Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
Jan. 7, 2020

Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway - Palenville to Hunter

Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway - Palenville to Hunter
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Welcome to Kaatscast –– a biweekly podcast delivering interviews, arts, culture, and history, from New York's Catskill mountains. Please subscribe, and be the first to hear all the great content, from quick interviews with Catskills locals, to full-length audio driving tours and fully-produced audiobooks.

In this first episode, we take you on a tour of the Northern Catskills’ Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway. You can listen anywhere, but for the best experience, it’s designed for a westward drive from Palenville, NY, to Hunter, NY, on Route 23a. This is the main stretch. In future episodes, we’ll post side excursions, so please don’t forget to hit that subscribe button.

In this episode … learn about painter Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School, then we’ll delve into the cottage communities of the late 1800s, with a current Twilight Park resident. From there, we speak with a New York State forester on the history of the Catskill Park.  Then we’re off to Tannersville, to meet the mayor, followed by a chat with Hunter Mountain’s Gary Slutzky.

--- Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/kaatscast/support



Transcribed by Jerome Kazlauskas via https://otter.ai

Brett Barry  0:03  
Welcome to Kaatscast, a biweekly podcast delivering interviews, arts, culture, and history from New York's Catskill Mountains. Please subscribe and be the first to hear all the great content, from quick interviews with Catskills locals to full length audio driving tours and fully produced audiobooks. In this first episode, we take you on a tour of the Northern Catskills, Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway; you can listen anywhere, but for the best experience. It's designed for a westward drive from Palenville, New York, to Hunter, New York. This is the main stretch. In future episodes, we'll post side excursions so please don't forget to hit that subscribe button. In this episode, learn about painter Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School. Then we'll delve into the cottage communities of the late 1800s with a current Twilight Park resident. From there, we speak with the New York State forester on the history of the Catskill Park. Then we're off to Tannersville to meet the mayor, followed by a chat with Hunter Mountains, Gary Slutzky. Without further ado, welcome to this inaugural episode of Kaatscast.

Welcome to the Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway, bisecting the northern Catskills and featuring stunning mountain scenery, historic towns, amazing restaurants, and an array of recreational and cultural offerings. This audio tour runs west from Palenville to Hunter, with plenty of offshoots along the way; you'll hear from historians, outdoor guides and local experts. We start in the 1830s, when the paintings of Thomas Cole attracted early tourists to the Catskills from his home in Catskill, New York. Cole walked a westward path and set up his easel in these mountain cloves.

Betsy Jacks  2:27  
We are open year-round, and you can see his home: his two studios there's this beautiful barn-like building where he painted in the 1830s and early 40s, and then there's this magnificent Italianate style studio. It's like a little jewel box, where he painted for the last years of his life.

Brett Barry  2:51  
Betsy Jacks is the executive director of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

Betsy Jacks  2:56  
Thomas Cole is best known for launching an art movement that we now know as the Hudson River School, a style of art, a style of landscape painting that is known for its granger. The feeling of awe when you look at the landscape paintings. Before that time in America were most frequently house portraits or very tame, farmland or village scenes and things. The Hudson River school paintings are completely different in feeling; when you look at them, there is an element of the sublime. Thomas Cole's paintings, in many ways launched the first tourism movement in America. He painted the scenes around here, and then caused people to want to come and see them. The beginning of his career, there was a beautiful new hotel that was built right on a ridge overlooking the entire valley called the Catskill Mountain House, and that spot is now part of Catskill Park, so you can visit it and see that magnificent view. So that hotel had just opened when Thomas Cole first came to this area in 1825. He then painted the falls and the views and the magnificent scenery and really spread the word that this was a place you had to see. Thomas Cole was very early to American landscape painting; he started that movement, and it was decades later that other artists started jumping on the bandwagon and painting in this style. He launched a movement that would last over 50 years and encompass hundreds of artists and over the course of his lifetime, he became extremely well known and celebrated as America's greatest landscape painter. Today as you go from east to west through Kaaterskill Clove. You will see many of the sites that Thomas Cole made famous with his paintings. One of the most dramatic, certainly, is Kaaterskill Falls, which is a double waterfall that is one of the highest in New York State. Little further along is a place where you can enter the North South Lake Campground and (in) there are many incredible views. Thomas Cole would strap his supplies on his back he carried with him his three legged folding stool, and his traveling easel, all of his paints, and then he would walk it's about 10 miles from the Thomas Cole National Historic Site where he lived to the base of the mountains, and he loves to walk so 10 miles was nothing to him.

