Late last year, I received some thought-provoking criticism from user JL on this site’s FAQ and Stony Kill Falls trail guide.  JL, who lives near Stony Kill Falls, reported this:

“You may feel like you are doing a good thing for people and from many people’s point of view you are, but there is another side to all of this.  I live near one of the places that unfortunately appared on this site.  Prior to that it was a very quiet place where one could find solitude, basically have an experience of being in nature.  Once it become popular, most likely due to this site, it started getting more and more people, the trails that weren’t meant to sustain much traffic erroded to the point where they had to be closed and rebuilt by the park, trash was everywhere, water bottles, bagged dog poop(??), human poop, toilet paper…  The parking area went from having 1-2 cars to being full most of the time.  The place that I used to value and enjoy no longer exists, thanks to you.”

This comment was something of a trekking pole to the heart.  I’ve always meant for this site to help connect people with nature, and the thought of bearing responsibility for hordes of pooping litterbugs descending on a peaceful waterfall and wrecking it – well, that’s the opposite of the kind of interaction this site is meant to inspire.  (To be clear, I have never advocated pooping on trails.  That’s what gas stations on the way to the trails were invented for.)

The issues that JL raises may be particularly pronounced at Stony Kill Falls, but they aren’t particular to it.  Many hikes in the Hudson Valley can get ridiculously crowded at peak times, and can be subject to bad behavior by visitors.  Mohonk, Minnewaska, Breakneck Ridge, Constitution Marsh, Mt. Overlook, Mt. Beacon, Storm King Mountain, Kaaterskill Falls, among many others – if you visit these places on a nice weekend day, you should have a plan B in mind, just in case the parking lot is full, which it very well may be.  (The good news is that in the Hudson Valley, you’re rarely more than 15 minutes away from another awesome place to hike.)  When I visit these places, I try to do it on a weekday evening, or very, very early on a weekend, even though getting up early on weekends gives me hives.

Even with crowds, though, there’s still plenty of view to go around.  Here’s a shot from Anthony’s Nose on Memorial Day a few years ago — even though everybody had to share, they all seemed to be playing together quite nicely:

The last time I visited Stony Kill Falls, it was 2018, and the kids had President’s Day off from school, so we burned a day of vacation and took them for an adventure.

We had the place to ourselves.  It was beautiful.

The solitude did indeed make our visit more special.  I can understand the loss a person would feel if they used to have this place largely to themselves, then suddenly, they had to share it with many more people, some of whom felt it was okay to litter (and/or poop) here.

I’ve never been able to understand the mindset of people who love nature enough to go hiking, but who also have so little respect for nature (and their fellow humans) that they toss a water bottle into the bushes, Sharpie their names onto the wall of a fire tower, or crumple their granola bar wrapper and leave it on the ground.  When these people watch Star Wars, do they root for Darth Vader?  And do they know how much fun video games are?  Really fun.  They should play more of them, instead of hiking.

This is nice and all, but it’s no Fortnite.

Before this site’s redesign in 2018, the old Hike the Hudson Valley used to have this text on its homepage:

Want to become a member of Hike the Hudson Valley?  Pick up a piece of litter on any hike you visit because of this site.  Boom!  You’re a member now.

Benefits of membership include:

  • Leaving the trails a little bit nicer for the next visitor
  • Increased chances of accidentally picking up a $20 bill

The new site design didn’t lend itself to having that text displayed in the same place.  After JL’s comments got me thinking about the role Hike the Hudson Valley could/should play in fostering positive behavior out in the woods, though, this blurb now appears at the beginning of every trail guide on the site:

If you find this free trail guide useful, please provide payment by picking up at least one piece of litter on your hike. Cha-ching! Thanks for being awesome! (And here’s a quick primer on Leave No Trace, too, to help us keep the trails nice and fresh for each other.)

I hope this message may help inspire awesome hikers (who comprise the vast majority of the hiking community) to do one step better than Leave No Trace, and encourage us all to Erase Traces of Those Who Really Should Know Better.

