FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 28, 2009
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Glenn Pontier at 845-295-2442 ([email protected])
Sullivan Renaissance Seminar:
Conserving Open Space & Managing Growth
[FERNDALE] – Sullivan Renaissance is holding a seminar that will offer “Streambank Management Solutions” on Wednesday, May 6th at 7:00 p.m. in the CVI Building.
The seminar will focus on stream management issues, including tools to minimize erosion and reduce the impacts of storm water runoff. Presenters include:
· Mark Vian, Restoration Ecologist with NYC Department of Environmental Protection
· Brian Brustman, Sullivan County Soil and Water Conservation District
· Linda Babicz, Town of Callicoon Supervisor
“Streambank Management Solutions” is part of a series of workshops scheduled throughout this year, designed to explain the new county open space plan, illustrate how it can be used at the local level, and explore many of the plan topics in more detail.
Called Conserving Open Space & Managing Growth: A Strategy for Sullivan County, this plan was created in partnership with Sullivan Renaissance and adopted by the Sullivan County Legislature in December 2008.
Space is limited, pre-registration is requested. Refreshments will be provided.
Sullivan Renaissance is a beautification and community development program principally funded by the Gerry Foundation. Additional funding has been secured by NYS Senator John J. Bonacic and Assemblywoman Aileen M. Gunther. Sponsorships have been provided by WSUL/WVOS for Category A projects and by Bold Gold Media Group/Thunder 102 for Category B projects.
To register and for more information, call Sullivan Renaissance at 845-295-2445 or visit the website address at www.sullivanrenaissance.org.
Officials in Three States Pin Water Woes on Gas Drilling
Pat Farnelli, top left, Ronald Carter, bottom left, Richard Seymour, top right, and Norma Fiorentino, bottom right, live in Dimock, Pa. A year after Cabot Oil & Gas landmen knocked on their doors to sign drilling leases, they are finding that their drinking water now contains methane, the largest component of natural gas. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)
Norma Fiorentino's drinking water well was a time bomb. For weeks, workers in her small northeastern Pennsylvania town had been plumbing natural gas deposits from a drilling rig a few hundred yards away. They cracked the earth and pumped in fluids to force the gas out. Somehow, stray gas worked into tiny crevasses in the rock, leaking upward into the aquifer and slipping quietly into Fiorentino's well. Then, according to the state's working theory, a motorized pump turned on in her well house, flicked a spark and caused a New Year's morning blast that tossed aside a concrete slab weighing several thousand-pounds.
Fiorentino wasn't home at the time, so it's difficult to know exactly what happened. But afterward state officials found methane, the largest component of natural gas, in her drinking water. If the fumes that built up in her well house had collected in her basement, the explosion could have killed her.
Dimock, the poverty-stricken enclave where Fiorentino lives, is ground zero for drilling the Marcellus Shale, a prized deposit of natural gas that is increasingly touted as one of the country's most abundant and cleanest alternatives to oil. The drilling here -- as in other parts of the nation -- is supposed to be a boon, bringing much-needed jobs and millions of dollars in royalties to cash-strapped homeowners.
But a string of documented cases of gas escaping into drinking water -- not just in Pennsylvania but across North America -- is raising new concerns about the hidden costs of this economic tide and strengthening arguments across the country that drilling can put drinking water at risk.
Near Cleveland, Ohio, an entire house exploded in late 2007 after gas seeped into its water well. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources later issued a 153-page report  (PDF) that blamed a nearby gas well's faulty concrete casing and hydraulic fracturing  -- a deep-drilling process that shoots millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the ground under explosive pressure -- for pushing methane into an aquifer and causing the explosion.
In Dimock several drinking water wells have exploded and nine others were found with so much gas that one homeowner was told to open a window if he planned to take a bath. Dishes showed metallic streaks that couldn't be washed off and tests also showed high amounts of aluminum and iron, prompting fears that drilling fluids might be contaminating the water along with the gas. In February the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection charged Cabot Oil & Gas with two violations that it says caused the contamination, theorizing that gas leaked from the well casing into fractures underground.
An underground gas line in Dimock, Pa. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)
Industry representatives say methane contamination incidents are statistically insignificant, considering that 452,000 wells produced gas in the United States last year. They also point out that methane doesn't necessarily come from gas wells -- it's common in nature and can leak into water from biological processes near the surface, like rotting plants.
The industry also defends its construction technology, saying it keeps gas and drilling fluids -- including any chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing -- safely trapped in layers of steel and concrete. Even if some escapes, they say, thousands of feet of rock make it almost impossible for it to migrate into drinking water aquifers. When an accident happens, the blame can usually be traced to a lone bad apple -- some contractor who didn't follow regulations, they say. Those arguments helped the gas drilling industry win rare exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act when Congress enacted the 2005 Energy Policy Act .
But now an exhaustive examination of the methane problem in western Colorado is offering a strong scientific repudiation of that argument. Released in December by Garfield County, one of the most intensely drilled areas in the nation, the report concludes that gas drilling has degraded water in dozens of water wells  (PDF).
The three-year study used sophisticated scientific techniques to match methane from water to the same rock layer where gas companies are drilling -- a mile and a half underground. The scientists didn't determine which gas wells caused the problem or say exactly how the gas reached the water, but they indicated with more clarity than ever before that a system of interconnected natural fractures and faults could stretch from deep underground gas layers to the surface. They called for more research into how the industry's practice of forcefully fracturing those deep layers might increase the risk of contaminants making their way up into an aquifer.
"It challenges the view that natural gas, and the suite of hydrocarbons that exist around it, is isolated from water supplies by its extreme depth," said Judith Jordan, the oil and gas liaison for Garfield County who has worked as a hydrogeologist with DuPont and as a lawyer with Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection. "It is highly unlikely that methane would have migrated through natural faults and fractures and coincidentally arrived in domestic wells at the same time oil and gas development started, after having been down there ...for over 65 million years."
The Garfield County analysis comes as Congress considers legislation that would toughen environmental oversight of drilling and reverse the exemptions enjoyed by the gas companies. Colorado has already overhauled its own oil and gas regulations, despite stiff resistance from the energy industry. The new rules, which went into effect earlier this month, strengthen protections against, among other things, methane contamination.
Drinking water with methane, the largest component of natural gas, isn't necessarily harmful. The gas itself isn't toxic -- the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't even regulate it -- and it escapes from water quickly, like bubbles in a soda.
But the gas becomes dangerous when it evaporates out of the water and into peoples' homes, where it can become flammable. It can also suffocate those who breathe it. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as the concentration of gas increases it can cause headaches, then nausea, brain damage and eventually death.
