HUNTER — Just in time for the fall hiking season, an $800,000 project at Kaaterskill Falls to improve safety and accessibility was officially completed Wednesday.
The event was held at the Laurel House Road parking lot in Hunter. It showcased numerous recent improvements and safety precautions to take while hiking in the Kaaterskill Wild Forest area.
The improvements mark over six years of work and were completed under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Adventure NY Initiative.
Several state and local elected officials spoke at the event. A safety demonstration from state Forest Ranger Rob Dawson followed the speeches.
The changes made to Kaaterskill Falls improve the overall safety and aesthetics of the hiking experience, officials said.
Recently added to the trail is an overlook platform and 200-foot cable handrail leading down to the middle pool of the falls. Parts of the trail system were also rehabilitated.
In 2016, a 115-foot hiking bridge was installed that spans Spruce Creek and connects the hamlet of Haines Falls to the Escarpment Trail and North/South Lake Campground.
The bridge is part of a new 1.8-mile trail connection between Haines Falls and the existing trail system in the Kaaterskill Wild Forest and North/South Lake Campground, which DEC completed with the assistance of the Kaaterskill Rail Trail Committee.
A new pedestrian trail was also completed by DEC contractors that leads from the end of the marked Kaaterskill Falls trail at the base of the falls upslope to the middle pool of the falls, which included the installation of a new stone staircase.
The 200-step stone staircase was designed to blend in with the natural stone of the area in that location.
The Adirondack Mountain Club built the staircase by hand using a cable system and ramps to move each of the 700-pound stone steps from a staging area on the opposite side of the falls.
The trail was also extended from the middle pool to the Escarpment trail creating a key linkage between the top and the bottom of the falls, allowing hikers to avoid a potentially dangerous bushwhack between the two locations.
Also in 2016, the Laurel House Road parking lot and the Scutt Road parking lot were greatly expanded to accommodate apporxmiately 35 cars each. At the Scutt Road parking area, DEC rehabilitated the existing horse boarding platform was rehabilitated and a hitching post was added. A bridge on the trail to accommodate horse traffic was also replaced.
In 2015, a wider and smoother surface trail was constructed with level resting areas to an observation platform overlooking the top of the falls that safely direct people away from where others have fallen.
In 2014, nearly 500 feet of split rail fencing at both the upper and lower falls was constructed.
The fence will serve as both a physical and visual barrier to alert the public to the potential dangers of proceeding further. Additional signs were also posted to help warn the public about potential dangers in the area.
“We were advertising to people to come and visit — but there were accidents,” Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said, referring to recent hiking fatalities and injuries at the falls. “It’s much safer now.”
The stepping stones make the hikes safer overall, but do not ruin the experience, Groden said.
“It’s more alluring to people who don’t normally hike,” he said.
Hunter Town Councilman David Kukle said the sights from the viewing platform and other recent improvements originated in the 1970s and 1980s.
“The resurgence of young people sort of reawakened these visions,” Kukle said. “It’s absolutely wonderful.
Kukle said that the improvements aren’t completely finished.
He said there are plans in the works to improve road safety in the area, add benches on the trails and a shuttle system to bring people to and from the falls.
“This is the closest forest to New York City,” Kukle said. “You see people here in the middle of the week now.”
“With a primary focus on enhancing public safety, consistent with forest preserve management principles, DEC is committed to protecting and maintaining this unique natural and historic treasure,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “Through Gov. Cuomo’s Adventure NY Initiative, these improvements are just a sample of the infrastructure upgrades being made to New York’s natural areas and campgrounds to better serve everyone who wants to enjoy our state’s vast natural resources. I encourage all New Yorkers and visitors to get out and safely enjoy all the wonderful hiking trails the state has to offer by following our recommended hiking safety tips.”
“My office is pleased to be an active partner in securing state investment at Kaaterskill Falls,” Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-102, said. “The Greene County community continues to be keenly focused on Kaaterskill Falls as a tourism driver, while seeking improvements and resources to prevent and respond to serious injuries and fatalities at the falls. Today’s announcement goes a long way in supporting both considerations.”
To reach reporter Anthony Fiducia, call 518-828-1616, ext. 2309, or email email@example.com.