Many who swam for years in the Blue Hole or sought moments of quiet contemplation there have been dismayed, saying that the increased popularity of the spot has threatened to destroy precisely what made it precious.
State officials have responded by instituting measures to address what has become an increasingly common problem for conservation authorities across the country who aim to strike a balance between making parklands accessible and protecting them from degradation.
Basil Seggos, the commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said during a phone call last week that while the agency encouraged the use of public land, concern over the Blue Hole had grown, as the “postage stamp-sized area” recently began drawing up to 1,000 visitors a day.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in trash, damage to vegetation and trees, and soil erosion,” he said. “We need to protect these natural assets, and we’re working on possible strategies for the future, including limiting the number of visitors at a given time.”
Last year, the agency issued emergency regulations that prohibit fires, camping, glass containers, generators and radios. It has also enforced rules restricting the hours the area is open, provided garbage containers and portable bathrooms, and deployed forest rangers to watch over the site. In June, the agency issued a statement saying the Blue Hole, where people typically swim through September, was “overused.”
On Saturday, rangers on Route 42 directed people to 11 parking areas spread over nearly four miles that can collectively accommodate about 100 vehicles. Those pulling over on the side of the road were told they could not remain.
Kelly R. Turturro, a regional director for the Conservation Department, said that enforcing the parking rules was one way to make sure visitors would not overwhelm the Blue Hole.
Recently, members of groups like the Catskill Conservation Corps and the Adirondack Mountain Club arranged for a volunteer cleanup day at the Blue Hole. And the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics designated it this year as one of 16 spots that had been negatively affected by recreational use. Ben Lawhon, the education director for the center, which is based in Boulder, Colo., said the group wanted to provide visitors with a framework for how to minimize their impact on wilderness areas.
On Saturday, two trainers from Leave No Trace stood at the beginning of a dirt path that led to the Blue Hole and spoke with visitors from Brooklyn, Newark and Hackensack, N.J., about conservation. They also gave out material, including plastic garbage bags; instructions for keeping wild areas clean, with hints like “trash your trash and pick up poop”; and stickers with an illustration of a furry figure and the words “Bigfoot’s been doing it for years. Leave no trace.”