NILES — The state Department of Environmental Conservation hosted two public meetings in Niles Wednesday to serve as the start of a public comment period on proposed improvements to Carpenter Falls.
The proposed Carpenter Falls Public Access Improvement Project would include the construction of a new 20-space parking lot, elevated boardwalk and an observation platform, all with a focus on universal access.
In addition to improving public access, the project is also meant to protect water quality by stabilizing drainage and erosion, reduce impact on plants and animals, and focus human use onto a sustainable footprint, according to DEC Supervising Forester John Clancy.
Out of four proposed designs, the current proposal was chosen as it would require the least amount of tree cutting, soil grading and fill, as well as less long-term maintenance.
The meetings served as a formal beginning to a public comment period for the project. Comments sent to the DEC staff will both be considered in the development of the final project and also responded to in a separate document, Clancy said.
"Everything you give us is appreciated sincerely," Clancy said. "It helps us do our jobs."
Residents and neighbors at the evening meeting Wednesday offered a number of concerns and suggestions for the project, with several focusing on the potential for overuse and enforcement.
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Kris Scholl said he supported the idea of a more controlled parking lot that kept visitors from dangerously parking on the road, and while he was less sold on the idea of a viewing platform it made sense to focus parties and other current trespassers in to one spot.
However, Scholl questioned what would happen if the 20 spots in the parking lot were filled, asking if a park ranger, environmental control officer, or state police would respond.
Similarly, Niles Town Board Member Clancy Edmonds questioned whether the town or the state would be responsible for paving the new parking lot, or if the state would reimburse local emergency agencies for calls to the area.
Doug Allis said he drove on the roads in and around Bear Swamp State Forest and described them as eroded, rutted, and filled with potholes.
"If they're not able to maintain that efficiently, do you have any confidence they'll be able to maintain this in 10 years?" Allis asked, adding that he felt state funds for the project would be better spent mitigating harmful algal blooms on Skaneateles Lake.
Comments can be emailed to the DEC at R7.UMP@dec.ny.gov with the subject line "Carpenter Falls Public Access Improvement Project" or mailed to John Clancy, Supervising Forester, NYSDEC Region 7, 1285 Fisher Ave., Cortland NY 13045. Comments are accepted until Sept. 23.