VW Parts fire ruled accidental

Above: The VW Parts junkyard on fire in Fleischmanns on August 26, 2014. Photo by Julia Reischel.

A fire that destroyed the VW Parts building at 717 Wagner Avenue in Fleischmanns on August 26 was an accident, according to Delaware County fire investigators.

Steve Hood, the director of Delaware County Emergency Services, told the Watershed Post in an email on Sept. 30 that the blaze was caused by stray sparks created by demolition workers who were removing items from the building.

The building, a former junkyard and auto repair shop owned by embattled junkyard operator William Hrazanek, is in the process of being sold with funds provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as part of a federal disaster remediation program.

Workers from Euro Nutz Inc. in Saugerties were cleaning out the building on August 26 before the fire began, according to Hrazanek and Hood.

"The final cause of the fire at the VW Parts building was determined to be accidental in nature, caused by workers from Euro-Nuts using a demolition saw to cut heavy pipes," Hood wrote. "The saw created sparks which went down into the wall on the side of the building next to the school."  Read more

Junkyard owner charged with felonies for Mount Tremper spill

Above: A baffle installed in a tributary of the Esopus Creek near 1420 Wittenberg Road in Shandaken, the site of a chemical spill, on July 11, 2013. Photo by Julia Reischel.

William Hrazanek, the embattled owner of multiple Catskills junkyards, was arrested on Tuesday, Sept. 23 in connection with a chemical spill on Wittenberg Road in the Ulster County hamlet of Mount Tremper last year.

Left: William Hrazanek in a DEC mugshot.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation charged 68-year-old Hrazanek with two felonies, according to Peter Constantakes, a DEC spokesman, in an email to the Watershed Post.

The charges were endangering public health, safety and the environment in the 2nd and 3rd degree and criminal mischief.

Hrazanek was arraigned on Sept. 23 before Shandaken Town Justice Thomas Crucet and was released on his own recognizance that same day, according to Constantakes.  Read more

Police: Woman killed by drunk driver in Rosendale; 19-year-old son seriously injured

Above: A photo of Kelly Utter, from a memorial GoFundMe.com page posted by her family.

A 50-year-old mother of four died and her son was seriously injured after a drunk driver struck them in the town of Rosendale on Friday, Sept. 26, according to a press release from the Ulster County Sheriff's Office.

Kelly A. Utter and her 19-year-old son Joseph M. Utter were driving south on Lucas Turnpike just a mile from their house in the early evening to pick up dinner, according to a GoFundMe.com page set up for the family. 

When they reached the intersection of Cottekill Road, a car driven by 23-year-old Tyler J. Grable allegedly blew through a stop sign, striking the Utters' car. The collision was so powerful that Grable's car ended up upside down, leaning against on the porch of a nearby house. (See a photo taken by the Daily Freeman.)   Read more

En pointe en plein air: The Ballet Project

Above: A ballerina in a hay field in Liberty. Part of "The Ballet Project," a series of portraits of ballerinas in Catskills and Hudson Valley vistas by Erik Christian.

In the right light, the landscapes of the Catskills and the Hudson Valley can take on a kind of mythic quality. Mountaintops, forests, ponds, cliffs, caves—and it helps if you throw a ballerina in the mix.

That's the concept behind “The Ballet Project,” a photo series by Monticello photographer Erik Christian in which he captures his dance-inclined daughters against a dramatic variety of natural surroundings. His dreamlike images transform the Ashokan Reservoir into Swan Lake and the Neversink Gorge into Giselle's forest glade.

We caught up with Christian to talk about the project, which he’s been creating in collaboration with his kids (now 13, 10 and 7) for three years and counting. (Christian asked us not to identify his children in this story.)

Q. Where did the idea for “The Ballet Project” come from?  Read more

This weekend: The Margaretville Cauliflower Festival

Above: A head of purple cauliflower sold at the 2013 Cauliflower Festival. Photo by Diane Galusha.

The annual Cauliflower Festival celebrates the wonders of the palest cruciferous vegetable this Saturday in the Delaware County village of Margaretville, which was once the epicenter of the cauliflower growing industry in New York State. 

Munch on fried cauliflower and cauliflower soup, buy a bushel of cauliflowers, learn about the history of the cauliflower trade, and catch the popular tractor parade, in which area farmers will show off their finest agricultural vehicles and compete for a "Best in Show" trophy.

Kids' activities, folk and blues music, and vendors round out the festivities. Keep an eye out for exotic varieties of cauliflower, like the purple specimen above, which one local farmer brought to last year's festival. 

