What’s Up with Breakneck?

Planned closure delayed until at least the fall

By Ian Halim

Although plans had called for closing access to Breakneck Ridge from Route 9D on Jan. 1 to allow construction on the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail to proceed, it will remain open through the summer and into the fall, according to trail officials.

Scenic Hudson, which is spearheading the Breakneck Connector project that will be part of the Fjord Trail linking Cold Spring and Beacon, says the delay is due to a lack of bids on the project. It received only one, which exceeded the budget, said Senior Planner Amy Kacala. A new bidding process will begin in the fall. In the meantime, she said, the nonprofit plans to hire a landscape firm to propose modifications to the design.

A crowd of hikers on Breakneck Ridge in May 2017 (Photo by Luis Maldonado/NYNJTC)

Breakneck has become an increasingly popular destination for hikers, drawing more than 1,000 visitors on most summer weekends and an estimated 100,000 in 2017. Trails.com ranks it as the most popular hike in the country, based on page views at the site, trail map downloads and user ratings.

Scenic Hudson is optimistic that the Fjord Trail, when completed, will alleviate the congestion, Kacala said. The plans include a structure at the trailhead to welcome hikers, paving the Breakneck parking lot, reducing the speed limit of Route 9D near the trailhead from 55 mph to 40 mph, painting lines for parallel parking along 9D, and new Metro-North platforms for the Breakneck stop. The trail will also remove pedestrians and bikers from the road and is intended to provide safe passage to Cold Spring and Beacon.

Weekend Hikers at Breakneck

38,714 people
1,697 in one day
525 in one hour
1,722 turned away, sent to Cold Spring
1,009 turned away, sent to Beacon
512 turned away, general
30 lost assisted
31 injuries

Source: Trail Steward Program 2017 End of Season Summary. Counts were kept from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day (45 days).

Linda Cooper, regional director of the state parks department, said the agency has considered capping the number of hikers who can access the white-blazed rock scramble during peak weekends, but “it’s not on the table” at the moment. She said that’s in part because it conflicts with the agency’s mission to make state parks more accessible to visitors, not less so. A cap also would require patrols along the trail, since it’s possible for hikers to reach the summit from another path and then scramble down the rocks (though signs discourage this).

Hank Osborn, the regional programs manager for the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, said he didn’t see limiting visitors as a solution.

“I’d like to get as many people out into the woods as possible,” he said, while finding other ways to address the problems. Osborn oversees the Breakneck steward program, through  which guides offer advice to weekend visitors. He said that last year the stewards turned away more than 3,400 hikers between Memorial Day weekend and Thanksgiving who were not prepared for the rigors of the mountain, but also counted more than 50,000 who ascended on weekends from Route 9D. Bear Mountain, by comparison, had 28,500 weekend visitors.

Access from Route 9D to Breakneck will remain open this summer. (Photo by Michael Turton)

Osborn said the stewards program has helped lessen the burden on first responders who are called to assist hikers who suffer minor injuries. Steve Smith, chief of the Cold Spring Fire Company, said the program has been “a huge help.” However, there are no stewards on duty on weekdays or in the off-season. Osborn said that cost is an issue, because the program is funded by private donations.

Fjord Trail plans also include improving access to Cold Spring from the trailhead and train station. The project will either improve Fair Street with additional sidewalks and possibly a bike lane or create an alternative dockside route to its west, said Kacala.

Mount Beacon Lot Closed

The parking lot for Mount Beacon Park will be closed until early summer because of a $250,000 upgrade that will nearly double the spaces from 40 to 77. Scenic Hudson, which operates the park, suggests hikers use lots behind Main Street in Beacon and take a G Line bus to the trailhead.

The parking lot at Mount Beacon shortly before upgrades began (Photo by Michael Turton)

Kelley Linhardt, who live with her husband, Dan Brochu, on Fair Street near its juncture with 9D, noted that she often takes her daughter in a stroller into the village, and that “a sidewalk would be great for people who live here, too.”

Kacala said Scenic Hudson is planning three community meetings on the access route to the Fjord Trail from Cold Spring — one for Fair Street residents, one for business owners, and a third for the community at large.

The trail itself could use a break, Osborn said. In some areas it is “braiding,” or widening, as hikers pass each other or step around objects, crushing the soil and plant life at the edges of the trail. The Trail Conference plans to make repairs during the closure.

Eugene Frazier, a volunteer who picks up trash near the trail, said he has seen many drivers on 9D toss trash from their vehicles. But, he said, he also has seen many Breakneck visitors placing trash they picked up on the trail into garbage cans as they hike out.

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2 Responses to "What’s Up with Breakneck?"

  1. Pete Salmansohn   May 5, 2018 at 11:17 pm

    This is one of the most depressing articles I’ve read in a long time, and it completely fails to mention anything other than the most mundane and vacuous comments on a situation which is completely out-of-control and which needs radical responses.

    While I heartily commend the fine work of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference in their attempts to put a tourniquet on this surging onslaught of people to one very small locale, they and New York State Parks, Metro-North, and the state Department of Transportation do not seem to understand it is far past the time for coming up with mediocre solutions to huge problems.

    There should be NO parking whatsoever on Route 9D, period. The Mohonk Preserve and New York State agencies got hundreds of rock climbers’ cars off of Route 44-55 in New Paltz into discreet, paid parking lots and that solved a similarly dangerous and primitive situation. Why we can’t do that here is not even being talked about by the various agencies. Duh! And no mention in the article of the effect all these people have on wildlife, nor of their bad toileting habits, nor of Metro-North’s making lots of money with the transport of hundreds of people on busy weekends to the trailhead and then letting all the other folks handle the impossible overflow.

    The writer of this article gives us pablum and no insights or contrary opinions or comments to a situation long gone bad. It’s more of the same, from the same agencies, with predictably timid, milquetoast ideas for remediation. There are simply too many people coming to Breakneck and the numbers need to be radically cut. We have tens of thousands of acres of parkland and hiking trails in our area, and almost unlimited opportunities for people who want to get outside. It’s time for tough love. Get these crowds and these cars out of here and spread them out to dozens and dozens of other trails in our area. And no parking on 9D!

    Reply
  2. Joe Zukowski   May 6, 2018 at 6:23 am

    I agree with the comments above. There should be no parking anywhere near the tunnel. As a driver, you can’t see the cars or pedestrians coming through. It is absolutely a bad situation for all concerned. Reducing the speed limit is also a non-factor. To many people in a very small area, even at 30 mph, somebody will get hurt. We are making concessions with no compromise. It seems to me that, it’s all about a weekend gypsy caravan that will impact our daily driving needs.
    Try these options:

    Be Responsible for yourself and others.
    Put down the phone.
    Make off the road parking available.
    Put in safe walking lanes on the other side of the barriers.
    Do not allow highway crossings.
    If you park on the north bound, have access to the trails from the north bound, same for the south bound.

    You get the idea. There is no reason to impact daily commuters in order to please people who only contribute to the congestion on the weekends. We, the residing, taxpaying citizenry should be allowed to be accommodated as well. Hiking is not the only thing allowed in the Highlands. In addition to reducing travel speeds, they have also reduced hunting on the weekends. It’s for the hikers.

    Again, think about those who live here 24/7 365. Our quality of life is severely impacted just for the benefit of what?

    Are the people making these decisions that will affect our livelihood elected? Or hired? Has anyone voted for these changes? This amount of impact? Do you want to drive 40 mph an hour at 5 in the morning on a Tuesday because, someone is going to hike there on Saturday? Use some common sense. Enough.

    Thanks for visiting, but don’t try to change our lifestyle and needs. We have rights as well.

    Reply

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