Saving Cooper Lake

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Cooper Lake in Ulster County is the water supply for the City of Kingston. It also happens to be an extraordinarily beautiful spot where locals and visitors enjoy walking. Because it is a water supply, it’s off limits to such activities as swimming, boating, and fishing. This somewhat “untouched” feature adds to its appeal.

But now Cooper Lake is under threat. A water bottling company in California wants to buy some 1.75 million gallons of water a day from this Catskills treasure. That means machinery, possibly a chain link fence — whatever, a complete ruination of the lake as we now know and love it. You can read the details at http://savecooperlake.org.

Locals are up in arms. Walk through Woodstock and you’ll see signs and posters in almost all the shop windows. Meetings are held, petitions are being organized.

My own argument for saving Cooper Lake — aside from loathing any project, anywhere, that prioritizes the almighty dollar over all other considerations — doesn’t need words. A picture, as they say, is worth 1,000 words. I’ve photographed Cooper Lake more times than I can count. These are from Thanksgiving weekend.

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Still in need of a Christmas gift? Looking for something that shows off our beautiful region of the globe? Check out our book Historic Hudson Valley: A Photographic Tour.

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Captain Hot Dog Offers a Memorable Dining Experience on Route 28

If you’re driving on Route 28 in Ulster County between, say, Mt. Tremper and Phoenicia, and are hungry for a tasty little lunch or snack, you can’t do better than Captain Hot Dog in the rest area at Mt. Pleasant. You’ll get an authentic Sabrett’s hot dog with your choice of at least half a dozen fixins’–everything from the usual mustard and ketchup to authentic New York-style onion sauce. And of course, drinks and the usual “sides” such as potato chips. But best of all, you’ll have the great pleasure of meeting proprietor Captain Tom.

Captain Tom is a genuine people person. Having worked that spot for fifteen years, he has an impressive array of regular customers and a Canon point-and-shoot camera with which he takes photographs of them to save in his albums. When I pulled into the crowded rest area on Sunday and ordered my hot dog with mustard and relish (“That’s a must-rel,” he explained), I explained about my blog and asked if I might take his photograph. He posed gladly–and then asked if he could get a photo with the two of us. Fetching the little Canon from his car, he handed it to a friend standing nearby–clearly a long-time customer–and asked him to take the photo. That very evening, the photo was in my email Inbox.

Then Captain Tom showed me his current album–photos of customers from 2012. “Your photo will be in there,” he promised. He knew which customers had recently passed away, pointed out one couple that had recently married, and mentioned that he keeps a special album with photos of deceased customers.

That particular stretch of Route 28 isn’t exactly bursting with dining opportunities–I had joined the road at the junction with Route 212 at Mt. Tremper and was headed west to Margaretville–and so to come upon Captain Tom who loves his work and takes such a genuine personal interest in the customers he meets was a double blessing and an unusual one.

Hungry for a hot dog on Route 28? The Captain Hot Dog stand is on the north (westbound) side of Route 28 at the Mt. Pleasant Rest Area. It’s well sign-posted from both directions. Captain Tom’s business card invites you to “Join us for lunch on the Esopus stream.” You’ll be glad you did.

Boiceville Rises Again

ImageThe entreaty that we read in more than one of the Psalms, “God, save me, pull me free from the raging waters,” could all too easily be applied to several towns and villages along Ulster County’s Route 28. Boiceville is one of those towns. In the early twentieth century, the original site of Boiceville was one of several in the Esopus Valley that were moved or destroyed in order to make room for the Ashokan Reservoir. The valley would be flooded to create a water supply for the burgeoning population of New York City, 120 miles to the south. A meticulously researched film by area resident and professional filmmaker Tobe Carey documents this event in heartbreaking detail.

ImageIn a sense, Boiceville was one of the fortunate towns. It was relocated, while several of the others were demolished without a trace. Today when you drive along Route 28, you can see signs indicating the former sites of the Esopus Valley towns that either disappeared or were displaced.

The flooding of the Esopus Valley for the AshokanImage Reservoir was not the last water threat to ravage this Ulster County area. In August 2011 Hurricane Irene devastated towns from Phoenicia to as far west as Margaretville and Prattsville. The recovery still goes on.

Last week I drove out to Boiceville, chiefly in search of the viewpoint from which the nineteenth-century landscape artist Asher B. Durand painted his masterpiece High Point: Shandaken Mountains. We had located it at approximately the point at which Routes 28 and 28A meet, which happens to be where Boiceville begins.

