For the past month, and extending through the upcoming Columbus Day holiday, Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Backcountry Steward Regina Willis has been monitoring hiker activity along the Kaaterskill Falls Trail in the Catskills Thursdays through Mondays, sharing information about the history of this iconic landmark and its natural environment, and giving novice trail users tips for hiking safely at the falls and elsewhere. (Tip No. 1: Hiking in flip-flops can be hazardous to your wellbeing.)
Regina is a master’s student at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science & Forestry (Syracuse). A resident of nearby Coxsackie, Regina says she grew up going to Kaaterskill Falls and hiking in the Catskills. The temporary job as a steward at Kaaterskill Falls has been a great excuse for her to break away from her computer-focused scholarly task of completing her thesis (statistical analysis of stream data), and get outdoors. “I have the best ‘office’ view of anyone in the DEC,” she says with a big smile. Visitors have been very receptive to her help, she reports, as have local people who are happy to see the official presence on site.
The DEC assigned a steward to Kaaterskill Falls in September, after two fatalities at the site this summer. The department, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, local officials, and other partner groups are working together to develop a comprehensive, long-term approach to improving safe public access and hiking at Kaaterskill Falls, as well as to protect this much-loved natural resource, which is a significant tourist destination and therefore of economic importance to nearby Catskill communities.
Jeff Senterman, senior program coordinator for the Trail Conference, says, “This autumn has been spectacular in the Catskills and there has been a lot of tourist traffic at the falls area. Having a steward in place during this busy time has been great. The Trail Conference commends the DEC for adding this position and, with the Catskill Conservation Corps program, we look forward to working with the department to support the backcountry steward program next year.”
For Regina, whose last day on the job will be Monday, Oct. 13, it will soon be back to her desk work.