On Gravity

Wednesday was the perfect day for a visit to Thacher Park, but not if you wanted to walk along the Indiian Ladder trail. The trail is closed and it’s not clear when — or if — it will reopen.

The iconic Indian Ladder trail is one of the most popular spots in the Capital Region. It was shut down last summer when a boulder came loose from the cliff above and struck a local woman, leaving her gravely injured. The sad story of how the accident left her permanently disabled was told in a recent Times Union story. Near the end of the story was this sentence:

The family has retained an attorney, who has filed a lawsuit alleging negligence on the part of state parks officials and seeking undisclosed damages.

OK. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know all that much about cliffs and such, but I’m struggling to understand the negligence part. I’ve been on that trail more than I can remember, and there wasn’t a single time when I didn’t think of what would happen if boulders started tumbling down. I’ve stood under huge outcroppings of rock on the trail and pondered being squished. All this rock will fall some day. Hope I’m not the one standing here when it happens.

Did the park officials know rocks might fall? I don’t know, but anyone who’s ever been there can see there are huge boulders scattered around near the trail. They didn’t get there by rolling up the hill.

Now, in other parts of the park, I’ve seen where huge trees came down across trails. Fortunately, they haven’t hit anyone. I can’t say whether they made a sound, but I can say this: outdoor activities involve risk, even in a tame place like Thacher Park, bad things can happen.

I don’t know what we expect the park to do, send teams of climbers up and down the cliff looking for boulders that might break free? Is that even possible to detect? Then we can have teams that roam the woods looking for dangerous trees. And of course, there will be dozens of signs warning people that the trails may be dangerous.

Or maybe something else will happen: they’ll shut down the Indian Ladder trail forever, and that would be a damn shame.

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