Letter: Breakneck Ridge Being ‘Loved to Death’

I commend and support the hard work and wonderful collaborations going on with the Fiord Trail project. It is a bold and large vision. As I sat in the meeting room on April 29 at the Chalet, however, I could not help but to think that there was a big pink elephant in the room which no one seemed to be addressing, or at least during the parts of the meeting I attended.

That elephant is that there are simply too many people using Breakneck Ridge — a situation where the mountain and Route 9D are being loved to death. And the obvious fallout is the creation of a public nuisance in terms of traffic, safety and trail hygiene. There are close to 2,000 people using this very small area during a busy weekend — clearly a situation demonstrating that the state has failed for years to exercise wise management and get this sorted out and under control.

A view of Breakneck Ridge from the cliffs at Little Stony Point (Photo by M. Turton)

A view of Breakneck Ridge from the cliffs at Little Stony Point (Photo by M. Turton)

Mohonk Preserve had a similar problem for years along Routes 44-55 with endless rows of cars being parked alongside the edge of the highway and hikers and climbers walking on the dangerous roadside. The preserve solved the problem by building a few key parking lots with definite capacities, along with a flyer showing a variety of other nearby places from which to access the preserve. The roadsides were no longer available for parking, and those rules were enforced by the police.

We need to do precisely the same thing along Route 9D — limit the parking to large, designated and safe areas, and provide readily available information about other trails and parking spots along the ridge should those lots fill up. Block all the parking along the east side of 9D north of the Breakneck tunnel with concrete barriers so that there is very limited pedestrian crossing of the road, and much less chance of accidents.

The Fiord Trail project is a great one! But we also have to address the sheer numbers of people coming here, and become wise managers of our natural resource. That means understanding that there is a “carrying capacity” to all resources, and the present situation, especially at Breakneck Ridge, is out of control and needs to be reined in, for everyone’s good. Can New York State Parks and the State Department of Transportation please do their duties and exercise some very long overdue management? It may not be popular at first, but in the long run, it is our only option.

Pete Salmansohn
Cold Spring

4 thoughts on “Letter: Breakneck Ridge Being ‘Loved to Death’

  1. Pete – right on. I share your worries. I think the Fjord Trail Project will set up exactly the kind of parking and traffic-use patterns you reference at Mohonk. And the “trail stewards” program run by the NY/NJ Trail Conference (privately funded, by the way) is a huge help – BUT, it’s only Memorial Day to Labor Day. And whilst Hudson Highlands State Park continues to grow with more added land each year, Parks Staff are limited under the 2% cap in NY State operating funds. Frankly, I’m astonished at how hard and how effectively the existing staff cope with these immense challenges.

    There are two ways to manage “loving an area to death:” develop the infrastructure to handle the crowds (parking, hike/bike trail, signage, etc), and reduce the number of people who come (could that include: “raise the prices?”). Thanks for your articulate letter.

  2. Pete, your letter is spot on. Having grown up hiking Breakneck Ridge my whole life, I have watched it become more and more popular over the past 20 years and also watched and documented the effect that those crowds have had on the mountain itself. Just the amount of trail erosion from thousands of hikers every weekend is staggering.

    Our infrastructure can’t handle the peak crowds as it is. How are we even thinking of bringing more people here without a complete comprehensive plan for the Cold Spring – Beacon parks region, in terms of parking, permitted uses, trail maintenance, ecological management, enforcement – and most importantly fee schedules to pay for needed infrastructure improvements.

    One thing that is continuously overlooked is the impact on emergency services that comes along with increased tourism. The amount of volunteer (and paid) hours spent on Breakneck Ridge doing search and rescue in the past few seasons is on the rise, and will only increase with more people. The 3,4,8 hours spent dedicated to a rescue on the mountain are scarce and valuable resources diverted from protecting the municipalities. These calls are unfunded by the Parks Department or any other entity, and many times need specialized equipment or specially trained rescuers that are called in from other areas of the region.

    I also think that your correlation with the Mohonk Preserve is perfect. In the very least we should be discussing fees for parking at the trail heads, if not permit fees for using the trails. There needs to be a self-funding component of this project that helps to off set the increased stress on the infrastructure of Cold Spring.

    And the problem is spreading. As more and more people use Breakneck, the popularity of other trails is also increasing. The lot at Stony Point is usually packed and overflowing, and I’ve also begun to notice that the trailhead to Bull Hill off of Fishkill Road is becoming more and more popular, as well as some of the smaller “lots” further up 9D towards Beacon.

    Thank you for calling out the pink elephant.

    • I agree with Mike’s comments, especially the emergency response issues. I live in Morris Avenue and it seems every weekend or holiday the Cold Spring Fire Dept. is responding to an emergency on the trails with many weekends more then one call out.

  3. Interesting point, Mike. In many communities, the increased use — tourism — benefits local infrastructure through sales tax. Here, Putnam County collects the tax and doesn’t directly distribute back to Cold Spring. Instead, the money raised here gets distributed in other towns to the East. If our county legislature fixed that, than increased tourism could actually benefit our local infrastructure.