Kaatscast: the Catskills' premier podcast!
Nov. 24, 2020

Voices from the Central Catskills

Voices from the Central Catskills

This week, we highlight four segments from our original "Experience the Central Catskills" audio driving guide, for a westward drive from Olive to Andes on NYS Route 28. 

  • DEC Natural Resources Supervisor Bill Rudge and an overview of the Catskill Park past and present
  • Historian Diane Galusha on the Ashokan Reservoir and the New York City water supply
  • Fly fishing the Esopus creek with Mark Loete
  • Reminiscences of John Burroughs, with Bill Birns, Steve Koester, and Rolland Smith

Thanks to our sponsors, the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, the Emerson Resort & Spa, and listener support!

Photo courtesy of Tim Luby.

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Transcript

Welcome to cats cast of bi weekly podcast delivering interviews, arts, culture and history from New York's Catskill Mountains. This week segments from our Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway audio tour, including Dec Natural Resources supervisor bill Rudge with an overview of the Catskill Park. Diane Galicia on the ashokan Reservoir at New York City's water supply. Fly Fishing the soap is Creek with Mark lodhi and reminiscences of john Burroughs with Bill Burns, Steve Castor, and rollin Smith. The 52 mile Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway follows New York State Route 28 through the heart of the central Catskills for maps, itineraries and links to area restaurants, shops and accommodations. Visit scenic catskills.com where you'll also find a full menu of audio driving guides. Thanks also to the Emerson Resort and Spa in Mount tremper, New York. The Emerson Resort and Spa is a hidden treasure surrounded by the splendor of the Catskill Mountains, featuring spacious accommodations in the contemporary Inn and Adirondack style Lodge. Emerson guests enjoy a nature inspired spa, dining in their signature restaurant with notes grill, the shops of Emerson and the world's largest kaleidoscope. Welcome to New York's Catskill Mountains and the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, stretching from the town of olive to Andes, New York, on Kathleen McNerney. To start us off, we took a hike with Bill Rudge a natural resources supervisor for New York state's Department of Environmental Conservation, the Catskill Park is an important part of the region he oversees. My job is to coordinate the department's natural resource programs throughout that region and those natural resource programs include forest management, wildlife management and fisheries management. The Catskill Forest Preserve actually is the public owned land within the Catskills. And the Forest Preserve was created in 1885. In large part in reaction to the heavy forest cutting that was taking place throughout the state for a variety of reasons, including the Civil War, which created this tremendous demand for leather. The process to create leather involves two critical elements and that's the height of of wild animals. And tannin which is used to tan those hides for a variety of purposes, boots, belts, holsters, etc. So the Catskills had this tremendous resource in terms of tannin because the Catskills are heavily forested by hemlock trees. The hemlock bark is rich and tannin, a lot of hemlocks. In fact, the entire region was nearly clear cut in the process of cutting hemlock and other trees. The state of New York slowly progressed with conserving lands of about 700,000 acres, which is a mix of public and private land. And that line was shown on maps as a blue line and it's now become the blue line of the Catskill Park as we know it, the state of New York owns almost half the land within the Catskill Park, and those lands we manage as the Forest Preserve, most of the remaining lands are in private ownership. The management of those lands is largely left to local communities through zoning and other land use controls that are imposed at the local level, the Forest Preserve lands in the Catskill Park are classified into four major land categories. By far the largest classifications are the wilderness and wild forest. So wilderness is intended to be a place where someone can go and recreate where the presence of man is essentially not apparent. So you can't use a chainsaw on wilderness. You can't drive your car into a wilderness area. We don't love snowmobiles, or ATVs. And wilderness. We don't even allow mountain bikes in wilderness because those are mechanized devices. And we're trying to get away from even that degree of development to really give you that primitive sense in wilderness. So what can you do in wilderness hunting, hiking, trapping, fishing, camping, and wildlife observation? We have about 35 peaks above 3500 feet in elevation. And a significant number of those peaks probably 10 or 12 are trayless. And that trail is experienced is one of the things we're trying to provide in wilderness areas. In wild forest, those lands are managed for a greater variety of recreational opportunities, and we can designate and Mark snowmobile trails in wild forest. We have mountain bike trails and wild forest and we have a more extensive horseback riding trail system in wild forest. And of course hiking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing are all allowable uses as well as hunting and fishing. In show can turn left onto reservoir road for a first hand glimpse of New York City's water supply. Continue across the bridge dividing your show can reservoir for panoramic views of the Catskills