Brett Barry  5:40  
The lower hiking trail to Kaaterskill Falls starts at a smaller waterfall at (a) Horseshoe Bend on the road. Just a bit further is a parking lot for that trailhead. Continue on, though, and you can take North Lake Road to more ample parking, and the upper falls trailhead. More on that later. If you're driving west and look to your left, you may spot a smattering of cottages clinging to the mountainside. This is Twilight Park, where Joanne Ainsworth resides.

Joanne Ainsworth  6:12  
During the late 1880s people from the major cities of New York, Philadelphia and Boston, were looking to escape the heat of the...the summers in the cities and the malaria, and so they were intrigued by these mountains. They have, of course, (had) been introduced to them with the Hudson River School of Painters. Transportation had become easier. There were many train lines up here onto the mountaintop, and so travel up here that there was arduous; but they were able to make it up in a day's journey, and so people were looking to create cottage communities where they could come up for an extended time and not be living in an inn or a fancy hotel, and so three mountaintop residential communities, Twilight Park, Onteora Park, and Elka Park were founded all around 1888. Twilight Park was the child, really, of the Twilight Club that existed in Manhattan in the 1880s, and gentlemen of all walks of life would gather at Twilight at places like Delmonico's for dinner, and then after dinner, they withdraw for cigars and brandy, and somebody a member of the club would espouse the topic of the day that was of interest. One we always chuckled at was, should our daughters wear corsets. Another evening was our educational degree; was it worth it? The three parks on the mountaintop are the types of places where the...what we call cottages or Victorian homes are handed down from generation to generation. However, there are many new people who have come to these parks over their 125-30 years and they're the people who are still looking for the same types of things a very low key life that's really based, you know, on hiking, enjoying the out of doors, the fellowship of friends with similar interests. You may travel all over the world, and yet there's nothing quite like coming up that twisted 23A, as we call the Rip Van Winkle Trail, and seeing the mountains on either side of you, and whether it's a blue sky, sunny day or a day that's filled with fog. There is just an otherworldly feeling to the area. The simple pleasures of just getting outside in nature. For some who want major hikes of mountains, you can do that a simple walk on a rail trail is another thing just to get outside and see the sights to hear the water of a creek to the smells. Those simple pleasures are timeless and universal.

Brett Barry  8:48  
This episode is sponsored by Mama's Boy Burgers. Every Mama's Boy burger is made from local humanely raised grass fed beef right here on the mountaintop. Stop in for a burger, fries, and a milkshake or for a cone of creamy frozen custard. Mama's Boy Burgers is located at the only traffic light in Tannersville. Open daily at 11:30. Great food in the great outdoors. Mama's Boy.

Brian Ellis  9:18  
My name is Brian Ellis. I'm a forester for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and I'm in charge of Forest Stewardship in the Kaaterskill Falls in North South Lake area. The Catskill Park was created in 1885 by legislation, and then it was further protected in 1894 by amendment to the New York State Constitution that made so wide area that encompasses four counties. The northern half being Greene County and Delaware County. It's a mix of public and private lands where people are allowed to come and recreate hiking, camping, and mountain biking. We have a number of trailhead accesses to areas like the Devil's Path. The Escarpment Trail from Windham all the way down to Hunter, the northern Catskills has some really dramatic hikes, the Devil's Path being one of the most challenging hikes in the northeast 26 miles long. In addition, up at Windham, we have, you know, extensive mountain bike recreation as well on Elm Ridge Wild Forest that has become very popular in recent years. You know, the Hunter area and North South Lake area has been a destination for people for many, many years looking for dramatic views of the Catskills of waterfalls like Kaaterskill Falls. As well as you know the towns in the area. So, the Hunter Fire Tower is the highest elevation fire tower in New York State. Accessed by a number of different routes, either up the chairlift at Hunter Mountain, the Becker Hollow Trail, or the Spruceton Trail, most people come up to Kaaterskill and North South Lake area through route 23A. Historically, people have parked at the bottom of Route 23 (at a) access Kaaterskill Falls from the bottom. In recent years, the Department of Environmental Conservation has tried to get people off that winding corridor, and we have parking lots at Laurel House Road and Scutt Road as well.

Brett Barry  11:09  
Take North Lake Road to access both the Laurel House Road and Scutt Road parking areas.

