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For Release: Wednesday, May 24, 2023

DEC Reminds Visitors to Practice Safe, Sustainable Recreation at Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Areas

Ongoing Improvements to Enhance Visitor Experience, Promote Safety at Zoar Valley Include Preliminary Work to Develop New ADA-Accessible Trail

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced ongoing work to improve public safety at Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Areas in southern Erie and northern Cattaraugus counties and reminded visitors to prepare for outdoor adventures prior to visiting. DEC continues to advance a comprehensive suite of actions to promote public safety and enhance visitor experience at Zoar Valley, one of Western New York's most scenic and ecologically diverse natural areas.

"With the summer recreational season nearly upon us, DEC is highlighting some of the ongoing public safety improvements at Zoar Valley while we continue to encourage all outdoor adventurers to plan ahead and prepare to recreate safely and responsibly," Commissioner Seggos said. "DEC's work at Zoar Valley prioritizes safety and is being strategically advanced to allow visitors to safely access the stunning natural beauty of the area."

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 visitors to Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Areas are aware of potential risks and the need to prepare, DEC continues to advance comprehensive plans to improve the visitor experience and public safety.

Supporting this ongoing work, DEC is:

  • Preparing the site to advance a two-phase construction plan for new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant and accessible trail and overlooks and improved emergency access to the creek. Construction is scheduled to begin on the first phase later this summer. This spring, work to prepare the site for construction included tree and brush clearing and finalizing the trail route to ensure safety and accessibility;
  • Deploying two Assistant Forest Rangers to seasonal summer posts at Zoar Valley, as well as a summer intern from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and a steward from the Student Conservation Association;
  • Continuing to work closely with outside entities, including outdoor and travel websites, to monitor maps and information provided by third parties for accuracy to provide visitors with clear information and directions; and
  • Continuing to partner with local municipalities and emergency responders.

This past spring, tree removal work required in advance of constructing the new ADA-compliant and accessible trail was completed. Construction work on the new trail is expected to start later this summer. In the meantime, the existing Overlook Trail will remain closed until further notice for site improvement and trail work efforts. The Valentines Flats parking area and its associated trail will be open to visitors this summer but will be closed when construction begins. Meanwhile, other access points, including Forty Road in the town of Persia and the Holcomb and Ross Pond areas will remain open to visitors.

Additional improvements include a new culvert and enhancements for nearly all interior trail and overlook surfaces at Valentine Flats. Additional projects include a new nine-foot-wide emergency access road from the Valentine Flats parking area to Cattaraugus Creek, along with new signage, kiosks, and benches.

These efforts bolster DEC's work over the last three years to make Zoar Valley safer and more enjoyable for visitors. DEC reminds visitors to recreate safely and responsibly at Zoar Valley by following rules and regulations and taking appropriate outdoor safety measures, including:

  • Signing in and out of all trail registers. Only one person should sign in for groups;
  • Following all State forest regulations, outdoor safety practices, and signage at access points, along trails, and at the gorge rim. DEC installed hundreds of new signs to promote the safe use of Zoar Valley and encourages visitors to remain on marked trails. In addition, new kiosk panels at the Valentine Flats and Forty Road parking areas provide visitors with new maps and safety messages;
  • Staying on marked trails. The property contains hazards associated with rocks, steep slopes, cliffs, and swift water. DEC, through its collaboration with stakeholders, shortened the Overlook Trail at Valentine Flats to keep visitors safely away from the rim of the gorge. Unofficial trails on the property were brushed in to discourage the use of potentially unsafe trails and to promote use of official trails. The only safe gorge and creek access is from the Valentine Flats Trail and Forty Road parking lot. There is no authorized, safe trail to access Cattaraugus Creek on the Erie County side of the Multiple Use Area;
  • Observing all rules and regulations. Before visiting, visitors should familiarize themselves with DEC's regulations, which restrict access upstream from the Forty Road parking area, include a 15-foot setback from the cliff edges, prohibit climbing of cliff walls, and create a new restricted area along the South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek. Additional rules and regulations continue to prohibit camping, fires, alcoholic beverages, and glass containers at Zoar Valley;
  • Following @NYSDECAlerts. Launched in 2021, the @NYSDECAlerts Twitter feed helps provide real-time updates about the most crowded places, especially when those places and parking areas are at capacity; and
  • Practicing Leave No TraceTM Principles (leaves DEC website) when recreating on State land to enjoy the outdoors responsibly, minimize impact on the natural resources, and avoid conflicts with others.

Enhanced safety messaging and updated maps and information are available at DEC's Zoar Valley MUA webpage, including Important Tips for Visitors to Zoar Valley MUA and Answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

New Yorkers are encouraged to Love Our New York Lands at Zoar and all natural spaces by practicing Leave No TraceTM principles and by recreating safely, sustainably, and hiking in suitable conditions based on weather and experience level. Learn more at DEC's website.

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