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For Release: Wednesday, March 8, 2023

DEC Awards Visitor Use Management Planning Contract for Popular Areas of Adirondack and Catskill Parks

Funding Will Advance Development of Data-Driven Management Strategies to Support Sustainable Recreation in the Forest Preserve

Projects Fulfill Recommendations from Adirondack High Peaks and Catskill Strategic Planning Advisory Groups

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced the award of a Visitor Use Management (VUM) planning contract to help develop sustainable recreation solutions in two highly visited regions of the Forest Preserve - a high-use portion of the High Peaks in the Adirondack Park and the Kaaterskill Clove area in the Catskill Park. The contractor will assist with developing strategies that ensure these popular destinations provide positive visitor experiences while continuing to protect the Forest Preserve.

"The Adirondack High Peaks and Kaaterskill Clove area in the Catskills are two of New York's most popular outdoor destinations because of their outstanding beauty," said Commissioner Seggos. "DEC is excited to partner with the experienced team at Otak, Inc., to explore strategic, innovative, and data-driven ideas and solutions for balancing conservation and public access in these beloved areas of Forest Preserve."

Otak, Inc., a research, planning, and design firm headquartered in Portland, Oregon, was awarded the VUM planning contract following a competitive Request for Proposals process, funded by the State's Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). Led by a project management team based in the northeast, Otak has more than two decades of experience conducting visitor use planning and research on wilderness and other recreation lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and other agencies. Their team includes experts in recreation planning, meeting facilitation, stakeholder engagement, and data analysis.

"The Adirondack High Peaks and the Kaaterskill Clove area in the Catskills are significant landscapes in American conservation history and world class destinations for wildlands recreation," said Otak Project Manager Steve Lawson. "We are excited for the opportunity to support the DEC in this project to develop data-driven strategies for the long-term enjoyment, appreciation, and conservation of these areas."

The two-year contract is effective immediately and extends through the end of 2024. Over the next several months, Otak will engage State officials, stakeholders, and the public in outlining desired conditions and management goals for the project areas. During the latter half of 2023, the process will focus on measuring and analyzing visitor use patterns to determine how closely current conditions in the two project areas compare to the desired management conditions. The second year of the contract will focus on developing management strategies aimed at helping DEC achieve and maintain desired conditions. Final project reports will be provided to DEC that include recommendations for monitoring and maintaining the effectiveness of the strategies over time.

Public and stakeholder input will play a key role in helping DEC and Otak develop appropriate management strategies for the High Peaks and Kaaterskill Clove regions. During the initial phase of the project, a public meeting will be held in each project area to highlight the project goals and timeline and solicit feedback on management objectives. A second round of public meetings will be held in 2024 to present draft management recommendations. Otak will host and facilitate these meetings and dates and locations will be announced at a later time.

Protected by the New York State constitution as "forever wild," the Forest Preserve comprises state land within the Adirondack and Catskill parks which is managed by DEC and its partners in a manner that maximizes public appreciation of its wild setting while ensuring it remains welcoming and accessible to people of all backgrounds and abilities. As public interest in outdoor recreation has increased nationwide over the last decade, balancing public access with the ongoing protection of New York State's Forest Preserve continues to be a high priority for DEC.

DEC tasked the Adirondack High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group (HPAG) and the Catskill Strategic Planning Advisory Group (CAG) in 2019 and 2020, respectively, with providing recommendations for sustainable management of the High Peaks and Catskill regions. In their final reports, both groups recommended that the federal Interagency VUM Framework be used to identify solutions to the compounding effects of parking shortages, unsafe conditions along state highways, and busy trails, summits, and other points of interest.

The Interagency VUM Framework was developed by a partnership of federal land management agencies as a blueprint for responsibly addressing increasing visitation on federal outdoor recreation lands. The framework promotes agency and stakeholder collaboration when setting management goals and relies on data and analysis for determining the success of management actions.

Otak's team will use the Interagency VUM Framework to facilitate inclusive and transparent collaboration between DEC and stakeholders and to deliver data-driven insights to help inform and develop visitor capacities, adaptive visitor use management strategies, and long-term monitoring plans. Otak's extensive track record of successfully employing the Interagency VUM Framework in some of America's most iconic National Parks will be instrumental in helping DEC develop responsible solutions for two of New York's own natural wonders.

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