The carefully documented accident in Ohio in December 2007 offers a step-by-step example of what can happen when drilling goes wrong.
A spark ignited the natural gas that had collected in the basement of Richard and Thelma Payne's suburban Cleveland home, shattering windows, blowing doors 20 feet from their hinges and igniting a small fire in a violent flash. The Paynes were jolted out of bed, and their house lifted clear off the ground.
Fearing another explosion, firefighters evacuated 19 homes in the small town of Bainbridge. Somehow, gas had seeped into the drinking water aquifer and then migrated up through the plumbing.
Gas had shown up in water in this part of Ohio in the past. In 2003 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services investigated nearby residents' complaints of "dizziness," "blacking out," "rashes," "swelling of legs" and "elevated blood pressure" related to exposure to methane through bathing, dishwashing and drinking. That study concluded that gas in the area could migrate through underground fractures and said that "combustible gases, including methane, in private well water present an urgent public health hazard."
According to Scott Kell, deputy chief of Ohio's Division of Natural Resources, those earlier instances were determined to have had nothing to do with drilling activity. But by the time the Paynes' house exploded four years later, the Natural Resources Department had begun to aggressively monitor for gas and this time it suspected a clearer link to drilling: It all had to do with how a well is constructed.
Called GEsford 3, this well is adjacent to Dimock resident Pat Farnelli's house. There have been complications in drilling that well, including a drill bit that clogged the well for weeks, forcing them to have to drill a new hole. That is one of the possible causes being considered for the contamination in Farnell's drinking water. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)
To reach natural gas, a well bore is drilled into the earth through dozens of geologic formations stacked like layers in a cake, until the bore reaches the layer holding gas. In Ohio, gas is produced from almost 3,700 feet, or three-quarters of a mile, below. In Colorado or Pennsylvania, wells can be a mile or two deep -- far below drinking water aquifers.
In many geologic regions, the deeper gas-bearing layers are under extraordinary pressure from the weight of earth and water above, but that pressure normally is contained by thousands of feet of leak proof rock that separate the gas from the surface. When a drill bit sinks down, though, the tight seal of each geologic layer is broken and the pressure is released, forcing water, gas or oil into the newly opened pathway. That’s how an oil well can become a gushing geyser.
To keep the gas and drilling fluids from leaking into the natural environment, drilling companies insert as many as three concentric rings of steel pipes inside the well bore to isolate what flows through them. When the bore passes through areas where extra protection is needed -- such as drinking water aquifers -- concrete is pumped into the gap between the rings of pipe to ensure an impenetrable seal. Most states, including Ohio, require these measures in part to protect drinking water.
"That's pretty much the holy grail, good and proper cementing and casing," said Michael Nickolaus, former director of Indiana's Department of Natural Resources, Oil and Gas Division and special projects director for the Ground Water Protection Council, a group of scientists and state regulators that studies industries' impacts on water. Nickolaus added that if these zones are properly isolated from one another, the issue of groundwater contamination, whether from gas or hydraulic fracturing, goes away.
The investigation into the explosion at the Paynes' home found that a drilling company working nearby had failed to properly build that protective concrete casing and had continued to process the well despite warning signs that should have alerted it to stop. Six weeks before the explosion, the company, Ohio Valley Energy Systems, pumped concrete into the well casing. But it couldn't fill the gap, evidence that somewhere a crack was allowing the concrete to seep into the space between the pipes, and probably out into the surrounding earth.
If the concrete could leak, then so could drilling fluids -- or the gas itself.
A week later, "despite the fact that the cement behind the casing was insufficient by standard industry practice," according to the state's report  (PDF), the company began hydraulic fracturing. More than 46,000 gallons of water, sand and chemicals were pumped into the well bore with enough force to crack the rock and release the gas.
Again, the drillers saw signs of a leak in the well. The company tried to recover as much of the leaking fluid as possible, but the state report said at least 1,000 gallons of fracturing fluid, including about 150 gallons of oil, disappeared into the space between the well pipes and possibly out into the ground.
Finally, the company shut down the well. But the underlying pressurized gas formation had already been punctured, and its contents were trying to escape. The gas collected inside the well for the next 31 days, until 360 pounds of pressure built against the valve at the top. It was enough, state investigators wrote, to force the gas out of the well bore by any means it could find.
"This overpressurized condition resulted in invasion of natural gas from the annulus of the well into natural fractures in the bedrock below the base of the cemented surface casing," the report states, adding that it was the first time anything like this had been confirmed in Ohio.
Ohio Valley Energy Systems did not return calls for comment on the state's findings.
On Dec. 12, three days before the Paynes' house exploded, methane was detected in the Bainbridge Police Department's water well, 4,700 feet from the gas well in question. Two days later nearby residents reported sediment in their water and artesian conditions in their wells, meaning the water was spurting out under pressure. By the next morning the gas -- still seeking an outlet -- had forced its way into Richard Payne's basement, where it reached a flammable concentration. All it needed was a spark.
Science Blames Drilling
Dimock resident Norma Fiorentino's drinking water well was a time bomb. On New Year's morning, her well exploded. After the blast, state officials found methane in her drinking water. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)
As regulators in Ohio struggled to reconcile what was happening there, officials in Garfield County, Colo., were waiting for the results of the three-part, three-year study examining the connections between methane leaks and drilling there.
The report is significant because it is among the first to broadly analyze the ability of contaminants to migrate underground in drilling areas, and to find that such contamination was in fact occurring. It examined over 700 methane samples from 292 locations and found that methane, as well as wastewater from the drilling, was making its way into drinking water not as a result of a single accident but on a broader basis.
As the number of gas wells in the area increased from 200 to 1,300 in this decade, the methane levels in nearby water wells increased too. The study found that natural faults and fractures exist in underground formations in Colorado, and that it may be possible for contaminants to travel through them.
Conditions that could be responsible include "vertical upward flow" "along natural open-fracture pathways or pathways such as well-bores or hydraulically-opened fractures," states the section of the report done by S.S. Papadopulos and Associates  (PDF), a Maryland-based environmental engineering firm specializing in groundwater hydrology.
The researchers did not conclude that gas and fluids were migrating directly from the deep pockets of gas the industry was extracting. In fact, they said it was more likely that the gas originated from a weakness somewhere along the well's structure. But the discovery of so much natural fracturing, combined with fractures made by the drilling process, raises questions about how all those cracks interact with the well bore and whether they could be exacerbating the groundwater contamination.
