Breakneck Keeps Booming

‘Alarming’ growth; 1,000 hikers in a day now common

By Chip Rowe

The number of hikers ascending Breakneck Ridge has risen 33 percent in the last three years, according to newly released data from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

And the numbers keep growing. In the first two weekends of the 2017 season, stewards at a single Route 9D trailhead counted 4,670 hikers, an increase of 22 percent over the same period last year.

“So far this season, every nice day has seen well over 1,000 hikers attempt Breakneck,” said Hank Osborn, senior program coordinator for the NYNJTC. “This was not so common last year, rare the year before and unheard of the year before that.” He called the growth “alarming.”

On its busiest days, as many as 1,700 people ascend the 4.4-mile, white-blazed trail at the Putnam-Dutchess border. That figure has remained relatively stable. But the growth in traffic on the mountain is reflected in the number of times it occurs: There were 22 days between Memorial Day weekend and Columbus Day in 2016 when stewards recorded at least 1,000 hikers, compared to two days in 2014.

Summer traffic near a Breakneck trailhead (File photo by Michael Turton)

Stewards positioned on weekends and holidays at the white-blazed trailhead counted 35,570 hikers between late May and mid-October, which the NYNJTC extrapolates to between 75,000 to 100,000 people ascending the ridge annually from there and other trailheads.

At the same time, the number of hikers calling for assistance after becoming lost has dropped by half, from about 100 in previous years to 49 in 2016, which Osborn attributes to better marked trails and more maps becoming available, including a free version for the Avenza app or another that costs $4.

In addition, he said, calls by hikers to 911 have been virtually eliminated because stewards now routinely share their cell phone numbers with hikers. For medical emergencies, the stewards are trained in CPR and carry first-aid kits provided by the Cold Spring Fire Department. Two of the eight stewards are EMTs.

The NYNJTC estimates about a third of the hikers arrive on one of 12 Metro-North trains that stop below the ridge each weekend, some of which unload 400 people. Stewards directed more than 1,500 visitors to Cold Spring and nearly 1,000 to Beacon last year.

Stewards turned away 700 ill-prepared hikers last year, typically because the visitors were not aware of the difficulty of the climb or because of improper footwear such as boots with no socks or laces, high-heeled sandals, or flip-flops, said Osborn, who manages the program.

The conference hired its first Breakneck steward in 2013 and expanded the program in 2015 and 2016, when it added a third steward to patrol the ridge and key intersections, extended the season by six weekends into November, and lengthened the time stewards are on duty by two hours, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., which allows them to turn away hikers who arrive too close to dusk and risk an after-dark rescue.

The top of Breakneck Ridge (photo by Joe Brennan)

Osborn said that the NYNJTC has started supplying hikers with water in reusable bottles, which has greatly reduced the number of plastic containers discarded along the trail. For the trash that remains, stewards hand out garbage bags to those hikers willing to help.

Although the stewards provide free maps (distributing more than 3,000 last year), in many cases they advise hikers to go elsewhere. “We want to educate visitors that there are other great trails in our region,” Osborn said.

41 Responses to "Breakneck Keeps Booming"

  1. Pete Salmansohn   June 9, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Thank you, Highlands Current, for this article. It give numbers to what Cold Springers have known for some years now: that the situation on Route 9D by Breakneck is completely out-of-hand and needs a radical remedy before 1) someone gets killed on that overburdened road, 2) the trail is filled with litter, toilet paper and wastes, and 3) the natural habitat for birds, reptiles, etc., is despoiled.

    This situation, as I’ve written before, has been created by a cascade of factors, not the least of which is the state Department of Transportation’s gross incompetence to manage parking by blocking off large portions of the roadside, as was done up at the Mohonk Preserve when they too faced a tidal wave of visitors. Metro-North is also to blame because they keep bringing more trains and more people to an already absurd situation, likely because of the money they’re making without having to take any responsibility for their selfish actions.