shandaken range. This road continues to the route 28 a loop where you can park on either side of the dam to walk or bike along a two mile scenic promenade. No one knows the story of New York's reservoirs like Diane Galicia, we hiked with her along birch Creek in the shandaken wild forest. This is New York City's drinking water that we're sitting next to here, bubbling away through these beautiful summer woods. This stream makes its way to the soap is Creek. And the soap is Creek is what was dammed to create the ashokan Reservoir. So this water, assuming it isn't drunk by a deer or a porcupine, and isn't evaporated, eventually it gets to New York City. And New York gets about 1.2 billion gallons of water a day. But a billion gallons or so from the Catskills and that would be a lot of water to filter the plant that they would have to build to do that would be gigantic and very, very expensive. So the the least expensive and arguably probably the most effective way of keeping New York City's water clean is to concentrate on the source rather than trying to filter out impurities at the other end. New York City's water supply is the largest unfiltered water supply in the country. There are a few others but this is by far the biggest. The story of New York City's Catskill water supply goes back to the turn of the 20th century when 26 entire communities, about 5500 people were displaced to make way for a network of reservoirs. As you're driving through the Catskills, you will very likely see brown and white signs that say former site of Granton or former site of olive bridge, and those referred to communities that were lost to the six reservoirs here in the Catskills. These communities were demolished, really leveled. For the most part, all of the homes and the barns and the businesses and the churches and the schools and the community centers were destroyed. They didn't want to leave any kind of organic material on the floors of these reservoirs. So they basically removed all traces of habitation and all traces of vegetation. They cut down all the trees to within a couple inches of the ground, filled in all the foundations and the Privy holes and all of that and created something of a wasteland before they opened the gates of these coffer dams and let the water rise and cover the sights of those communities, which really are kind of ghost towns beneath the waters now. The early reservoirs were built largely by immigrants, those immigrants were housed in large labor camps that were run by contractors contracting firms who got the jobs to do various aspects of these projects. There were people who worked underground, building the tunnels, hundreds of feet beneath the surface, which was a feat in and of itself. They would drill vertical construction shafts down hundreds of feet a little at a time, a little bit of time, a little bit of time till they got down to tunnel level. And then they would begin to bore horizontally using dynamite and little trains that they had set up down below and incredibly tedious, incredibly labor intensive and incredibly dangerous. Many people died. Many people lost limbs. It's an engineering marvel, it's just when you think about this water that we're sitting next to is eventually going to be coming out somebody's kitchen faucet in a couple of months. It's getting there strictly by gravity. This took a lot of thought, a lot of foresight, a lot of incredible engineering by a lot of very brilliant people, and a lot of very hard work and lives and blood, sweat and toil from many many workers over generations. There are a lot of people that we owe thanks to who gave up a lot so that New York City could have water Okay, so I put a I put a drift over some likely water nice, realistic dead drift to me like this is yes, there was a bite me And you saw the nature of that bite, there was a quick, quick attack. Let's put it over him again and see if we can get that guy to come up again. These small rainbow trout, although they may be small, they have big hearts. They're gonna fight like crazy gonna jump around and if anybody comes here and hooks you on a slender fly rod like this, they're gonna have a big fight on their hands because these guys are really tough competitors. There's all manner of other organisms here that are trying to catch these things, not just the fly fisherman but also the raccoons, the Eagles, that kingfishers great blue herons, the merganser ducks, the Martens, the weasels, the Fisher cats guide knows what the bears are doing out here at night when we're not here. My name is Mark lodhi. I'm a professional photographer, but I'm also a fly fisherman by a vocation longstanding fly fisherman and actually recently opened a fly fishing guide business here on the sofas Creek and the sofas Creek is known as one of those rivers in the Catskill system that is considered the cradle of American fly fishing. And this is one of the first rivers to be fly fished in America. Its fame dates back actually to the early 1800s. For example, the first fishing resort in America was on the banks of the Stoney clove Creek tributary of the sophus here, and that was in a location where today the finish elementary school is and that was chartered as a boarding house. It was a Mylo Barbara boarding house chartered and I believe 1824 and it was the go to place for fishermen to get expert guidance and flies and newspaper articles and letters and postcards of the period of the day. Citing What a great guide Marlin Milo Barbara was a fantastic cook. And this is the the place to go to catch a trout. Well known fishermen people like Ted