"One thing that is most striking is in the area where there are large vertical faults you see a much higher instance of water wells being affected," said Geoffrey Thyne, the hydrogeologist who wrote the report's summary and conclusion  (PDF). He is a senior research scientist at the University of Wyoming's Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute , a pro-extraction group dedicated to tapping into hard-to-reach energy reserves.
The report, referred to as the Garfield County Hydrogeologic Study, has been met with cautious silence by the industry and by its regulators.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state's regulatory body, would not respond to questions from ProPublica because it hasn't thoroughly analyzed the data behind the December report, said its director, David Neslin.
Neither the Colorado Oil and Gas Association nor Encana, the Canadian energy company that drills in the study area, would comment on the Garfield County report. Both referred questions to Anthony Gorody, a Houston-based geochemist who specializes in oil and gas issues and frequently is employed by the energy industry.
Gorody dismissed the report's conclusions as "junk science."
"This is so out of whack. There are a handful of wells that have problems. These are rare events," said Gorody, president of Universal Geosciences Consulting. "They are like plane crashes -- the extent tends to be fairly limited. I do not see any pervasive impact."
Most of the methane in the study area, Gorody said, came from decaying matter near the surface -- not from the deep gas produced by the energy industry. He criticized the report's methodology, saying the way that researchers linked the stray gas with the deep gas formations was speculative at best.
To Dimock resident Pat Farnelli, seen here pointing to the drilling rig in her backyard, the promise of making money off her family's land came at just the right time. But perhaps not at the right price. Now she spends more than $100 of her monthly food stamp allotment to buy plastic jugs of drinking water. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)
Thyne, standing by his report, said researchers had traced the origin of the gas by conducting the equivalent of a forensic investigation, analyzing its isotopic signature, or molecular fingerprint. The molecular structure showed that most of it was thermogenic, meaning it matched the deeply buried deposit where gas was being drilled, called the Williams Fork Formation. A minority of the samples were difficult to identify by this method, so Thyne used another scientific process to study them. He is confident they, too, were thermogenic in origin.
In most cases, the study couldn't pinpoint the exact pathway the contaminants had used to travel a mile and a half up into the drinking water aquifer. So Thyne could only reason the possibilities.
The methane could be seeping into water wells through natural fractures, he said, or through leaks in the well casings or concrete, or from the well heads.
When a pipe extends 8,000 feet below the earth's surface, he said, "there are numerous potential leak points along the way. So is it leaking at 8,000 feet and coming up a well bore, a natural fault or fracture? Or is it leaking 500 feet from the surface? We don’t know."
The most plausible explanation, Thyne said, is that the same type of well casing and cementing issues that had proved problematic in Ohio were presenting problems in Colorado too.
"The thesis is that because of the way the wells are designed they could be a conduit," said Garfield County's Jordan, who commissioned the report.
Jordan worries that the methane leaks could be a sign of worse to come.
"We suspect the methane would be the most mobile constituent that would come out of the gas fields. Our concern is that it's a sort of sentinel, and there are going to be worse contaminants behind it," she said. "It's not just sitting down there as pure CH4 (methane). It's in a whole bath of hydrocarbons," she said, and some of those "can be problematic."
'You Can't Buy a Good Well'
When landmen from Cabot Oil & Gas came knocking on doors along the rutted dirt grade of Carter Road in Dimock, Pa., last year they sold a promise many residents in the farming community were eager to hear: Sign a gas lease and the land might finally pay for itself.
Many of Dimock's 1,300 residents had fallen on hard times. Approximately one in seven were out of work, and more than a few homes were perched on the precipice of foreclosure.
Cabot offered $25 an acre for the right to drill for five years, plus royalties when the gas started flowing. To outsiders it might seem a small amount, but it would make an immediate difference to people who owned fields but few other assets.
"It seemed like God's provenance," said Pat Farnelli, whose husband, a farmer, had taken a job as a night chef at a diner on the Interstate to pay one more month's mortgage. The day Cabot's man showed up -- with a wide-brim hat and a Houston drawl -- the Farnellis mistook him for a debt collector. "We really were having a rough time right then -- that day. We thought it was salvation. Any ray of hope here is a big deal."
Richard Seymour, seen here with his wife Wendy, runs a certified natural farm that ships produce across the state. His well is now running red and turbid and bubbles with so much gas that he fears he'll lose his agricultural certification. (Abrahm Lustgarten)
That was more than a year ago, and since then Cabot -- which earned close to a billion dollars in revenue last year -- has drilled 20 wells and is producing $58 million worth of gas there annually. In its annual report Cabot bullishly called the Dimock field a once-in-a-lifetime "game changing event"  (PDF) for the company and announced it would drill 63 more wells there next year.
The wealth has begun trickling down to the residents of Dimock. A few will earn more than a half-million dollars this year, and bimonthly checks for $6,000 are not uncommon. Cabot and its contractors also support the local economy by hiring local labor and patronizing hotels and restaurants in nearby towns.
But the water contamination is forcing the people who live there to accept a difficult compromise.
"You have to evaluate which is more important, the money or the water," said a Dimock resident who declined to be named because he doesn't want to antagonize Cabot, which he says will pay him more than $600,000 this year for the wells on his property. "The economy is so tough. Suppose you could stop drilling -- no one wants Cabot to go away."
For some, though, the benefits can be easily erased.
Norma Fiorentino, whose well exploded on New Year's morning, got just $97 in royalties in February. Now a part of her monthly $646 Social Security check goes to buy water. "You can't buy a good well," she said.
Down the road, Pat Farnelli spends more than $100 of her monthly food stamp allotment to buy plastic jugs of drinking water. Next door, Ronald Carter paid $7,000 to install two water treatment systems for his family, then learned they won't remove the gas.
Cabot has begun voluntarily supplying water to at least five homes in Dimock, a gesture the company says does not mean it has acknowledged fault. "For now Cabot is simply trying to do the right thing while studies are being performed and data is being obtained," said Kenneth Komoroski, Cabot's spokesman.
Others have yet to get any aid.
"This isn't something that people should be living with," said Craig Lobins, the regional oil and gas manager for Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection. "It's serious."
Pennsylvania's DEP places responsibility for the contamination squarely on Cabot.
In January the DEP blamed the company for polluting one water well. Then in late February it sent Cabot a list of violations  (PDF) it said led to methane seepage in other area wells. Investigators think the seepage was caused by a weakness in the well casing or an improper cementing job, much like what had been reported in Colorado and Ohio. The good news was that they found no evidence that any of the hydraulic fracturing fluids had leaked into well water.
Komoroski, the Cabot spokesman, said it's too early to conclude the company is responsible for contaminating Dimock's wells.
