By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY Headed down Route 17B today through Sunday?
The roads and adjoining businesses will be open, but if you’re simply traveling through, you might want to consider Route 52 instead.
“17B will be the nucleus of traffic this weekend,” Sullivan County Undersheriff Eric Chaboty confirmed this week. “Through-traffic should avoid that at all costs.”
Memorial Day weekend always brings an influx of visitors, but tonight, Saturday night and Sunday night, as many as 20,000 people will be headed towards Bethel Woods for the summer kickoff of Phish’s concert series.
“Unless you’re going to the concerts,” advised Chaboty, “stay away from Hurd Road.”
Monticello Central School closed its doors yesterday and today, in part due to the expected traffic congestion (but also to give back two snow days).
“We have to give unused snow days back, per our teachers’ contract,” MCS Superintendent Ed Rhine explained. “It seemed like it would be smart [to close on Thursday and Friday].”
Route 17B, the main east-west artery in Sullivan County, will be busy for other reasons this weekend, too.
According to Chaboty, Hector’s bar, the Dancing Cat Saloon and Roy Howard & Jeryl Abramson are expected to host hundreds, perhaps thousands, of concertgoers camping and listening to music (though Abramson and Howard announced yesterday they were cancelling).
All three sites are just a few miles apart in Bethel.
Chaboty said an original plan to reroute western Sullivan County-bound traffic along I-84 and Route 97 was flummoxed by construction along 97 in the curvy Hawk’s Nest area just north of Port Jervis a potentially major bottleneck.
So now officials are advising those who would typically use 17B to choose 52 instead at least from Friday afternoon through Monday morning.
Route 52 stretches from an intersection with 17 in Liberty to one with 17B in Fosterdale, several miles west of where the expected congestion will be heaviest.
“I think the real issue is going to be 17B from Monticello to County Route 115 near the Harold Russell farm,” Chaboty predicted.
That said, he knows businesses in Bethel, White Lake, Smallwood, Mongaup Valley and Kauneonga Lake hope to welcome the potentially huge crowds.
“If you want to go to those businesses,” he assured, “that won’t be a problem.”
Upwards of 40 Sheriff’s Office personnel, plus Bethel constables and State Police, will be facilitating traffic and handling incidents.
Chaboty said that even the Rockland County Sheriff’s Mounted Patrol horseriding officers will be ensuring a smooth pedestrian flow from Bethel Woods’ parking lots to the Phish concerts.
Police will also be “heavily patrolling” Lake Superior State Park in Bethel, which will be open during the day but permits no camping at night.
While there are sure to be a few tickets issued, Chaboty expects a weekend to remember.
“I feel it’s a great opportunity for the county,” said Chaboty. “I think it will be positive economically.”
Sullivan County Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic will be focused on ensuring a smooth, coordinated response to any emergency countywide.
“My concern is not so much the traffic,” he said. “My concern is that we don’t get overwhelmed with medical situations and overrun the hospital.”
Martinkovic will be joining Sheriff Michael Schiff, State Police and EMS officials at the emergency operations center at the county’s fire training facility in White Lake, where they’ll have a direct line to Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris.
“All our resources will be working to the max,” he said.
But he’s not worried, pointing out that the county has successfully handled large crowds at Bethel Woods events before.
“County residents should have a great weekend,” he predicted.