“I’m a little concerned,” Eric Humphery said in a tone suggesting he was making a severe understatement.
He was worried the coverage from The Other Hudson Valley would blow up a spot “more than it is already promoted.”
Once known only to locals, Shaft 2A has received enough coverage in recent years to necessitate the construction of a trail, and a parking lot is set to be opened at the trail’s base if the trend continues.
So, guess what? I’m not even going to goddamn say where Shaft 2A is, or even use its official name. This is the method I used when first writing about the traditional chill spot in 2014, though the article contained a seven-second video of visual hints in case anyone wanted to put in the research (a video now unavailable, it turns out, because the app I used to shoot it went belly-up).
I hadn’t been to the spot since the trail’s construction was completed in late fall 2017. I was accompanied on the journey by intrepid outdoorswoman and personal friend Sarah.
We parked at the traditional spot, a dirt road terminating at a gate that opened into a huge, grassy basin surrounded by forest and ravines. There were only four other vehicles parked on the road, about the same number you would find a few years back, though I noticed two of the cars had Jersey plates.
A rudimentary dirt parking lot delineated by boulders had been fabricated towards the entrance of the basin. The lot was not open to the public, and the single parked car belonged to an intern with the Preserve who was keeping count of who came in.
I had been to the spot dozens of times over the years, but had forgotten hiking boots this time around and was concerned I would be considered an out-of-town newb because of my Converses. It would turn out there would be few locals to call me out.
After trekking through the vast basin, the path enters the forest and the new trail starts in earnest. We had the unfortunate chance of entering the woods at the same time a group of disinterested newbs unappreciatively trudged in, and we came to a station at the trailhead simultaneously.
The station consisted of a sign informing hikers of the dangers of invasive species and requested anyone entering the trail to wipe their shoes on bristly AstroTurf at the sign’s base to prevent this.
We waited for our turn as the group stared at the sign with an offended air. Two in the group half-heartedly wiped their shoes.
“This is too much work,” one of them muttered. The other five didn’t bother to wipe their feet at all.
I had in my head the new trail would be some garish, flip-flop-accessible boardwalk, but it was beautifully done. It aesthetically blended with its environs, a dirt trail dotted with steps hewn from the surrounding stone.
It was certainly more accessible than before, when getting to the top of the location’s waterfall involved clambering up a muddy ravine. But it was these clamberings that necessitated the trail in the first place, Humphrey said.
“There are sensitive species in the area,” Humphrey said. “There was fragmentation, there was trails all over the place, no one used one formal route going in or out — that creates erosion and what-have-you all through these different routes.”
“We wanted to put one sustainable trail in for the volume of people that were going there,” he added.
Other than the people with dirty shoes, there were two groups at the top of the falls when Sarah and I got there. Both were clearly not from the area. The second, a couple approaching middle age with a young child, came up from Brooklyn, we found out.
The couple was pleasant. We chatted for a bit before I asked them how they heard of the spot.
“This blog,” the man said, whipping out his phone.
He couldn’t remember the blog’s name, but I tracked it down later, and, like almost all the writings the media produced on Shaft 2A, it was written during the trail’s construction last year.
Ironically, the trail was installed because too many people knew about the spot, but the installation caused many more to find out about it.
I don’t blame the Preserve for the increase in traffic; the trail needed to be installed to protect the surrounding wildlife, because the spot was beginning to blow up anyway due to — that’s right — goddamn social media.
“It’s completely over-promoted on social media already, which is about impossible to manage,” Humphrey said. “You can’t have any control over that.”
Sarah and I asserted our seniority to the Brooklyn couple by mentioning the way the trail used to be, and the difficulties that existed in mounting the ravine.
“Oh, our four-year-old could NOT take that,” the woman said, gesturing to the child.
“Hey, are there any more swimming holes farther up?” The man asked, glancing upstream. It hadn’t rained for a couple weeks, and the waterfall was at a trickle, the tarns feeding it stagnant and insect-filled.
“Yeah!” I responded reflexively. “Up there!”
“How far is it?” The woman queried.
“Like a mile,” Sarah interjected.
“A mile?” I questioned, as the next swimming hole was only a few minutes upstream.
“Yeah, it’s a-ways up there,” Sarah said.
“Oh yeah…” I said, finally catching on. “It’s almost a mile. Way up there.”
“Well,” the woman said. “That would be too much for him.” The kid again.
The original, unofficial trail still skirted up the stream to a large swimming hole, but damned if the BK newbs would find out about it. They wouldn’t have to wait long though: a Preserve sign informed us the unofficial trail would one day be made official.
We snuck up the path, but we could hear the voices of the dirty-soled group floating behind us as though we were being pursued.
A previous ankle injury of Sarah’s began to act up before we could get to the more secluded swimming spot, and we decided to head back down towards the falls.
“Hey.” I furtively leaned in towards Sarah. “If we pass the group and they’re being disrespectful, like, tossing trash or spitting on animals or something, we should run by screaming ‘BEAR.’”
We decided against this, partially because I knew I would be writing an article, and I didn’t know if the claim would constitute some form of menacing. We tried to slip by the group, but they accosted us, asking if there were better swimming holes upstream.
“No,” Sarah blurted. “We saw a bear, though.”
The groups’ eyes collectively bugged out, and the women started emphatically shaking their heads no.
“Yeah,” I chimed in. “Off in the distance. I think it was a female.”
Though the group did not flee as we had hoped, we heard them agree to not go farther upstream as we walked back down to the falls. On the way, Sarah opined she should go topless to cull any squares from the new arrivals, as Shaft 2A had traditionally been clothing-optional.
There were at least 30 people packed around the small swimming hole at the top of the falls when we arrived, their picnicking accoutrements strewn over the ground, the air stinking of sunscreen and DEET. More than half of them were young children. A messy string of them passed us as we arrived.
Sarah raised her voice so the group could hear her.
“I should just take my boobs out right here,” she said, which is the angriest way this sentence has ever been uttered.
I hadn’t said anything up to this point, but when I saw a bratty-looking child trying to punt a cairn over, it was too much.
“Don’t kick the cairns!” I irately bellowed.
A father (her’s, I assume) shooed her away, and another man asked us if they were allowed to go farther upstream.
We told them that, no, they were not allowed to go farther upstream, which might seem odd, since they had just seen us walk out from there, but I’ve learned if you say something with enough authority, people submit.
In the age of the internet, there are no secrets. This is often a good thing, as it’s now a lot harder for corporations/politicians/shitty plumbers to trick you. Ignorance is being shaved down, and that’s a good thing.
But there are some things that should stay secrets — a misdemeanor received by a college student, the address of an ex, some dumb-ass comment you drunkenly made on social media disparaging Eskimos.
And Shaft 2A.
Sarah and I treaded back to my car, passing a string of families headed for the falls. One of the children was wearing flip-flops.
If you DO happen to find yourself at Shaft 2A, please remember:
-There are no waste bins in nature, so plan on carrying everything out you bring in.
-Stay on the marked trail.
-Take nothing away with you but photos (I mean, if you have to).
-Don’t spray-paint anything (I have actually found this to be an issue).
-Don’t approach wildlife; this is their house, and you are a guest.