Ken Smith is caught between a rock and a hard place.
As president of the Becket Land Trust and overseer of its Historic Quarry and Forest, he's responsible for what goes on at the quarry, which is private property.
And what's going on at the quarry is increasingly causing alarm among some in the community.
The quarry long has been a mecca for extreme diving. Its 90-foot and 40-foot ledges above a 90-foot-deep pool are a haven for youths from surrounding states. And it has grown more popular in the wake of videos shot by cliff divers at the quarry that have become popular on YouTube in the past two years.
"It's a public safety issue," said Ed Gibson, Becket town administrator."It's private property, so the town isn't directly liable. But it's in our town, and there's public safety to consider."
But Smith wants people to visit the site, which offers a self-guided, no frills walking tour of industrial artifacts strewn about the historic quarry, first opened in 1870. Seven miles of trails are marked.
If he does more to limit public access, like charging fees, posting a guard in a booth with a gate, fencing the 250-acre site, Smith is acknowledging that the quarry is a public safety hazard.
If he continues to do nothing or very little, there's a chance some kid diving off the cliffs is going to be killed.
"Twenty feet below the surface, there are derricks and cables," said Josh Schwartzach, who owns 97 acres adjacent to and across from the quarry. Schwartzach and his wife Adrienne Metcalf manage a small vegetable and chicken farm and farmstand along Quarry Road. "It's a miracle nobody's been killed."
On a recent day, walking up to the quarry pool with Schwartzach, rusted hulks of mining machinery, graffiti-painted granite rocks and decrepit tour information posts greeted visitors along a rocky upward path.
"The graffiti is really sad for me," Metcalf said. "I've known this place since I was a child."
At the pool, youths were leaping off the 40-foot quarry ledge into the blue-green water. One youngster was climbing up to the 90-foot ledge. Schwartzach talked him down.
In addition to safety concerns, there are public health issues. No portable toilets or other facilities are available at the site.
"The kids come over onto my property and use it like a port-a-potty," Schwartzach said. "I go in with the backhoe and cover it up every so often."
While the lack of bathroom facilities is an aspect that Smith said he hadn't thought about, he's given the liability issue a great deal of thought. He said the problem was the Becket Trust lacked money.
"We don't have the resources to hire staff," Smith said.
He does pay for a part-time security guard. Becket Trust pays $9.50 per hour for 10 hours a week to Bill Vsetecka. Vsetecka walks the trails wearing a vest labeled "Security." He picks up garbage. Often the youths on the cliffs assist.
"I started four weeks ago," Vsetecka said. "Nobody wanted to do it."
On a recent Friday, half a dozen young men who said they were from Burlington, Conn., dove from the 40-foot cliff into the pool. Some did double twist dives.
When asked how they found Becket Quarry, they said they heard about it at another quarry. But they also said they had seen the videos on YouTube. In fact, these divers had a camera set up on a tripod to record their own dives.
The water looked inviting. It was cold and clear, and they were having a great time.
However, what happens when someone gets hurt?
"We're covered; we have liability insurance," Smith said.
Some residents in the area worry about the danger to youths, whether they're local or from out of town. But Becket Land Trust board member Stephen Schindel scoffed at those concerns.
"There are second- and third-generation cliff divers here," Schindel said. "Nobody gets hurt."
Last year, a diver belly-flopped and an ambulance was called. He was taken to the emergency room and released. Checking with Becket Police, no other incidents have been reported. Patrolling the parking lot is all the police can do since it's a private parcel.
What also may be of some concern to residents and the town, which pays for the increased police patrols required by the youths that descend on the quarry each summer, is the recent purchase of a second quarry by the Becket Land Trust.
The second quarry, referred to as the Pink Quarry, soon will be opened to the public, and linked to the Becket Quarry, according to Dorothy Schindel, director of the Becket Land Trust museum.
Schindel added that Becket Land Trust recently received a $10,000 grant from Housatonic Heritage Foundation, and that the money will be used to restore the guide posts and print more brochures.
While the majority of visitors to the quarry now seem to be cliff divers, Schindel hopes the trend can be reversed by cleaning up the place, repairing the visitor board and filling it with more brochures. "People originally came to hike and see the artifacts and go on nature trails," Schindel said.
"The rusting hulks are art," said Ann Smith, Ken's wife.
The quarry's future as an open-air museum seems to rest on several ifs. Whether machinery left outdoors can withstand frigid winters and be viable industrial artifacts, whether kids can safely jump from cliffs as high as two- and four-and-a-half-story buildings, and whether all the garbage, graffiti and rust will spoil a pleasurable walk.
Quarry Road resident Georgia Massucco summed it up: "I'd just like it to be a nice quarry that nobody knows about, like 15 years ago, when I moved here."