“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.
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!