He said Cabot has hired an expert who is still investigating exactly what happened in the case.
"The DEP's letter was premature," Komoroski said, "It is possible that Cabot is responsible. It's possible it is not. That's what we hired a hydrogeologist to help us determine."
Cabot has since cemented the entire length of its well casings in Dimock -- a safeguard similar to what has been prescribed in Ohio and Colorado -- and believes that measure, which is more extensive than state regulations require, will solve the problem.
Yet the DEP sees no need to require such precautions at all the state's wells, because what is happening in Dimock is "an anomaly."
"Last year we permitted 8,000 wells, and this may be the only incident that occurred," said the DEP's Lobins. "You can't cover every possible scenario that you could encounter out there, so when the regulations are crafted it addresses the ones that will be most protective of 99.9 percent of the wells."
Industry spokesmen also oppose making the precautionary cementing practices mandatory.
"For one thing it is very costly," said Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations at the Independent Petroleum Association of America. "At the same time if you try to put in too much cement you can risk collapsing the well. So it's drawing a balance between protecting the groundwater" and "protecting the well that you are constructing."
At the bottom of the hill on Carter Road, Richard Seymour runs a certified natural farm that ships produce across the state. His well is running red and turbid and bubbles with so much gas that he fears he'll lose that agricultural certification. If there's a technology, like cementing, that can protect his water, then shouldn't it be required in every case, he asks?
"We feel pretty alone on this, pretty frustrated," Seymour said. "I assumed the DEP, EPA, the state -- the government -- would protect our land. We didn't know that as a landowner the burden was on us."
April 26, 2009, Schenectady Gazzette: John Burroughs enjoyed beauty, solitude at his Catskills retreat, Woodchuck Lodge
Naturalist and essayist John Burroughs enjoyed beauty, solitude at his Catskills retreat, Woodchuck Lodge
Joe Farleigh, a tour guide at Woodchuck Lodge, home to American naturalist John Burroughs, stands on the front steps of the building, built in 1862.
Roxbury — John Burroughs enjoyed communing with nature as well as anyone, and he wrote about it better than most.
A naturalist and essayist whose writing helped spark the American conservation movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Burroughs enjoyed the popularity of a rock star for more than three decades up until his death in 1921 just a few days shy of his 84th birthday.
He died on a train returning home to Woodchuck Lodge in his beloved Catskills following a cross-country trip. While he loved the Rocky Mountains and toured the West with the likes of fellow naturalist John Muir and U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, Burroughs was synonymous with the Catskills.
Woodchuck Lodge, his home for the last 10 years of his life, and his burial site, both about two miles off Route 30 in the town of Roxbury, are great places to visit for those interested in Burroughs and for anyone who loves to experience the Catskill Mountains.
Pretty popular guy
“He was a self-taught scientist and a very accessible writer,” said Diane Galusha, president of the board of trustees of Woodchuck Lodge Inc., the nonprofit group that maintains Burroughs’ residence. “That made him a pretty popular guy, and to get away from people and find some solitude he moved to this beautiful spot in 1910.”
Woodchuck Lodge, which is a few miles inside Delaware County from Schoharie County, is open to the public only on the first Saturday and Sunday of every month, beginning in May and running through October. Docents are available to give visitors a tour of the wooden house on those days, but if you can’t make it that first weekend of the month, you’re welcome to drive about 100 yards farther up Burroughs Memorial Road and stop at Burroughs Memorial Field. A state-run historic site, Burroughs Memorial Field is where Burroughs is buried next to the big rock he used to play around when he was a child.
This Saturday at 11 a.m., Tom Alworth, a Burroughs scholar and the deputy commissioner for natural resources with the state Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, will give a short lecture at the site and dedicate a new outdoor exhibit documenting Burroughs’ life and legacy.
Burroughs grew up another mile or two up the road from where Woodchuck Lodge is. He is the seventh of 10 children of Chauncey and Amy Kelly Burroughs. He was apparently the only one in his family with intellectual interests, and he later wrote that when he was a young man of 16, he was “a callow youth, being jerked by the plough handles, but with my head in a cloud of alluring daydreams.”
Living in Washington
At 17, Burroughs earned enough money teaching at Tongore School, a bit further south in the Catskills, to gain some further education at Ashland’s Hedding Literary Institute and the Cooperstown Seminary. He had numerous teaching jobs, married Ursula North in 1857, and moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked in the U.S. Treasury throughout the Civil War. It was in Washington that he met Walt Whitman.
“He struggled trying to replicate what [Ralph Waldo] Emerson and other writers had produced, and Whitman told him to write what he knew,” said Galusha. “He told him to write about things that were dear to him, and that’s when Burroughs began to find his own voice.”
Burroughs and his wife returned to the Catskills in 1874 when he got a job as a bank examiner in Middletown. Three years earlier, in 1871, his essay, “Wake-Robin,” began gaining him some notoriety, and with the extra money he was making as a writer, he built a home along the Hudson River he named Riverby by the middle of the decade. About 20 years later, to escape his ever-increasing fame, Burroughs built an “escape” up in the mountains away from the river in Ulster County called Slabsides. That home, operated by another nonprofit group, is, like Woodchuck Lodge, on the National Register of Historic Places.
Traveling with Roosevelt
Burroughs, who had in 1867 written the first biography and critical work on Whitman, continued to write nature essays and was a regular contributor to the Atlantic Monthly. Elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Burroughs finished his career having produced more than 30 books and hundreds of essays and poems.
“He really started getting famous by 1875, and he continued to be a celebrity right up until his death,” said Joe Farleigh, a Roxbury native who has studied Burroughs for more than 40 years now and serves as a docent and member of the board of trustees at Woodchuck Lodge. “When he would go on trips with Roosevelt to the West, Roosevelt would often step out on the train platform and give a quick speech. Usually the group with him would also be out there on the platform, but when Burroughs was on the trip he caused too much of a distraction. He just started staying in the train while Roosevelt spoke.”
Roosevelt wasn’t Burroughs’ only traveling companion. Men like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone also went on numerous camping trips with him.
“I believe that they sought him out,” said Farleigh. “It wasn’t Burroughs seeking them. Everyone loved and admired him. He wrote about nature and made it accessible to everyone. At a time when people were just starting to worry about conservation, Burroughs told them that they could enjoy nature the way he did. It was all right at their doorstep. All they had to do was look outside.”
Finding some privacy
In 1910, Burroughs was back in Roxbury and the area where he grew up, moving into the house his brother Curtis had built back in 1863. Woodchuck Lodge needed $100,000 in renovations just a few years ago, and, although the building is stable, it is in need of some more work.
