The sprawling Multiple Use Area known as Zoar Valley covers over 3,000 acres of land between two counties. Most of the area is controlled by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. But some of the land is privately owned-which can make it difficult for hikers trying to figure out where state land stops and private land begins.
Ranger Robert Rogers is one of three patrolman permanently stationed at Zoar Valley. He said while safety in the area has improved, visitors still need to be prepared.
"We ask people when you come in to be prepared to take care of yourself that includes good hiking boots, a backpack, water, food," Ranger Rogers said.
The public trails here at Zoar Valley are a part of the D.E.C. Unit Management Plan, which is under review. There's no specific timetable on when the plan details will be released and finalized.
Statement from Senator Catherine Young:
“I am deeply saddened that another young life has been tragically lost in Zoar Valley. This is a story that has played out too many times and left too many families grieving a senseless loss.
It is clear that the state needs to take a more active role in implementing stronger safety measures – something that I have been pushing for several years. I launched the Zoar Valley Task Force to evaluate the hazards and law enforcement issues facing the multi-use area and to develop strategies to strengthen public safety.
Out of that, came legislation that I sponsored that would designate the area as a state park to strengthen policing and ensure better signage and barriers. More recently, I advocated for funding in the 2018-19 state budget that would have financed trail improvements and the construction of safe viewing areas. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough support to get these things done. I was able to secure $200,000 for the Gowanda Fire Department - the first responder to emergency calls from the gorge - to enable them to purchase a vehicle with specialized high-angle rescue equipment.
However, preventing dangerous situations is our ultimate goal. Toward that end, those of us on the Task Force are continuing to work with DEC, which is developing a Zoar Valley Multi-Use Area Plan. The focus of our feedback and recommendations to DEC concern how to improve safety within the location of the gorge to allow people to enjoy the natural beauty while staying out of harm’s way. Those efforts are ongoing and have more urgency with this latest tragedy."