We who reside in the Catskills relish the cool, clean air, green mountainsides and sparkling clear water. We should never become complacent, believing these lovely vistas that attracted us will …
We who reside in the Catskills relish the cool, clean air, green mountainsides and sparkling clear water. We should never become complacent, believing these lovely vistas that attracted us will remain as they are today without good stewardship. In addition to environmental woes and pollution affecting our air and waters, we are faced with the threat of development that places the dollar need and greed of a few ahead of the protection of these lands and waters to maintain their purity and respite for the wild creatures that reside here. Of recent concern is the Kerilands project.
Years ago, when I was a youngster residing in Grahamsville, the Town of Neversink was approached by officers of the Marcent Development Company, Inc. of 200 Park Avenue, New York City, who had purchased several thousand acres near Willowemoc around Fir Brook, an undeveloped haven for wild brook trout, positioned between Pole, Hunter and Blue Hill Roads. An October 10, 1970 NYTimes article stated “the land developers have asked the town for the right to sell alcoholic beverages in the projected ski area under hotel and restaurant licenses. The concern, headed by Moshe Mayer, an Israeli development expert, has announced that it plans an investment of about $5 million in the first phase of the ski area.”
Despite touting the project as “good for the economy” it never came to fruition. I remember family conversations about this hotly contested proposal, which was dropped (to my parents’ relief) after the Town voted to remain “dry.”
Fir Brook is a sanctuary for major populations of wild brook trout due to its higher elevation and climate. The dense climax hemlock forest provides shade and, coupled with the lack of runoff from development, paved roads, driveways and rooftops, keeps the water cool and pristine. Beaver dams along the stream play an important role in providing natural habitat for the fish, and Public Access is limited, and not easily accessible, as Fir Brook flows through wetland areas which maintain pristine water quality and serve as natural flood control.
Brook Trout are the official fish of New York State; the DEC website states “Brook trout are an excellent sentinel of water quality due to their preference of clean waters of high purity, narrow pH range, and sensitivity to poor oxygenation, pollution and changes in pH caused by environmental effects.” However, due to environmental concerns including warming air and water temperatures across the country, their numbers are dwindling. Today the DEC considers the wild brook trout population in our area as “greatly reduced.”
Today the Town of Neversink is no longer a “dry” town, and Jonathan Leitersdorf, a developer who inherited these lands from his grandfather, intends to re-open the development of this sensitive area as a “conservation resort.” At a packed Neversink Town Board meeting held July 12 in Claryville, Mark Bias of the SCPartnership for Economic Development stated that his organization believes the project would provide an “ultimate balance between economic development, investment jobs and preserving our environment.”
Not everyone at the meeting agreed, some raised concerns about the water table, the introduction of roads and infrastructure, increased traffic, light pollution, and questioned how developing this sensitive wild brook trout sanctuary is “preserving our environment.” The developer was quoted as stating “in the past 30 years, my career wasn’t about the extra dollar but about making a difference and making something that will improve people’s lives.” How will our lives be improved by bringing development to an area so fragile and important in preserving the clean air, water and wildlife that draws us here? Are we becoming complacent? Believing we need to justify a developer who wants to make a profit, because he states goals such as “designing environmentally conscious buildings” or using buzzwords like “sustainability” and “conservation development?” It’s challenging to see how these two words even belong together in the same sentence.
The Kerilands proposal would be extremely damaging to this unique and fragile ecosystem which may not ever recover - what is needed is the protection of this stream and its watershed from development. Perhaps a sale to the State of New York or other land protection agency would be the best outcome, and keep this undeveloped area protected. It’s time to make concerns known and contact those who will be making the final decisions. We need to remember the reasons we choose to live here and become good stewards of our lands and waters.
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