“He came up here for more privacy because he was constantly being visited by people at Slabsides,” said Farleigh, “and the building looks a lot like the way it did when Burroughs lived here. Burroughs added on the front porch when he moved in because he loved to sleep on his cot outside. He wrote about waking up on the porch and seeing the sun come up over Montgomery Hollow. About 35 years ago, I came up here with my sleeping bag and had the same experience. It was wonderful.”
Woodchuck Lodge stayed in the family for a while after Burroughs’ death before Ford bought the place and eventually resold it back to family members. Visitors enter the house through a screen door that swings inside so Burroughs would have room to put his cot on the porch. There are four rooms on the ground floor, including one small room Burroughs called the “cradle,” and two more rooms upstairs.
“He had to have some money, but he didn’t live like a wealthy man,” said Farleigh. “He even endorsed a breakfast cereal, something a rock star or a pro athlete would do these days. That’s how well known he was.”
And while he loved nature, he evidently wasn’t overly fond of woodchucks.
“He didn’t have any trouble shooting some animals, like woodchucks,” said Farleigh. “They would get into his garden and chew things up. He shot so many that he had two fur coats made of their skins.”
April 23, 2009, Syracuse Post-Standard: Central New York Rep. John McHugh takes aim at acid rain in Adirondacks and Catskills
Central New York Rep. John McHugh takes aim at acid rain
by Mark Weiner / The Post-Standard
Thursday April 23, 2009, 6:27 AM
Washington -- A Central New York congressman, seeing an opportunity that may never come again, has introduced a bill requiring the most drastic cuts in U.S. history to the pollution responsible for acid rain.
Rep. John McHugh said he wants to tie his "Acid Rain and Mercury Control Act" into a landmark energy and climate change bill that Congress will begin considering this week, with the goal of a vote by June.
The climate legislation to control greenhouse gases received a boost last week when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled that global warming is a danger to public health and welfare.
The EPA's action sets the stage for the federal government to regulate carbon dioxide pollution and five other greenhouse gases linked to climate change.
But the EPA, and the separate global warming bill making its way through Congress, do not address all of the pollution from coal-fired power plants. The pollution contributes to acid rain, which has devastated lakes and forests in New York for decades. Among the pollutants that McHugh wants to target is mercury, which also poses a risk to human health.
McHugh, R-Pierrepont Manor, who proposed a similar bill to tackle acid rain in 2007, said he believes now is the best chance to finally solve the problem with federal legislation.
"One of the primary motivators for reintroducing the bill at this time is because of the debate surrounding climate change," McHugh said. "I didn't want acid rain to be left out."
He added, "The carbon debate has taken center stage. My deepest concern is that if something is passed and signed into law without an acid rain component, it may be a long time before we have a chance to focus on that issue again."
The acid rain problem has taken on added urgency after a recent study found a dangerous link with global warming. The study found increased leaching of harmful nitric acid from warming soils in the Appalachians.
McHugh, whose 11-county district stretches from Madison and Oswego counties into the Adirondacks, has already picked up bipartisan support from his Central New York colleagues in the House delegation. Both Reps. Dan Maffei, D-DeWitt, and Michael Arcuri, D-Utica, have signed on as co-sponsors of the McHugh bill.
New York's two U.S. senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, say they will sponsor separate legislation in the Senate, similar to McHugh's bill.
McHugh's legislation would require coal-fired power plans to make some of the most ambitious pollution cutbacks ever mandated by the federal government.
The bill focuses on three pollutants that contribute to acid rain -- mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide -- destroying forests, killing fish and poisoning water.
New York's Adirondack and Catskill mountains are particularly hard hit because their soils are more sensitive to acid rain than any other place in the nation.
Studies have shown that about 40 percent of Adirondack lakes are either always or sometimes acidic. Up to 25 percent of the lakes surveyed have been declared essentially dead, supporting no fish life.
To address the problem, the McHugh bill would:
• Require power plants to make a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions from current levels by 2013.
• Require a 75 percent cut in sulfur and nitrogen emissions from 1997 levels by 2012.
• Authorize $13.6 million per year through fiscal year 2018 to implement the requirements of the legislation.
• Allow power plant owners to use market-oriented mechanisms to comply with the new standards, such as trading in pollution credits.
• Prohibit any trading of mercury pollution credits, placing an unmovable limit on mercury emissions from individual power plants.
McHugh said the reason for the strict mercury controls is the fact that the toxic chemical has been linked to neurological and kidney disorders, particularly in the development of fetuses.
The congressman's proposal received immediate praise from New York state environmental groups and independent scientists who study acid rain.
"I think this is as aggressive a proposal as I have ever seen," said Syracuse University professor Charles Driscoll, one of the nation's leading acid rain scientists.
Driscoll said the timing of the proposed federal legislation on both climate change and acid rain is important because recent studies show that under higher temperatures soils are less able to retain nitrogen, which leaches into water as nitric acid.
"I think there is some urgency," Driscoll said. "It looks like there are some interactions to climate and acid rain.
The Adirondack Council, the largest advocacy group for the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park, agrees with McHugh that momentum could be strong enough in Congress to finally pass acid rain legislation.
John Sheehan, speaking for the Adirondack Council, said the prospects changed when President Obama took office and expressed his commitment to climate change legislation.
"I think our chances for an acid rain bill are better than they were last year, and they continue to improve with leadership from the White House," Sheehan said. "Ultimately, our chances have not been this good in a decade. We literally could not get the Clinton-Gore administration to say the words 'acid rain.' They did not want to deal with the issue."
The administration of former President George W. Bush attempted to regulate smokestack pollution with its Clean Air Interstate Rule, affecting 28 states. A federal appeals court struck down those rules last year, saying the Bush administration overstepped its authority in trying to curb the pollutants that cause smog, soot and acid rain. The pollution travels from Midwestern power plants and damages Northeastern forests and lakes.
The court defeat left coal-fired power plants as the largest source of mercury emissions in the United States that are unregulated on the federal level.
McHugh said he knows his new bill may not pass as standalone legislation. But he said he remains hopeful that the climate change bill sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., will include all or part of his acid rain legislation.
"I am most interested in ensuring that, however these issues go forward, that acid rain is part of the discussion," McHugh said. "The bill is intended as a reference tool, so if somebody asks what we should be doing, we have a bill that has already been printed up and is ready to go."
--Washington bureau reporter Mark Weiner can be reached at [email protected] or 571-970-3751.
A good tourist season?
