Two states limit access to falls

COPAKE FALLS—You can still see it, but you can’t touch it anymore.

Anyone who hikes to Bash Bish Falls this summer with hopes of sitting on the rocks to feel the refreshing spray or maybe to stick a toe in the cool water will be disappointed.

Access to Bash Bish Falls, the highest waterfall in Massachusetts, where the Bash Bish Brook “drops about 80 feet into an emerald plunge pool” has been barricaded by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

The closure comes after the overwhelming influx of thousands of sometimes unruly visitors last year, many of whom ignored all the rules and trashed the place.

The onslaught caused park and law enforcement officials on both sides of the New York/Massachusetts border to close down roads leading to the falls and turn people away when parking areas were full.

A story about the situation that appeared in the August 27, 2020 issue of The Columbia Paper, reported that officials received complaints from Copake Falls residents because when park visitors could no longer find a parking spot in a parking lot, they parked along State Route 344 and secondary roads on property that belonged to residents.

Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Louis Bray, who was public information officer at the time, said in the story, the overcrowding had a “ripple effect.” It led to traffic congestion and complaints of trespassing, loitering, public urination and blocked driveways. The visitors were not only parking on private property, but unloading their grills and lawn chairs, having picnics and settling in—creating “quality of life issues” for residents, he said.

Park police from New York State and park rangers from Massachusetts joined in an effort to increase patrols, according to the story.

Taconic State Park Manager Christopher Rickard described groups of 30 and 40 people, including family groups of all ages. Some were having catered parties, with tables and chairs, giant speakers like a wedding DJ would use, hookahs (and broken glass from hookahs) playing games with oversized dominoes in the stream. “They were bringing everything but the kitchen sink to the falls,” Mr. Rickard said in the story.

Swimming at the base of the falls has never been permitted.

The current message on the phone for the Mount Washington State Forest, of which Bash Bish Falls State Park is a part, says, “Bash Bish Falls has a new policy this year where no one is allowed down on the stairs [to the falls] or on the water’s edge.”

The closure took effect May 29, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and will be permanent.

Taconic State Park Manager Rickard told The Columbia Paper this week the purpose is to keep the falls and surrounding area strictly a place for hiking—no swimming, no chairs, no cooking, no picnicking.

While Massachusetts officials have placed orange and white barricades at the top of the stairway that leads down to the falls and have posted patrols there to enforce the rules, the adjoining Taconic State Park in New York is “mirroring” its neighbor’s efforts and has law enforcement personnel patrolling along the brook, Mr. Rickard said.

Bash Bish Falls and Bash Bish Brook are nature preserves and the brook is a protected trout stream. All the partying activity that went on last year “is not what the area is designated for,” he said.

Anyone carrying a cooler or wearing a bathing suit is being redirected to the Ore Pit and kiddie pool swimming areas in the Taconic State Park, where picnic areas are also available.

People who hike the trail to Bash Bish can still see the falls from an observation area, but that’s as far as they can go.

The message Mr. Rickard wants visitors to get is: “stay on the trails, don’t go in the stream, don’t bring chairs or coolers.

“People who break the rules will be asked to leave.”

An alert posted on the Taconic State Park Facebook site by the New York Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation says the Massachusetts DCR closed “the staircase and access to the rocks at Bash Bish Falls for public safety and protection of the natural resource. All hiking trails remain open. No swimming, wading or picnicking will be allowed in MA or NY sides of Bash Bish Creek.”

Restrictions at Bash Bish Falls State Park posted on the website include: Pets on leash always. Clean up after your pet and remove waste off site. Entering the water is prohibited. No swimming or diving. No rock climbing. No picnicking, grilling or fires. No alcohol, or glass containers. No coolers. No trash cans—carry-in, carry-out all trash and personal items. No drones. No access to the upper gorge from the Massachusetts parking lot—it is dangerous.

Mr. Rickard said a permanent fence blocking off the falls will be constructed by Massachusetts officials in July.

Despite repeated attempts over three days by phone and email to get answers to questions regarding the new policy and closure, the press secretary for the Massachusetts DCR did not provide any information by press deadline.

To contact Diane Valden email

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