The Rise of the Falls

Authorities study ways to cut crowds at Indian Brook site

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Shortly before storm Stella’s last blast of winter, thoughts in Philipstown Town Hall turned to summer — and the challenges it brings as crowds descend on Indian Brook Falls.

“It’s going to get abused again,” predicted Councilor John Van Tassel at a workshop on March 8 as he and other Town Board members brainstormed with residents and state and county officials on how to combat the congestion.

One of the scenic allures of Hudson Highlands State Park, Indian Brook Falls stands near Indian Brook Road, a narrow and historic dirt lane that veers off Route 9D, about a mile south of Cold Spring, and winds uphill through woodlands.

Indian Brook Falls (File photo by L.S. Armstrong)

For centuries mostly a local treasure, the waterfall has become popular in the wider world, thanks to the internet. In November neighbors asked the state to close access to the falls, at least temporarily, as a conservation measure.

Residents complained that boorish visitors drop trash, park haphazardly and quickly fill the eight parking spaces reserved for the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary, downhill from the falls. Philipstown toughened parking restrictions but problems persist.

Moreover, despite bans on swimming, on hot days many visitors treat the falls as a backyard pool, as posts on social media attest.

At the workshop, Evan Thompson, assistant park manager for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said he hopes new signage will lure swimmers and picnickers a few miles east to Fahnestock State Park, which offers picnic venues and Canopus Beach for swimming.

Thompson noted the relatively low staffing levels for Fahnestock (the site of his headquarters) and Hudson Highlands parks. He advised the residents and Town Board to write Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey to plead for more resources. “If you go to the top, that’s where you get results,” he said.

Thompson also suggested the state might provide a parking lot close enough to the falls for convenience but sufficiently distant to protect it. “That’s the best solution,” he said.

Indian Brook Road looking eastward from the access path to the waterfall (File photo by L.S. Armstrong)

Sgt. William Quick of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department said he and fellow officers will continue to ticket cars parked illegally on Indian Brook Road and have them towed. “We’re going to help you as much as we can,” he said. “That road is a highway and there should be no parking there.” He blamed many of the parking problems on “citiots.”

Complicating matters, he said, are the private drones that have started to swarm over the waterfall and Audubon sanctuary. He foresees trouble, he said, “if one of these things drops out of the sky and hits someone.”

Unfortunately, Quick acknowledged, sheriff’s deputies cannot spend endless hours patrolling Indian Brook Road.

“I don’t think it’s a good solution to be tying you up, keeping you away from the rest of town,” agreed Councilor Michael Leonard. He suggested that cars parked illegally could be “booted,” immobilizing them until the driver pays the ticket.

Quick replied that while that strategy might work in Manhattan, there are no ATMs near the falls for drivers to get cash to pay their fines. Nor would deputies ferry drivers — often wearing only swimsuits — to Cold Spring, he said. “I can’t be riding around with 18-year-old girls in bikinis in the back of my car.”

Councilor Nancy Montgomery recommended greater collaboration between Philipstown, county and state officials, including lobbying in Albany. “Nobody’s ever gone up there to talk to the governor,” she said.

“Everything you do” helps, Quick said. “Throw everything at it.”

As an immediate deterrent, Van Tassel proposed using boulders to line spots along Indian Brook Road that might be attractive for illegal parking.

In the weeks after the workshop, mounds of snow came, followed by runoff, mud and heavy rains. Van Tassel told The Current on a drizzly March 28 that when the weather cleared he and Highway Superintendent Carl Frisenda intended to scout out the best locations for the rocks.

6 thoughts on “The Rise of the Falls

  1. No swimming! No climbing! No hunting! No ATV riding! New York is all No No No. Out of urgency, and subsequent to the vocal complaints of the financially bloated residents, the town board has come to rescue Indian Brook! While they actively promote the hordes to flock on Philipstown as a destination for all who seek solace in the outdoors, throwing environmental concerns to the wind when it suits their agenda.

  2. Before you place boulders anywhere, I would think about the normal traffic flow. There are many times when cars meet each other on our narrow roads and one has to back up to a wider area where they can pass each other. Making the road more narrow with boulders will help with the parking issue, but it could lead to more problems when emergency vehicles are needed.

    • I couldn’t agree more. The spots in question are needed for two cars to be able to pass each other in the narrow zones. Adding boulders there would create year-round danger for the nearby residents on top of the seasonal inconvenience that traffic to the Falls entails.

  3. Perhaps it’s time to start issuing free parking permits for residents and sell season passes for visitors. Increasing the fines for illegal parking might also help. I would further suggest that the sheriff accept photographic evidence of illegally parked cars and issue tickets based on those photographs. Tracking down the vehicular scofflaws should be everyone’s concern.

  4. Several of the parks in Westchester and Rockland collect fees at the entrance to public parks, such as New Croton Dam and the beach trail at Nyack. This regulates somewhat the press of visitors and also provides fees for upkeep (hopefully). I don’t know how you would set this up, but the state needs to help out here. As to Breakneck and other trails accessed from Route 9D, I started climbing those trails around 30 years ago and their degradation over the years is pretty distressing.

  5. It sounds like the majority of Philipstown residents are fed up with the status quo when it comes to the abuse of our natural resources. The Town Board needs to work with our neighbors in Fishkill and Beacon to lobby our state and federal representatives to develop real solutions, rather then focusing on the Fjord Trail.

    Councilwoman Montgomery’s suggestion that they need to lobby Albany is a good one. Montgomery is also the deputy director of grants for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, so I would think a call to the governor’s office would be something that could realistically happen in short order.

    It’s only April 5 and the tour buses have begun to appear.