Tracking Danger but Trailing Behind

Tire tracks on Mount Beacon in late March

Illegal vehicle use continues on Mount Beacon and Fishkill Ridge

By Brian PJ Cronin

Beacon resident Joe Allen had gotten so used to seeing tire tracks on the trails that run along Mount Beacon and Fishkill Ridge that he didn’t think anything of it. “I had seen ATV tracks and trucks so much that I just assumed it was allowed,” he said. “It wasn’t until I started emailing Scenic Hudson that I found out that it’s illegal.”

That may also come as news to the scores of drivers of all-terrain vehicles, which can often be seen and heard on the trails. But Geoff Carter, the parks and stewardship manager for Scenic Hudson, was happy to clear the air: “It’s against the park rules and it’s against New York state laws.” He said the main concern with illegal vehicle use is that it endangers the safety of hikers and threatens the habitats of the wildlife who call the mountain home.

Tire tracks on Mount Beacon in late March

Tire tracks on Mount Beacon in late March

Scenic Hudson currently maintains the majority of the trails on Mount Beacon and Fishkill Ridge. Allen had contacted the group over concerns that many of the trails, particularly the one that leads from the casino ruins to the fire tower, were being irreparably damaged by traffic.

“That trail is such a delicate little path,” said Allen. “But now it’s a gashed out mess of tire tracks. It’s sad that we have so many tourists who come here to hike Mount Beacon, and that’s what they see.”

It’s a common complaint echoed by hikers who have seen ATVs and Jeeps tearing up the trails and wondered why someone isn’t doing something about it. But the issue of enforcement up on the ridge is a complicated one, and the roots of the problem run deep.

People have been driving up on Mount Beacon essentially since the invention of four-wheel drive. Long before the formation of Scenic Hudson, Beaconites would run trap lines on the mountain, camp overnight and even haul up building materials to construct their own makeshift cabins. In the ’60s, local gearheads would strip down Volkswagen Beetles, convert them to dune buggies and roll around on the mountain to their hearts’ content.

“You’re talking about behavior that’s been going on for decades,” said Douglas Solomon, Beacon’s chief of police. “It’s kind of a tradition.”

But the amount of illegal vehicular traffic has been increasing, and many of the drivers aren’t exactly being covert about it.

“Now you’ve got Jeep clubs going up there,” said Solomon incredulously. “Actual established clubs!”

Indeed, a quick scroll through the most recent months’ worth of photos on Instagram with a #MtBeacon hashtag reveals several shots of Jeeps majestically perched on the casino ruins and even parked under the fire tower. While out hiking, Charlotte Guernsey, who has lived on the mountain for 10 years and knows its trails as well as anyone, has come across Jeeps making the fire tower climb while out hiking. She said that the trail’s difficulty is the secret to its clandestine appeal.

Tire tracks on Mount Beacon in late March

Tire tracks on Mount Beacon in late March

“That trail is basically a Jeep commercial,” she said. “They have to crawl straight up the rock face to get there. Meanwhile I’m just cringing while I’m watching them because they all look like they’re about to fall over backwards.”

In order to combat the growing problem, Solomon and Beacon Mayor Randy Casale recently met with Carter and law enforcement officials from Fishkill and the New York State Parks Department to discuss options. One of the main obstacles to enforcing the law is that the trails pass through lands controlled by several different parties.

Mount Beacon, for example, isn’t entirely in Beacon. Much of it, including the reservoir and most of the access roads, is technically in Fishkill. “The City of Beacon gets the brunt of the complaints when something goes on up there because everyone associates Mount Beacon with Beacon,” said Solomon. “Which seems obvious. But once you go a hundred feet up Monument Road, you’re out of our jurisdiction. And once it’s on Scenic Hudson lands, it’s technically their problem.”

That doesn’t help matters, considering that Scenic Hudson doesn’t have the authority or capacity to apprehend lawbreakers. “We don’t do a lot of high-speed chases,” said Carter.

This summer, however, Scenic Hudson will be turning over both the lands and the trails that it currently owns on Mount Beacon and Fishkill Ridge to the state. That means that the land will be under the stewardship of New York State park rangers — who know the trails intimately and have both the capacity and the jurisdiction to enforce the laws banning unauthorized vehicles.

There is also the issue of road access. While ATVs are completely prohibited, the service road that begins as Monument Road is open to car and Jeep traffic for those who live on the mountain, technicians who service the communications towers at the summit, Beacon city workers and Central Hudson. Solomon estimated that approximately 30 legal trips a day are made on that service road. “It’s a difficult road to shut down access to,” he said.

