During my semester abroad in New Zealand, I was fortunate enough to go hiking and exploring nearly every weekend, which allowed me to interact with the incredible and diverse landscapes of the country. Throughout these excursions, I was able to conduct a comparative analysis of environmental ethics in terms of recreational hiking areas in the Adirondacks versus New Zealand’s National Parks. I wrote a series of blog entries on the majority of the hikes I completed, commenting on trail conditions and notable differences (https://swolpiuk.wordpress.com). This would not have been possible without the support from my donors, Mr. Paul Gilbert and Mrs. Patricia Romeo-Gilbert, which I am so thankful for!
Humans have continuously left some kind of mark on the wilderness in the ADKs, whether it be logging or degradation of trails and camping grounds. The ADK High Peaks Region is specifically overpopulated and overused, despite the Adirondack Park Agency’s implementation of certain rules and regulations when hiking in this area. Acknowledging this attitude towards the Adirondack trails, I set my intentions on comparing it to New Zealand’s past environmental activism history and its current approach.
The native people of New Zealand, the Maori, strongly believe that there is a spiritual relationship that exists between the gods, people, the land, and its creatures, similar to the way that native tribes in the Adirondacks viewed the natural world. Because of this belief, the Maori recognized the damage they were inflicting on the land and eventually implemented “Rāhui” (restrictions on the gathering of certain species) which allowed a food source to recover and guided harvesting. Currently, the New Zealand government is striving to reverse declining biodiversity and promote the preservation of the land that humans have already degraded. Similarly, the existing policies in the Adirondacks are being reevaluated, particularly in the High Peaks region. An environmental advocacy organization named Adirondack Wild is working to implement a permit system to manage the hikers in the area.
In addition to many less popular hikes, I completed three out of the nine New Zealand “Great Walk” trails (Kepler Track, Routeburn Track, and Rakiura Track), which are multi-day hikes in the country. They are well designed and straightforward to follow, typically close to popular towns. Great Walks are given this special status to balance the influx of hikers and minimize overcrowding and effects of erosion. The number of trampers is also regulated by requiring reservations in huts, sometimes even months in advance.
In addition to this special awareness towards overcrowding, I also noticed invasive species trap boxes along the sides of several tracks. For example, donations from hikers helped set up over 180 stoat boxes on the Routeburn to protect native species such as kākā, kea, and rock wren. The goal of this project is to enhance biodiversity, control predators, and eventually initiate similar projects in surrounding areas. A similar project would benefit the Adirondack region, where existing efforts to eradicate invasive species can be more concentrated in the High Peaks area.
New Zealand’s reputation for having an environmentally conscious approach in prioritizing the natural world was affirmed through my hiking experience. The Department of Conservation does an amazing job of fostering a sustainable environment that benefits both the natural world and the hikers. By writing blog posts about each of the hikes, I was able to combine one of my majors (English) with my favorite hobby, which I am incredibly grateful for.