Up on the News
a fire at its renovated Mt. Tremper digs and a sojourn in Woodstock
as a restaurant, local developer Dean Gitter's high-end showcase eventually
reopened a couple of years ago as an Indian-themed luxury resort, complete
with what seemed to be its own private shopping plaza.
Now, with native Shandakenite Naomi Umhey - an employee since the entire
kit and kaboodle's start - as the Emerson's CEO and local-girl-returned-home
Mary Gormley in as Marketing Director, the massive complex in Mount
Pleasant/Mt. Tremper is once again reaching out to the local community.
And setting up it's new visual look and series of community-focused
events for local involvement by pointing out that, for all intents and
purposes, Gitter is out with his deep-pocketed business partner, Emily
Fisher, now holding the reins to this side of their business.
"Basically, we've simply realized that with the economy being what
it is, we can't rely on being exclusive to our guests and we need to
be a part of the community," Umhey said of the shifts that will
become apparent with a series of events over the coming weeks. "We're
becoming more like Mohonk Mountain House..."
Umhey was referring to the region's first great luxury resort, in the
Shawangunks outside New Paltz, that in recent decades started opening
up a number of its programs, trails, and other amenities to the local
community... with great success.
Gormley, who recently moved back to the area after a successful record
industry career in New York and Los Angeles, outlined some of the projects
she's been working on since coming on board at The Emerson a couple
of months ago.
First off, was the inauguration of a new series of Campfire Nights by
the banks of the Esopus Creek on Saturday night, May 28, followed by
a Sunday afternoon, May 29, opening reception for a new community Dog
Park that starred Gormley's own dog, Gidget - animal star of the Sex
in the City films, plus a host of other campy pet world celebrities.
Thus coming Friday, June 4, will see the opening of a major new contemporary
art show - described as "a sort of mini-biennale by curator Jen
Dragon of Saugerties' Cross Street Gallery - as the first of a series
of such events in the resort's large, light-filled conference spaces
in its shopping barn.
In the meantime, the Emerson lobbies' concentration on South Asian art
is being replaced by works being curated by gallerist Elena Zang of
Shady, who expressed enthusiasm at renewing a relationship she'd maintained
in the former hotel that burned in 2005. She said for an initial selection,
she was considering brightly abstract works by her artists Joan Snyder,
Donald Elder and Melinda Stickney-Gibson, among others.
"We're also planning to set up a kaleidoscope trail with decorated
tents tied to the tales our storytellers will be leading journeys for,"
Gormley said, noting yet another event - currently being finalized for
next month - featuring beloved retired Phoenicia teacher Jean Druffner,
a magical presence if ever there was one.
"We'll be having some ridiculously talented people who'll be doing
things on our property," said Gormley of all she's been planning
for the coming year. "And I think our guests are really going to
dig it... it will be a introduction to the expansiveness this region
has to offer."
Gormley and Umhey, both Onteora graduates whose families have been close
for decades, called what was evolving at the Emerson as "a work
When asked whether any of the current moves were a means of addressing
local antipathy towards the tourist complex bred from Gitter's involvement
with his controversial Belleayre Resort plans that have split local
communities since first being proposed 11 years ago, Umhey answered
obliquely. By doing so, she also tried answering questions about rumors
that Gitter was now out of the Emerson entirely.
"Dean is now focusing 100 percent on the Belleayre Resort,"
she said. "Emily Fisher is giving 100 percent of her attention
to the Emerson and is actually here two to three times a month now."
Gitter, a former folk singer and Boston-area impresario who was involved
in several other tourism plans and the founding of WTZA regional television,
met Fisher, ex-wife of the late CEO of Morgan Stanley and a key New
York philanthropist, when both were attending Harvard Business School
half a century ago. The two formed Crossroads Ventures, later joined
by Wall Street legend Kenneth Pasternak, originally from Fleischmanns,
to develop what had been the Risely barn and neighboring Longyear House
in the 1990s, and afterwards start development of their $450 million
Belleayre Resort project, which seeks to create destination hotels and
a condo village adjacent to the state-owned ski center in nearby Highmount,
on the other end of the Town of Shandaken.