    I salute Hank Osborn and his dedicated colleagues for attempting to manage a tidal wave of people, and New York State Parks for doing its share as well. However, Parks knew that the parking facilities on 9D, both at Breakneck and Little Stony Point, were inadequate many years ago, and I question why they were not pro-active in their management, and why they didn’t get other state agencies together to do something before it got overrun.

    This was a failure of historic proportions. and thus the current situation needs a radical remedy. Let’s call and email and write the agencies to shut down all parking on and along 9D, and only in discrete parking areas, and to give tickets to anyone who disobeys that, as well as calling for other measures to bring sanity to this unfortunate scene. Unless we rise up as our own tidal wave of wise public sentiment, we will continue to witness an unsustainable mess.

    Reply
    • Paul Wiggers   June 11, 2017 at 6:03 pm

      I wholeheartedly agree. My wife runs Chalet on The Hudson, located on Route 9D directly adjacent to Breakneck. The venue is not open to the general public; it is a catering facility reserved for weddings and special events. The hikers will come looking for water or to use the restroom and are rude and arrogant when they are told that it is private. They don’t get it that people spend thousands of dollars for a party and as such are entitled to a private gathering not a meet-and-greet with sweaty hikers. The parking on 9D is a serious concern as well and I’m amazed someone hasn’t been killed yet. Something seriously needs to be done to control the situation.

      Reply
    • Ronald Aponte   June 16, 2017 at 8:44 pm

      While there are more visitors to your charming village and the amazing cliffs of Breakneck, they are very well behaved. I’ve never heard loud music, arguing, fighting, drug use or anything untoward. Parking is mostly along 9D, single-file, away from traffic lanes, in areas that abut trees and forest and not in residential or commercial areas.

      Wildlife on the white Breakneck trail, i.e., birds, salamanders, insects (if you can call them wildlife) are not really affected. Most hikers simply go up the steep, stony trail and then hang around one of the lookouts. Very little wildlife would find this section of trail a hospitable environment, with or without people. There is no water and scant foliage as the trail is rocks and boulders.

      As for litter, there is very little trash and, what small amounts there may be are policed by trail stewards. Hikers, or people in general, can not help but drop things occasionally. It’s happens to me, too, and I’m very careful. BTW, I’ve climbed this ridge more times than I can count over the years. Before the stewards, I would do some litter cleanup detail myself but since they’ve been active, it isn’t necessary.

      Lastly, all that traffic results in many, many hungry and thirsty and curious hikers who will later in the day go to shops and restaurants in Cold Spring and Beacon and help keep the small town thriving.

      Reply
      • Frank Haggerty   June 17, 2017 at 9:01 pm

        “Parking is mostly along 9D, single-file, away from traffic lanes.” On the contrary, it is not unusual for automobiles to be parked partially in the lane of traffic. Most commonly this is in the northbound lane. Most dangerously occurs in the middle of a blind turn or just after one.

        Even where the autos may not be parked within the lane of traffic they are generally are parked on the shoulder of the road very close to the lanes, at the line demarcating between the lane and the shoulder. This causes a predictably hazardous situation as it often forces pedestrians, who in order to move up or down the side of the road, enter one of the often busy lanes of traffic. It’s an incredibly foolish and dangerous practice.

        Further, parking on the shoulder of a state road for any reason other than in an emergency is illegal. Autos doing this should be ticketed and towed. Why this has not been done is beyond me.

        Reply
        • Ronald Aponte   June 18, 2017 at 3:05 pm

          It would be highly unusual for a car to park in the lane of traffic. I’ve never seen it nor don’t ever expect to. People do not want their vehicles smashed, if nothing else.

          Between Washburn trailhead, close to the village of Cold Spring, all the way to the Wilkinson trailhead, near the Breakneck rail station, there is not one single blind turn. This is about a 4-mile stretch on 9D and encompasses all of the trailheads that people use to access the Highlands. If there were a vehicle in the lane of traffic or people, they would be easy to spot with advanced warning. (An exception might be the dark tunnel under the mountain.)

