BY MICHAEL RICONDA
Harriman State Park boasts an impressive network of roads and trails, most of which remain open year-round to accommodate hikers, campers, boaters, fishermen and others who enjoy the outdoors.
However, with spring’s arrival after a long and frustrating winter, some frequent park users are questioning the accessibility of the park to visitors, particularly when it comes to parking and road access.
Hikers have begun to voice concerns that parking has become a minefield where even cars in spots with no signage might be subject to tickets. According to local resident and hiker Constantine Gletsos, even roads that should be accessible are regularly closed to the public.
“Nobody wants to do maintenance on this park and the roads,” Gletsos said.
Harriman spans over 46,613 square miles and boasts over 200 miles of hiking trails. Though the trails are largely maintained by volunteers with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC) manages the network of roads running through the sprawling park lands.
Gletsos argued the park seems to have been selectively closing or restricting parking on roadways. He specifically mentioned Arden Valley Road, Tiorati Lake Road and Route 106 as roads which should be open year round, but have seen regular winter closures.
Due to continued strains in PIPC finances, Gletsos thinks the parking confusions are a matter of money and suggested the PIPC might be selectively closing roads to limit maintenance needs. The PIPC has struggled with a meager budget over the past few years, taking in most money through fees and state support.
Its 2014 budget is reported to be $7.7 million, a number so low the Park Commission is struggling to afford pothole repairs for the New Jersey side of the Palisades Interstate Parkway.
Suzy Allman, who manages the MyHarriman blog which updates hikers on park and trail conditions, explained legal parking spaces are abundant, but are so poorly marked that most hikers do not know there are about 50 legal spots in the park.
According to Allman, Harriman is a “very passive” park with an administration keen to enact budget cuts without exploring funding options. As a consequence, up-to-date information is extremely difficult to find on the internet or through park employees.
“The only way that you would know that there is a place to legally leave your car by the trailhead is you have to have a map of the trail,” Allman said.
Other hikers have seen similar ticketing and confusion. One frequent park visitor who did not wish to be named explained she had been ticketed on a road close to the St. John in the Wilderness Church, though no signs indicated where parking was allowed.
Allman also confirmed road closures were commonplace in the winter months. As an example, she references Route 106, which was turned over to the park from the county this year, but closed for winter because the park did not have the resources to plow the road.
The issue with poor communication was once restricted to hikers, but has seen some broader attention in recent weeks. State police and park officials received criticism in late March when about 30 tickets were issued to volunteers who had been searching for missing Pomona man Peretz Sontag.
Ultimately, the common complaint seems to be a lack of communication between park officials and park users. Though few doubt the park is an important resource, most agree the transparency of the park administration and the absence of a web presence leaves much to be desired.
“The thing is, it’s really hard to get information about this park,” Allman said. “They really don’t seem to stay on top of handing out information.”
Representatives with the PIPC could not be reached for comment.