Trashing of Woodstock swimming holes jeopardizes their use

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

As the town weighs its options for dealing with continued misuse of the Big Deep and Little Deep swimming holes, lawmakers hope new temporary signs will make visitors behave. Possible solutions range from requiring permits to complete closure as the town’s maintenance department spends several hours after each weekend clearing out garbage left by visitors. Councilman Richard Heppner said at the July 10 meeting he favors short-term closure out of concern for the environmental impact caused by increased use.

The swimming holes, tucked in the woods and out of sight, were mainly used by locals until a few years ago when articles in the New York Times and online touted the area’s best swimming spots.

The Town Board thought it had a lid on the problem when it adopted a permit system whereby anyone wanting to use the swimming holes would go to the police dispatch office on Tinker Street, sign a paper acknowledging a set of rules and pick up a permit. Visitors would be informed of the rules and police would have some idea of who was using the area in case problems arose. Then the county Health Department got word of the permits and told Supervisor Bill McKenna any attempt to control access requires the town to assume liability and a lifeguard must be on duty. A similar permit system is in place at the nearby Peekamoose Blue Hole, but that is under state control and exempt from lifeguard requirements. “I’ve been arguing with them (the Health Department) for several months now,” McKenna said.

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“I hate to give up on my species, but maybe we put up a sign that says carry in, carry out. If you don’t, we’re going to have to close it,” Councilman Lorin Rose said.

Millstream Road resident Ed Allyn, who has been dealing with swimmers trespassing on his property for years, says signs only work if they are coupled with enforcement. He had a sign at one point that said the stream was contaminated, but that didn’t stop people from entering his property. Allyn also said much of the problem can be eliminated if the town bans food. People set up picnics and stay all day.  “When they stay all day they have to go to the bathroom They go on our property,” he said.

Resident Iris York suggested removing the trash cans to further drive home the carry in, carry out message. “If you have a garbage can there, you’re sending a message that we’ll pick up your garbage,” York said.

Some in the audience suggested using volunteer stewards who could approach people as they enter and educate them about following the rules. Those same stewards would notice if people bring their trash out when they leave. Peekamoose had a similar program.

But York and others feared for the volunteers’ safety if they get in an argument with a visitor.

Councilman Reggie Earls said the volunteers can’t be expected to stand around all day in the July and August heat. They will need some sort of shelter, he said.

Police Chief Clayton Keefe said officers do occasional spot checks, but he is increasingly concerned about safety because of the number of cars parked, making a quick exit in an emergency problematic. He also noted if an officer is patrolling the swimming hole and gets a call, it can take time to get back to his patrol car. With two officers on duty most of the time, the police cannot devote a lot of time to the area, McKenna and others have noted.

The town may hire a lifeguard or provided port-a-potties next summer, but McKenna wants the expense offset through fees.

While some suggested limiting access to residents only, McKenna said based on consultations, he is not sure that is legal. What may be possible is charging a parking fee to non-residents to offset garbage collection and enforcement, he said.

The Town Board will discuss the issue again at the July 17 business meeting and encourages people to come up with suggestions.

Bathers on the path to Big Deep. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

Big Deep (photo by Dion Ogust)

Short-term rental regulations

The board discussed some tweaks to new regulations dealing with the increasing popularity of short-term rentals made popular by such websites as Airbnb. Short-term rental committee chair Richard Heppner expressed concerns about people buying homes on the more densely populated side streets in the center of town for the sole purpose of making it a vacation rental and changing the character of the neighborhood. Heppner said he would prefer not allowing non-owner-occupied short-term rental homes in those areas.

Many homeowners rent a room or two and remain on premises or rent while they are on vacation. Those aren’t the issue. The problem arises when renters make noise or cause other problems and no one is there to remind them of the rules.

Heppner would like to see limiting short-term rentals to one’s primary residence in most cases and allowing for exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

Councilman Lorin Rose agreed to a limit.

“I think you only get one, period. I’ve got two of them on my dead-end road and it has changed the neighborhood,” Rose said.

The committee will discuss the regulations further and bring them back to the Town Board.

Mill Hill Road construction progresses

While it may seem to the casual observer no work was done since the removal of the concrete surface and the grading of a temporary gravel road, work is done every night, McKenna said in response to some complaints.