Williams, people like Jimmy Carter, regarded this river is probably one of the best truck fishing rivers in America. It's been somewhat impaired due to the extreme weather conditions we've been experiencing due to global climate change. But today, although it's a little bit off color, and running a little bit high, it's been fishing healthy, the waters had cleared up in recent days, and I'm seeing some jumping trout off into the far distance there. So that's that's always a warning sign to the heart of a fly fishing like myself. You don't need to spend $800 for a fly rod, you can get a perfectly serviceable fly rod for $80. It's really the skill of the presentation of the artificial fly to the fish. That is the key to whether or not you catch fish. Or if you just want to fish with a worm, or maybe a cricket put on a hook. That tackle is generally cheaper spin casting casting tackle. But also you can check any of this kind of tackle out from the finisher library if you hold a valid Hudson Valley library card. So you can actually check out a complete flyrod system for little or no expense and for very little inconvenience, you can be casting a fly on some of the best trout water on East Coast. So are drifting that fly over some likely rocks that are creating kind of a still little pool behind those rocks. And we're letting that fly drift down in a gentle current. approaching a series of rocks that might be a good hiding place. So the flies gently drifting. And oh, whoa, see that? Fish rolled on it but didn't take it. There. There it is. Again, right there. It's right there. No, didn't take it. Yeah, I think game's up too dark to see the fly. So this has been kind of an interesting day on an interesting River. They seem to come up readily, but they just didn't hook positively I think we had what three for three trout, they were pretty high up in the air on the hook. But by the time they came back down into the water, they were swimming free again. So that's probably the way it should be anyway, so I don't mind. I don't mind this kind of score. Actually, you know, it's fun to catch fish. And that's the ultimate game. And maybe that's the ultimate measure of our success. But with my guide business Catskill mountain angler, I'm teaching a lot of people who are new to the sport who have never fly fished before and in some cases just never fished before. And I always try to emphasize that catching fish is sort of the objective of the sport but the rewards are so much greater than simply catching a fish and that it often seems like counting fish is actually kind of passe. So I would encourage anybody to enjoys the outdoors and enjoys communing and being a part of Mother Nature out here to come out and and and what align here on the surface Creek right along Route 28. Scenic Byway corridor. By early learned that from almost any stream and a trout country, the true angler could take Trump and that the great secret was this. That whatever bait you used worm, grasshopper and grub or fly there was one thing you must always put upon your hook, namely, your heart. When you bait your hook with your heart the fish always bite. They will jump clean from the water after it. They will dispute with each other over it. It is a morsel they love above everything else. JOHN Burroughs My name is Bill Burns and I live in Fleischmanns. Here in Delaware County, the first village in Delaware County as you cross the high mount line. You know, when when I arrived in the Catskills 43 years ago, I never heard of john Burroughs. JOHN Burroughs was a very prolific writer who really invented the nature essay Prius, what he did, in terms of writing an essay that brought people into the outdoors, and allow them to kind of experience the outdoors along with him was quite different, I think, from what Thoreau was doing. And it took me a little while to realize that here on this end of the Catskills certainly what I like to call the West slope. JOHN burrows is the spirit that resides here. He was born in 1837, on a farm in Roxbury, New York at the foot of old clump mountain, I believe the sixth or seventh child of eight or 910. And he was the boy who didn't really like to go to the barn. wasn't really that interested in milking, and wasn't really that interested in the farm chores, was more interested in wandering up on the hills and day dreaming and reading and the kinds of things that Delaware County Farm kids certainly in the 1830s it was unusual. His job on the farm therefore became to go call the cows in because that's where he was going to be anyway, john, upon calling the cows and discovered a boulder a big rock that had been left at one of the top pastures of his father's farm, left by the glacier, and he would sit on that rock for hours just sort of daydreaming and watching the natural world go by. He had read Walt Whitman's groundbreaking book, Leaves of Grass, which totally changed the nature of poetry totally changed the nature of literature and totally changed the American language and the idea of what it meant to be an American. And if you're riding up in the Catskills on the Scenic Byway right now and you've not read Leaves of Grass, go buy yourself a copy. Walt Whitman and john Burroughs meet Whitman calls Burroughs jack, they become friends. Whitman said to Burroughs one day publish your personality, john burrows had to kind of think about that and figure out what that meant. And when he thought about his personality, I think what he thought about was fishing, and watching those birds on that rock when he was a boy, and going out to get the cows as he did when he was a boy