Are We There Yet?

by Dennis Machicao

Often we think of going some place exotic, far away, for a vacation or just to get away from it all. And if you are concerned with nature and its preservation, you might think of going to some remote rain forest or taking an eco tour. But often than not, we don’t think of exploring our own backyard, not really your backyard, but some place relatively close to home. And for me, living in New York City, a close “backyard” is the Catskill Mountains.

This is a place I’ve gotten to know relatively well these past few years, having spent many summers, winters, springs and falls there. Comprised of 5 counties, Sullivan, Delaware Ulster, Schoharie and Greene, it is a beautiful 200 mile drive northwest of New York City. Beautiful, that is, once you get away from the city traffic. The Catskill Mountains are comprised of more than 98 peaks ranging from above 3,000 to 3500 feet.

Originally called Kaatskills by the Dutch settlers in the 17th century, it slowly became settled, along with the Dutch, by English, Irish and Germans to work the land and give birth to industries in logging, rock quarrying, leather tanning, farming and fur trapping. And some of those industries still exist, although not as robust as they once were. Some time along the 1800’s urban New Yorkers started to discover these beautiful mountains and began vacationing as they continue to do so to this present day.

The Catskill Mountains have always been a vacation destination for New Yorkers and out of towners alike. Immortalized in the movie Dirty Dancing it depicted the era of the 1950 and 60’s when resorts and large hotels were vacation destinations for many city people. Know then as the Borscht Belt because of the number of New York Jews that would go to the famed hotels to see the shows and comedians that got their start there and rose to fame, made that area the Las Vegas of its time.

Although all those famous hotels are gone, there still are a number of attractions that the mountains offer in all seasons. Dotted with ski resorts in the winter, tubing down the rivers in the summer, a breathtaking cornucopia of color during the fall foliage, and after a long cold winter, the awakening of nature in the spring.  In need of a massage or some spa treatments, no problem, there are a number of world-renowned destinations like the Emerson Resort and Spa,

Ecologically, the Catskills are a wonder. The New York City watershed comprises some 1,900 square miles of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson River Valley that is divided into to reservoir systems: the Catskill/Delaware watershed west of the Hudson and the Croton watershed east of the Hudson.  It delivers unfiltered drinking water to 9 million people in New York City and surrounding counties. The watershed protection programs in place are successful programs that will preserve the flow of unfiltered drinking water for many years to come.

As wildlife is concerned, the Catskills is home to the second largest black bear population of the state numbering over 2,000. Coyotes that were close to being extinct in the 1900s  have been reintroduced and now thrive. The Catskill Park, comprised of 290,000 acres of mountains, meadows, waterfalls and wetland is a protected area for a number of wildlife species from deer to porcupines. A wide variety of birds, from eagles to hummingbirds also inhabit these majestic mountains.

So whether you go fishing, skiing, swimming or spa hopping you can do it all in the Catskill Mountains. No need to go to a rain forest or take an exotic eco trip. You can diminish your carbon footprint by not getting on a plane and having fun in a place that is close to you. Wherever you live, I’m sure you are close to a destination that you can take advantage of without to much travel. Like many things today, you have to think locally.

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