SCHENECTADY COUNTY — The Schenectady County Legislature has accepted $350,000 in state funding to make safety improvements at the popular Plotter Kill Preserve nature preserve in Rotterdam, where visitors are drawn to its three waterfalls — and the risks of viewing them.
The acceptance of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation grant means work will start this year on safety improvements in the 632-acre preserve, which contains deep ravines and waterfalls that have led to a number of visitor accidents over the years, including a fatal fall in 2015.
The funding was arranged last year by state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, in the wake of the death of Carly Sinnott, of Clifton Park, in May 2015. The 17-year-old high school student died in a fall while going down a steep trail that offers a view of the main falls.
“The park has grown in popularity over the years, and it's important that we move forward with these significant improvements to ensure residents and regional visitors can continue to enjoy this community gem for years to come," Santabarbara said following the county Legislature's vote Tuesday night.
Santabarbara said he expects another $250,000 in state capital funding, which would bring the total safety project spending to $600,000.
The preserve is owned and maintained by the county. It has a 60-foot "upper falls" close to the Mariaville Road trailhead and two 40-foot falls. In addition to Sinnott's death, there have been a number of high-angle rescues by Rotterdam fire crews in the preserve over the years, as hikers suffer injuries.
The county soil and water conservation district, the county Environmental Advisory Council and preserve design consultant Tahawus Trails, LLC, of Accord, have been working on plans for safety improvements.
The work will include establishing viewing areas for the two main falls, improving trails and replacing a wooden bridge that is too narrow for easy use by emergency responders carrying a stretcher, county officials said. The grant money will pay for the bridge, allowing the county to spend $45,000 that was earmarked for the bridge on other projects in the preserve.
County Legislature spokesman Joe McQueen said county officials know there are restrictions on the kinds of improvements that can be made in a nature preserve, and they are considering that as their planning progresses.
According to Santabarbara, the "blue" trail from the Mariaville Road entrance to the upper falls will be widened, leveled off, and gravel/stone will be placed on the trail to improve drainage and accessibility. There will also be viewing areas established at all three falls, with handicapped access at the upper falls. There will also be new signage throughout the preserve, and "anchors" will be placed in the gorge to assist emergency responders when they have to do high-angle rescues.