Umhey declined to say anything about Gitter's ownership position at
The Emerson, although it was later confirmed through other sources that
he and wife Lynn, an artist, were moving to Maryland in the coming weeks.
"We're basically looking at working with a lot of new people for
the future," Gormley added.
So how HAS business at The Emerson been in the last couple of years?
"We don't have that many openings until after the Columbus Day
weekend," Umhey said, prompting Gormley to add that much of what
she's now planning is for beyond the coming season or two. "Last
year we had a lot more weddings; this time, we're doing more rehearsals,
with the weddings taking place at Onteora Mountain House and other places
that can accommodate more people for such events than we can."
"Our corporate strategy is to pick up the pace for April and May,
which have been quite slow," Gormley added. "We're starting
to get interest for photo shoots, tie-ins to other events, and some
very cool things still in the works."
She mentioned a tie-in to an upcoming ACLU benefit being put on at the
Bearsville Theater that will likely involve a Vogue shoot at the Emerson.
A recent benefit performance for the upcoming Phoenicia Voice Festival
set for August that drew an SRO crowd.
"The more there is the better," Gormley said.
Umhey added that along with the shift in programming, there's a planned
move away from the press agent-heavy publicity campaigns aimed at travel
and business magazines in recent years. The Emerson's Facebook presence
is being built up. There'll be more advertising in the local print media.
The enterprise's website is being relaunched.
The shops at The Emerson aren't changing much from their present mix
of high-end antiques (through Velsani), gift items (with a concentration
on kaleidoscopes), and fancy food stuffs. But, Umhey and Gormley said,
low end items will now be pushed as much as the high end, with a much
greater focus on locally made items.
The two women emanate a sense of easy symbiosis, a great working relationship
and natural feel for their surrounding communities. Gormley talks about
concentrat8ing on all the things she likes best - dogs, music, art,
community. Umhey seems pleased to finally be helping the business she's
worked with for 14 years finally be matching its potential. Or at least
her ideal for that potential.
To Help INDIE Out
This past year, INDIE had
to raise an additional 50 percent of its 2009/2010 budget in grants
and private donations while Onteora provided a lifeline to keep the
program above water.
According to INDIE director Russell Richardson, this doesn't mean
the alternative program for high-risk kids, focused on the teaching
of film, will shut its doors. But in order to continue breathing for
the coming school year, INDIE is searching for funding, approximately
$100,000 in conservative terms, to stay alive.
Richardson has stated that he is determined to keep his program's
doors open, noting that the area's teenagers need a community-based
environment that offers real thought provoking stimulation, a place
where kids can define their world and how it effects them.
INDIE was previously located next to Onteora Middle/High School on
Route 28 in Boiceville and moved in 2009 to its current location at
32 Mill Hill Road in Woodstock. At one time it was a fully integrated
program at Onteora, but currently acts as an after-school enrichment
Richardson knew the budget cut was coming down the pipeline, but was
hoping the Onteora board of education would halt to the proposal.
In a scathing letter sent through Facebook, he criticized the current
board for their lack of support.
"Take a look at the programs which have been trimmed," he
wrote. "Take a look at all the statements of intent over the
When asked to emphasize, Richardson said that during budget talks
in 2009, the Board of Ed stressed the need for such programs to stay
local and reduce reliance on the BOCES alternative high school program
in Port Ewan. But Richardson added that the majority of students who
cannot cope with a high school setting were eventually sent to BOCES
and believes it's the more expensive option.
Richardson explained that many of the kids sent to other programs
feel kicked out of the way, especially the more fragile, high-risk
School board president Laurie Osmond replied during a phone conversation
that a board trustee had informed Richardson early in the budget process
that INDIE was a line item for elimination.
"I was surprised we never heard from him during the budget process
and we never heard from parents," she said, predicting an equally
tough budget next year.
"If money were no object, I would keep the way INDIE functioned
in our district years ago," Osmond said. "I supported it
and I know Onteora had a long relationship with INDIE."
