Towing strands hikers, readers respond

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I’m grateful that so many of you take the time to respond to what I write. Seriously.

Yes, some of your emails can be … what’s the right word here? … let’s go with grumpy. But for a columnist, not much is worse than writing something that gets no response. If a column provokes no email, I’ve written something worthy of apathy. Not good.

That was not the case, I’m happy to say, for my recent column about mountain towing along Platte Clove Road in the town of Hunter or the follow-up column. Short version: The Greene County town’s towing of illegally parked cars is leaving hikers stranded, confused and angry.

Many of you agreed with my basic point, which is that towing carried out in the name of public safety makes little sense if it puts people in danger. But I heard from plenty who disagreed, including a reader named Peg.

“Perhaps if those wishing to hike took personal responsibility to 1. Know where they were going 2. Not park illegally. 3. Assume no cell service in mountains, there would be no need to blame anyone else for the predicament they found themselves in,” she wrote. “If there is no legal parking, choose a different hike. Again, be personally responsible for one’s actions.”

Thank you, Peg. Listen, I’m all for personal responsibility and accountability. But when people inevitably don’t, the punishment shouldn’t be draconian.

Speeding kills thousands of people every year, right? And it’s far more dangerous, in most cases, than parking illegally, so a driver who is going well above the speed limit on, say, the Northway is being irresponsible. But do police take speeding drivers’ cars and leave them stranded in remote locations? Should they?

I don’t think they should, just as I don’t think the town of Hunter should leave hikers stranded with no clue where their car is or how to retrieve it.

A number of you wrote to say that hiking locations have become dangerously overcrowded since the start of the pandemic, leading to frustrating situations for local residents. Debbie, a reader from Freehold, wrote to detail some of what’s happening around Kaaterskill Falls on Route 23A, an area that’s separate from the Platte Clove area I wrote about.

“Not all of the people visiting are respectful of the local laws and parking rules, which makes them disrespectful of the local population,” she wrote. “In addition, and in my mind even more despicable, many visitors are not respectful of the land, water and trails. There are inordinate amounts of garbage being left in and around the trails and parks. Worse, some of these visitors are defecating and urinating on and around the trails and the waterfall area.”

A reader named Andrew, who also lives in the Catskills, wrote to note the “garbage and graffiti.” (I’m editing these emails for grammar and brevity.)

“Towing is the least they could do,” Andrew added, because “a small town needs to enforce the laws when the majority have no respect for the land.”

The crush of people coming on weekends to the Catskills (and the Adirondacks) is a problem that’s large in scope and probably requires some sort of broad, coordinated response from the state. I do feel for residents who are watching the peace and beauty of mountain life destroyed by crowds.

But communities should be cautious not to unduly punish visitors who make relatively small mistakes as some sort of retribution for others’ bad behavior.

After all, people like Pauline Sung, who was left stranded with elderly in-laws, come to the Catskills in appreciation of its beauty. Leaving her party lost and stranded because they didn’t see no-parking signs does nothing to address garbage issues elsewhere in town.

I have room for one more letter, and I’ll leave the last word to Mark, an attorney in Albany. He and his wife parked illegally while honeymooning in Carmel, Calif. When they returned, they found a message on the car that said something like this: We note that you are a visitor. We wish that you have a pleasurable time while with us and ask that you please try to respect parking rules in the future.

“The feeling that note left in me was remarkable. As tourists, we felt welcomed, valued and desired,” Mark wrote. “Too bad that the town of Hunter can’t think of some similar, clever way to make its visitors feel more welcomed.”

[email protected] ■ 518-454-5442 ■ @chris_churchill

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