An open gate remains in place at the base of Monument Road. In the past a padlock had been put on it, and only those with legal access to the roads were given a key. But the lock was often intentionally broken by vandals, trapping people up on the mountain and preventing others from opening the gate. This proved particularly problematic one day when Guernsey encountered someone on the mountain in a life-threatening emergency. “In instances like that, police need to be able to get up here quickly,” she said. “That day they couldn’t because the gate was broken.”

Despite the difficulties, Solomon said that his department was committed to heading up the mountain this spring to actively try and tamp down the problem in a way that hasn’t been done in years. They may not have to do much to make an impact. Guernsey remembers the last time the law was actively enforced, about 10 years ago. Justice was swift and harsh.

“They started taking people’s quads away,” she said. “Things got real quiet after that. Word travels fast in those circles.”

See related story: Fire and Rescue on the Mountain

Photos by Joe Allen

28 thoughts on “Tracking Danger but Trailing Behind

  1. The biggest problem in New York state is the lack of areas for off-road recreation. Although we pay lavish fees to register our vehicles, the state does little to accommodate us. The hikers and bicycles cause their own fair amount of erosion but do nothing financially to contribute, yet they reap the benefits of our revenue. Is that really fair? Not in my opinion.

  2. I am a Beacon native. I have been driving and being driven up Mount Beacon since I was four years old and love it dearly. Myself and fellow riders pick up trash that hikers leave behind and on one occasion helped a few men from Scenic Hudson find a lost hiker because they could not make it there with their vehicle.

    I am completely aware that we are not supposed to drive up Mount Beacon. My father and grandfather drove up there. It’s a tradition, not just for my family but for many families who originated from Beacon and its surrounding towns and cities. The trails that tourists hike and love so much would not still be there of it were not for us and our past relatives. The “Jeep club” is made up of people like myself who already call the mountain home.

    We all love and respect the mountain and like I said previously, we clean up a lot of garbage that the tourists leave behind. At the end of last summer my husband and myself took to the trails with shovels in the pouring rain to redirect the water from washing out the trails. Also at the end of last summer it was the Mountain natives who went up to put out the wild fire that was spreading, a fire that hikers started. We love that mountain and respect it more than any tourists could imagine. To tell us we can’t be there is upsetting. To know that my son will not grow up to experience what I did is devastating.

    • There are many who have been traveling this mountain as tradition for generations, both on foot and by vehicle. Many will not stop. Rather than causing more reckless behavior from vehicles attempting untraveled paths while hiding from enforcement, I suggest a fee and waiver to travel the mountain. I am sure people will pay $25 a day to bring their vehicle. This will provide for safer travels and town/state revenue.

  3. When we drive our Jeeps up Mt. Beacon we ALWAYS leave with more then we take in. Almost every Jeep has a trash bag on the back that we fill with the garbage left from the tourist and hikers who don’t care about the mountain as it’s just a day trip to them. We live here and we respect it for its beauty. It’s not fair that we get blamed when it’s us keeping it clean.

  4. Make a new trail if the concern is sharing. NYS is lame and always will be.

  5. You are trying to take away a pastime that has kept many a generation off the streets and out of trouble. I am tired of hearing how it endangers the atmosphere and wildlife. News flash: They have been doing just fine until hikers came and started leaving garbage everywhere. I know longtime Beacon natives would never do that. Leave the four-wheelers & Jeep clubs alone. You have done enough to chase Beaconites out.

  6. The responses to the threat of stopping illegal activity on the mountain shows exactly why motorized vehicles are a problem on Mt. Beacon and Fishkill Ridge. Everyone who breaks the law by being there is entitled to be there, as far as they are concerned. To listen to them, they are the heroes of the mountain, rescuing wayward hikers and putting out fires that those tourists are starting. You know who started that fire last year? The inconsiderate Jeep/ATV drivers tossing their cigarettes out of their vehicles as they race down the mountain. You know where all the trash along the service road comes from? It’s not the people hiking up with little to no items that could get tossed on the mountain. It is the illegal jeep/ATV drivers who have coolers and bags of party supplies that get tossed when they’re leaving the mountain.

    The time for excuses and entitlement is long over. If the Jeep/ATV enthusiasts are so universally concerned about the bad behavior you would have policed it yourself. Instead, bad elements are ruining it for you. Redirect your anger and concern towards the real offenders. Blaming hikers and tourists is just grasping for an excuse, and is clearly not true.

    Making the excuse that hikers and bicyclists cause as much damage to the trails as ATVs is ridiculous. Besides, if the state doesn’t provide adequate grounds for ATV use, that is reason enough to break the law? These arguments are as frustrating as the constant motorized activities on the mountain.