Some signs point that way
link to complete article here:
MONTICELLO, NY — The national unemployment rate is up to 8.5 percent and rising, credit is still tight for buying such things as new cars and it doesn’t look as if things will miraculously turn around before summer. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the tourist season in Sullivan County and the surrounding area will suffer.
At a meeting at the county government center on April 2, Roberta Byron-Lockwood, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA), had some good news about tourism figures from 2008. Last summer, the economy was already faltering and gas prices were at record levels well north of $4 per gallon. Yet, despite that environment, visitor spending increased in the county.
Lockwood told county lawmakers that visitor spending in 2008 was over $326 million, which amounts to a 12.1 percent increase over 2007 levels. By comparison, visitor spending in Orange County was $424.5 million, which translates to an increase of just 1.5 percent, and other counties, such as Rockland and Westchester, actually lost visitor dollars from 2007 to 2008.
Lockwood also said that her agency is ahead of where it was at the same time last year in terms of requests for the newly minted county travel guide. Lockwood and others are hoping that vacationers who opt not to fly to far-flung locations
overseas this summer will focus on the closer-to-home Catskills and Upper Delaware region, which for millions of people is just a gas tank away.
Others on the SCVA board also addressed the legislature. Rick Lander, president of Landers River Trips, said that so far reservations were ahead of last year’s level and they’re anticipating a good year, “as long as the weather holds up.”
In another development that might be a sign of the times, Tim McCausland, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, told the legislature that over the course of the past month or so he had seen more notices in the county for the formation of limited liability corporations than ever before. He attributed this to a growing number of people who want to control their own economic futures and are forming new small businesses.
As trout season opens, life is but a stream
link to full article is here:
Friday, April 3rd 2009, 4:00 AM
Anglers can also catch a dose of March Madness, as local fishing is officially getting underway. The New York season for striped bass in the Hudson River above the George Washington Bridge opened March 16 and the flounder opener was Wednesday.
Our New Jersey friends had a jump on things with their flounder season starting March 23 and a year-round allowance for ocean striped bass fishing.
However, it's really feverish for New York State trout anglers who had been preparing for the traditional April 1 opening. Jim Krul, executive director of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum in Livingston Manor, said his local scene looked good. On Wednesday, Catskills waters were nice and clear and registered a warm 42 degrees. What's more, the weekend forecast is favorable
Tomorrow we can enjoy our region's most storied day of opening rituals in Roscoe, dubbed Trout Town USA. Avid anglers will be gathering by 7 a.m. for "first cast" privileges at Junction Pool, where the famed Willowemoc Creek and Little Beaverkill meet. Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, other well-known local anglers and the "already hooked on the sport" 8-year-old Johannes Mason will be on hand for the ceremonies. Krul noted they'll be using streamers, early dark nymphs and No.12 black stone flies probably until mid-month which should be the time to shift to dry flies.
Onlookers might duck in before noon tomorrow for a bamboo-rod casting clinic at Livingston Manor High School. Or check out fly-tying techniques demonstrated at the museum.
After these early April days that are often spent shivering streamside, sports people always look forward to gathering at the Rockland House (on the outskirts of Roscoe) for the traditional Two-Headed Trout festivities, to be held tomorrow night. Highlights include a 7 p.m. six-course feast, a silent auction, raffles and door prizes.
Tickets may be bought at the door for $45 adults or $12 for those under age 10. Info and tickets are available at the Roscoe Chamber of Commerce, (607) 498-5765.
STATE OF NEW YORK
Public Service Commission
Garry A. Brown, Chairman
Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223
Further Details: James Denn (518) 474-7080
FOR RELEASE: IMMEDIATELY 09033/
COMMISSION OFFICIALLY DISMISSES NYRI
New Application Must Be Filed if Company Wants to Pursue Project
Albany, NY04/21/09The New York State Public Service Commission (Commission) today officially dismissed the application of the New York Regional Interconnect, Inc. (NYRI) to build a 190-mile transmission line from upstate to downstate New York, and furthermore stated that a new application must be filed if NYRI seeks to pursue its project.
“I would like to thank all of the many parties that participated in this intensive siting process,” said Commission Chairman Garry Brown. “The active parties and the general public supplied invaluable information in this proceeding. The detail that went into the record was greatly facilitated by the public statement hearings that were held.”
More than 2,000 people attended the 13 public hearings, and more than 300 public statements were made. In addition, more than 2,600 letters and e-mails from the public were received.
On April 3, 2009, counsel for NYRI announced that its investors had decided the financial risks of cost recovery were too great as a result of a Federal Regulatory Commission denial of rehearing with respect to the Congestion Analysis and Resource Integration Study process of the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO). As a result, the investors were withdrawing their Article VII application. On April 8, 2009, NYRI submitted a letter confirming it had withdrawn its Article VII application.
On April 13, 2009, responses to NYRI’s announcement and letters were filed by the NYISO; Communities Against Regional Interconnect; the New York State Department of Transportation; the New York State Department of Public Service Staff; the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets; Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation; the New York Power Authority; and the New York Attorney General’s Office.
Based on review and consideration of the arguments, the Commission has decided to treat the company’s on-the-record statement and subsequent letters as a request to withdraw its application; granted that request with prejudice; and authorized the Secretary of the Commission to issue a letter dismissing the application and requiring that any attempt by NYRI to pursue its project be done through the filing of a new application.
Dismissal of the application with prejudice and requiring a new application for any future pursuit of the project makes the various requests for a decision on the merits and resolution of various evidentiary requests irrelevant.
The Commission’s decision today, when issued, may be obtained from the Commission’s www.dps.state.ny.us http://www.dps.state.ny.us/> Web site by accessing the Commission’s File Room section of the homepage and referencing Case 06-T-0650. Many libraries offer free Internet access. Commission ordersmay also be obtained from the Commission’s Files Office, 14th floor, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223 (518-474-2500).
Biomass heat equipment gains favor
link to complete article is here:
State researchers and local businessmen are seeing green by seeing green.
Last fall, the state began an incentive program to support and improve biomass-fired heating equipment. The program was designed to foster the development of manufacturing jobs and the betterment of environmental performance of biomass technology.
New York State Energy Research and Development Authority Spokesman Sal Graven said that the initiative encouraged two pellet boiler manufacturers to relocated to New York, one to Dunkirk, on Lake Erie, and the other to Schenectady. They market a European outdoor wood-burning boiler, which, he said, operates about 80 percent more efficiently and produces less than five percent of the particulate emissions than a standard outdoor wood boiler.
“A house is now burning a renewable fuel instead of fossil fuels,” he said.
Graven said the project also encourages businesses to produce fuels grown in-state.
And the business potential is enough to excite Cairo businessman John Deschaine.
