By Jacqueline Courtney Swift
It is so important to get outdoors and solidly connect with the nature of which we are an integral part.
An article in the July 8 News, “Wanderlust begins at home,” had good intentions in relaying information to explore beautiful nature in Western New York. But there were glaring omissions, particularly about the dangers and restrictions in Zoar Valley.
As stated in the article, the state Multiple Use Area (MUA) is a little over 3,000 acres. The rest of the region beyond its boundaries is mostly private and restricted property. As William Cain pointed out in his letter to the editor, the Sweetland Memorial Falls (formerly called the Big Falls) and “its dangerous private land gorge approaches are posted against trespassing.”
In 2007, when State Sen. Catharine Young was consulted by concerned and overworked local first responders, the Safety Task Force and its offshoot, Zoar South Branch Safety Education Outreach project, were established. The interagency program has reduced the average 7.2 injury accidents per summer to only a few since its inception. It is a model approach that really works because it is interactive, not just passive signs.
Full details about the laws governing Zoar Valley public access can be found at the Department of Environmental Conservation website: dec.ny.gov/lands/83160.html – Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area FAQs. The South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek is not classified as a “navigable-in-fact waterway,” so ticketing trespassers there is completely valid. The DEC article “Enforcement Guidance: Public Rights of Navigation and Fishing,” includes information on pedestrian rights in waterways. Go to dec.ny.gov/regulations/74771.html.
It is essential that folks understand how dangerous Zoar Valley can be. The MUA differs from a park in that there are absolutely no amenities. Campgrounds, playgrounds, developed trails, picnic tables, pavilions, trash cans and restrooms do not exist. It is a “pack it in, pack it out” area, a rule that many people ignore.
Yes, many people have visited Zoar as childhood family traditions. And one of the best ways to continue to love Zoar Valley is to get involved in one or more of its conservation organizations: The Nature Conservancy (which owns Deer Lick Preserve), the Nature Sanctuary Society of Western New York, Niagara Frontier Search and Rescue, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and others. We can always use the help!
In “Wanderlust begins at home,” Zoar Valley is called “a scenic and ecological marvel,” as are all the special places of the region’s natural heritage. Writer Lisa Matthies-Wiza’s realization “of the importance of protecting them” is so very wise.
Jacqueline Courtney Swift is president of the Nature Sanctuary Society of Western New York.