          Reply
          • Carolyn Bachan   June 18, 2017 at 5:40 pm

            We local residents live here and use that road daily, hikers or not. I’ve seen many cars parked north of the tunnel over the white line into the travel lane. Emerging from the tunnel northbound is very distinctly a blind curve which I take the precaution of traversing at 20 mph because I’m not in favor of killing or maiming innocent people.

            If you are injured in a roadway or lost in the park or injured hiking in a fall, do you want to wait for state resources to arrive? Our local resources have the ethical obligation, which they take tremendously seriously, to save lives. As residents and taxpayers and voters we do have a say what happens in our communities.

  2. Brendan Cunningham
    Brendan Cunningham   June 9, 2017 at 11:46 am

    New York-New Jersey Trail Conference: Nice work!

    Reply
  3. Frank Ludwig
    Frank Ludwig   June 9, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Something has to be done about the major hazard these vehicles are causing. Someone is gonna get killed there very soon the way these vehicles are allowed to park. Route 9 is being narrowed down to nothing.

    Reply
    • Patricia Mollach
      Patricia Mollach   June 9, 2017 at 2:41 pm

      I always wonder how that’s legal.

      Reply
    • Caroline Trainor Orr
      Caroline Trainor Orr   June 9, 2017 at 5:14 pm

      It was not like that when I was a kid. You were lucky to see one or two cars. That was it!

      Reply
    • Anthony Rosa
      Anthony Rosa   June 9, 2017 at 9:20 pm

      Hikers walk around like cars don’t exist on this road.

      Reply
  4. Lilly Gair
    Lilly Gair   June 9, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    So happy I did this hike years ago!

    Reply
  5. Luis Galarza
    Luis Galarza   June 9, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    And yet how much money do they bring the local towns? Not much I bet, but the hunters can’t touch that land around there and we contribute a lot more than hikers do .

    Reply
    • Ronald Aponte   June 16, 2017 at 9:10 pm

      Hikers contribute vast sums to the local economy during the hiking season and ask very little in return.

      Reply
  6. Kathleen Lawrence
    Kathleen Lawrence   June 9, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    They are a danger due to parking, due to feeling they have the right of way when walking on or along the road and when they do their hiking without the proper gear, clothing, supplies such as enough water and knowing where they are hiking. The more that come, the more EMS from different facilities and counties will be needed.

    Reply
    • Jimmy Buff   June 10, 2017 at 7:38 am

      They – pedestrians – do have the right of the way 🙂

      Reply
    • Ronald Aponte   June 16, 2017 at 8:57 pm

      In 10 years of hiking up there, I’ve only seen one rescue. A man got his foot caught between rocks and fell, cutting his head badly.

      Reply
      • Katy Cox   June 18, 2017 at 11:07 am

        In 13 years of living here (about 1/2 a mile from the beginning of the 9D trailheads), I have gone to sleep to helicopters circling the mountains in search of lost hikers at least four to five times per season. I have read accounts about late-night rescues by specially trained teams who save men, women, children and dogs, and unfortunately I know of at least one person found who couldn’t be rescued because he had died up there. You are distorting the facts and the seriousness of the issues when you say you have only seen one rescue.

        Reply
  7. Carole Sandford DiGiovanni
    Carole Sandford DiGiovanni   June 9, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    We passed through a few weeks ago. Cars lined both sides of the road. It was very narrow, people coming and going. Chaos. Couldn’t believe what was going on there as well as in Cold Spring. Jam packed.

    Reply
    • Patty Villanova   June 14, 2017 at 11:23 am

      Please don’t conflate the chaos and crisis that are taking place on Route 9D and Breakneck Ridge with the tourism that is Cold Spring’s bread and butter. The people who are abusing our public services by their inconsiderate and/or illegal behavior on the trails are not the same people who patronage our shops and restaurants and who add so much to the life of the Village.