    • Can’t we just all get along? It was fine to drive people up for the monument ceremony years ago. It’s all right when people and “clubs” volunteer to haul trash left by hikers. Basically, when you need them, you welcome them. But until then stay away, you might want to kick mountain bike riders off as well, unless you find a reason you need them. These clubs respect the mountain just as much, if not more. Next you’re probably going to want to kick boaters off the river, because it disrupts the kayakers. Has the mayor ever been up the mountain to look at what’s going on? If so, how did he get up there?

  7. The hikers come from wherever and park on the roads here and block driveways, turn around in the middle of the roads and cause traffic problems. If you don’t like the way things are done, go find another place to hike and leave your trash there.

  8. When is the last time hikers went up there with chainsaws and cleared the trails of downed trees? Good for fire roads that need to be kept open. In addition to taking out the trash, we do clear trails too.

    If NY State was smart they would make this a designated off-road park for ATVs and 4X4 trucks with an annual or daily use fee. Out west they do this very successfully for decades and I can’t for the life of me understand why we don’t do this here on the east coast. The fees collected pay for trail signage, maintenance, ranger salaries, etc. Having designated areas for this would curtail illegal use in other areas and then everyone benefits.

  9. We have played on that mountain for years, riding dirt bikes, dune buggies and Jeeps. Now all the sudden the hikers are king of the mountain. When there is a fire, who is there to help? Not the hikers. They only walk around lost and littering all the garbage they bring up with them. We all pay registration and fees to own quads and Jeeps, so why should we not be allowed to travel the mountains and hunt and trap? Stewart Forest allows hikers and Hunters and snowmobiles during the hunting seasons; no hiking allowed. What’s so hard about that? Maybe we should all buy horses and go up or are they not allowed too?

  10. Just an bit of trivia/history: those trails would have long ago been reclaimed by the forest were it not for the off-road vehicle enthusiasts who were up on that mountain maintaining the trails long before Scenic Hudson and NY/NJ Trail conference claimed it as their turf. Instead of shaking your fist at those guys you should be giving them a thumbs-up in gratitude.

    • Groups like Scenic Hudson and the NY/NJ Trail Conference don’t play well with others. They do come in and claim things as their own turf, as you state. And they do it with no regard for the people who have been there previously or have different ideas on how to use the land.

  11. Well, it looks like Scenic Hudson and NY/NJ Trail conference have their tentacles everywhere. These same groups are trying to destroy a historic railroad in the Catskills in order to cater to the new “privileged class.” They are claiming that a bike trail will bring more money to the area than the current railroad which brought in 40,000 people last year.

    Now I read that they are kicking local people off of land they have been using and taking care of for years. They are also employing the same tactics here that they are against the railroad. Taking photos of the worst areas in an attempt to lead readers into believing that the entire road is heavily damaged.

    Don’t let these groups influence your local politicians with their PAC money and scare tactics. Stay on top of them, go to meetings and be very vocal.

  12. I would like to see hikers have to buy a permit to hike. To get the permit you have to have a physical, take a navigation course and a survival course. The fees they pay will help for enforcement, clean up and general trail maintenance. Currently they don’t have to pay anything yet hunters and ATV owners have to buy licenses, pay insurance etc. Those fees cover the cost of all the above yet they have limited areas, if any, to enjoy what they have paid for.

  13. The “actual Jeep Clubs” that have been up the mountain and actually take pictures up there were asked to bring up the steel to rebuild the Firetower! That’s gratitude for ya!

  14. Please people, read the article carefully. New York State owns vast stretches of property on the mountain and, like it or not, it is ordinance, enforceable statutes written by the lawmakers in Albany scores of years ago that prohibit motorized vehicles on state land. The Wild West attitude is a mindset of false entitlement. Don’t blame the many organizations and municipalities that are committed to keeping the mountain wild and beautiful. They donate tremendous resources so the area is not totally ripped to shreds.

    If you want change, lobby your government representatives instead of blaming the people who constantly repair the damage being done. Each year committed local citizens drag and clean up truckloads of garbage, lawn chairs, broken bottles, drug paraphernalia, gas grills, unclaimed abandoned ATVs that slipped off the roads into ravines, construction debris dumped, etc. Do you think the recreational hikers carried that in on their backs?

    As far as heroic stories of rescue, local law enforcement agencies are continually & always first responders, professional – best equipped to helping people in trouble. They should be given huge credit for doing what they do when emergencies happen, like putting out the five-acre fire started along an ATV path last year or getting the injured speedster to the hospital. Get real and see the utter selfishness that goes along with thinking every mountain is a private highway for a head rush. The world is crowded and we all need to cooperate and get along. Go to Lebanon Valley and race and do not put innocent lives at risk, many of whom are children.

