadian hiker or climber deaths here. Land managers were frustrated by Canadians arriving by charter buses, dropping off large hiking groups that invaded the trails and swarmed the summits of the 192,685-acre High Peaks Wilderness Area.

At the meeting, held at the Adirondack Rock and River lodge in Keene, about 70 people from both sides of the border spent the day talking about how to get along better.

"We wanted to hear them out," said David Gillespie, a volunteer coordinator for the Alpine Club of Canada. "It was a way for them to reach out to us."

The Adirondacks, including 6 million acres of forests, lakes and mountains, are not just for New Yorkers. Montreal and Ottawa are the two largest cities within a relatively short drive, and it is rare to go on a hike in the High Peaks without running into at least a few Quebecois. Neil Woodworth, deputy executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, estimates Canadians make up 30 percent to 40 percent of High Peaks users, a number he bases on license plates at trail heads.

However, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, only 18 percent of users who register at trail heads identify themselves as Canadian.

Even now, Woodworth said, Canadians tend not to be as environmentally aware as American hikers.

"The problem is we didn't reach that many people," Woodworth said of the 1997 meetings. "You do have a fair amount of people from a major metropolitan area, and they may not have all the same level of backcountry experience."

Stephen Langdon, a DEC interior caretaker, took a survey of the 573 parties that camped at Lake Colden from May 4 to Sept. 3, 2000. He found that 54 percent of Canadians violated camping rules, compared with 30 percent of New York campers.

Some Canadians say they have seen a difference between Canadians and Americans.

"There is a palpable anti-Canadian sentiment," said Serge Theoret, who lives outside Montreal.

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