Originally conceived by Judy Upjohn in 1999, INDIE was designed as
a way to teach a high school curriculum through film and media. With
the support of then-Principal Barbara Ruben, the initial program grew
from eight students to an enrollment of 120 by 2006/07. With the untimely
death of Superintendent Justine Winters, followed by the resignation
of Ruben, the program lost support and began to shrink in size. By
the 2008/09 school year enrollment was approximately 14 students.
Current Onteora Superintendent Leslie Ford said in a phone conversation
that the program, "Couldn't exist anymore with general education."
She said it was touted as an Onteora program physically outside the
main building, which created issues regarding supervision and costs
related to a dwindling economic base. But then she added that she
still supports the program and said it serves as a valuable community
Richardson called Ford a "straight shooter," noting that
she never lied about her intentions to cut funding to the program.
He disagrees with her philosophy, however, and believes that students
outside the mainstream are better served in a local environment. Richardson
said the current location has morphed into a community center for
teenagers focused on film and the goal is to expand into the field
of fine arts and technology.
The INDIE program currently has 65 kids enrolled, ranging from upper
high school to college, with three full time employees through most
of the season. Students come from Onteora, BOCES, home school, other
private schools, community college and high school dropouts.
This past year INDIE received financial aid or equipment donations
primarily from Mark Braunstein of Markertek, Lowell Miller of Miller-Howard
Investments and the Ulster County Youth Bureau. They were also able
to pull smaller funding from throughout the community and work closely
with the Center For Photography on programs. Assemblyman Kevin Cahill
is a supporter and they currently have a small grant pending through
the state Senate.
The INDIE board has applied for at least half dozen grants for the
coming year. But that may be too far off, now.
"As far as funding goes," Richardson said, "I will
need something by July and a commitment from the community."
On June 10th from 6-8pm at the Center For Photography. INDIE will
be having their end of year show accompanied by a fundraiser. All
are welcome. The future of INDIE now depends on the amount of financial
support it receives.
or no spotlights it's hard to miss Abbe, not that you'd ever want to.
With her larger-than-life personality and fashion-forward style, she's
best known locally as a devout Phoenicia PTA mom, out in front for years
on the importance of keeping the school open and other districtwide
policy issues. Persuasive but open as a book, Abbe's public package
in a nutshell is total sophistication but zero pretense, tons of flash
but plenty of substance to back it up. Whatever she does she does extremely
well. That, some say, includes the best mac and cheese and the best
noodle kugel anywhere. But those are other stories.
So in late April, Abbe had been following the well publicized case of
Constance McMillen, the gay Mississippi teenager whose high school cancelled
her prom rather than let she and her girlfriend attend as a couple.
When Constance sought help from the American Civil Liberties Union,
the school responded, apparently together with local parents, by moving
the real prom elsewhere, leaving basically the two girls and a few learning-challenged
classmates as the only attendees at the rescheduled, official one.
"This isn't right," Abbe thought. "I want to do something.
So I called the ACLU and told them that. They said send us a proposal.
I did, they said fine. So I called Peter Cantine to see if he could
make the Bearsville Theatre available for an event. And Peter told me
that back when he was an Onteora student and played football, he had
long hair and his coach told him he couldn't play until he cut it. His
family said bullshit and called the ACLU, the District settled out-of-court,
and the world went on turning just fine with a long-haired football
player. So Peter said "of course you can have the theatre, what
else do you need?" and that's basically been the response from
everyone in our community."
So on Friday night, June 25, six hundred guests at the Bearsville Theatre
will be treated to the first event sponsored by Abbe's new foundation
All Woodstock, All Love, Inc. Eighteen year-old Constance, up from Mississippi,
will be the guest of honor at a benefit concert to help fund her college
education, the ACLU's Anti-Bias programs, and locally, Onteora's Gay-Straight
Alliance. And what's planned for that night - even for a town with a
music scene bigger than most big cities - is big.
