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Catskill Park Advocates Press For More Funding

Allison Dunne
Kaaterskill Falls

Catskill Park advocates are spending the day in Albany calling for increased funding in the proposed budget. And they’re bolstering their advocacy with an updated report on the impact of outdoor activities in the Catskills.

The Catskill region sees some 2.7 million visitors a year. That’s according to a 2019 update of a study first completed in 2012 that quantified the economic impact of outdoor recreational activities in the Catskills. According to the 2018 numbers used in the report, those visitors spent an estimated $170 million in the local area, had an estimated economic impact of $124 million on the region’s economy and supported 1,882 jobs. Jeff Senterman is executive director of the Catskill Center in Arkville, in Delaware County. He says there was an incremental increase in the number of visitors from the 2010 to 2018 numbers.

“It comes down to ensuring that the Catskill Park is ready for the number of people that are coming already and the number of people that are going to be coming in the future. Our trails are always in need of extra work. Our facilities that support those visitors throughout the park, including the Catskills Visitor Center, the parking areas, restrooms, campgrounds, whatever it may be,” Senterman says. We are seeing investment in those facilities over the last few years but, given the increasing number of people that we’re seeing, there’s just a lot of work to be accomplished.”

The Catskills Visitor Center in Mount Tremper, in Ulster County, is a partnership between the Catskill Center and the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation. Senterman praises the budget proposal for including $150,000 to help fund the operation of the Congressman Maurice D. Hinchey Catskills Visitor Center, as part of the Environmental Protection Fund. However, Senterman says the $10 million allotted in stewardship funding for both the Catskill and Adirondack Parks should be doubled. State DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos says there are funding sources beyond stewardship lines in the budget.

“What I’ve told the advocates in the past is I totally agree with them. We need to put more funding into those areas, but I draw their attention, draw the public’s attention, to the funding sources beyond just the Environmental Protection Fund, which is a critical tool for us but,” says Seggos. “We have funding in an unprecedented way now that is available for these great parks.  The New York Works, which is a source of capital funding at DEC; the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, which is largely a grant program going out to municipalities; Superfund, which doesn’t play as much into Catskills and Adirondacks but it’s nonetheless a grant program. The governor’s proposed this $3 billion Environmental Bond Act.”

Senterman says the Catskill region has a number of popular destinations.

“Some of them have seen investment, places like Kaaterskill Falls the state has invested a significant amount of money in improving that area. And, with those improvements, you see better management of the visitors and you also see a protection of the natural resources that were previously being disturbed and kind of trampled and degraded by so many visitors,” says Senterman.  “Other places we haven’t seen that investment. So there’s some world famous hiking trails in the Catskills. The Devil’s Path is often quoted as one of the top ten most difficult trails in the eastern United States. And that’s a trail that sees thousands of people every season and is very worn out. And it has places that could be considered unsafe. And so an investment needs to be made in building that trail in such a way that it’s sustainable, so that it’s not eroding, so that it’s not dangerous to the people that are using it and it’s not degrading the natural resources that it’s passing through.”

Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan gives an example of Catskills visitors’ impact on economic development.

“The day that we opened our new Ashokan Rail Trail, which is an absolute crown jewel of the county and of the Catskills, I think, I shared this story about a local chocolate company called Fruition Chocolate who was thinking about actually moving their operation out of the area, and when they heard that we were investing as a community and building this trail —  and their offices and their operation is right along the trail on Route 28 — they not only decided to stay, they actually invested in bigger space,” Ryan says. “And so that’s exactly the kind of linkage between investing in tourism and outdoor activity that really drives economic growth and particularly for small businesses, which is the majority of our economy here.”

Senterman notes parking areas that accommodated five cars 10 years ago have some 25 cars jockeying for spots today.

“But it really comes down to stewardship,” Senterman says. “We’ve got facilities but they have to be taken care of, and we’ve got to make sure that they can handle the number of visitors that are coming to the park.”

DEC Commissioner Seggos:

“Even three years ago, before we had some of these boosts, we were spending upwards of $18 million, $19 million a year just in the Catskills alone on those exact kinds of projects,” Seggos says. “So I am very confident that with this budget and the unprecedented amount of money that the governor’s proposing that DEC has at its disposal, we’ll be spending more to upgrade our facilities in the Adirondacks and Catskills and, in terms of the Catskills, bringing great attention to these beautiful places that are 90 minutes from New York City, unbelievably.”

Meantime, Tuesday marks the 8th annual Catskill Park Day at the capitol. Catskill Center, Catskill Mountainkeeper and the Catskill Park Coalition are leading groups of volunteers in a day of advocacy. Executive Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper Ramsay Adams says the governor’s proposed budget is a good start for the Catskills but doesn’t go far enough. He says there is a need to significantly increase staff at the DEC and fund a new Forest Ranger Academy. Again, Senterman:

“And in the first few years, I often had to answer the question about where are the Catskills,” Senterman says. “And, thankfully, today, we no longer have to explain where we are, but we’re now able to talk about what we need and why the Catskills are important and what they need to continue to be successful.”

He says there is a planned Catskill and Adirondack Day later in the month.

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