Deschaine, who runs a logging company, would like to add chipping capabilities to his logging business on Route 32.
Deschaine would join the roughly 30 logging companies in the state that produce chips as part of what DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino calls integrated harvesting operations.
Most of the companies are located in Northern New York.
Chips can be pressed into pellets, briquettes or used for fuel as they are.
Deschaine is optimistic about the possibilities of chipping wood closer to home.
“We have a large resource here in the Catskills,” he said, “I want to tap into that.”
Marilyn Wyman, program coordinator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Greene County Agroforestry Center, in Acra, oversaw an open forum on issues surrounding biofuels earlier this month.
She said the discussion focused on the potential of woody plants found locally, such as willow.
Willow, she said, grows in wet areas as a harvested crop.
The roughly 30 participants in the dialogue were curious about business opportunities and the factors involved with producing biofuels.
“I think there was a lot of interest in this,” she said.
Zywia Wojnar, of Pace University, also attended the Acra meeting.
Wojnar is the project manager of the renewable fuels roadmap, a project coordinated by Cornell Cooperative Extension and Pace University, NYSERDA, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets and the state Department of Environmental Conservation that was created earlier this year.
The roadmap was recommended by the Renewable Energy Task Force, created by Gov. David A. Paterson in 2008.
The roadmap, which is expected to be completed later this year, will provide guidance to those working on how to reduce dependence on foreign oil and harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
Wojnar said the initiative focuses more on biofuels that are made from non-food crops in order to avoid entering into the debate between growing a crop for food versus growing it for fuel.
“We try to steer away from that,” she said.
Wojnar explained that poplar can also be grown for fuel. Once the trees are mature, she said, they can be cut back — but not to the ground — and regrow. After three years, wood can be harvested again, she said.
She said that most of the woodfuel used by New York companies is produced in New York.
Currently, fuelwood pellets are manufactured for residential use in five location in the state, in Delaware, Herkimer, Jefferson, Stueben and Wyoming counties, Lori Severino, a DEC spokeswoman said in an e-mail last week.
She said two more plant will open, in Massena and Saratoga County, shortly.
Severino said that many sawmills use wood chips for space heaters and to run lumber dry-kilns and two coal-fired facilities in Niagara and Yates counties have begun to co-fire with wood.
Two electric/cogenerating plants, in Franklin and Lewis counties, use wood feedstocks exclusively, she said.
But chip and pellet production for large-scale operations still has room to evolve.
John Deschaine explained that the pellets are more expensive to produce than chips because wood needs to be stripped of its bark before it can be pressed into a pellet or briquette.
Zywia Wojnar said that biomass needs to be commoditized, before the industry can grow.
A number of variable factors including moisture content, size and weight need to be standardized in order to a customer to know exactly how much product is needed, she said.
“I would not say it is a very established market,” she said.
To reach reporter Susan Campriello, please call (518) 943-2100, ext. 3333, or e-mail [email protected].
News from Western Catskills Tourism
For more information contact: Patty Cullen, 866-775-4425
TripAdvisor/NatGeo Award the Catskills Premier Boutique Inn
The Roxbury - Contemporary Catskills Lodging
DELHI, NY (04/22/2009; 1000)(readMedia)-- When it comes to travel, most people have a destination in mind and then find the type of place in which they want to rest their heads. The Roxbury Motel flips that standard route on it's head. Travelers find The Roxbury and decide they'd like to visit the Western Catskills. They are the destination in and of themselves. While they are set in the historic village of Roxbury at the headwaters of the East Branch of the Delaware River, surrounded by the authentic charm of gentle mountains and rustic farmland vistas, the bucolic beauty just sets the backdrop for the outstanding style and wonderful service provided at the inn.
The April 2009 issue of the National Geographic Traveler contained their article, The 2009 Stay List: 129 Hotels We Love. There along side some of the most expensive and exclusive hotels, resorts and inns, is The Roxbury. Just two months prior, TripAdvisor.com announced their 2009 Travelers Choice Awards - and again The Roxbury was in two categories: Best Hidden Gems, and Best Service - USA.
All these accolades come after five years in a row of the Catskill Mountain News Best Service Award for #1 Hotel/Motel in the Catskills Region! Co-owner Greg Henderson is enthusiastic about the audience outlets such as these offer to travelers from around the world. "Due to the amazing power of the Internet and the considerable amount of International Media attention that we have received, we have been amazed at the amount of American and International travelers that come to stay with us. Just this week we had guests from Norway, Russia, The Netherlands, and the U.K. At the same time, we also had a couple from High Falls, NY come to stay for a little romantic get away. They left vowing to tell all of their friends and family that they don't need to travel far for a luxury adventure at an affordable price - they just have to drive to Roxbury in the Western Catskills!"
The Roxbury offers eighteen rooms in four styles - studios, studios with kitchenettes, themed rooms and suites. All rooms have Wireless Internet, Tv's with DVD players and MP3 playback, fridges, microwaves, coffee machines, A/C, Egyptian cotton towels, luxury bathroom amenities, telephones with voicemail, and these wonderful curved shower rods that create more shower space in the bathtubs. Breakfast is served continentally at 8:00am sharp, and includes freshly-ground Hawaiian coffee, the chai tea, the freshly baked old-fashioned coffee cake, the Ghiradelli white chocolate hot cocoa, the yogurt and oatmeal, and the fresh fruit.
Great packages including elegant dinners, mountain bike rentals, golf deals, discounted skiing, spa services, massage, and more are offered year round. For more information visit www.theroxburymotel.com.
Great Western Catskills Tourism
The Great Western Catskills is an easy day trip from New York City metro area, Albany, or Binghamton and a great weekend getaway or vacation destination for all. To learn more about outdoor resources, Stay-and-Play Packages or any other activities in the western Catskills, log on to: www.greatwesterncatskills.com. For free travel literature, call toll-free: (866) 775-4425 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. For timely events in the area visit delawarecountytoday.com.
April 16, 2009: Shawangunk Journal:Proposal for a 1,000 Acre Farmland Preserve and Catskill-Shawangunk Greenway in Wawarsing, NY
link is here: http://www.shawangunkjournal.com/2009/04/16/news/0904168.html
In the late 1980s, the Rondout (Esopus) Land Conservancy (RELC) proposed the creation of a farmland preservation area centered around the former Davenport Farm in Wawarsing, NY. The conservancy hoped to find farmers to buy individual parcels that would have been protected with agricultural conservation easements. When New York State bought much of the land to expand its prison farm at Eastern Correctional Facility, the plan to protect the lands was not implemented.