For now, Abbe's not talking about who the surprise superstar headliners
might be, both in person and via video. But the music business is clearly
on-board and some info, well worth checking out, is currently online
at the foundation's website. Performers officially confirmed thus far
include Bonnie Specter, Laura Cantrell, Daniel Courtier, and singers
and dancers from Peace Biscuit and King Street Sounds. What's not online,
not yet anyway, are indications that some of the stars involved in the
benefit are as big as stars come. You didn't read this in The Phoenicia
Times, but they are.
In additional to the performances, the evening will include a live auction
and a silent auction, both heavily laden with celebrity-donated swag.
And everything, from the community's organizing to Constance's upcoming
stay with Abbe to the monster event itself is all being properly chronicled
for a full-length documentary now being shot by award-winning &
veteran HBO filmmaker Laurie Gwenn Shapiro & crew, encamped as we
talked and in motion by Abbe's swimming pool. Apparently it's a story
lots of people are going to see.
So how'd something on this order of magnitude come together in a matter
of weeks? The answer is it's the buddy system, using folks who are really
good at making things happen. Her friend Michael Lang has been invaluable
says Abbe, together with his wife Tamara, last year's Phoenicia PTA
President. Other key organizers have been Onteora BOE President Laurie
Osmond, Robert "Uncle Rock" Warren, Mary Gormley, Ralph &
Katie Legnini, Catherine Cook, Peter Cantine, Barry Cherwin, Ken Schneiderman,
Jason O'Malley, Martha Frankel and fourteen year-old Kendra Cornelus.
"It's been a huge, community-wide effort" says Abbe. "Everybody's
working for free including the talent, we've got all kinds of restaurants
donating food, it's been an amazing response. And I'm so proud of this
community because it's who we are. I want Constance to know there are
places like this in America, where people honor each other for standing
up against bias and discrimination and small-mindedness. What she's
been dealing with, this is a civil rights issue under our constitution
and at its heart it's a human rights issue. Here in this community,
here in Ulster County, we get that. We respect people's right to be
themselves and we're grateful for the differences between us, not threatened
As for Abbe's story, the short version, she was raised in the mainline
Philly suburbs, spent 15 years in the magazine publishing & design
business in NYC, and has a son, Alex, with a promising future in Rock
and Roll. She's been here part-time since 2002 and full-time since 2006,
and works as the Hudson Valley Sales Rep for WAMC-FM, NorthEast Public
Radio. Together with her ex-husband Barry Wacksman they built a beautiful
place in Mt. Tremper. But as she and Barry were parting company some
years back, amongst her revelations were a big one about her own sexuality..
that she really preferred "playing for the other team." So
the now two-mom household includes her partner Holly Ellison and her
son as well. And maybe helps explain why Constance's story from Mississippi
seemed to resonate so clearly for Abbe.
Tickets to All Love All Woodstock, Party for Constance McMillen and
the ACLU can be reserved by visiting www.allloveallwoodstock.com
Hill Sewer Extension, Stanley says, should be moving forward momentarily.
A public comment period on the proposal received two written comments
in additon to verbal comments from last month's public hearing on the
matter. Now, everything's in the hands of New York City, who own and
operate the sewer, with Stanley expecting to call another public hearing
on the matter, which he suggests will include minor changes to address
what's been raised, by the end of the summer.
The town hall septic repair is in the design phase, with some questions
about size, for completion in the fall.
Stanley said that he was expecting some progress with the Phoenicia
sewer system question, long-pending, at a June 2 Catskill Watershed
"I don't think there's anything holding it up," he said last
But then it turns out that the subject was tabled at the CWC on Tuesday.
Later, it turns out that a committee meeting on the subject, held to
discuss the changes Shandaken made on wording for a proposal asking
for CWC help, hadn't run as smoothly as originally described.
Questions were raised, according to minutes from that meeting, about
Shandaken's allowing an attorney for previous sewer opponents help rewrite
CWC language for its involvement. Statements were made about the CWC
not wanting to get pulled into the town's longstanding political squabbles.