  15. I look at that photo and I see soil turnover and aeration, mulching and composting of leaves and other vegetation, the delivery of nutrients and moisture to deep tree roots, and the exposing of grubs, larva, worms etc. to the wildlife. Nothing’s been mined, cut down, or hauled away, no rubbish has been left, the tree is safe and sound, and come August all will be healed and covered with thousands of new sprouts of vegetation.

  16. The citizens doing the clean up are the ATV and Jeep clubs. I have seen the hikers litter and have seen the hikers lost and injured. Nobody is blaming any one group — there are bad apples in all groups — but there is no reason that we all can’t use the Mountain. If it were not for the dirt bikes and ATVs riding on those trails since the invention of them, there would be no trails to walk on. We will always ride on the Mountain; you cannot stop the people who were born and raised in Beacon in enjoying the trails.

  17. It looks like everybody has their individual opinion or perspective about this issue.

    I too have lived in Beacon area for all my life and I have seen many changes, such as the sad decline of the inclined railroad to the majestic effort put into the resurgence on the riverfront, recently opened the public and Beacon’s community specifically.

    These types of subtle shifts benefit everybody, from the shopkeepers to the fishermen, delicatessen owners, and multiple entrepreneurs who have learned to adapt to kindly serving our common neighborhood.

    Positive changes could not have happened without the support of a larger citizenry and good governance, including the tireless support of the forward looking visionaries at City Hall. As a civilized people, it is necessary to respect the democracy we embrace for collectively making the right decisions for the common good.

    Imagine the outrage if the mountain were bought by one wealthy individual who just put up “No Trespassing” signs? There is a time and place for everything and Mt. Beacon, to me, has always been a symbol of peace and unification. To reach that summit, long ago burned into American history and pride, we must follow the the law of the land or become a land of lawless individuals, divided in cause.

  18. I grew up in Beacon Hills and rode my 3-wheeler, 4-wheeler, dirt bike and snowmobile up Mt. Beacon every chance I had. I was never home and never on the streets getting into trouble in the 1970s-80s! It is so sad that off-road motorsports enthusiasts can’t enjoy Mt. Beacon without issues and legal consequences.

  19. I have been on that mountain for 40 years, long before hikers from Connecticut. These trails that hikers walk on were not created by walking. I also have helped put out numerous fires over those 40 years and have helped lost people and cleaned up a ton of plastic water bottles. I will continue to ride and drive everything I have on that mountain and so will my children.

  20. Mt. Beacon has been my backyard since I can remember. There is no way that you will run the True Beacon Natives out of the Mountain. We cherish that mountain more than any of the tourists that have been flooding from everywhere to get a glimpse of our beloved town. Like many of the previous comments, anytime a lost hiker is in trouble the “Jeep Clubs” and ATV riders are the first to respond to help. We will continue to ride the trails that we know so well, and continue to keep it clean even though we are being blamed for “ruining” the trails.

  21. The overwhelming response to this article appears to be “You can never stop us from taking advantage of other people’s property! We broke the law all of our lives and we won’t stop now!”

    Do any commentators here actually believe that if some bikers and Jeeps and ATVs showed up in their yard day and night, that they wouldn’t seek relief?

    The property is owned by someone else. Not you. They get to decide what happens there. If you purchase the property, then you gain property rights. Otherwise, you get no vote.

    That’s the democratic, capitalist, libertarian, conservative world we choose to live in. Why do the rules not apply to the special group of ATV/motorbike enthusiasts who flaunt the rules?

    • After some research I find that when I register a vehicle in New York state, a percentage is labeled for trail grooming and repair. I don’t think any hikers are paying anything. I hear that Breakneck Mountain is a good hike with nice view. If hikers want to take a walk without any other traffic, they should try that.

      • The people who have the property rights have decided they want only hikers and authorized vehicles on the mountain. They have decided they specifically want to exclude unauthorized motor vehicles on their property. State vehicle registration fees aren’t a magical free pass to ignore property owner’s rights. If I buy a ticket to see the Rolling Stones at MSG, I don’t get to flash that ticket at the backstage door and say “I paid good money for this ticket, I’m heading backstage to grab a beer and high-five Mick.”

  22. Tit for tat, tree huggers vs. gearheads. This division needs to stop! If there can’t be usage of the mountain for everyone, then it should be closed and used by no one. And talk of fees and permits? This is supposed to be land of the free, one nation under God indivisible, but people prove that false everyday. I, for one, will continue drive my 4×4 with my family up and down that mountain just as generations upon generations have before me and I will not be intimidated or bullied by any group or government official to do otherwise. Live free or die in the Empire State!