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DEC issues Zoar Valley safety reminder as hiking season begins in Western New York

Two hikers rescued from Zoar Valley gorge
Posted at 11:59 AM, May 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-13 11:59:11-04

GOWANDA, N.Y. (WKBW) — The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued safety reminders on Friday for anyone using the Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Areas this summer.

Zoar Valley stretches almost 3,000 acres across Erie and Cattaraugus counties. The size of the area, along with its deep gorge and cliffs, make it both scenic and potentially dangerous for hikers.

Hikers are treated to views of waterfalls along Cattaraugus Creek, but the DEC warns anyone using the area should stay within marked trails.

There are rescues in the Zoar Valley Multiple Use and Unique Areas each season. The DEC urges anyone using the areas to take the following safety measures:

  • Sign in and out of all trail registers. This allows authorities to make sure everyone is accounted for, but also tracks your group's last registered location in the event of an emergency.
  • Follow all State Forest Regulations, safety practices, and guidance on new signage in the area. Dozens of signs were added to Zoar Valley last season.
  • Stay on marked trails, and keep in mind that some trails may have been shortened or changed since the last time you used them.
  • Observe all DEC rules and regulations for the area. This includes prohibiting camping, fires, alcohol and glass containers within the area.
  • Practice Leave No Trace principles. Take anything you bring into the area out with you.

In July 2020, two hikers were rescued from the Zoar Valley gorge. A month later, a 16-year-old girl died after falling off a ledge. Brooke Walker's family worked with others who had lost loved ones at Zoar Valley to see safety measures added. The New York State DEC added more than 400 safety and warning signs, hired two new assistant forest rangers to patrol the areas and restricted some access to areas.

The DEC plans to add new ADA-compliant and accessible trails, with construction slated to begin in 2023.