New features to help keep hikers and visitors to Zoar Valley safe are coming from the DEC for the summer season.
The state agency has already installed over 400 signs that warn of dangerous areas, and mark safe ones. They’ve also attempted to better existing trails by adding natural barriers, and building new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant trails that will make hiking more accessible. DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said these improvements are long overdue.
“We're here for the long haul. And some of the trail systems that are down into the gorge are badly outdated, they're either eroded, or they're not ADA-compliant," said Seggos. "We want to get people to beautiful destinations like this one safely. So that involves having to reconstruct some of these trails to modern standards. We'll be doing that for years to come. By next year, we'll have finished the first stage of the trails off of Valentine flats.”
Zoar Valley for many can be a beautiful place to get away and experience nature in its purest forms, but it can also be a dangerous place, which is why the DEC is in the middle of this aggressive safety improvement project. It’s the site of many falls and rescue operations, and at least 15 people have died there.
MaryBeth Long’s son Conor is one of those, having died during a hiking accident at Zoar Valley in 2018 at age 20. With the DEC having already lost several of its 400 new warning and trail signs to theft, she said it’s important that Zoar Valley visitors take things seriously.
“I think that people don't realize how short life can be,” Long said. “And I don't think people realize that this is 300 acres of very dangerous territory where you can be walking, and you will drop down into shale. I think people need to listen to the families who have lost loved ones. Because when you lose somebody, especially a child, it is a loss that you never get over.”
In addition to new signage, the DEC has installed more kiosks stocked with official maps, and has partnered with Google to exclude unofficial trails from its Google Maps service.
The state agency will be constructing a memorial dedicated to those who have lost their lives at Zoar Valley. DEC administrators see this both as a way of remembrance, but to also serve as a reminder to future visitors on how dangerous the valley can be.