Safer Zoar Valley has consequences

This month, construction is set to begin on a permanent Americans with Disabilities Act compliant trail to be routed parallel to the tops of crumbling 200-foot shale cliffs at the Valentine Flats overlook point: historically the scene of a large concentration of Zoar rescues injuries, and deaths. This represents a major setback to the recently enacted Department of Environmental Conservation safety regulations for Zoar Valley.

This permanent multi-million dollar trail is planed to feature a number of “Vista sites” with raised platforms complete with gaps custom cut into the mature tree canopy foliage to manufacture the gorge vistas: all this accented with rail fences. The argument that all of this improves safety runs hollow as naturally curious hikers hunting for a better view, will now be tempted into the 12-foot hazardous restricted zones next to the cliffs tops: just the equivalent of a step or two away from the trail.

Rather than dangerous cliff top trails, a much safer way to take in Zoar vistas would be from the Cattaraugus Creek rafting companies that run safe, fully licensed Zoar Vista adventure trips, for over 30 years without any deaths or serious injuries.

Once construction is completed, these trails features will need to be monitored year round and maintained.

They will be subject to vandalism, similar to the vandals who have constantly stolen, defaced or destroyed Zoar safety warning signs. It represents a permanent cost and liability to multi levels of government, and an increased danger for visitors as well as to the local first responders tasked to rescue them.

The 100 trees cut in preparation for this trail will eventually grow back, the recreational overuse damage will slowly heal as the DEC ranger assistants will monitor the area during seasonal peak visiting periods for safety as they have successfully done in recent summers.

But to save lives: it is imperative that construction of this trail, at this site, be immediately abandoned.

William Cain, a Gowanda resident, is a former member of former New York state Sen. Catharine Young’s Zoar Valley Safety Task Force.


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