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October 27, 2016
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Building fences

Skinners Falls is a popular river spot for locals and tourists alike. The rocks have been shaped and smoothed by the falls, and many people flock to the area to swim and lounge on the rocks.
Contributed photo by Ariana Gonzalez

Visitors to the popular river spot, Skinners Falls, will notice a change this summer. Surrounding the field near the parking lot is now a fence, and there is now a $1 fee to get inside. The field, which one can walk through to get to the path that leads to the rocks down by the falls, is private property owned by Rick and Lisa Lander of Landers River Trips.

Skinners Falls is a favorite river location for locals and visitors alike. The land surrounding the falls is owned by three different parties. The field is privately owned by the Landers, the Lothian House and surrounding area is owned by Mary Lou Lothian of Lou’s Tubes, and the parking lot, launching area and beach near the top of the falls are owned by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and managed by the National Park Service (NPS). Visitors can still access the NPS launching area and beach for free.

Sean McGuinness, Superintendent of the NPS, said there are issues with trying to get all of these entities to work together. He cited problems like broken glass and garbage being left down at the rocks, which NPS rangers and interns pick up though no one is formally responsible for garbage removal. He said, “Each one isn’t such a big deal, but all combined together is diminishing the experience for the visitors, guests and residents that come here to enjoy that really nice recreation site on the river.”

The Landers installed the fence and had someone collecting fees beginning on the July 4th weekend. Lisa said that the fee was put in place to help cover the cost of garbage removal from the field. At the edge of the field, before the path begins, there are garbage cans. The problem is that these garbage cans quickly fill up and garbage piles up around them because visitors to the falls do not take it with them. Lisa said that last year they took the cans away in the hopes that visitors would have a “pack-it-in, pack-it-out” attitude, but instead they just left the garbage on the ground where the cans used to be. Lisa said that the amount of garbage is “tremendous” and they are the ones who have to pay to remove it. The fee is a “response to solving a problem that we have.” The Landers also provide bathroom and trash facilities.

The cost is a $1 entry fee for each person, $5 for a car load, $10 for tube rentals and a $5 launching fee. Lisa said, “I feel bad about it. It is just a necessity right now. Unless we can come up with another plan, it is what it is.” The fee is a point of contention within the community, and some people are angry about it.

McGuinness said that the NPS has received complaints and said, “All we’re doing right now is monitoring and seeing what we can do.” He added that he has brought it up to the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) and the Cochecton town board.

Some people are also saying that there’s more to the story. The Landers own a river trip business that rents boats and tubes all along the Delaware River, including at Skinners Falls. Across the road from their campground and rental office is another business, Lou’s Tubes. This naturally puts Landers River Trips and Lou’s Tubes in competition, and some people say that the $1 fee the Landers are charging is to hurt Lou’s Tubes business.

Lothian, the owner of Lou’s Tubes, declined to comment. Another source who wishes to be unnamed commented, “To come after Lou, who was there selling tubes first, and shut her down like that, and then charge a dollar apiece for people to pass through when they’ve been doing that for 20 years, there’s just so much there.” Lisa said that is not the reason for the fee, and that they are doing it to cover the cost of garbage.

Lisa said, “I spend a ton of time down there [at the falls] sitting and talking to people, and people understand. Most people really understand. There are a few that are very upset.” She added that many people who at first were upset, came back and commented on the noticeable absence of garbage.

Lisa ended on the note about how the conflict that this fee is stirring up needs to end. “I’m not here to make their Skinners Falls experience unhappy,” she said. “I want it to be a pleasant experience. In order to ensure that, I need to make sure the field stays open and I can afford to keep it open.”