      Reply
    • Ronald Aponte   June 16, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      Cars do park on the west side of 9D, along the section between Breakneck Ridge trailhead and Bypass Trail trailhead. Never have seen any cars along on the east side. There is no shoulder. Nobody would risk that and the police wouldn’t allow it.

      Reply
  8. Edward Troj
    Edward Troj   June 9, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    Where are the environmentalists? Limit the footprints. Where is Cuomo? Time to make some money and charge a fee.

    Reply
  9. Jon Barrett
    Jon Barrett   June 9, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    This place has been exploited like Stone Church. I remember hiking places and there would be nobody else there.

    Reply
  10. Jennifer Schneider Dwyer
    Jennifer Schneider Dwyer   June 9, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    There are lots of other great hikes in the area.

    Reply
  11. Traci Smith
    Traci Smith   June 9, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    This area needs more management and regulation and a greater visible presence by trail stewards, seven days week.

    Reply
  12. Troy Ford
    Troy Ford   June 9, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    And this is why we bought property in the Adirondacks. It’s just too far for most day trippers.

    Reply
  13. Alex Ghee
    Alex Ghee   June 9, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    It’s a tourist trap. This is why is stick to the Cats. Love the view from Breakneck but too many people.

    Reply
    • Ross Stephens
      Ross Stephens   June 10, 2017 at 7:02 am

      A tourist trap is where visitors have to spend money to enjoy something.

      Reply
  14. Tony Colombo   June 10, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    This is why I miss the early years of hiking Breakneck Ridge. No crowds, trash and graffiti. The trail alone was no wider than a couple feet at the time. Nowadays some sections of path are 20 feet wide, there’s enough garbage to fill up a couple trash bags and I can’t believe some people feel the need to tag and graffiti up a gorgeous area. I’m glad more folks are into the outdoors but as usual what comes with the surge of new hikers are a few bad apples that ruin the experience for everyone else.

    Reply
    • Ronald Aponte   June 16, 2017 at 9:16 pm

      Graffiti is a problem. Don’t know what people see in it. It’s pretty ugly artwork. Painting it over just seems to encourage another round of more bad art. Maybe if we get some real talent up there they can make some pretty rock murals that no one will deface.

      Reply
  15. Michael Junjulas   June 12, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Very nice work by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, you truly have lowered emergency calls and are doing an outstanding job. Thank you.

    But the article and the comments below it fail to recognize the men and women of the Cold Spring Fire Department who are called out after 6 p.m. — most often after midnight — to rescue lost or injured hiker(s). To add insult to injury, most of the “rescuees” say “thanks for the lift down the mountain” and drive off in their car back to New York City or where they came from.

    Yes, it’s a volunteer organization, but this one call — let’s say a sprained ankle — causes Cold Spring Fire, North Highlands Fire and I believe Dutchess Junction Fire Department to be dispatched, plus ambulance, police, and maybe a helicopter if it’s bad enough.

    See my point, sometimes a thank you isn’t enough for foolishness. If you are inexperienced, hiked too late, and it is dark, you got lost, panicked, sprained your ankle, you should pay a fine.

    Let me be the one to say thank youU to my sons Patrick and Stephen plus John P, brother Kevin, brother-in-law chief, nephews Chris, Nicholas and Luke and of course everyone else who protects & serves while I’m sleeping and their waking up on a work night / college school night etc. at 1 a.m. to rescue another hiker.

    Hikers, please use common sense and remember it’s not just your life you’re affecting on that mountain.

    Reply
    • Art Lopatin   June 18, 2017 at 11:03 am

      Thank you, Michael Junjulas! Unfortunately, the selfish, ignorant people who need to read your letter likely won’t, because they get their news from the New York Times and are, predominantly, New York City residents used to 24/7/365 bureaucratic government services supplied by well-paid, full-time city employees. It’ll take a sign warning of a fine (proceeds thereof divvied up among the agencies doing the rescuing), with an explanation of the reasons why this is being done to educate them and deter their la-land walks in the woods.

