New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced improvements and actions at the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area (MUA) and Zoar Valley Unique Area in southern Erie and northern Cattaraugus counties. The improvements are designed to promote public safety and enhance the visitor experience at one of Western New York’s most scenic and ecologically diverse natural areas.
In addition to the improvements and actions announced, DEC will install a special memorial at the accessible overlook platform, which is expected to be complete in 2022. The memorial will recognize Brooke Walker, the 16-year-old who died in an accident at the Zoar Valley MUA in 2020, and all of those who have died accidentally at Zoar Valley.
Zoar Valley is widely recognized for its scenery created by a deep gorge surrounding Cattaraugus Creek, as well as its sheer cliffs, flowing waterfalls, and dense forests. To ensure that visitors to Zoar Valley MUA and the Zoar Valley Unique Area are aware of the potential risks, DEC worked with stakeholders including Marla Walker, MaryBeth Long, Senator George Borrello, Assemblymember Joseph M. Giglio, and DEC staff to develop a comprehensive plan to improve the visitor experience and public safety.
DEC’s actions and improvements include:
- New and enhanced signage at access points, along trails, and at the gorge rim. Dozens of new signs promote the safe use of Zoar Valley, marking trails, and warning of particularly dangerous spots at the MUA. These new signs complement existing signage;
- DEC crews shortened the Overlook Trail at Valentine Flats to keep visitors safely away from the rim of the gorge;
- DEC staff are developing new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant and accessible trails, which are advancing to construction and trail completion in 2022;
- In May, two newly hired Assistant Forest Rangers started DEC service and, following training, are scheduled to begin seasonal summer posts at Zoar Valley before the start of the summer season;
- DEC is hiring a summer intern from SUNY ESF and a Student Conservation Association Natural Resource Steward. Both positions will be assigned duties at Zoar Valley;
- DEC has installed new kiosk panels at the Valentine Flats and Forty Road parking areas. The panels provide additional maps, safety messages, and feature new take-away maps for visitors;
- DEC will issue emergency regulations this summer to restrict access upstream from the Forty Road Parking Area and include a 15-foot setback from the cliff edges, prohibit climbing cliff walls, and include a restricted area along the South Branch of Cattaraugus Creek to deter trespass;
- DEC’s Divisions of Lands and Forests and Forest Protection staff brushed in unofficial trails on the property to help discourage the use of these potentially unsafe trails and to promote use of official trails;
- In addition to physical improvements at the site, DEC enhanced safety messaging and updated maps and information on its Zoar Valley MUA webpage, including Important Tips for Visitors to Zoar Valley MUA and Answers to Frequently Asked Questions;
- To encourage visitors to access the site by official and safer entry points, DEC worked closely with Google and outdoor and travel websites to ensure maps and information provided by third parties are up-to-date and accurate, and provide visitors with clear information and directions to maximize safe enjoyment of Zoar Valley. Google worked with DEC to update its maps of Zoar Valley MUA with accurate trail markings and accessible parking lots.
This summer, DEC will issue an updated Unit Management Plan (UMP) for Zoar Valley for public comment. The UMP articulates the management strategy for the Zoar Valley MUA and lists management objectives, as well as information about natural features, recreational infrastructure, geology, natural and human history, habitats, wildlife, and fisheries at the site.
For more information, visit the Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area webpage.
Map of Zoar Valley Multiple Use Area and Zoar Valley Unique Area courtesy DEC.