Since 1995, I have sought to convince NYS to protect its prison farmland with easements as planned. In 2000-2001, myself and the other farmers who purchased the Davenport parcels applied for purchase of development rights (PDR) grant money through the NYS Farmland Protection Program. Since NYS considers 1,000 acres to be an "important threshold" for protected farmland areas, I am proposing to create a 1,000 acre farmland preserve in the Town of Wawarsing by preserving the state land with easements and making PDR available to the private farms on a voluntary basis.
The area is now recognized in the Wawarsing Comprehensive Plan as an "Agricultural Development Area," or core farmland area. It is in Ulster County Agricultural District #3 and the Ulster County Planning Board recommends limiting allowable uses in the area.
The State of New York has announced that it is closing down the prison's farming operations by June 2009 and plans to lease the land to farmers for the next five years.
Eastern and Ulster Correctional Facilities will continue to house and "process" new inmates (respectively), and employ local residents. But the area has been hard-hit by the closing of factories and the demise of the Catskills' traditional "Borscht Belt" economy.
The Town of Wawarsing, and the hamlets of Napanoch and Kerhonkson in particular, could benefit from revitalization through agricultural and recreational tourism, with the commercial centers being in the hamlets and downtown Ellenville. The Wawarsing Comprehensive Plan seeks to avoid sprawling development along Route 209 by recommending the encouragement of commercial centers. The Napanoch Valley Mall is being redeveloped into a Super Walmart to replace the former discount department store and supermarket on the site.
New York State, together with the Open Space Institute, has created tens of thousands of acres of parkland in Wawarsing, but much of it is designated "preserves" that limit the availability of amenities for tourists and travelers. The farmland preservation area is entirely compatible with and complements the creation of a Catskill-Shawangunk Greenway that would link the two mountain ranges as well as Minnewaska State Park and the Catskill Park.
With Minnewaska's parking lot filling up and closing by mid-morning on weekends in the summer, and overuse of the trails in the Shawangunks being a concern, the greenway could provide hiking and biking to alleviate the pressure on "the Gunks." The Long Path is already planned to be re-routed through this greenway, and the town will build the D&H (O&W rail) Trail through the area from Kerhonkson's downtown parking area to Eastern Correctional's recreation hall parking lot next year. The town will choose a trail designer in 2009 and seek public input for the design. This will make the greenway an intersection of major hiking trails.
The 1999 Sullivan/Wawarsing Rural Economic Area Partnership Strategic Plan for redevelopment of the former Borscht Belt called for both a farmland preservation area and the development of a linear park along the D&H Trail with museums, historic sites, and picnic lodges.
The D&H Heritage Corridor Handbook for Action plan called for protection of the farmland along the canal and trail corridor, perhaps by the RELC, as the viewshed for the trail. It called for loops and spur trails off the main rail trail to make it more interesting. More recently, the Kerhonkson to Napanoch D&H Master Plan and the Ulster County Non-Motorized Transportation Plan called for a trail spur on Port Ben Road between the prison cornfields.
At the margins of the farm fields, especially along the creek, trails could lead to a Rondout Creek Park such as the one envisioned by the 1969 Wawarsing Master Plan. The current Wawarsing Comprehensive Plan also suggests public access to the creek north of Port Ben. The farm lane at Colony Farm could be an alternate off-road hiking and biking route to Ver Nooy Kill State Forest. An agricultural development park at the former dairy buildings at Colony Farm and/or agri-tourism activities would be compatible with the greenway/farm preserve concept.
The NYS Draft Open Space Plan, the state's land acquisition and preservation plan states that agricultural lands that provide linkages "including a Catskill/Shawangunk connection in Wawarsing" should be considered as priorities for protection. These farms serve as corridors for wildlife between the parks (despite the best efforts of the farmers!).
Planners are predicting that there will be an exodus of baby boomer-aged retirees for the next 20 years from large cities to small towns at the fringes of the metropolitan areas. The top three amenities demanded by this demographic group are trails, parkland, and open space, according to the National Association of Realtors. Wawarsing could have all three. If Napanoch, Kerhonkson, and Wawarsing can attract some of these well-heeled people, who do not have children in school but pay school property taxes, it would help to subsidize the local Rondout Valley and Ellenville School Districts. Trails add thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to the value of a home.
When employers look for new locations for their businesses, they are attracted to places that offer a good quality of life, recreational opportunities, and amenities that they don't have to pay for, such as parks and trails. Recreation helps to keep employees healthy, content, and productive.
The Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway Plan encourages the redistribution of recreational tourists around the byway region, both to alleviate overcrowding and to spread the wealth to low-income towns like Wawarsing. With Minnewaska State Park overused, there is an opportunity to attract tourists down into our valley to spend money on food, lodging and entertainment. A bicycle route along existing low traffic volume back roads would be part of the mix. Other successful tourist towns have used their rail trail as the backbone of a series of connected hiking, biking and cross-country skiing circuits. A greenway/farm preserve protects the viewsheds from the Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway, the D&H Trail, the Long Path and Minnewaska State Park.
A large prolific aquifer underlies the area, and protecting it from development protects drinking water and is in the best interest of everyone.
A Catskill-Shawangunk Greenway and Farmland Preserve in Wawarsing would bring outside money into the town through tourism, and would bring recreation to our townspeople to help fight childhood obesity and diabetes. It would provide safe routes for children between the town park, the hamlets, and the Walmart store. It would protect scarce and important agricultural soils and farmland, help bring customers to local farm stands, and provide croplands and pasture for the use of farmers. It is smart tax policy, since farmland does not use many public services. ("Cows don't go to school.") It protects the environment and our drinking water and fights the sprawl that slows down transportation on Route 209. It preserves our heritage and turns it into a unique marketable asset.
There is simply no reason not to turn the end of the prison farm into the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the Town of Wawarsing, which capitalizes on our proud heritage of Catskill hospitality. Now, when people ride down Route 209 and see the prison farmland they say, "There's the maximum security prison," or "There's the maxie." Imagine the improvement in Wawarsing's "brand" or image if they said, "There's the Catskill Shawangunk Greenway." And it would be the same land, doing the same job of growing Rondout Valley corn!
To leave the farms unprotected and vulnerable to short-term profiteering by developers would spoil them forever. It would be a continuation of the failed policies of the past, not "change." Retail development leads to the need for more services, bigger government, and higher taxes. Tourism and agriculture are Ulster County and New York State's biggest industries and not a thing of the past. Wawarsing needs to regain its lost identity. Its greatest asset is that it is located where the Catskills meet the Shawangunks. They say, "If you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are." Wawarsing's children should grow up proud of who they are.