      Reply
  16. Michelle Smith, Hudson Highlands Land Trust   June 12, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    The concerns raised in these comments are very important and I wanted to make people aware that plans to address them are already far along. In particular, the Breakneck Connector Project should begin construction this winter and will address the following:

    (1) Building formal trails from the train station and parking areas to the trail-head, so that hikers will not have to walk along the road;
    (2) Formalizing parking in the lot and road into well-designated areas;
    (3) Traffic calming infrastructure to slow vehicles and keep everyone safe.

    Please come to the Sip & Shop event this Saturday, June 17, from 2 to 6 p.m. taking place on Main Street, Cold Spring in various stores to learn more and have your questions answered.

    The coalition working on the Breakneck Connector is made up of a number of area partners including NYS DOT, State Parks, Metro North, DEC, NYC DEP, area municipal and county governments (incl. Fishkill, Cold Spring, Philipstown, Beacon, Putnam, Dutchess), Cold Spring Fire Dept. and area non-profits (incl. Scenic Hudson, NY NJ Trail Conference, Hudson Highlands Land Trust, Little Stony Point, Friends of HH State Parks) and under the leadership of Scenic Hudson and the Town of Fishkill.

    Members of various partner organizations will be on hand at the Sip & Shop this Saturday (June 17) to provide an update on the latest plans and answer your questions. Please see the advertisement in the June 9 edition of The Highlands Current. We hope you can stop by!

    Reply
    • Ronald Aponte   June 16, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      Thanks so much for your concern and help in aiding the hikers and helping everybody to get along. I wish I could make it on 6/17.

      I did want to point out that the Trail Conference has already made a great hiking trail from the parking area on 9D to the Breakneck trailhead. That area used to be all weeds but it was cleared last year and a wide dirt path now exists behind the metal road barrier along the road.

      This is a great start. It would be amazing to have the trail extend from the Breakneck train station all the way to the exit of the red Brook trail on 9D, with a protective barrier for the walkers.

      Reply
  17. Pete Salmansohn   June 13, 2017 at 12:02 am

    We have to stop all parking along Route 9D, from Cold Spring to north of Breakneck area and funnel cars into several discrete parking lots. Once they are full, that’s it, you have to go somewhere else. Mohonk Preserve was able to get the DOT and the police and their own supporters to do this on Route 44-55 by the climbing cliffs, which was a terrible mess and we absolutely need to do that here. If not, it’s a lost cause.

    Reply
  18. Michael Justice   June 13, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    It’s great that more folks are coming up to enjoy our beautiful mountain range. However, something needs to be done about the amount of cars parked along the side of the road on either side of the tunnel, and a walkway built along the road to the trailhead. Philipstown and Fishkill should ban roadside parking in the area and the Fishkill Police and Putnam County Sheriff’s Office should ticket and tow cars since hikers are putting themselves in danger along with motorists by walking in the roadway and there is no adjacent path. I’ve seen more then one accident in the area and we should try to get this situation under control before more folks are hurt.

    Reply
  19. Ronald Aponte   June 16, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    Hiking Breakneck Ridge is an unforgettable experience. Views are fantastic, even better than from the higher mountains up north and the challenge of the climb is also breathtaking. This is what keeps people coming.

    It would a shame if Parks had to start turning away people who want some honest exercise in nature because it was too crowded. But, don’t think it’s a problem peculiar to this area. Harriman Park is also getting extremely crowded. The actual trail traffic is okay, it’s the parking that’s not. These trails never were meant for hundreds of people at once. It’s not Yosemite, after all.

    Don’t know if there’s an easy answer. So far, parking along the shoulder of 9D, as long as your vehicle is completely off the road, seems safe enough. There is a really long section of road, south of the tunnel, to accommodate cars. I haven’t had any issues in multiple visits, nor seen any.

    However, I don’t appreciate cars driving recklessly fast where there are people. Unfortunately, I must be in the minority because, if I’m doing the speed limit on 9D, I’ll have a car tailgating me, for sure. Even had a guy honk at me the other day because I slowed passing through a school zone.

