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New York updates safety policy to prevent selfie-related deaths at park

Posted: 11:47 AM, Aug 24, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-24 17:47:10Z

New York is adding new measures to prevent people from dying while taking selfies at a waterfall in the Catskill Mountains.

The picturesque Kaaterskill Falls is one of the most visited spots in southeast New York state. However, capturing the perfect photo for social media turned fatal for several people.

“I cringe, when someone is where they shouldn’t be,” says Peter Innes with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. “Because they are just too close to the edge.”

Four deaths in the past several years occurred due to the victims being too close to the edge, while taking or posing for photos. Officials say it’s now considered one of the riskiest activities at the park.

“A lot of people would think about ice climbing or rock climbing, back country skiing,” says Robert Dawson, a forest ranger. “It’s actually picture taking, because everyone can do it now.”

The park sees tens of thousands more visitors annually than they did just a couple decades ago. A lot of that is due to visitors posting photos on their social media platforms, attracting new visitors seeking similar photo ops.

“Or they’ll put it on YouTube, and they wanna see how many hits they can get on it,” explains Dawson.

“So, then they wanna make those really cool videos. That’s where they’re willing to take that extra risk.

“Then people will see that and be like, ‘I wanna go up there.’” 

Two of the most recent deaths—in 2016—occurred after the state had already made safety changes.

Officials added a staircase to prevent slipping, as well as fencing to keep people from the edge. However, people continued to walk around it despite the obvious park signage.   

“We realized there was a problem because of the continued fatalities,” says Innes.

Innes helped draft new regulations that went into effect this month.

“People are now not allowed to get within 6 feet of the cliff’s edges themselves,” says Innes of the new policy. “They also can’t swim within 150 feet of the top of the falls.”

Now, rangers like Dawson have the authority to ticket and even forcibly remove anyone putting themselves at risk.

“Before I was just like, ‘Hey, I really don’t want you to do this,’ and some groups will listen some are like, ‘Hey, it’s a free country,’” says Dawson.

If he could offer just one piece of advice to Instagram-happy trail goers, Dawson says, “You can still get that great picture; you can do it 10 feet away from the edge and you’ll get the same effect.”