History of .The Catskill Interpretive Center

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In seeking support for the creation of this center, we are attempting to revitalize a project of a decade ago. In the middle 1980s a grassroots effort including numerous community members, local business leaders, political representatives, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), and The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development (CCCD) led to the development of the idea and concepts for a “Catskill Interpretive Center.” Plans for such a Center were advanced in the 1990s by the NYSDEC, with extensive consultation by advisory boards drawn from the Catskill community. A 62-acre parcel of land on Route 28 in Mount Tremper, within the town of Shandaken in Ulster County, was chosen as the site of this center. This parcel was acquired by the CCCD and the Trust for Public Land, and leased to the NYSDEC who at present continues to manage the property; the State spent over $1 million on road, bridge, site grading, and other improvements to the property. Architectural blueprints were drawn up for a 18,600 square foot building and for surrounding grounds, and plans were created for interpretive exhibits, interpretive and educational programs, travel information resources, a reference library, auditorium, gift shop, and hiking trails and connections to nearby State land. In 1995, the projected cost of the building (not including the cost of exhibits, furniture, equipment and supplies) was $ 3.68 million. The NYSDEC had also completed an Environmental Impact Statement and a Comprehensive Educational Use Plan for the “Catskill Interpretive Center.” The impetus for the creation of the Center came to a halt in the middle 1990s with a change in State of New York priorities for the Catskills. Center stage and urgency were given to the extended negotiations that led to the New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement, a compact among the City, the State, and the communities of the Catskills that provide water to the City. This most successful compact is now in place, and is viewed as a national model for watershed protection agreements.

The need for an interpretive center for the Catskills remains. We believe that The Catskill Park and Forest Preserve represent significant and unique public assets badly in need of an interpretive center to give them the focus and accessibility required for their full public value to be realized. The Catskills, and their visitors and residents, suffer from this unsatisfied need. We have met with the Board of the CCCD, with proponents of the proposed Catskill Watershed Museum, and had contacts with officials of Ulster County regarding plans for a Tourism Information Center in Kingston. After numerous meetings and discussions, we concluded that NYSDEC’s original goals for a “Catskill Interpretive Center” are today, as they were at the time of their formulation, responsive to strongly felt needs and that the already existing plans to achieve those goals retain validity. Further, these plans, both as to programs and as to the facility that would house them, are highly developed and represent an investment that should not be unnecessarily duplicated. We also note that the August, 1999 NYSDEC’s Catskill Forest Preserve Public Access Plan lists the “Catskill Interpretive Center” as an action item to be actively pursued in partnership with other government agencies, local governments and the private sector; and our meetings with senior NYSDEC officials lead us to believe that the Agency will respond to an appropriate initiative by the public. We believe that the proposed Catskill Watershed Museum and Ulster County’s Tourism Information Center represent very valuable additions to the region, highly complementary and with only minor overlaps to an interpretive center for The Catskill Park and Forest Preserve. The proposed development of these two facilities, the passage of time, and the availability of novel information technology do imply some revision to the decade old original plans for a “Catskill Interpretive Center” before these are implemented.

The Friends of The Catskill Interpretive Center is supported by private donations including a generous grant from The Wallace Genetic Foundation through The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development.

 

 

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