    Reply
  20. Carolyn C. Bachan   June 17, 2017 at 8:10 am

    It would appear that it’s about time for all concerned men and women in Philipstown and Fishkill to launch a petition drive to state police, respective county sheriffs, and state and local elected officials to come together and control this problem. Numbers speak louder than the occasional letter to the editor or comments on a board. Limiting parking and limiting the number of hikers and the duration of the hiking season seem a good place to start. The State Parks people and the Trail Conference apparently don’t have sufficient incentive or will to do so.

    Local police, local volunteer fire, local EMS are the first to get there, even if it means they stay out all night to rescue a lost or injured hiker. There’s a monetary and social cost to that. Perhaps to defray at least some of it, local volunteers could pass the hat along the 9D corridor and solicit donations from hikers who benefit from our taxpayer-funded first responders. If we can’t charge them for parking, maybe we can shame them into considering the protective services that they get for free.

    Reply
    • Ronald Aponte   June 18, 2017 at 3:17 pm

      It is not up to local communities to decide what people can do on state land. The Hudson Highlands is a state park, and Route 9D is a state road. Every taxpayer in the state contributes to maintenance. Very likely, there is federal tax money involved, as well.

      If local volunteer EMS don’t want to help visitors, that is their right. They are volunteers. State services could be called. Any medical treatment that is required can be billed to the recipient and their insurer, just as any ambulance/hospital would.

      Reply
  21. mm
    Site Editor   June 18, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    From a state Department of Environmental Conservation press release:

    DEC Reminds ‘Blue Hole’ Visitors to Follow Regulations and Consider Nearby Alternatives
    Blue Hole Swimming Area Fills Up Quickly

    The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today is reminding visitors to the overused Blue Hole swimming area to follow regulations for the Blue Hole and Peekamoose Valley in the town of Denning, Ulster County. The regulations increase public safety and reduce impacts to the swimming area located on Rondout Creek in the Sundown Wild Forest. This unique natural resource is at risk from overuse due to its popularity. The area is in the New York City drinking water watershed.

    “State regulations for Blue Hole are necessary to protect public health and encourage the safety and general welfare of both users of the property and nearby residents,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “DEC encourages visitors to enjoy this incredible resource safely and responsibly.”

    In the summer of 2015, day use of the area referred to as the “Blue Hole,” a large, deep and cold swimming hole in Rondout Creek immediately upstream of the camping area, increased exponentially. The increase in visitors was due in part to social media coverage, including national magazines, touting the Blue Hole as “one of the best swimming holes in the nation.”

    As many as 700 people have crowded into the small area on a single day. This dramatic increase in usage has resulted in an uptick of human waste, refuse, fires, and broken glass, and overuse of the parking area, spilling out along Peekamoose Road. Blue Hole’s neighboring communities have expressed concerns about safety if the road is not passable for emergency service vehicles due to blockage by illegally parked cars, as well as concerns about the number of visitors.

    State Regulations for Blue Hole include:

    • Restrict hours the area is open (except for the nearby designated camping area) to one half hour before sunrise to one half-hour after sunset;
    • Require the use of the portable restroom facilities for human waste disposal and the dumpster for all other waste;
    • Prohibit camping, all fires (including charcoal fires, wood fires, gas grills, propane stoves, or other portable stoves) and the use of portable generators at the Blue Hole. Limited use of the above will be allowed at the nearby designated camping area only;
    • Limit parking to designated parking areas (parking along the shoulder of the road is already prohibited by the Town and is a Tow Away Zone); and,
    • Prohibit glass containers, radios, and other audio devices.

    DEC will continue to consult with local officials and the public to increase public safety and protect this overused resource to provide a safer and more enjoyable experience for all visitors and nearby residents of the town of Denning.

    Because of heavy use of this area, DEC encourages users to enjoy nearby state lands.

    Reply

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