Town officials discuss deputizing tow firm for Indian Brook Falls
Philipstown officials last week threatened to sue the state over its management of visitors to local parks and also promised to explore deputizing a tow-truck company to remove illegally parked vehicles near Indian Brook Falls in Garrison.
Supervisor Richard Shea said during a Town Board meeting on Oct. 1 that Philipstown would not hesitate to go to court unless the situation at state parklands improves. For now, he said, for the Indian Brook Falls area, town officials would pursue “deputizing a company to come in and start towing cars. We’ve been a little reluctant to do that” but now “it seems to have reached that point” near the falls, which are accessible from Indian Brook Road, a thoroughfare that at points narrows to a single lane.
On Tuesday (Oct. 6), Shea elaborated, saying that town authorities will confer with their attorney before proceeding because “this sort of thing is pretty heavy-handed” and Philipstown must verify its rights “before we go towing anyone’s car only to find out that we have broken the law.”
If no legal obstacles exist, “we will advertise for a towing company that can take calls directly from road residents,” he said. Shea said he also wants “to investigate the possibility of appointing a resident” as a liaison to the towing firm. “All said, this is not something that can happen overnight.”
Although Indian Brook Falls, which is part of the state park system, is open, the town has closed its parking areas along the road and posted prominent no-parking signs at each approach to the falls. Park staff and Putnam County sheriff deputies patrol the road, and cars have been towed intermittently, but the Philipstown initiative would escalate those efforts.
The falls are near the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary, where the visitor’s center is closed but the trails and boardwalk remain open to visitors. However, the sanctuary’s parking lot along Indian Brook Road has been barricaded.
People visiting the falls have taken to parking along Route 9D and in the cutaways on Indian Brook Road that allow approaching cars to pass where the road narrows. Sheriff’s deputies are occasionally seen ticketing.
Since at least 2016, residents and town officials have urged the state parks agency to temporarily close the falls to protect its fragile environment.
Shea said similar issues arise regarding other popular parks, such as Little Stony Point and Breakneck Ridge. “Every area has a carrying capacity and we’re far exceeding that,” he said. “It’s to the detriment of the environment, the residents and our infrastructure.”
At the board meeting, residents who live near Indian Brook Falls cited years of annoyances, including driveways blocked by cars; vehicles queued up along the road; illegal parking; and clashes with visitors.
Greg MacGarva expressed hopes that closing the eight-car Audubon lot would be “a catalyst for much-needed long-term change.” He described scenes of “absolute, unmanageable chaos” and proposed various improvements, including better signs warning of parking restrictions, aggressive towing, surveillance cameras and a comprehensive management plan to limit access to the falls.
“We’re not saying we want to put a big gate up,” he said, but “it’s a small area. It can’t safely absorb an unlimited number. The visitor count just skyrocketed” over the years.
Peter Bynum, who lives “a stone’s throw from the falls,” remarked that “all the residents have multiple horror stories” and that “smoking weed,” graffiti and trash-dumping occur, along with other misconduct. “I hate to suggest draconian measures by closing the falls, but we have to do something,” Bynum said.
Shea recalled that the Town Board again asked state park authorities to close Indian Brook Falls two months ago. “We’re not looking for a permanent closure; we’re looking for a reset,” he said. But park officials “are just not interested in doing that at all. Can you still be in that position when it means the destruction of the park?”
Park officials “don’t want to close parks, but Indian Brook Falls is not a park” because it lacks basic facilities, Councilor John Van Tassel added. “I’d say shut it.”
Shea said the Town Board would invite residents and park officials to confer, to try again to find answers.
Meanwhile, Indian Brook Falls visitors share their experiences online, such as at AllTrails.com, where some recently noted the rocky and sometimes muddy path and others mentioned that the waterfall pool may contain swimmers, whether human — “go early if you want to avoid” them, a writer advised — or otherwise.
“There are signs not to go in the water, and there are snakes,” one person wrote. “We saw a black one, up close, on a rock sunbathing [and] then dive in the water and swam away… The falls, though, were beautiful and quite a little gem.”
On Sept. 30, another visitor posted that “since the main parking was blocked, we just parked up the road where we could find space on the one-way road. On our way to the falls there was a huge tree that blocked the pathway there, we attempted to pass through it but it was very difficult. I’m not sure when they will cut it down but it made our easy hike into a difficult hike.”
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