Almost A Plan
We like the new Catskill Park Master Plan, and we think DEC’s
done a good job thinking it through and putting it together.
To be sure, there are some problems that need to get fixed,
but that’s why it’s going through a public review
period. And because it is, we’d like to think
what doesn’t belong in the plan will be gone before
long, and we’re hopeful that what stays will make sense
for another generation or so. We don’t think that’s
wishful thinking. It’s based on the fact that DEC has
a good history of being responsive to our community’s
concerns once it knows where we stand.
We think the revised Master Plan is a good plan because it
strikes a good balance, the right balance between the agency’s
two main goals of protecting the land as they’re charged
with under the state’s constitution, and making it available
and accessible to public use. We’re pleased that thought
has gone into things like handicapped access, and we’re
pleased the plan’s short and straightforward and readable.
We urge people to check it out and let the agency know what
they think about it.
What’s new in the plan – the single most substantive
change – is that 53,000 acres are being reclassified
from “Wild Forest” to the slightly more restrictive
“Wilderness” designation. No, you couldn’t
cut trees in either one before and you still can’t;
both classifications remain constitutionally “forever
wild”. What’s interesting and certainly
a testament to the plan’s basic sobriety is that the
most controversial thing to emerge is a single and honestly
less-than-cataclysmic recreational issue: bicycles in the
wilderness. Let’s face it. In a post 9-11 world, things
could be way worse than arguing about whether we should allow
bicycles in the wilderness.
Bicycles by the way, aren’t permitted in any other wilderness
areas in the United States. One thing that’s come out
the public hearings is there are no good reasons to chase
them off: no evidence of environmental damage, no apparent
conflicts between hikers, bikers, and anyone else, no problems
at all. And besides that, the bikers showed up at the
hearings with some good arguments about fairness and the essentially
arbitrary nature of their exclusion.
On the particulars, on the facts, and on this issue of whether
to prohibit mountain biking in the Catskill wilderness, we
believe the mountain bikers are right and DEC is wrong. The
folks on bikes have proven themselves good stewards of the
land and users of the trails, and they don’t deserve
to be excluded. We think the State should find a good
administrative solution to solve the non-problem they’ve
turned into a problem for themselves. Basically, we think
DEC should step off the trail, let the folks on bikes pass,
and take a chill pill if necessary on the whole subject.
Next, on the larger issue and on the facts as to whether Wilderness
designation for a third or a half of the state land here constitutes
an economic threat to the watershed towns, we say Oh please.
Come on. We live inside a PARK for heaven’s sake. That’s
what makes this place different from everywhere else, and
what makes people want to come here and be here and live here.
It is special, it is the place it is BECAUSE it’s protected.
Is that a pain in the ass sometimes? Sure it is. But we doubt
any of us would trade that for the privilege of being somewhere
So if we’re going to talk about economic threats, let’s
be real about it. The argument being made by the Coalition
of Watershed Towns – that unrestricted mountain biking
is a critical economic lynchpin to our regional well-being
– is just silly. There’s enough real stuff going
on that we don’t need to cry wolf and we don’t
need to grandstand. If we want to keep some credibility for
the real battles ahead both with DEC and with DEP, let’s
keep some perspective. In the more than two years The
Phoenicia Times and The Olive Press have been around, there
has been no stronger and more consistent voice in support
of the Coalition of Watershed Towns and its advocacy on behalf
of the people of the Catskills. But if the Coalition is going
to stay strong, it has to be credible. And that means it has
to pick its arguments thoughtfully, and not fire off a broadside
every time a dinghy shows up on the radar.
Finally, on the larger issue of Wilderness, we believe DEC
is right to seek that designation for the state’s lands
in the Park that qualify for it. It’s DEC’s
job to fight for the protection of our state’s wild
legacy. Certainly nobody else in government is going to lift
a finger to do that, and if they didn’t try to fight
for it, we should find people to fill those jobs who would.
Fortunately the agency’s well-staffed, and by people
whose background in science and nature often helps them retain
perspectives others forget. They are trying, and they
do a hell of a good job with very few resources available.
The proof’s in the plan.
There will always be folks who want to grouse about all the
good timber going to waste on state land, about how our damn
constitution is screwing up our options for proper wildlife
management, and about how awful it is that we have to try
to build a regional economy around all the unsalable real
estate DEC manages. We all bring our personal values
and sensibilities to these resource-related discussions, and
we’re all entitled to our views on the best use of public
For us, we take the view that’s what’s best for
the Catskill Park and its mountains and rivers will pay for
itself many times in dividends to the quality of life, the
value of property, and the material well-being of those of
us who live here. And if we’re wrong, well, a couple
hundred years from now we can just log the hell out of the
place, sell it off to aliens, Eurotrash, or whoever’s
left, and see if that’s what it needed all along. Till
then though, we’re pretty much stuck with doing the
best we can to keep it whole, and as close to the way we found
it as it is today.