July 2016 - Hiking
Plotter Kill: Enjoy, But TAke Care
By Dave Kraus
Residents of the Capital Region often head off to the Adirondacks or Catskills in search of spectacular scenery. But there’s natural beauty much closer to home just outside Rotterdam, southwest of Schenectady.
The Almy D. Coggleshall Plotter Kill Preserve covers 632 acres of hilly terrain and offers an assortment of cliffs, ravines, and spectacular viewpoints as the creek descends 900 feet and 3.5 miles to the Mohawk River. It’s possible to hike almost all the way to the river and back along the Plotter Kill gorge for a seven mile round trip.
There are three large waterfalls; the Upper, the Lower and the Rynex Creek Falls in the preserve, with the first (Upper Falls) only a five-minute walk from the main parking lot on County Route 159 (Mariaville Road). The Upper Falls drops 60 feet while the Lower and Rynex Creek falls each descend 40 feet. The walls of the gorge vary between sheer rock cliffs and layered slate that creates terraces for the descending water. Towering pines, maples, and oaks overhang the trail and much of the ravine, and forest flowers bloom in the shaded undergrowth.
The rugged scenery and convenient location make Plotter Kill an easy day trip. But they can also combine to make the preserve treacherous for visitors. In May of last year, 17-year-old Carly Sinnott of Clifton Park was killed in a fall while descending into the gorge with friends. It was the first fatality at the preserve since 2003, but there have been numerous injuries that required rescue, and local fire and police are called every season to assist lost or exhausted visitors.
Visitors should exercise extreme caution. Marked trails lead to the tops of the various waterfalls, but the only official trail into the gorge is between Upper and Lower Falls. The entrance is downstream from Upper Falls and the trail is steep and narrow. Only unofficial scrambles lead downward further downstream, and rainfall can make the descent slippery and dangerous. Even on some of the improved trails the slopes are steep, and high use has hard-packed the trail and exposed many roots.
Improvements are being planned to increase accessibility and safety. Existing trails will be improved, and other trails created to allow access into the gorge. More warning signs will be installed, observation platforms built, and a handicapped access trail created. But visitors should always stay on official trails and avoid the overhanging cliffs and steep slopes, especially if visiting with children.
Reach the preserve from Exit 2 on I-890 in Schenectady. Turn west on Putnam Road across from the ViaPort Mall and bear right at the top of the hill. Turn right at the flashing light at Route 159 and continue 2.2 miles to the main preserve entrance on the right. An alternate entrance on Coplon Road, just before the main entrance, provides easier access to the downstream portions of the preserve.
Dave Kraus (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Schenectady is a longtime area cyclist, photographer and writer. Visit his website at KrausGrafik.com.