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For Release: Tuesday, May 25, 2021

DEC Announces Suite of Actions to Improve Safety, Visitor Experience at Zoar Valley

New and Enhanced Signage, Improved Maps, Additional Staff, and New Safety Features among Improvements at Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced improvements and actions at the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area (MUA) and Zoar Valley Unique Area in southern Erie and northern Cattaraugus counties. The improvements are designed to promote public safety and enhance the visitor experience at one of Western New York's most scenic and ecologically diverse natural areas.

"With its breathtaking gorge, flowing waters, and diversity of plants and wildlife, Zoar Valley is a Western New York treasure," said Commissioner Seggos. "Zoar also represents nature in its raw and wild state and DEC is committed to ensuring visitors to Zoar Valley have the information and resources necessary to safely enjoy this special place. The upgrades and improvements announced today are a testament to that commitment and how we remember those who have lost their lives here."

In addition to the improvements and actions announced today, Commissioner Seggos announced that DEC will install a special memorial at the accessible overlook platform, which is expected to be complete in 2022. The memorial will recognize Brooke Walker, the 16-year-old who died in an accident at the Zoar Valley MUA in 2020, and all of those who have died accidentally at Zoar Valley.

Marla Walker said, "Tomorrow, May 26th will be Brooke and Garrett's 17th birthday. Unfortunately, Brooke will not get to celebrate turning 17...We are grateful and hopeful that with these improvements and continued enhancements to Zoar Valley, others will get to celebrate many birthdays for years to come! Brooke continues to give back!"

"The beauty of the Zoar Valley gorge attracts thousands of visitors each year. It's one of the premier hiking and kayaking destinations in Western New York. With its rugged cliffs and fast-flowing rapids, it's also a wild and untamed place. That will never change, but I am grateful to Commissioner Seggos and his team at the Department of Environmental Conservation for taking these steps to promote safety at Zoar Valley and remember Brooke Walker and all of those we have lost to accidents at Zoar Valley," said Senator George Borrello. "Our hearts break for the families who have lost loved ones at Zoar Valley. This memorial and the improvements announced today will help ensure future visitors can enjoy Zoar Valley's natural wonders safely."

Assemblyman Joseph M. Giglio said, "The improvements in visitor experience and safety that Commissioner Seggos and the DEC managers have made to the Zoar Valley MUA will enhance the outdoor adventures of people visiting while also keeping them better protected and informed about the wonders of this natural resource. We can all appreciate the willingness of those involved to consider and implement appropriate changes recommended by families of those who have died or been injured in the area, local property owners and first responders from surrounding communities. Zoar Valley is a breathtaking area that can be enjoyed safely as long it is used responsibly; these improvements will lead to opportunities for safer exploration of Zoar Valley by outdoor enthusiasts."

Zoar Valley is widely recognized for its spectacular scenery created by a deep gorge surrounding Cattaraugus Creek, as well as its sheer cliffs, flowing waterfalls, and dense forests. To ensure that visitors to Zoar Valley MUA and the Zoar Valley Unique Area are aware of the potential risks, DEC worked with stakeholders including Marla Walker, MaryBeth Long, Senator George Borrello, Assemblymember Joseph M. Giglio, and DEC staff to develop a comprehensive plan to improve the visitor experience and public safety.

DEC's actions and improvements include:

  • New and enhanced signage at access points, along trails, and at the gorge rim. Dozens of new signs promote the safe use of Zoar Valley, marking trails, and warning of particularly dangerous spots at the MUA. These new signs complement existing signage;
  • DEC crews shortened the Overlook Trail at Valentine Flats to keep visitors safely away from the rim of the gorge;
  • DEC staff are developing new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant and accessible trails, which are advancing to construction and trail completion in 2022;
  • In May, two newly hired Assistant Forest Rangers started DEC service and, following training, are scheduled to begin seasonal summer posts at Zoar Valley before the start of the summer season;
  • DEC is hiring a summer intern from SUNY ESF and a Student Conservation Association Natural Resource Steward. Both positions will be assigned duties at Zoar Valley;
  • DEC has installed new kiosk panels at the Valentine Flats and Forty Road parking areas. The panels provide additional maps, safety messages, and feature new take-away maps for visitors;
  • DEC will issue emergency regulations this summer to restrict access upstream from the Forty Road Parking Area and include a 15-foot setback from the cliff edges, prohibit climbing cliff walls, and include a restricted area along the South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek to deter trespass;
  • DEC's Divisions of Lands and Forests and Forest Protection staff brushed in unofficial trails on the property to help discourage the use of these potentially unsafe trails and to promote use of official trails;
  • In addition to physical improvements at the site, DEC enhanced safety messaging and updated maps and information on its Zoar Valley MUA webpage, including Important Tips for Visitors to Zoar Valley MUA and Answers to Frequently Asked Questions;
  • To encourage visitors to access the site by official and safer entry points, DEC worked closely with Google and outdoor and travel websites to ensure maps and information provided by third parties are up-to-date and accurate, and provide visitors with clear information and directions to maximize safe enjoyment of Zoar Valley. Google worked with DEC to update its maps of Zoar Valley MUA with accurate trail markings and accessible parking lots.

This summer, DEC will issue an updated Unit Management Plan (UMP) for Zoar Valley for public comment. The UMP articulates the management strategy for the Zoar Valley MUA and lists management objectives, as well as information about natural features, recreational infrastructure, geology, natural and human history, habitats, wildlife, and fisheries at the site.

For more information, visit Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation.

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