The End of the Road

NYS Parks Department won’t consider legal off-road access on Mount Beacon

By Brian PJ Cronin

As summer draws near, residents of Dutchess and Putnam counties are hitting the trails throughout the Hudson Highlands with wild abandon, soaking up the sunshine and getting back to nature. But for some residents, the good times may be coming to an end.

This summer, Scenic Hudson is scheduled to turn over stewardship of the trails they currently maintain on Fishkill Ridge and Mount Beacon to the New York State Parks Department, eliminating some of the confusion as to who is responsible for which patch of land throughout the Highlands.

“It’s a bureaucratic nightmare up there,” noted David Rocco, who led the volunteer efforts to restore the Mount Beacon Fire Tower. “You start at the bottom and you’re in the city of Beacon. You go halfway up and suddenly you’re in Fishkill. Then you start passing back and forth between Scenic Hudson land and the state’s land. And Scenic Hudson doesn’t have police authority.”

Tire tracks on Mount Beacon in late March

Tire tracks on Mount Beacon in late March (photo by Joe Allen)

Scenic Hudson may not have police authority, but the New York State Parks Department does. And they plan on using that authority to invoke a long-standing law that’s been loosely enforced in the past: the forbiddance of Jeeps, ATVs, and other off-road vehicles on the trails that traverse Mount Beacon and Fishkill Ridge.

As The Paper has reported over the last few weeks, the issue of off-road vehicles on the mountain has been a thorny one for quite some time (see Tracking Danger But Trailing Behind [April 17] and Fire and Rescue on the Mountain [April 24]). On one hand, state laws clearly forbid the use of such vehicles on the mountain. On the other hand, off-roaders have been traveling the trails for generations, and have been instrumental in clearing the mountain of trash and taking part in such civic projects as the restoration of the fire tower.

With the cities of Beacon and Fishkill as well as the NYS Parks Department planning on stepping up enforcement of the law this year due to increased vehicular traffic, many hoped that some sort of compromise could be reached to allow exceptions for those who use the trails responsibly.

“We can’t alienate the Jeep clubs until we need their help,” noted Antony Tseng, who has worked with the clubs as a member of both the Beacon Volunteer Ambulance Corp and the group that restored the fire tower. “There’s got to be a middle ground in there somewhere for everyone to get along and know the rules.” Rocco hoped that some sort of program could be put into place in which a limited number of off-roaders could be given legal access to the trails via some sort of permit system, although he noted that the system would be difficult to enforce.

“Who’s going to take the time to run an organization like that, to oversee that, to enforce that?” he asked. “Scenic Hudson? The Dutchess County sheriff? State police? Forest rangers? Who’s going to take the lead?”

One thing’s for sure: It won’t be the Parks Department. As Randy Simmons, public information officer for the Parks Department told The Paper, the law is inflexible.

Members of local Jeep clubs help with the restoration of the Beacon Fire Tower in 2013 (photo courtesy David Rocco)

Members of local Jeep clubs help with the restoration of the Beacon Fire Tower in 2013 (photo courtesy David Rocco)

“Illegal ATV use has a negative impact on trails in the parks, and Park Police actively enforce regulations that prohibit their use,” he said. Although some New York State parks offer limited access to off-road vehicles, such as some of the seaside parks on Long Island, Simmons said the two situations are not comparable. “We issue permits to four-wheel-drive passenger vehicles to allow people to access beach areas for fishing and other recreational activities. Permit holders are traveling relatively short distances at very slow speeds, and then park their vehicles at surf fishing locations.”

When asked if the Parks Department would consider either constructing new off-road trails somewhere in either the Hudson Highlands or Fahnestock State Parks, or officially designating certain current trails as multiuse trails, Simmons said that the opportunity for such considerations had passed.

“The designation of ATV trails were not included in the 2010 master plan for Fahnestock and Hudson Highlands State Park, which was adopted following ample opportunities from the public to participate in shaping the plan,” he said. Simmons declined to answer if the master plan was due to be revised any time soon, or if there would be a similar forum in the future.

In fact, the adopted master plan calls for increased policing of the trails in order to specifically forbid the use of such vehicles. “Although these vehicles are not allowed in state parks, there is evidence of damage to natural systems that shows their use both on and off existing trail networks,” it states. “Increased enforcement will prevent further damage to natural communities and allow them to recover.” The plan also advocates letting certain double-track trails, which are currently wide enough to allow passage of off-road vehicles, grow back in to a reduced width of 18 to 30 inches across, rendering them impassable for drivers.

With increased enforcement on the horizon, it’s unclear who will step up to be an advocate for responsible, legal multiuse of the trails that have been driven by Beaconites since the casino, incline railroad and ski resort — all long since gone — established Mount Beacon as the crown jewel of the Hudson Highlands. Also unclear is if they would even be listened to.

“I’ve tried to create a ‘Friends of Mount Beacon Group,’ but every time I do, all the overlapping groups like the New York–New Jersey Trail Conference, Scenic Hudson and the Hudson Highlands Land Trust say, ‘Don’t worry. We’ve got it under control,’” said Rocco.

“To be honest, I don’t think they do.”

7 thoughts on “The End of the Road

  1. The haves and the have-nots. Big money is already pricing people out in all areas, so why be surprised? They have money and don’t give a crap about anything underneath them. Hey Beaconites — you can’t do what you’ve always done because we have more money than you!

  2. I believe there should be the option of a permit of some sort that would allow responsible four-wheeling.

  3. Of course you don’t want Jeeps up there – the Towers are done. Let that mountain burn to the ground to see how many tree-huggers go up and put it out with their little water bottles that they leave behind. That’s what these clubs get for helping. Actually, they were going to let us use the trail — ha ha — to search for some lost hiker.

  4. I lived in a Beacon high rise, Forrestal Heights, and got a four-wheel drive because some senior residents of the high-rise had never been on Mt. Beacon and seen the view. I was hoping to be able to take some of them to the top. I saw Mayor Randy and he told me to leave my name and number and reason. His receptionist wrote it on a yellow sticker pad. I figure it went in the trash when I left. Also, when I called a number I got for the railway incline and left a message, again no answer. I figure they weren’t interested in the old people enjoyment. I got a house in Walden now but still go to the high-rise on Tuesday nights to call bingo. I care.

  5. Why are there so many people complaining about not being able to drive around on someone else’s property? You don’t own the property, so you don’t get to make the rules. Pretty simple, right? The link between the state parks department enforcing existing laws and people with money is unclear to me. I guess people need someone to hate.

  6. Illegal is illegal. The third parties with Jeeps and ATVs have overstayed their welcome. They weren’t convincing then — they’re not convincing now. The NYS Dept. of Parks has the responsibility of maintaining this recreation site, and can afford to do it on its own. Any help from people other than hikers will most likely hurt more than help. Allow this region to recover.

  7. I don’t four-wheel, but my family has been here for many years. Lately the communities have been taking over, leaving us nothing to do for recreation. We use to hang at the riverfront, that stopped. We could relax on Main Street, that stopped. All these things are stopping because we have been getting all these businesses coming here, and some were not even born here. Okay, good for business, to a point. So now what? Just stay in our yards and ATV there? There is nothing to do in town anyway. What, the Towne Crier? Not knocking it, but the younger generation needs something to do. True, clean up after yourself, respect the land. But when it comes to you needing help in some way and you have limited four-wheelers, what then?