For Release: Wednesday, July 1, 2015
DEC Announces Projects to Improve Public Safety at Kaaterskill Falls
Projects to enhance public safety and provide additional access to the popular Kaaterskill Falls area of the Catskill Forest Preserve in Greene County are underway, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced today. Because of safety risks associated with the construction, public access to the falls area will be restricted starting July 6 and through the 2015 summer hiking season.
"DEC is committed to protecting and maintaining this unique natural and historic treasure, while also ensuring that visitors have a safe, enjoyable experience," Commissioner Martens said. "Kaaterskill Falls is an extremely popular summer destination, but upgrades are needed to protect public safety and improve trails and access. We ask people to avoid the construction area until the projects are completed. Fortunately, there are many beautiful natural areas nearby in the Catskill Park, and we encourage visitors to take advantage of these opportunities while work on the improvement projects is ongoing."
The work is being funded by $450,000 from NY Works. DEC anticipates construction activities will be conducted seven days a week during the remainder of the hiking season. Construction zones will be delineated with temporary fencing, signs and/or flagging along access points. The public will not be allowed to enter construction zones for their own safety.
Access to the falls will only be allowed from the Kaaterskill Falls trailhead located on NY Route 23A. DEC will prohibit public access past the wooden fences at the base of the falls. The Laurel House Road parking area near the top of the falls will be closed and visitors will not have access to Kaaterskill Falls from the parking area for the remainder of the hiking season. Individuals found trespassing in construction areas will be ticketed by law enforcement personnel.
DEC staff and contractors will construct a new foot trail from the end of the marked Kaaterskill Falls trail at the base of the falls to the Escarpment trail at the top of the falls. This 0.2-mile trail will include construction of a new, approximately 260-foot stone staircase, with 200 stone steps.
In addition, an approximately 300-foot spur trail will lead from the staircase to a point above the middle pool of the falls. At the end of this trail, DEC and its contractors will install another shorter set of stone stairs to provide access to the middle pool area. The stone staircase will be designed to blend in with the natural stone of the area at a location that will limit its visibility from below. DEC will also build a fully accessible trail that leads to an accessible viewing area and overlook platform at the top of the falls.
The new trails and stone staircase will accommodate the public's desire for access to a better view of Kaaterskill Falls and the middle pool area, while also protecting public safety. In recent years, DEC has taken additional steps to prevent people from continuing past the end of the marked Kaaterskill Falls trail, including an increased number of signs warning of potential risks, but some people ignored the warnings and put themselves in danger by continuing past the fence at the end of the trail.
DEC will also partner with the Kaaterskill Rail Trail Committee on its initiative to complete a 1.8-mile trail connection between the hamlet of Haines Falls and the existing trail system in the Kaaterskill Wild Forest and North/South Lake Campground. Many of these improvements have already been undertaken. DEC will complete the linkage by repairing an additional 0.2 miles of trail on an abandoned town road and installing a new bridge that will cross over Spruce Creek to connect Haines Falls to the Escarpment trail and campground.
Seasonal stewards will also be available at the falls area to educate and interact with visitors to the falls area. In addition, the stewards will gather information about public use of the area, including peak user times, behaviors and preferences to inform DEC's management decisions.
Public Safety and Parking
To assist first responders with rescue operations, DEC will install 10 permanent anchor points in the middle pool area, which will allow safety ropes to be quickly and safely secured during rescue operations. The anchor points will protect rescuers, as well as those being rescued, from potential falls and injury.
DEC will also expand two nearby DEC-managed parking areas -- the Laurel House Road parking area and the Schutt Road parking area -- to accommodate approximately 35 cars each. Currently, the lots provide parking for only nine to 12 cars each. In the fall of 2014, DEC installed approximately 500 feet of split rail fencing at both the upper and lower falls. The fencing serves as both a physical and visual barrier to alert the public to the potential dangers of proceeding farther. Additional signage was also installed in more conspicuous locations to warn the public of the potential dangers in the area. Under the draft plan amendment, these features would remain in place.
"We have all suffered with the many injuries and fatalities at Kaaterskill Falls in recent memory. Our local emergency rescue personnel have put themselves at serious personal risk and expended significant public resources for years in order to respond to these incidents," said Assemblyman Pete Lopez. "I am thankful that Governor Cuomo and DEC are now addressing the hazards at the falls. I look forward to continuing our state, county, and local partnership as we move forward to promote recreation and tourism in the Catskills while ensuring that all of our residents and visitors are protected to the best of our ability."
Senator George Amedore said, "Kaaterskill Falls is a beautiful natural resource enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. The improvements being made by DEC will preserve the natural beauty of the location, but will also provide greater access and increase the safety and enjoyment of hikers who visit the falls."
"On behalf of the residents and visitors of Greene County, I thank DEC and Commissioner Martens for their timely response to concerns surrounding Kaaterskill Falls. These upgrades provide a safer environment for the many visitors to this natural wonder. Unfortunately inconveniences may be experienced during the construction process. Please visit other outdoor adventure areas in the Catskill Park," said Kevin Lewis, Chairman of the Greene County Legislature.
Alternate Hikes in the Catskills
For alternate hikes while access to Kaaterskill Falls is restricted, please see our list of Great Hikes in the Catskills.