Brian Ellis  11:14  
So at the top of Laurel House Road, you can hike down an accessible trail that's been built that's crushed stone down to the top of the falls it's about a quarter mile down to the falls on a winding trail that we designed in order to reduce the grade to help make it accessible for all hikers, and then you can cross over a bridge that we installed over Spruce Creek to hike down into the bottom of the falls. For new hikers, I would say they need to bring a map, proper footwear hiking boots, really important. Adequate water and food for their hike. The weather in the Catskills can change dramatically. So it's really important for people to be prepared for whatever conditions, you know. I wouldn't rely on a cell phone as your only means of communication and you know if there's a sign-in register at a trailhead, that's always important to sign in. So our rangers can help locate people in case there is an issue, and it also helps our managers like me to understand how many people are coming out on the trail, so we can best direct our resources to those high use trails. In some of these high use areas like Kaaterskill Falls, since we have so many people coming here each year, it's really important to carry in and carry out any trash that they would bring in. As well as trying to stay on the trails just, you know, a few passes over a non-trailed area can really start to cause erosion damage to plants that are there. Especially in these wild areas like Kaaterskill Falls, it's really important for people to, you know, pick up after themselves when they're out there to help protect it and help make our job easier when we're trying to manage it.

Dr. Lee McGunnigle  12:51  
Hi, this is Dr. Lee Edward McGunnigle. I'm the current mayor of Tannersville and I have been the mayor for the past two and a half decades. Tannersville is by elevation the highest incorporated village in the state of New York. Tannersville is very fortunate to have the backing and the support in perpetuity from the city of New York to ensure clean water to the city of New York. It's been a fabulous vacation retreat for well over 120 years. I've been fortunate enough to live here for 40 years and have operated one of the last Italian resorts; the Villa Vosilla hotel, a family on resort now for generations, started in 1964. Tannersville, which has always been a great mix of different communities, was known as the Italian Alps and now, Villa Vosilla be and one of the last surviving resorts of that style with an Italian flair. Of course, all that was mixed in with a fabulous ski industry that was developed in the early 1960s, and tennis was really in the heart of the town of Hunter 23A passes right through it. So it's always been the gateway and a welcoming to skiers to hikers to writers to musicians. All types of people have found Tannersville and this area as a perfect retreat for that type of inspiration and development. I'm originally from Long Island and love skiing and checked into the Villa Vosilla on New Year's Day in 1982 and met this beautiful girl behind the front desk and it was love at first sight. I think anyone that visits Tannersville will have the same experience that we do. The Granger is unbelievable, the natural beauty you can stand on Main Street, look out and see the valleys, see the mountains, see the beautiful skies and say wait a second. This is a special place. There are a lot of second homes in Tannersville along with our beautiful resident community that has been here for generations. We have a brand new organic farm operating year round with two greenhouses right on Main Street and Tannersville right next to our Middle High School in conjunction with the library called Mountain Top Library, which is a beautiful facility. They offer diverse programming for children and adults and I think (of) anyone passing through should stop and see this fabulous library. There's a bunch of restaurants now that vary in diversity from Mexican cuisine to fine cheeses to cool breakfast places. We have barbecue, we have a choice of what I would call very high end quality eateries for anyone's palate. La Doria Restaurante located at Villa Vosilla is open to the public all the time; is also available, of course, to our own hotel guests. It's influenced by a northern Italian cuisine. The original Vosilla family came from Trieste region, and I am the current head chef at the Villa Vosilla. I'm really excited to keep that tradition going. Some of my favorite stuff and Tannersville hiking and the bike path called the Huckleberry Trail that has now been connected all the way to North South Lake. The views are spectacular from the railroad beds, you're not going to believe it; you're going to feel the energy that railroad is used to run on these old tracks, and it's flat so it's easy for any fitness level. If you want to go fast, you'll just truck along; if you want to bring children is just something that shouldn't be missed. You pick it up right at the village of Rip Van Winkle Lake and Tannersville and there'll be other signage right off 23A (with) there are going to be other head starts to get on this bike path. I really enjoy sitting on my back deck and looking at the beautiful skies and then I love going into my local library. There's Peace Village, there's meditation, there's yoga, there's a lot of things that I enjoy exploring from my own well-being in here, so I try to live the lifestyle that I'm trying to attract other people to come to this community.