Margaretville Cauliflower Festival. Saturday, Sept. 27, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tractor parade at 11:30 a.m. Village Park, Margaretville. cauliflowerfestival.com

Field Trip: The Rail Trail Cafe

Above: The Rail Trail Cafe. Photo by Charlene Martoni.

A nook off the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, a 24-mile hiking and biking path through Ulster County, is the last place you’d expect to find a food truck. But that’s just where to look for the Rail Trail Cafe, a non-motorized food cart with a decidedly rustic take on mobile dining.

The kitchen is housed inside a 96-square-foot cabin made of reclaimed wood; a hand-built clay oven sits nearby, and the dining area opens to the lush green canopy overhead.

Husband-and-wife proprietors Brian Farmer and Tara Johannessen have been serving freshly made pizzas, dumplings and baked goods out of the cafe since May. Most of their menu items are made using local products, including microgreens sourced from their own farm, the Farmer’s Table, located a quarter of a mile away. Farmer, who has experience as a professional chef, says that using produce that they grow themselves makes the distance from farm to table even smaller.

Plus, according to Johannessen, it’s just good business practice.  Read more

Sisters tackle Kaaterskill Clove's trash problem

Trash under Moore's Bridge on Route 23A on Sept. 21, 2014. Photo by Courtney Brower.

Route 23A in Kaaterskill Clove -- a narrow road that winds down a deep notch known simply as "the Mountain Road" by locals -- is one of the most breathtaking drives in the Catskills. It's also covered with trash.

When two Haines Falls sisters, Colleen and Courtney Brower, spent Sunday, Sept. 21 picking up litter along the road, they were shocked at how much trash they encountered.

"We filled about 25 30-gallon trash bags with trash," said Courtney Brower. "We filled six bags at the first parking lot."

Left: Courtney and Colleen Brower picking up litter at Kaaterskill Clove on Sept. 21. Photo by Courtney Brower.

In two-and-a-half hours, the women filled a pickup truck with a mountain of rubbish, all gathered from less than a mile along 23A, from just below Fawn's Leap to Moore's Bridge.  Read more

Construction (finally) begins on the Catskill Interpretive Center

Above: Retired Congressman Maurice Hinchey, third from right, helps break ground at the site of the future Catskill Interpretive Center in Mount Tremper on Sept. 23, 2014. The center is named in his honor. Photo via the Town of Shandaken's Facebook page. 

Construction has begun on the long-awaited Catskill Interpretive Center, a $1.3 million, 1,700-square-foot project that has been in the works for decades.

At 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 23, representatives from local nonprofits and state agencies gathered in a field in Mount Tremper to celebrate the center's groundbreaking. The center is slated to open in the spring of 2015.

The plan to build a facility to welcome visitors to the Catskill Park has been 30 years in the making. Money and staffing have been pieced together from a large array of groups, according to a press release.  Read more

NYC's Cannonsville hydropower plan is bittersweet news for local co-op

Above: The spillway at the Cannonsville Reservoir, where the New York City Department of Environmental Protection plans to build a 14-megawatt hydroelectric facility.

For half a century, a valuable source of local energy has gone untapped: the billions of gallons of water that pour each year through the release works at New York City's Cannonsville Reservoir and flow into the West Branch of the Delaware River. 

The Cannonsville will soon start to generate clean electric power -- and more tax revenue for the town of Deposit, where the plant will be located. But for a local electric co-op that once hoped to develop hydropower on city reservoirs, the news that the city is moving forward with the project is bittersweet. 

On Monday, Sept. 15, the New York Times broke the news that the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was planning to build a 14-megawatt, $72 million hydropower facility on the Cannonsville; the DEP officially announced the building project the next day  Read more

Fleischmanns Theater may be reborn as historic dinner theater

Above: The Fleischmanns Theater, which may soon re-open as The Maxbilt dinner theater. Photos courtesy of Erik Johanson.

A Brooklyn couple who moved to the Catskills full-time in April has convinced the state of New York to nominate the derelict Fleischmanns Theater to the state and national registers of historic places.

It's the first step in Erik Johanson and Fernando Delgado's plan to re-open the property as The Maxbilt, a dinner theater featuring local food and independent film. 

"We're really interested in supporting what's already here," Johanson said. "We came upon it with fresh eyes as newcomers here, saw it as a gem, and want to bring it back to everybody."

On Friday, Sept. 19, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the theater is one of 22 properties across New York State that is being nominated for the historic designation. 

Left: Delgado and Johanson.

The theater's nomination to the State Register of Historic Places must be approved by the New York State historic preservation officer, who will then nominate the building to the National Register.

Official listing in historic registers would make the theater eligible for matching state grants and state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits, which would in turn open the door to outside investment, Johanson says.

  Read more