"How about some good news," Stanley asks, bringing up the
subject of town ambulance squad head Richard Muellerleile was named
ambulance administrator of the year by the County Parademics of Ulster
County, while Mark Bedell was named Hudson Valley Paramedic of the year
and is now up for a similar state award.
Stanley said that he felt the new farmstand law rewrite was moving ahead,
and was planning to call a second meeting of the town and planning boards
for the middle of this month, for announcement at next Monday's town
Asked what litigation was currently facing the town, the supervisor
said that a long-pending case involving selective re-evaluation practices
was "still in litigation, still in its discovery phases."
Also pending was a lawsuit involving Krump Road, a town thoroughfare
shared with neighboring Lexington that a local landowner is saying had
dirt knocked off it during recent snow removal. Along similar lines,
Stanley said there was yet another lawsuit involving a fence that got
knocked down on Fox Hollow Road during last winter's "five foot
How's shared services going?
"We're considering taking over Phoenicia Main Street from the county,"
Stanley said. "There have been snow removal complaints about the
He said the town would continue to handle Galli Gurci Road, leading
up to Belleayre, as it has done for years. The takeover, though, would
now be official... "if they clean their ditches first." Similarly,
he pointed out how Olive plows a Shandaken Road landlocked by Olive
lands, and Shandaken does similarly for Lexington. Beyond that, the
Oliverea Road was "too long for shared practices."
Stanley mentioned an upcoming fundraiser for a dog park to be put in
at Glenbrook Park, then pointed out how the townwide Shandaken Day celebration,
set to honor the hamlets of Shandaken, Allaben and Bushnellsville this
year, would take place there August 28.
"We've got a committee working on redoing the grand entryway into
the park and involved in some small work, including welcome signs,"
Stanley added. "We're also planning a trail network for hiking
He then shifted topic to a recent Phoenicia Times story about the possibility
of the Esopus being made a No Kill stream, and how some councilmen were
for it and some against... with the bottom line having to do with the
And then, another bit of good news... He pointed out how the Big Indian
Car Show was turning 25 on June 27, when there would also be a celebration
for the 30th anniversary of the Big Indian Park.
"We've also got two recreation department field day plans... to
Zoom Flume and the Museum of Natural History in New York City,"
We forgot to bring up tax assessment revaluations. We'll get to that
"The Federal Highway
Works Administration sets the standards for highways, and those standards
are contained in a document, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control
Devices (MUTCD)," notes State Department of Environmental Conservation
Natural Resources Supervisor Bill Rudge. "The Manual allows for
certain color combinations, prescribing specific colors for certain
purposes, such as emergency services. A lot of science has gone into
this. The MUTCD does not allow for the yellow-on-brown color scheme."
According to Rudge, the yellow on brown scheme that will be taken
out was adopted from the Adirondacks, which signed an agreement with
federal authorities for its use throughout the State Park there in
1978. Because of that agreement, the Adirondacks will keep their signage,
while the Catskills were offered several choices for theirs, including
the standard white on green and the white on brown option usually
reserved for National Parks.
" NYSDOT agreed to make a presentation to municipal leaders in
the Catskills, which occurred earlier this year at Belleayre Mountain,"
Rudge continued. "The meeting was well attended, and the group
reached consensus to transition to a white-on-brown color scheme,
so long as a Catskill Park graphic accompanied directional and informational
signs within the Park. Since that meeting we have been meeting with
a smaller group of community representatives to develop the graphic
image to be used on these signs."
That image, described as incorporating mountains and a sun, should
be ready for final approvals and dissemination within the coming weeks.
Design for the placards and sign additions was being handled by the
state DOT in-house.
The actual making of signs, he added, was through the quasi-governmental
Corcraft, "an industry located within New York State Correctional
facilities." Locally, Rudge added, signs were made at a prison
The idea of colors in signs comes down to studies charting psychological
reactions to various color combinations. The brown and yellow combo,
Rudge said, "doesn't provide the contrast that would allow motorists
to make decisions in an optimum amount of time."
