HUNTER — Hassan Basagic, 75, is not letting anything get in his way.
In 2016, at 71, Basagic was featured in an episode of The Travel Channel about the daring stunts of cliff diving. Videos of the Hunter resident, who also happens to be one of four Greene Count coroners, climbing trees and making 60-75 foot jumps into Fawn’s Leap have made international news.
“I won’t be able to jump forever, but I don’t see it ending soon,” Basagic said. “I’m still in good health. At 75 I’m pretty lucky to be able to do 60-, 75-foot jumps.”
Despite his position as a county coroner, Basagic said his hobby is not inspired by a heightened comfort or acceptance of his own mortality — he is well aware of the risks. “I do warn people about the dangers,” he said. “You can have a slip and a fall if you’re not careful. It can be dangerous. We had our first fatality [at Fawn’s Leap] on Aug. 31, 2019. It was a very sad situation. He was scaling down underneath the waterfall and he grabbed hold of a rock underneath and pulled it down on top of him.
It was very sad.”
Basagic has recently become aware of other dangers at the falls, he said.
“There’s a problem there now,” he said. “Local people are not happy with the volume of traffic and illegal parking and the refuse left behind. It affects the image of the mountaintop — that’s the corridor to the community.”
Fawn’s Leap is one of the last remaining areas that Basagic cliff jumps, he said, adding that he used to swim at Furlongs in East Durham. The Dean’s Mills swimming hole in Durham was closed to swimmers in August 2015 by the town board after property owners along the creek complained of littering and rowdy behavior.
COVID only adds to the mix of concerns for the high volume at these areas. The state Department of Environmental Conservation closed Kaaterskill Falls to prevent visitors from congregating there in April.
“The falls, viewing platform and access trails are relatively small areas which concentrate recreationists such that proper social distancing, as recommended for reducing the spread of COVID-19, is not practicable,” according to DEC.”
The town of Hunter is exploring management options with the state, Town Councilman David Kukle said.
“Something needs to occur,” Kukle said. “It’s becoming an unsafe, unsanitary situation down there.”
Town Supervisor Daryl Legg and another town board member will be meeting with DEC, the state Department of Transportation and state police to discuss mitigation strategies this week, Kukle said.
DEC Forest Rangers and staff are working closely with state agency partners, local law enforcement, community stakeholders, and other partners to help address challenges associated with increased use in the Kaaterskill Clove/Fawn’s Leap area and other areas in the Catskills, according to DEC. DEC Forest Rangers actively patrol the area to educate visitors about sustainable use and Leave No Trace principles and issue tickets as appropriate. In June, more than 500 parking tickets were issued in the area. The department has also launched a Play Smart, Play Safe, Play Local campaign to encourage New Yorkers to engage in responsible outdoor recreation during the pandemic. Other municipalities are also being affected, Kukle said, adding that the town of Catskill is having conversations about Tannery Bridge in Palenville and the town of Woodstock has closed Big Deep swimming holes.
There are several areas of concern, Kukle said.
“There’s the parking, the litter, the concern about the human waste going on within the creek because there are no bathrooms down there,” he said. “There was a bear feeding on a buffet breakfast at Fawn’s Leap this morning that almost got hit by a car.”
The parking situation is especially dangerous, Kukle said.
“They have complete disrespect for traffic laws,” he said. “They park underneath signs that say no parking. They double park. You wouldn’t be able to get a rescue vehicle through there.”
The falls are a key part of the mountaintop community, Kukle said.
“It’s a way to get out to outdoors but they don’t know how to appreciate it. They’re over-loving it.”
Although the falls are dear to his heart, if things don’t change, Basagic foresees closure as a possibility, he said.
“There is going to have to be a study done and if they elect not to provide additional parking and monitoring, they’ll have to close it,” he said. “That’s what seems to be the attitude right now.”