As Catskill Waters evolved, what started out as a dialog about stewardship of land and water became a living portal to the watershed communities. Landowners and residents shared their stories of growing up and living in the Catskills, revealing senses of resilience, self-reliance, and cooperation, as well as uncertainty in the changing climate and social fabric.
At the same time, the nature of our goal has also shifted—from educational and informational to proactive and solution-focused. What could we do with the stories we collected? How can we contribute to the well-being of our communities with the tools and experiences we have gained?
One of the increasing concerns to those who live, work, and visit the Catskills, is overuse of areas that have long served as commons—natural gathering spots such as swim holes, skating ponds, and kayaking streams. Peekamoose Blue Hole is an extreme example.
Beaver Pond near Woodstock has recently become a center of controversy on the issues spanning from privatization of the commons to overuse. This pond is unique ecologically and socially—it is classified as a circumneutral bog, a rare sample in the Catskills, and is sustained in a complex mix of stakeholders that include New York City Department of Environmental Protection, a sportsman’s club, and private landowners.
It is also celebrated in a long history of public and private use, including a saw mill, a Jewish Boys’ Summer Camp that invited such noteworthy guests as Groucho Marx, and a community gathering place that hosted events like demolition derbies.
The pond was accessed via a parking lot that served as a de facto entry point for the public. But in 2018, this lot and 1/3 of the pond adjacent to it, was purchased for a dollar by a pond-side resident. Its repercussions are slowly being felt among the community, expressed in conversations, group emails, and letters to the editor of the local paper.
The conversation involves laws and regulations, community ethics, and possible partnership between the community and NYC DEP to build public access point. The last option, however, could invite unintended consequences of changing the nature of the pond forever, including overexposure and overuse.
These issues are increasingly common in the Catskills and any place where nature and human interests overlap. Therefore, we decided to dedicate a portion of this blog to the development of Beaver Pond. It is our hope to use this platform as a community bulletin board where all stakeholders can gather and exchange information and opinions, and collectively explore a solution that would serve us all.
Note: to prevent the unpredictable consequence of internet exposure, we are using a fictional name of Beaver Pond in this blog.