With all its picturesque allure, it’s no wonder why Bash Bish Falls has always attracted many visitors — including some rule-breakers who venture too close to the cliff’s edge or swim in the waters below. Is that reason enough to completely block access to this natural centerpiece at the heart of a 424-acre state park intended for public enjoyment and recreation? The state Department of Conservation and Recreation believes so, but we respectfully disagree.
DCR officials last week installed barriers that are far more restrictive than the steel and cable fence constructed around the summit in the 1970s. Now, not only the falls but the entire area surrounding it are off-limits. It was a move primarily aimed at safety, according to both DCR and Mount Washington officials. Officials’ worries increased during the pandemic, when a cooped-up local populace flocked to the region’s natural resources for recreation, including this scenic state park. Many who did so went swimming in the waters, while some littering and vandalism was reported.
The already established safety rules were sensible measures, demonstrated by the fact that a few who ignored them have met tragic ends over the years. Still, that number literally amounts to a few people — over the span of six decades. A man who died in 2017 after slipping and falling into the water appears to be the site’s first fatality this century and the only one since the 1960s.
That doesn’t mean safety concerns aren’t warranted, but are those numbers disproportionately higher than other popular bodies of water and natural landmarks throughout the county? Why such a suddenly restrictive policy that we’d be unlikely to see at other spots like ponds, lakes or trails that have seen tragic but rare events? Such barriers would seem like overkill in those spaces, and it strikes us as such here. Like the unruly handful who have flouted the decades-old rules, some troublemakers are inevitably going to find a way over or around the barriers. Would these structures slow or obstruct rescue efforts if an emergency unfolds?
Preserving safety and order ought to be a priority at the county’s priceless rugged landmarks. On this general point, we wholeheartedly agree with state and local officials. Perhaps more patrols by DCR, which manages Bash Bish State Park, are warranted along with stiffer penalties for violating common-sense rules. That would mean the unwise minority of visitors who seek to break those rules would be ruining it only for themselves.
With this approach, however, DCR is letting them ruin it for everyone, including those who merely wish to safely and respectfully get the most out of this precious emerald among the Berkshires’ natural riches. That is a shame.