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Catskills permit system first for state

Catskills permit system first for state

Adirondacks groups following with interest new effort to educate, police, prevent damage to natural resources
Catskills permit system first for state
Adirondack High Peaks advocates are watching a new state permitting system aimed at educating users and preventing damage.
Photographer: Gazette file photograph


A small swimming spot on the Rondout Creek in western Ulster County catches the fancy of the Internet and is suddenly overrun with visitors, many unaware of the courtesies of interacting with nature.

The scenario echoes a crowding issue facing the Adirondack High Peaks, but Peekamoose Blue Hole in the Catskills is where the state Department of Environmental Conservation has launched an effort to limit the number of visitors, as well as teach them how to clean up after themselves.

It's the first time such a permit system has been imposed to access a nature destination in New York state, and Adirondack groups -- some of whom think a similar system is needed there -- are watching with keen interest.

A system that will remain in effect through Oct. 15 went into effect last weekend requires everyone visiting Blue Hole on weekends and holidays to have a state permit. The state has capped permits at 40, but each permit can cover up to six people -- limiting total daily visitors to 240.

"To protect this unique resource, DEC is conducting extensive public outreach about the new, no-cost Blue Hole permit system," DEC said in an emailed response to questions. "Efforts include social media and press outreach in both English and Spanish, as well as direct communication with bloggers and popular websites that promote the property."

The permits are free, but must be obtained no more than seven days and no less than 24 hours in advance; walk-in permits aren't available. The online permitting system is administered by a private contractor, ReserveAmerica.com.

 In their first two weeks, they've all been booked. Its unclear how many people may have been left frustrated.

Blue Hole is in the town of Denning, about two hours south of Schenectady and three hours north of New York City.

The recreation site is about three-quarters of an acre. DEC officials said as many as 1,000 people per day have used it in the recent past. It's within a short walk of a county road, with a parking area where the state provides two portable toilets and a dumpster during summer months.

DEC forest rangers are enforcing compliance with the new system, and directing visitors without the required permit to alternative destinations in the area. Written material on alternative destinations and how to obtain a permit in the future, in both English and Spanish, is also being distributed at the site.

The Adirondack Mountain Club last year trained stewards and state employees interacting with the public in effective, non-confrontational ways to promote "leave no trace behind" principles among visitors, encouraging them to remove their own trash and leave the site undisturbed for others to enjoy.

Because of the number of visitors, DEC officials said the impacts include soil erosion, trampled vegetation, litter, food waste, human and pet waste, informal trails and bears being attracted to the area.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said it's too soon to know whether the permit system is effective.

"I think it's a little early," Woodworth said. "The rangers, because there's really only one way into that area, it's fairly easy for them to check people and turn them away and give them alternatives to visit. You can't expect people who come all the way from New York City in cars, sometimes rented cars -- you've really got to give them an alternative."

While pictures available on the Internet show trash strewn around the site's parking area, Woodworth said that was actually the work of bears, which had figured out how to open the sliding plastic doors on the sides of dumpsters.

Woodworth said DEC "isn't really ready" to adopt a permit system for the High Peaks, where there are multiple trails and the circumstances are very different.

The Adirondack Council is interested in watching how the Blue Hole permit system plays out, to determine whether lessons can be learned if a permit system were to be introduced in the High Peaks.

Council spokesman John Sheehan said there's a need for at least a parking permit system in the High Peaks, where hundreds of vehicles can be parked on the road shoulder at trailheads between Northway Exit 30 and Lake Placid.

"I think in both cases it's going to require additional personnel to make it work smoothly," Sheehan said. "They have assigned more rangers to the Blue Hole situation and that doesn't seem to be the case in the High Peaks."

The stewards at Blue Hole are being paid for from sources that include the DEC, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, the Catskill Center, and Rondout Neversink Stream Program. The Rondout Creek is part of the New York City drinking water watershed.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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