Crews are digging trenches, installing catch basins and making room for drainage pipes five nights a week, Sunday through Thursday. It is then covered up by the morning in time for daytime traffic, so it has the appearance nothing has been done.

Drainage pipes will be installed over the next three weeks, making the road ready for paving. Work should be completed in August, he said.

In response to complaints about dust, McKenna said crews are spreading a mixture of calcium chloride and water. He asked motorists to obey the 10 mph speed limit through the construction zone to help minimize the dust and keep potholes to a minimum.

And speaking of potholes, several people complained about one in front of Joshua’s. McKenna requested the state Department of Transportation inspect it and get it filled.

In the meantime, local noted personality Jogger John had filled the pothole with dust and dirt he had swept from the sidewalks. When the DOT official arrived, he couldn’t find the pothole.

McKenna assured the DOT there is, indeed a pothole and requested a more permanent fix. He joked that Jogger John should bill the state for his work.

McKenna also reminded people the state has started work on stretches of Route 212 starting at the Thruway overpass in Saugerties and working west to the Route 375 intersection. Some sections will be milled down and completely resurfaced. Combined with the closure of Ohayo Mountain Road to fix a failing retaining wall near the Tannery Brook Road intersection and upcoming replacement of the Tannery Brook bridge, it is turning out to be an adventurous summer for motorists.

There are 4 comments

  1. Lea Cullen Boyer

    The Big Deep will never be a public swimming hole with a lifeguard. the water has regular ecoli issues not to mention whatever comes off the golf course. (You really don’t want to know. ) No NYS Health official will ever sign of on that dangerous brew.

    What the community faces is a choice for supporting high intensity recreational use or casual, short term, low impact use of the site. By letting the public “self create” parking opportunities in the Big Deep woods the town has been negligent in their duties of stewarding this public space and these waters.

    High intensity recreational use includes and is not limited to large picnics, gatherings, parties (25 or more participants). These events happen only where parking is easy. There is a direct inverse correlation between number of yards one has to drag a keg and the number of keggers. There is a direct inverse correlation between the number of people who bring food and beverage containers and the number of yards they have to carry them, and there is a direct inverse proportion between these factors and picnics.

    Build it and they will come. Allow them to deface and destroy public woodlands and shame.

    NYSDEC took a mighty hit when they experimented with adding Port-O-Sans at Blue Hole. These toilets led more folks to find the amenities pleasing and they invited more friends and so on and so on. Garbage cans led to dumpsters and the number of site users swelled for 50 per weekend to over 1400 per day. Exhausted local cops and DEC employees risked life and limb as the crowds grew larger and more unruly. This year’s pass system has effectively reduced numbers, calmed the volume and volume of bodies. Congratulations to the NYSDEC for their courage and integrity in placing the natural heritage and their duty, as outlined by the Wildlands plan for their region, above a small group of people’s brief wish to party large in the swimming hole.

    Woodstock prides itself on being a wilderness loving community. This is only as true as the people who live and play here steward the wilderness. Otherwise it’s all lip service and marketing and another beautiful place being crushed under the heels of progress. While “Magic Mommy” brownies were delightful, only science and biology and sound land management practices will save The Big Deep, The Little Deep, your secret swimming hole (Which will be the next hot spot once The Big Deep is beyond retrieval or closed), and your backyard.

    Petition the town to have The Big Deep Woods restored to woodland and the unplanned and unsanctioned parking spaces reduced to no more than 5.

  2. Premature Anti-Faciast

    Privatize the swimming holes, put fences around them and give the only key to a town employee. Swimmers have to buy a ticket for the day or season, and close the pool for local events for swim teams. You think I’m kidding you, but if you don’t want trashing, anal retentive humorless priggish behavior and attitudes must be implemented.

    As to “short term ” rentals, tax these bed and breakfasts at a commercial rate like the comptroller has suggested, or the problems will continue there as well. School districts will enjoy the money.

  3. Linda Meris

    Hi
    I visit Woodstock a few times a year being every summer since the 1980s and always enjoyed the Mill Stream bigger swimming hole past the hotel where now the Keep Out signs are. This is a beautiful spot that was unfortunately thru advertisement brought crowded and garbage leaving etc unpleasant conditions. I suggest that the town of Woodstock give out passes with rules for those who will respect the laws to keep the streams clean of refuse and give folks a place to swim and enjoy. Linda

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