by Cindy Carpenter
When you can’t beat them do you join them?
This is a question that I can’t get out of my mind when thinking of a recreational experience I had this past summer. It was in a place I have visited and enjoyed since I was a kid, a private resort in the Pennsylvania Poconos where my grandfather built a cottage in the 1920’s. When most people were on the golf course or playing tennis my siblings and I were in the woods. A favorite walk is still to a trio of waterfalls, none more than 20 feet high or so, but collectively an impressive scene of cascades and trout pools in a steep-sided gorge. Often we’d be the only ones there and pretend that it was ours alone. I truly love the place.
A few times, when the volume of water was low enough that we felt the right mixture of confidence, cautiousness and adventure, we would cross the stream on large rocks and ease along the bottom of the lowest pool’s rock edge with plenty of foot and hand holds. We could find more foot and hand holds in the next series of rocks far enough from the stream to not be slippery to get to the edge of the middle pool. Here we could enjoy the sight and sound of the waterfall above and the one below. I don’t remember ever climbing up to the highest falls. Was it risky? Maybe, but we knew the limits of our bravery and had respect for rocks and water.
I confess I don’t feel confident to do the same now, decades later. So last summer when my sister suggested we go on the property’s new “waterfall ramble” up these falls I was ready for the adventure. The ramble is a series of ropes tied to trees up the steep wooded side slope that takes the hiker to the upper pools without picking one’s way up the large rocks. But at the first sight of it I was appalled. Across the stream was a gully along the mountainside with the first white and red striped rope lying there, ready to support more feet scrambling up the steep slope. In recent years I had witnessed this slope showing signs of climbers, but never had the damage looked so severe.
Well, we went. My sister said it was very slippery the last time she climbed it when the weather had been rainy. Most of the ropes were helpful even in the dryer conditions to scramble up the slopes, tier after tier, with short walks in between. Each segment has a label attached to a tree, such as “Electric Slide” or “The Tug of War.” Boulders lie everywhere in the woods. In one section we had to squeeze between two flat-sided boulders in a place labeled “The Toaster.” There are a couple other imaginatively labeled features along the way. One sign interpreted the glacial history of the area by an upper pool where I had never stood before.I admit I had fun. I felt I had gotten some exercise, seen lovely sites, and was entertained also. But I am still haunted by that question. I did not have the opportunity to query the property’s current management about the origin of the ramble, but I know interpretive nature-oriented experiences are being de-emphasized. More energy is being put into fee-based adventure recreation, though there is no fee for this ramble.
Is there a problem being solved here? Did they fear for the safety of the increased urban clientele around the waterfall? Seeing the user-made trail getting more and more obvious, did they throw up their hands and decide they may as well make it safer with ropes? Did they weigh this against the resource damage? Are they thinking of the sustainability of this outdoor adventure? How deep will the gully be when I next visit this waterfall, this place in my heart? What will it look like in a few more summers after more and more feet have scrambled up and down? Have you, oh blog reader, heard of a situation like this? Are waterfall rambles a trend? And then the question to myself, will I go on the ramble again?