I’m not certain whether I found the exact spot for Durand’s painting, but I did find a Boiceville recently risen from the effects of Irene. Why, I wondered, did the local florist display a sign that so insistently proclaimed that he was open?  Then when I pulled up to the parking lot for the Boiceville IGA Market and other businesses and saw the huge signs thanking the community and the volunteers, the light bulb went off in my head. Wanting to support the local economy, I went into the market, bought some delicious rolls and deli meats, and began chatting with the locals. Sure enough, the supermarket had been closed for eight weeks until the Irene waters that had flooded the store’s basement and main floor could be cleared. And the florist–he had only just reopened after the hurricane had taken its toll. The Rotary Club helped to coordinate massive relief and fundraising efforts, to the extent that $12,000 still remains to be distributed, in 2012, to people who still need it.

ImageThe need still persists.  And so does the existence of these amazing communities who rally, coordinate, and cooperate in order, with God’s help, to pull themselves from the raging waters.

My collection of Favorite Photos of 2011 is now up on my website in its own gallery, Several of the photos, of course, are from the Hudson Valley. I invite you to visit my website to check them out. If you wish to purchase any prints, I’m offering a 10% discount on all purchase with a minimum order of $10.00.  Just use Coupon Code NYSP12; valid until January 31, 2012.

Flood-drenched Hudson Valley needs help

TrailThese aren’t pretty pictures. They’re not meant to be. I took them yesterday during a trip to photograph the Saugerties Lighthouse, after which I drove to Highland and walked the Walkway Over the Hudson.

As I was driving from central Saugerties toward the trailhead for the lighthouse, I became dimly aware of what seemed to be brown water below and parallel to the road. Later, as I drove over a bridge that had a sign identifying this water, I learned, to my shock, that this brown water was the Esopus Creek. The Esopus Creek! — usually a picturesque stream, sporting ground for many who enjoy the sport of tubing, now a muddy brown assailant that has been the subject of many an official New York State Flooding Alert in recent days, inundated the pretty, historic village of Phoenicia, and wreaked damage elsewhere in Ulster County, one of three New York counties hardest-hit by Irene.

Stopping on the Thruway north at Plattekill, I made my usual purchase from the Grey Mouse Farm stand there and asked them how they fared after the storm. Not great, they said, but they do the best they can. Grey Mouse Farm is located off Route 32 near Saugerties. More heroic people carrying on after this disaster.At Lighthouse

While photographing Saugerties Lighthouse I met and spoke with the lighthouse keeper.  They now have their power back but the half-mile trail leading to the lighthouse is a disaster area, as you can see from this photo.  The wooden plank boardwalks are buckled and covered with trash that floated in from the flooded river. He asked me to get the word out: If anyone lives nearby and is willing to bring some trash bags and help clear the debris, your help is urgently needed and he would be most grateful. And please–wear waterproof boots.

MargaretvilleOne of the fellow hikers I spoke with had been out the previous day to help at Margaretville, that beautiful Western Catskill town where I recently made some vintage images of the Main Street stores. When I asked him how it was there he just shook his head: All gone, it’s completely gone, there is nothing.  They’re waiting for FEMA to come in and assess the damage. My memory is haunted by the friendly Irish face of the nice man who had recently moved into the area with his wife and children to start up the Bed and Bath Shoppe, where we bought some lovely towels and things. Down the road, a shop where a woman sold me a hand-knitted pair of special gloves to wear when I photograph in the winter: the tops unbutton to free my fingers to work the camera controls. The only supermarket in town, where on a rainy Sunday we bought a few things for a pre-dinner beer party in one of our rooms at the nearby Hanah Mountain Resort–“Half of the supermarket is completely washed away,” my fellow hiker told me.

These pictures were taken from the Walkway over the Hudson, the newest of New York’s State Parks. At 1.28 miles long, it offers a hefty walk as well as memorable views of the Hudson. Right now it also offers views of the results of Hurricane Irene: Here you see the damage and the garbage piled up on the shore near the village of Highland, and the other photo shows the “Lordly Hudson,” now brown and with lots of this green debris floating in it.

If you wish to help but can neither grab your tools or trash bags and offer physical help nor live close enough to donate household items and food at one of the many collection stations, here is a website with suggestions for sending monetary donations.  For the Western Catskills, here is another site with updates on the situation and places to donate.

Stopped at a traffic light on my way out of Saugerties yesterday I was glad to note that the Saugerties Reformed Church was holding a worship service today for the victims of 9/11 and of Hurricane Irene. While no one will ever forget the pain and suffering inflicted literally out of the clear blue sky on that infamous day ten years ago, please let’s remember that our neighbors in rural New York who struggle to earn a living by serving people through their farms and their shops and motels also need our prayers and concern and our help.