Beyond tidying up after litterbugs and sparking joy for each other out there, we can also make some improvements by supporting some of our many awesome local trail organizations.  While I’m not confident in my ability to list them all here, if you had to pick one, you certainly couldn’t go wrong with giving some love to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.  If you hike in the Hudson Valley, this organization is your huckleberry.

This blurb now appears at the end of each trail guide on Hike the Hudson Valley:

Want to support trails in the Hudson Valley? Here’s one great way: Visit the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference homepage and click on Volunteer, Donate, or Shop! (Then you can volunteer, donate, or shop, depending on your mood.)

Let’s see what we can do to thank them for making all of our lives better.

As for the crowds, I completely empathize with JL’s complaint.  A big part of the reason most people hike is for the solitude.  If you choose the right trail at the right time, though, there’s still plenty of solitude to be found, even on our most popular trails.  A widespread appreciation for the amazing natural destinations in the Hudson Valley sure feels like a good thing, too.  We’re fortunate to have so many awesome public lands to explore, and a public that chooses to explore them seems like it has its priorities straight.

Perhaps the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference says it best, right there on their first value statement:

“The joys of nature belong to everyone.  All people—regardless of age, ability, or location—should be able to experience the rewards of connecting with nature.”

Well said, homepeople!

I hope the tweaks to the site will help nudge things in the right direction, and I thank JL for serving as a catalyst there.  If you have thoughts on how this site can do a better job of playing a positive role in the Hudson Valley, or how local hikers can get involved in helping out the places we all love so much, please share them in the comments!

Comments (20)

Was this trail guide useful to you? Please leave a comment!
  1. Allan Serrano

    Hi Mike
    Thank you for your great info and address the problem off careless trail users. I am a Student Conservation Association intern working at Minnewaska State Park Preserve and one of my projects is to kick off a volunteer trail steward program. We are starting with recruiting stewards for the Gertrude’s Nose Trail, but if the program is successful, it can be expanded to other Park trails, like Stony Kill Falls. We will kick off the first orientation session at 9:30 am on May 19 at the Minnewaska Nature Center. If any of your readers are interested, they can contact the park at 845-255-0752.
    See you on the trails!

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    1. Mike

      Hope you had a great event today, Allan! Really appreciate you sharing this program here, and thanks for the work you’re doing. I posted the flyer to the site’s Facebook page on Friday — hope that helped drum up some business!

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  2. Roberta Kravette

    Hey Mike, I love your site. And yes, it is too bad we don’t always have the trail to ourselves, and even more unfortunate that there are people on the trails who refuse to be responsible for themselves and their trash (I wonder what their houses look like YECH!!!) However, if enough people do not go out to enjoy nature, someone will decide it is unused land and drill or build on it. You are correct in encouraging everyone to get out and enjoy the trails. That is exactly what will in the long-run preserve them. We just have to keep nudging the oblivious offending slobs toward self-responsibility. Maybe we should all take an extra (biodegradable) paper bag with us and hand it to the trash-leavers as a gentle hint. Pick up and carry it out nit-wit!

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  3. Ben Reisner

    I love your site, and it always saddens me when I see garbage on a trail, or watch people stampeding off trail like the animals that they are.

    I really appreciate your site for the resource that you provide. I get a little nervous sometimes doing a hike for the first time. I’m often bringing friends who might have never done anything bigger than a short walk in a park, and being able to show them confidence gives them the confidence they need. Your trail guides really help me to gain that confidence before even stepping foot on the trail!

    Couple of questions:
    1) Any thoughts on extending your guides to areas outside the Hudson Valley?

    2) As a bit of a nerd, it would be awesome if I was able to download a copy of the database that drives the site. I don’t know how the site is made, but if there was an option to download an Excel or CSV file with just some of the core fields (Hike Name, Scenery Rating, Difficulty Rating, Distance, Highlights, etc..) that would be sweet 🙂

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    1. Mike

      Hey, Ben! Thanks so much for the kind words and encouragement, sorry it has taken me a little while to respond. For your questions: 1) Sort of! I regularly annex places to the Hudson Valley that are a little outside of the actual Hudson Valley, like Silver Sands State Park and some hikes in northern NJ and western CT. I still have a massive to-do list of local hikes — if I ever bust all of them out, perhaps I’ll need to expand my range a bit. But we’re all fortunate to live in a place that seems to have a never-ending supply of new spots to explore. 2) A fan of the site created an Air Table for it a while back — it’s a little out of date now (won’t feature my most recent trail guides), but maybe this Air Table will give you what you’re looking for? Hope that helps!