and you know, planting things in the ground. One of the problems with Burroughs is he wrote so many essays, they filled 23 volumes, each volume as a title, but he didn't write that one book like Walden that everybody's supposed to read whether they did or not, you know, probably the book that people should turn to first is wake Robin. It's very bird centric and bird heavy. The wake Robin actually is a flower. But the book concentrates a lot on birds but with a tremendous interest in birding today that that's become a popular book. Wait. Wait. Way grabbin way. My name is Steve caster. And I live on back attack and mountain in the Catskills. I'm a musician and not a borough scholar. Just a musician. He likes to take walks out in the wood. I moved up from the city and I started reading a lot of boroughs. And I started thinking about how much Burroughs writing still resonate today. Obviously, these trails and these mountains are all still walkable. And so you can kind of look at what he's looking at. And they've been they've been preserved. Not only that aspect of it, but also just sort of the wider issues that he he dealt with. You know, it's one of the first conservationists and he talked a lot about the spread of the cities, you know, the spread of technology, which was, you know, the industrial in his time and digital in our time. He talked a lot about keeping things local. I had read wake Robin, which is his first book of essays, and I started thinking about his other essays. The titles themselves are so evocative and I was just like, wow, Cool to write a group of songs inspired by Burroughs essays and his life and so so I reached out to Josh Roy Brown who plays dobro and Banjo and Aaron Lieberman who plays guitar and sings and Scott Hill is playing guitar and singing and john Jacobson on the fiddle and also Amy Lieberman plays with a sometimes she plays the big bass fiddle. I asked them to you know, reread some Burroughs and write a song inspired by him and inspired by his writing and you know, they came back with these songs that were really super moving and everyone found like a little bit different facet and burrows that that brought something out. Nature seems to be like a lift off point for him to connecting with with the bigger universe and and I think that really underpins his writing in it and it's something that speaks to me and I think spoke to all the guys as you can see, from from most songs. Friends with the most famous people in America, his friend of Teddy Roosevelt, he met Teddy Roosevelt 20 years before Roosevelt was president, they became friends became friends with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and gaggles of Vassar girls who had come over to meet with Mr. Riveros at some point, he decided this is too much. And he also wanted to go home and home for john Burroughs was always the Catskills and Roxbury so in 1910, he leased a home on the farm that he grown up on from his brother. He built a very rustic kind of veranda or porch on that house porch he slept on every night, put a Franklin stove in it and an indoor toilet. Indoor bathroom. Probably the first indoor plumbing may be up there on that hill and Roxburgh, no electricity, and he called it with Chuck Lodge, and every summer for the last 10 years of his life, john burrows would come to Woodchuck Lodge and he would spend his time here, writing again he wrote every day, but he also would receive visitors there. Every year, john Burroughs, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone would take a camping trip. It's a camping trip that none of us would recognize. Ford cars outfitted with kitchens and outfitted with tables and chairs and table claws. And the men still wore their suits. They just took their ties off. They call themselves the vagabonds, these four, and they would go to all these wonderful sites in America, and Henry Ford would have everything filmed. And those films would be shown in shorts before the silent movies that people were going to say. And it was great marketing for Ford because people like you and me would sit in the theater and say, Hey, I'd like to have one of those Ford cars. You know, I'd like to go camping like that. And it was also great publicity for all the people who were in it. JOHN Burroughs included, he became even more celebrated and famous. The ideas of john Burroughs about simple living harmony with nature, nature outside your back door, they can be expressed through literature or through music. Well, they can also be expressed through interior design and architecture. And that's what burrows did in Woodchuck Lodge is that the way he sets up the house, the way the house is, is put together expresses those very ideas of simplicity, harmony with nature, you know, the access to nature. I think the wonderful thing about Woodchuck Lodge is that it looks very much like Mr. burrows just stepped out. He might be back any minute. You can help preserve john burrows with Chuck Lodge by joining as a member at JB wood Chuck lodge.org. Thanks to rollin Smith for his reading, and to Kathleen macmini for hosting our original audio tour. Thanks again to our sponsors, the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway and the Emerson Resort and Spa music by the john Burroughs Memorial locusts and wild honey mountain orchestra. Find them on Facebook. Cats cast is on Facebook at silver hollow audio, or you can find us on Instagram at cats cast. Thanks for listening, subscribe if you haven't already, and we hope you'll tell your friends about us. Until next time, I'm Brett Barry. 

Transcribed by https://otter.ai