Gary Slutzky  17:01  
Coming up 23A from Palenville to Haines Falls, as we call it, the mountain road. I've driven it tens or hundreds or thousands of times in my life. I ride a motorcycle, a large motorcycle, and I love riding that mountain road and riding around on a motorcycle up here is phenomenal. As a matter of fact, over the last 10-15 years, it's like exploded with motorcycles riding through the area in the summertime. I am Gary Slutzky. I live just outside the village of Hunter within the town of Hunter. I've lived here all my life. Born in Kingston, so I was only away for a couple of days those first few days. But I've been back here ever since I've worked here at Hunter Mountain and mainly in construction in a family construction company all throughout the northeast. It seemed like I knew everybody in the village and all the elders; if they were over a certain age, it seems like we always called them aunt or uncle. The Village of Hunter settled at the end of the 1700s, the 18th century, the bark of hemlock trees, held tannic acid, a key ingredient for the tanning of hides into leather. In about 1819, Colonel William Edwards built a tannery. Edwards' Tannery grew to be the largest cover tannery in the world. The village known then as Edwardsville grew as well. In time, the slopes of the mountains lay bare. By the mid 19th century, the tannery closed in Edwardsville and was renamed Hunter. Declared land became farmland and livestock grazing fields. Tourism started with the coming of boarding houses and hotels; railroads came, and by 1882, you could take a train from the New York City area, right to the village of Hunter. In the mid-1950s, a group of businessmen began to meet and discuss what could be done in the winters to attract new tourists. The men decided on skiing; two brothers stepped up and decided to create a ski area. They brought in investors and advertised in the New York City papers looking for a management team. Jimmy Hammerstein, son of Oscar Hammerstein of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame, formed Hunter Mountain Development Corp. Izzy and Orville Slutzky owned large tracts of land on Hunter Mountain on the Colonels Chair section. They were also very successful heavy construction contractors based in Hunter. Their proposal was to develop Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl, cutting slopes and trails; installing lifts and snowmaking, and have Hammerstein's group managing operate the ski area. Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl opened in December of 1959 with one chairlift to rope tows. The following season brought a double chair to the summit of Colonels Chair and more terrain. By February of 1962, Hammerstein's group had paid the Slutzky brothers next to nothing, and the Slutzkys took over the operation. Over the next six decades, Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl thrived. Weekend homes and hotels, motels, restaurants and bars, also open to serve the tens of thousands of skiers who came to the village of Hunter and the town. My uncle ran the construction company, which they started in 1939, and my father was always out in the field, running the jobs, you know, superintendent of a job. He became the manager and he became highly skilled, highly respected in the industry for what he had done. If you're a skier, you'd look at that mountain, say, Jesus, really not a mountain for built a scary...because so much of it had to be blasted out. Whereas some mountains, they just have the natural terrain, that Hunter Mountain did not have it. So it was a lot of work to make the mountain what it was, and in the late '70s, we used to have crowds as large as 8,500 to 9,000 people on a weekend day. A good day now is probably in the neighborhood of 6,000 to 6,500. The biggest thing we always had going for us was our proximity to the New York City area, the whole region, the metropolitan region...two and a half hours away. That's half the time that it is to get to Vermont, plus the, you know, the beauty of the area. As a kid at 11 years old, I ran a (store) little snack shop at the top of the chairlift in the summertime and they claimed five state view. My assumption was that it was New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. In those days, if you could see those five states, you could see him because of the clearness of the air, the blue sky. People come up here to ride bikes to walk to hike, you can gain access to a fire tower at the top of Hunter Mountain, by taking the chairlift in the summertime to the top of Colonel's Chair and walking over it's a much shorter distance than it would be to walk from the base. The views from the top of Hunter Mountain are phenomenal. It's the second highest mountain in the Catskills, at 4,040, that's above sea level...that may change in the next few decades could only be 4,038.

Brett Barry  22:56  
We hope you've enjoyed this audio tour of the Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway. Audio production by Silver Hollow Audio in coordination and with the support of the Mountain Cloves Scenic Byway. Music in this episode by local musicians, Jim Plank and Josh Roy Brown. For maps, more information, or a CD copy of this tour, please go to mtnclovesbyway.com. That's mtnclovesbyway.com. Thanks for tuning in to episode 1 of Kaatscast. Don't forget to subscribe and you'll hear from us again in two weeks.

Thanks also to our sponsor, the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, providing services to businesses, community organizations, and local governments in the Central Catskills region. Follow the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce on Facebook and sign up for a weekly email of local events at centralcatskills.com.