New safety measures for popular Catskill hiking spot

September 13, 2017 07:01 PM

TOWN OF HUNTER -- At Kaaterskill Falls, a short hike plus an incredible view equals a lot of inexperienced hikers Ranger Rob Dawson has to watch.

Dawson has seen it all, from people hiking the slippery rocks and steep inclines in high heels and flip flops to dangling their feet off the more than 150-foot edge.

Dawson cannot ticket someone for dangerous behavior, all he can do is ask them to be safe.

"Most people disregard it and continue on. Then I tell them if I have to carry them out, they're going to get an earful," said Dawson.

DEC announced $800,000 in cumulative safety and accessibility improvements at Kaaterskill Falls on Wednesday.

New since last year when NewsChannel 13 first covered these improvements, is a 200-foot cable hand rail on the trail to the swimming hole.

Last fall, Ranger Dawson showed us the 181 bluestone steps installed by the ADK Mountain Club, each of them 700 lbs., leading down to the trail to the swimming pool.

We saw the new bridge across the creek above the falls, hikers used to wade through the water.

DEC says seven have died since 1998. Recently in pairs, two died in 2016, two in 2014, and two in 2009.

"Despite the injuries and the fatalities, people keep coming," said Assem. Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie.

Local lawmakers reached out to the state when they realized injuries were becoming a problem.  Around 50,000 to 70,000 people now visit the falls each year. Dawson says he has observed 1,000 in a single summer day before.

"This is the result of six years of intense discussion and dialogue. Part of the challenge was encouraging the department and the state to recognize that we needed help here," said Lopez.

DEC recognized the need.

"As this location became more and more popular and you got more and more people. Obviously, from a percentage standpoint, you're going to have more and more accidents," said Keith Goertz, DEC Region 4 Director. "We are doing everything we can as an agency to make this as safe as possible, but the public has to take some personal responsibilities as well."

If you do get hurt, there is no easy way out. A helicopter cannot land in the falls and local EMS teams along with rangers have to carry the individual a half mile to Route 23A before loading them onto an ambulance.

Lopez is concerned about that. He is excited about the safety improvements and increased tourism, but wants financial support for local EMS.

"State owned land, state attraction, but still no state support for the emergency management aspect," said Lopez. "We still get need to get to the governor's attention and Commissioner Segos' attention. There's a need for providing some modest funding to emergency rescue services."

Ranger Dawson says there were only two notable injuries this year, a concussion and a broken leg.  He attributes the decrease to the new safety equipment.

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WNYT Staff

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