Editor's Note: Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls | September 2020 | Editor's Note | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

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Editor's Note: Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls | September 2020

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Last Updated: 09/01/2020 10:55 am
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Kaaterskill Falls
  • Kaaterskill Falls
Twenty years ago, as part of our first "Best Of" survey, we posed a number of questions to readers, the likes of which we are all familiar: What's the best burger in the region? Best milkshake? Best vegetarian restaurant? Best swimming hole? Swimming hole? Swimming hole?!? This query made quite a splash, and its ripples were felt in some of the responses we received: "Nope. No way. No how." "Are you nuts?!?" "Why would I tell you?" "What other secrets of mine would you like to know, my bank account information perhaps?" While most readers' responses were not as aggrieved as those quoted above, and some even gave straight answers, it was clear—even back in ye olden days—that there was an unspoken omerta about Hudson Valley swimming holes.

Fast forward to July 19, 2013. We publish an article on Chronogram.com on "Seven Fantastic Swimming Spots in the Hudson Valley," which is as advertised—a recommendation of where a water-immersion-seeking person might take a dip. (The magnificent seven: Lake Awosting, Peekamoose Blue Hole, Taconic State Park, Belleayre Beach, Onteora Lake, Kingston Point Beach, and Kaaterskill Falls.) The piece goes largely unnoticed, as we are not giving away any (New York) state secrets, just highlighting what we love, as we do with many categories of things: ice cream stands, bike paths, waterfront dining, alpaca farms, drive-in movie theaters, sunset vistas. Curation is our business.

Fast forward to October 1, 2019. We publish, in print and online, "Hudson Valley Waterfalls to Check Out on Your Next Hike," offering a guide to the region's various cataracts and their distinctive properties. As the article's author, Ian Halim notes, "No two visits to a waterfall are the same—with falls swelling in the spring melt and heavy rains, freezing in wintertime, or casting arched rainbows in refracted sunlight." The natural wonders we endorse are Verkeerderkill Falls, Glens Falls and Ice Box Falls, Stony Kill Falls, Indian Brook Falls, and Kaaterskill Falls. After publication, the article joins the great archive of Chronogram content without much fanfare.

Fast forward to August 1, 2020. We publish, in print and online, "Death by Misadventure," a report by Roger Hannigan Gilson about the danger and overcrowding at some of the region's scenic hotspots. Particular emphasis is given to two locations: the portion of the Rondout Creek that in High Falls that has been a popular—albeit illegal—swimming area for decades; and Kaaterskill Falls in Greene County.

Both of these areas have been the site of accidental deaths this year. While this is, sadly, not unusual, the overcrowding that had been building in recent years has reached critical proportions. This, at a time when we are told by health authorities to stay farther away from each other rather than get all cheek by jowl on a narrow ledge or creekside. To add insult to injury, this swarm of visitors is not practicing Leave No Trace principles, and locals have had to organize trash cleanup brigades. We also publish photos of an endless stream of cars along the road near Kaaterskill Falls and bags of trash left behind at the High Falls trailhead. The gist of the piece, TLDR-style: people feel alienated from their own backyards, as one long-time resident reflected on the evolution of the region over the past two decades. "All the swimming holes had much less people. I hardly go anywhere anymore, as far as our little secret spots, because nothing's secret anymore, and they're all covered in trash and thousands of people. So they're kind of gone in a way." This article too slips by largely unnoticed.

Fast forward to August 13, 2020. We update the "Seven Fantastic Swimming Spots in the Hudson Valley,"* article and republish it via our Eat.Play.Stay newsletter. Within moments, readers are posting comments on our website along these lines: "Yet another flippant mention of Kaaterskill Falls as a swimming hole. No place to park and no shoulder to walk on a narrow twisted state highway. A steep, difficult and crowded climb not suitable to children or flip flop-wearing masses. Averages one death a year and several rescues a weekend. A local publication should be more responsible." Other comments express disappointment and disgust with this magazine for betraying the region by publishing a piece like this.

From Upstate Myass: "Shame on you Chronogram for publicizing this article from 2013 in your recent newsletter. If you have been to any of these places since then you wouldn't have run this article again. Due to advertising them as if they're an amusement park, these places have been trashed and some are permit only. There are literally diapers and human waste and garbage everywhere. How about you go to these places and do some real reporting on what has happened to them? Please run a story on how trashed visitors have made these places."

The above is a small but representative sampling of the comments on the piece.

In response to the outpouring of commentary and criticism we received, I reached out to some of the folks who took the time to comment and started a dialog with them. (Though everyone knows, I feel compelled to say it anyway: Even the most surly and rude of online commenters is usually polite in a one-on-one situation—or maybe that's only if you're an editor. I wonder.)

My big takeaway from these conversations: Hudson Valley residents feel that they are under siege—both literally and figuratively. The pandemic still has us on a degree of lockdown, holing ourselves up from the invisible asailants of the viral siege. Trump is still our president, and he's doing all he can to cast doubt on an upcoming election he looks likely to lose. (Wishful thinking.) Gun violence is up in cities across the region this summer, from Newburgh to Albany. Housing prices are rising at a precipitous pace as urbanites flee cities across the country to move to the Hudson Valley, driven by the pandemic and the ability of professionals to relocate with their jobs—a fact that will fundamentally reshape our region.

Let's face it: We're all in mourning—we're grieving for everyone we've lost to COVID, the economic catastrophe that sends the stock market ever higher but ruins workers and small businesses, for the world we knew before the pandemic. Part of the pre-pandemic world involved less crowded trails and swimming holes. We at Chronogram need to take a more active role in advocating and protecting our region's natural resources, a task we are well-equipped for. We as a region need to acknowledge that the pace of change has picked up and we need to follow the advice of the Serenity Prayer. And have empathy—for newcomers too—even as they slip over the ramparts in this siege. As Philip Larkin wrote in his poem "The Mower": "We should be careful / Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time."

*Since we resurfaced the piece on August 13, we have updated it to address readers' concerns regarding overcrowding and its related problems, and we have deleted the section on Kaaterskill Falls, which readers were right to call out as needing no publicity. The revised piece only publicizes public spots and calls for people to follow Leave No Trace principles (with link).

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