Well, it didn’t go as we expected. At Peekamoose Blue Hole, a pristine swimming hole in the Catskill mountains fed by spring water, on this sunny July Saturday, there were never more than three families at a time. This was an astonishing scene considering that in recent years, this place has seen as many as 2000 visitors a day following its sudden internet fame.

We knew the permit system went into effect last week, but I was once again shocked by my own inability to adjust to a sudden change, as I had many times been while working on Catskill Waters. I knew there would be less people, but I had no idea Blue Hole would look like it did in pre-internet days.

Family from Orange County with their JLF portraits

Consequently, we only came away with three interviews and three portraits of the visitors.

The few families we talked to were on top of things: they researched and got permits—issued only to 40 parties with maximum of 6 members each; they knew about the take-in, take-out rule; they knew not to disturb the vegetation. This was not the image of visitors I had maintained in my mind for the last few years. Furthermore, there was not a single piece of trash. It was a testament to the educational outreach and community effort that have taken place at this site since the problem began.

Blue Hole Coordinator Andy Mossey and Steward Selina Guendel

What we did come away with, besides spending a gorgeous afternoon in a paradise-like setting, is an in-depth conversation with Blue Hole Coordinator Andy Mossey and Steward Selina Guendel. They are part of a stewardship program implemented by a coalition of local organizations including Catskill Center and Rondout Neversink Stream Program (sponsor of Catskill Waters).

Andy gave us a comprehensive overview of the permit system, including its development and future implication. His interview will be available on our podcast. In the meantime, here are a few takeaways.

People have taken the change remarkably well. The rangers first give the visitors without permits the bad news, then Andy and Selina try to talk to each party, handing out flyers and explaining how the permit would ensure preservation of the stream health. All but a few understand and move on to other places suggested in the flyer. Andy stressed the importance of having positive interaction with the visitors in boosting the effectiveness of an outreach program like this.

Catskill Center has made an effective publicity campaign specifically targeting areas where visitors come from, such as the outer boroughs of NYC. One of the visitors I spoke to said she saw Andy’s interview on her local news in Orange County.

The question is whether this permit system will work without such an intense focus of resources at this spot. This year, Andy and Selina are here almost everyday (although the permit is required only on weekends and holidays). On this day there were 4 to 6 rangers as well (this number varies). In addition to human resources, DEC is also absorbing the service fee incurred with each registration through ReserveAmerica. Andy says this additional expense will pay off in the future savings in maintenance.

Artist Jenny Lee Fowler cutting out a profile portrait at Blue Hole

He mentioned that other municipalities such as Woodstock are considering such permit.

I can imagine the disappointment of people who drive for hours to visit Blue Hole, only to be turned away because they didn’t know about the permit requirement. It was reassuring to see the joint efforts among the state and city governments and local organizations to minimize this outcome.

On a personal note, it is a 180 degrees turn in how I feel about posting photos and reports online about Blue Hole. In the past, I tried to be as discreet as possible, without mentioning the name, but now I feel not only safe but encouraged to tag Blue Hole and spread the word about the permit requirement on social media.

We will follow up with this story through this season. Check out more photos on our Facebook page.

Portraits and Stories is made possible in part with funds from Rondout Neversink Stream Program, a project of Sullivan County Soil & Water Conservation District funded by New York City Department of Environmental Protection.