Philipstown Threatens to Sue State Over Park Crowds

Indian Brook Falls (Photo by Barry Rosen)

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.

After visitors to Indian Brook Falls ignored barriers at the Audubon parking lot, shown here in June, Philipstown officials installed guardrails. (File photo)

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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7 thoughts on “Philipstown Threatens to Sue State Over Park Crowds

  1. Indian Brook Falls is part of a state park — it’s not only for residents of Indian Brook Road. It’s absurd to close the Constitution Marsh parking lot, because people just park in the cut-outs along the road. I see no data about or reports on how the environment at the falls is “fragile” — all I see are home-owners who should have bought property on a private road or in a gated community.

    As a part-time resident who hikes 1.5 miles in to avoid people walking around like they own the street, I’m going to begin an effort to build a parking lot large enough to handle the crowds. This will be fun. There is already state land there. More traffic on the way!

  2. There’s only one parking lot on Indian Brook Road to access the falls or the Audubon trails. Closing it blocks even locals from visiting unless you are willing to walk/run/bike 1.5 miles on busy Route 9D. It’s no wonder people are “illegally” parking along the road; they have nowhere else to go! This area was a great place to bring my kids and I’m no longer able to do that because I’m not willing to risk their lives on 9D. Such a shame.

  3. People were living along that part of Indian Brook long before the zombies took over. Route 9D has the same problem at Breakneck, where at least 2,000 zombies each weekend leave garbage, human waste and spray-painted rocks, not to men-tion the spread of COVID-19.

    The state is nowhere to be found. The village is even worse — there must have been 5,000 people in town this past week-end. I have lived on Market Street the past 30 years and in Cold Spring for 50. No good will come of this town as long as it is advertised in every newspaper as the place to go and dump on. The garbage overflow will only bring more rodents and sickness. I use the word zombies because the people coming here think it’s a free-for-all and show zero common sense on how to act. Humans ruin everything.

  4. Indian Brook Falls was a great spot to cool off in the mid-1940s. We enjoyed it very much and even drank the water coming off of the falls — probably not the best idea today nor even in the 1940s but 82 years later, still here. If I recall properly, Currier or Currier and Ives did prints of water colors of these falls? Great memories!

  5. It seems to me the smartest thing is to close Indian Brook Falls. If the town takes the position that the park is open but you can’t park there, it’s not going to solve the problem. If people run the risk of being arrested for trespassing, plus loss of their vehicle, that ought to solve the problem. [via Facebook]

  6. It’s been a horrifying six months of litter, trail abuse (i.e., people going off trail) and traffic and parking problems. It needs to be curbed. The state needs to invest in parking lots and give rangers a fighting chance at maintaining the trails and paths. [via Instagram]

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