As for WHEN all the new signage can be expected, Rudge said he's been
working with Mike Shamma of DOT on such matters, with assurances that
federal and state dollars will allow for the shifts without any worries
about budget cuts. Those towns and counties that have spent already
on new signs would be given graphic imagery for amendment to existing
signs, and then allowed to shift later when their current signage
is up for renewal.
Easier To Be Green
Glenn Leisching is selling and installing high-tech, superefficient
septic systems that allow for smaller leach fields and use in locations
near waterways. Using a computerized system that sprays effluent onto
tiny, Styrofoam-like balls conducive to the growth of waste-processing
bacteria, SeptiTech is claimed to output water that is 98 percent
free of fecal content before it enters the leach field. The Catskill
Watershed Corporation (CWC) has funded two septic replacements using
the new technology, one of them in Shandaken. Several more are in
the works. With the growing global crisis in pure drinking water,
Leisching hopes to contribute to local solutions.
The CWC has been active in supporting a wide range of environmentally-friendly
initiatives. Mike Triolo, the CWC Economic Development Director comments,
"We encourage green if it's economically feasible for businesses
to do it." Through loans and studies, the agency has enabled
such projects as the Sun Creek Center, a new healing center in Stone
Ridge whose building incorporates many green design elements including
solar panels, high-value insulation, and other features. CWC has also
helped libraries with energy issues, including beefing up insulation
at the Tannersville library and installing geothermal heating in Neversink.
A feasibility study is underway to examine the possibility of a local
grass pellet industry, a cheaper alternative to wood pellets for indoor
heating. "Problems are still being addressed," says Triolo.
"The question is, what comes first, the pellet or stove? They
have to come at same time." Now that there's a pellet manufacturer
in western New York State, supplies are available, but stoves need
some modification in order to handle the residue left behind by grass
after burning. If the kinks can be worked out, local farmers will
be able to make money from their hayfields. "Ashokan Center has
a grass stove that's part of our demonstration project," says
Triolo. "They used it this past winter, and they love it."
Farmers also benefit from the efforts of Pure Catskills, a push by
the Watershed Agricultural Council to promote healthy, locally grown
foods, from salad greens to maple syrup. The group lists growers,
stores, and restaurants in its annual guide, encourages farmers markets,
and maintains a blog and a newsletter (see buypurecastskills.com).
With tourism an important industry in the watershed, another CWC project
involves greening the region's hospitality industry, in cooperation
with Empire State Development Corporation. Triolo explains, "A
contractor goes into hotels and restaurants and shows them how to
save money and use natural chemicals, do more recycling, create less
of a waste stream. We're just starting the training process, and we
think it is going to have a major impact."
Meanwhile, initiatives to boost solar and wind energy have been announced.
The state legislature recently passed a Solar Jobs Act designed to
accelerate investments in solar power throughout New York, with a
goal of achieving over 5,000 megawatts (MW) of solar power capacity
by the year 2025. The Solar Thermal Consortium (STC), a group of New
York industry, academic, and governmental representatives, unveiled
a plan for accelerating growth of local solar heating and cooling
projects, recommending such measures as educational resources for
consumers, economic incentives for installation, and clarification
of permitting procedures. SUNY Ulster has received certification of
their solar and wind turbine installer training program, and in the
coming academic year, they are offering a National Sustainable Building
Advisor Program, suitable for contractors, architects, and other building
professionals. Ulster BOCES also has solar training courses, funded
by NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Hopefully, these measures will provide a boost to local business such
as solar contractor Sun Mountain in Olivebridge and USA Wind Energy
Corp., the West Hurley wind turbine installer, while residential and
commercial applications will become more financially doable.
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill "feels the state's economy is strongly
tied to the push to become more energy-independent," said Cahill
spokesperson Conor Barnbrick. "Energy efficiency offers a huge
opportunity to create a workforce as we retrofit homes and businesses
to make them more energy efficient and install renewable energy projects.
To do that, we have to make sure there's access to financing up front,
and there's a workforce to support the push."
In addition, we need entrepreneurs like Glenn Leisching to take the
initiative to make green products available, as well as informed consumers
to patronize what's offered. With all this support, it looks like
the green economy will continue to grow.