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Home » » Hunter's Highway Department Tackles Tricky Terrain

Hunter's Highway Department Tackles Tricky Terrain

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 4/26/24 | 4/26/24

Robert Blain (left) and Josh Lacey. Photo by Max Oppen.

By Max Oppen

TANNERSVILLE — The Town of Hunter's Highway Department has been hard at work revitalizing a dangerous stretch of Platte Clove Road (County Route 16), an integral part of the Mountain Clove Scenic Byway. According to Town of Hunter Highway Superintendent Robert Blain, significant renovations to the road have been underway for about five years.

Repairs include widening the road, bank stabilization, and culvert installation.

Known locally as the "back mountain road," this challenging segment of highway winds steeply through the terrain, earning a reputation among travelers as a risky shortcut to Saugerties and Woodstock. The narrow, winding road poses difficulties for drivers, while its scenic allure draws hikers, leaf peepers seeking adventure, and the occasional lost semi-truck looking for a way out.

The Back Mountain Road is a seasonal highway, approximately two miles long, from top to bottom. It is typically closed from November 15 to April 15. Due to necessary repairs, it will open late this year. Blain expects it to open in about three weeks.  

Funding for this extensive project has been a collaborative effort, as the Town of Hunter's Deputy Superintendent John Farrell elaborated: "We did our first work in the 90s." Farrell says the repairs are funded by various state, federal, and local sources.

Farrell, who served as the Town of Hunter's Highway Superintendent for 33 years starting in 1989, has been in his current role for two or three years. 

Farrell reflected on the road's history: "When I first arrived, there were caved-in spots. Every 10-15 years, we'd redo them." He mentioned the historical use of hemlock logs by highway workers during the Depression era up until the 1980s. They've even found rotten railroad ties dating back to the 1960s. 

"We've found truck axles drilled into the side of the mountain. We've also found petrified wood," shared Farrell, highlighting the road's historical significance and occasional encounters with unusual artifacts.

Farrell estimates about 25 cars are sitting at their final resting places over the edge of the road.

Despite a weight limit of 4-4.5 tons, tractor-trailers occasionally attempt to navigate the road, leading to complications. Blain recounted an incident from a couple of years ago when a semi-truck became stranded at the bottom of the road during the winter, necessitating extensive efforts from the Town to clear the way. Josh Lacey, a heavy equipment operator for Kevin Thompson Excavating, said many errant trucks are led that way via GPS despite existing truck routes. Lacey said, "That's our biggest issue on this road because it's the fastest route for some of them."

Lacey has been instrumental in the road's transformation over the past five years. Operating heavy machinery and documenting the progress on social media, Lacey's work showcases the intricacies of what he calls, "high-angle excavating." He operates a 25-ton excavator and can get into some pretty hairy situations. During the winter months, Lacey operates a groomer at Hunter Mountain.

Blain commended Lacey's dedication as the project continued, stating, "He's gotten into some crazy situations. He loves it back here."

The Town has installed several bluestone boulders in an active rock slide area. As you travel the road, you’ll notice these boulders stabilizing the steep banks for long stretches. 

When Hurricane Irene hit the mountaintop, it washed out a section of Route 23A, the main road out of Town. The back mountain road survived, providing a crucial thoroughfare for folks to get on and off the mountain. "This was the only road that held up," said Lacey. That's what's nice about saving this road. When the [front mountain] road is closed, we still have access to this one." 

The Town has fortified the road's infrastructure against erosion and instability using materials sourced from local providers such as Carver Sand & Gravel out of Schoharie, Peckham Materials in Catskill, and the mine owned by Craig Bates just up the street. The Town has the material delivered to the top of the mountain and uses its equipment to transport it to them.

Blain acknowledged the challenges faced by his team and urged patience from the public. "People don't always see the extent of our work," he remarked, highlighting the year-round efforts required to maintain the road's safety and accessibility.

With ongoing efforts to stabilize the terrain and enhance safety measures, the Town of Hunter's Highway Department remains committed to ensuring the back mountain road remains a vital artery for residents and visitors.

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