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  4. Phil

    Meh. Social media in general has made certain hikes like break neck insanely popular.

    I’d like to think most of us who’ve been using your site (especially since the beginning) are purists in the sense that we’ve always been the “leave only footprints” types.

    Anyhow, thanks for all the great hikes from this long time viewer, first time commenter.

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    1. Mike

      Thank you, Phil, nice to hear from you! I’ve always gotten a “leave only footprints” vibe from the crew around here, too — glad I’m not the only one picking up on that 🙂

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  5. Jeff Kent

    Mike I think your posts go above and beyond when it comes to promoting trail responsibility. Sadly a lot of it is ‘preaching to the choir’ and you may never reach the people who are causing the problems. There are two main issues here, one being misuse of trails and the other being overuse. The former is easily fixed while the latter is more difficult. Overuse is like having a favorite band that plays small clubs and wondering why they aren’t more popular. ‘Overnight’ they become huge and are selling out arenas and you can’t get tickets anymore. It’s bittersweet.

    Personally speaking I tend to avoid popular hiking spots on the weekend as I hike to get away from people. If I roll up and a parking lot looks close to full, I’ll go somewhere else. I always hike with a small day pack and pick up as much litter as I can carry.

    Solutions? Maybe you could run a ‘contest’ and give Facebook shout-outs to people who exhibit good hiking etiquette and hope it catches on.

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    1. Mike

      I’ve always appreciated your support, Jeff — thanks so much for the kind words! We knew Breakneck before it was big, man!

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  6. AH

    Where are ones sense of adventure anymore? People can no longer look at a map and decide where to hike? They need a step by step guide?

    Maybe we need to step back a bit, use the interest and suggestions from others less, and head off on our own adventures.

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  7. Steve

    Please keep doing what you’re doing. It’s an immensely valuable resource. And, yes, there is never an excuse to litter or damage, but that’s not so much a function of numbers as it is thoughtlessness and selfishness, though obviously greater numbers increase the number of selfish and thoughtless acts. But JL verges on entitlement. This trail isn’t theirs. It’s everyone’s. That may be a bitter pill to swallow and they may resent your site for revealing their selfishly guarded spot but that’s life.

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  8. Rich

    Your website and humor has been a great inspiration to my wife and myself to try many of your suggested trails, attempt a quite a few of our own and to introduce others to hike and enjoy our area to the max. We usually hike on Fridays, consciously avoiding the crowds. The sight of garbage and worse on our trails is a sad fact of life amongst humans. But it shouldn’t stop people from getting out there, enjoying nature, attempting to educate others and helping to clean up for clods that just don’t get it! Keep up the good work Mike!

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  9. Wendy Suarez

    I love your website. Keep doing what you’re doing!

    I love the idea that hikers leave the trails in better condition than they found them. Will make it a point to do so on my travels.

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  10. Amanda J

    The thing is that a lot of the people who do the damage to the trails are the ones who care very little. They’re the ones who are doing things “for the gram” and stuff like that. They’re the ones who aren’t truly in it because they love nature, they’re doing it because they want to be cool and to have photos to show. I love this site because I am someone who loves to hike, and respects the heck out of nature. So much so that I once had caramel sauce from a snack leak into my backpack because I didn’t have a garbage bag and I don’t litter. You’re not the only one who posts hiking trails or spots to check out. There are so many other sites out there that turn popular spots into tourist traps and whatnot. You keep doing what you do! You can’t make people respect nature, all you can do is hope for the best.

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    1. Mike

      Surely, there is some combination of words that will convince a person that dropping trash on the trail is not a good thing to do. We will keep trying until we find that combination! And why have I never thought to bring caramel sauce on a hike? That’s a great idea! I hope your backpack still smells delicious 🙂

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