The popular hiking destination, Breakneck Ridge in Philipstown, will be off limits to hikers for an indefinite time as improvements are made to the natural resource.
Breakneck trailhead will close on Jan 1. 2018 and train service will also be suspended at that stop until April 2019, according to Scenic Hudson, Inc. During that closure, a new pedestrian and bicycle path connection between the train stop and trailhead will be created, Breakneck train platforms will be replaced, parking and emergency vehicle staging along Route 9D will demarcate to reduce dangerous conditions, the speed limit on Route 9D will reduce to 40 mph and a new welcome center for the NY-NJ Trail Conference will be built with new signage.
“New York State Parks is excited to partner on the Breakneck Connector transformation project that will further enhance the Cold Spring to Beacon corridor,” said Linda Cooper, regional director of NYS Parks. “This transformation will improve safety, accessibility and deepen the experience for all seeking a slice of the outdoors along Breakneck Ridge in Hudson Highlands State Park.”
At a Putnam County Legislature protective services committee meeting last Tuesday, lawmakers were briefed on how Breakneck has become a much sought after hiking spot and the multiple issues attached to it.
Hank Osborn, the regional program manager for the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference, said Breakneck Ridge is the most popular day-hike in all of North America. Approximately 100,000 people annually hike Breakneck each of the last four years from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, he said, calling the growth “astonishing.”
Bur the spike in visitors means the trails are degrading and parking is congested, he noted. When visitors get lost, they can call the stewards from the Trail Conference, Osborn said, but for rescue missions, local first responders must help them. The hike is strenuous, he said.
About one-third of people get to Breakneck Ridge by train–many coming from New York City–and the other two- thirds travel by car.
One safety problem is many visitors arrive at Breakneck woefully unprepared, Osborn said, with some of them only wearing flip-flops. (“They literally wear high-heel flip-flops,” Osborn said.)
While the number of lost hikers has decreased greatly, the amount of injured hikers has increased, he said. Osborn said the organization has undergone several initiatives to improve hiker safety and improve the mountain.
The Trail Conference has received funding in the past by Putnam County Visitor’s Bureau, and still gets money from the Dutchess County tourism agency and private donors. It doesn’t get funding from New York State.
Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra said county government needed to take a look at the problems Philipstown face with the abundance of visitors descending on Breakneck every weekend. She said the constant stream of hikers has led to a drain on volunteer first responders, lines of cars parked unsafely along Route 9D, and an overall hazard for residents and visitors.
Talking with Sheriff Don Smith, Scuccimarra said she would like to see a deputy sheriff stationed at that corridor at least three days a week when the ridge is busiest. While a deputy is there occasionally, Scuccimarra would like to see the protective services committee allocate one law enforcement official there more regularly to give parking tickets and direct traffic.
“The amount of people are staggering,” Scuccimarra said. “You just won’t believe what you see.”
When volunteer firefighters need to respond to reports of injured hikers, it takes them away from fire protection and also puts their lives at risk, especially if it gets dark, Scuccimarra said.
Legislature Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino said the rope rescue team the county is putting together could help alleviate that crunch on local departments. She questioned what level of government- -the town, county, or state–is responsible for the barrage of problems at Breakneck. While Cold Spring is the main artery for county tourism, Nacerino questioned the aggravation associated with the thousands of visitors.
“It’s a jewel,” Scuccimarra said of Breakneck, with Nacerino replying, “It’s a jewel, but it’s a curse.”