Judd Hirsch's wind turbine plans stall in Denning

Above: Members of the Denning Zoning Board of Appeals consider a wind turbine variance on February 25, 2014, before postponing the vote to March 25. From left: John Barnum, Mark Boncek, Frances Chewiwi, and Archie Ackerly, Jr. Photo by Julia Reischel. 

Actor Judd Hirsch's plans to install a 177-foot wind turbine on his land in the Ulster County town of Denning are stalled, perhaps for good.

On March 25, the Denning Zoning Board of Appeals voted 2 to 1 not to issue a variance for the project, which has been the center of controversy in Denning since the fall.

"It's a pretty clear death knell," said Sherret Chase Jr., the owner of Chase Wind, the engineering firm planning the project. "I was absolutely flabbergasted about the negative vote at the ZBA meeting."

Hirsch, a movie star and former regular on the TV show "Taxi" who has lived in Denning for 46 years, submitted plans last year to build a turbine on 96 acres he owns in Denning. A few miles away in the town of Neversink, Phil Coombe III has a similar private system that was installed without controversy in 2011. (See photos below.) 

But Hirsch's plan drew ire from his neighbors. Tiffany Wootten, who lives nearby, spearheaded a campaign to oppose the turbine, arguing that it would destroy the bucolic landscape, threaten birds and other wildlife, and create noise and flickering shadows. The controversy consumed the town for much of the fall and was covered by the New York Times in November. 

Below: A wind turbine that was installed in the town of Neversink in 2011. The turbine is similar in size and height to Judd Hirsch's proposed Denning turbine. Photo by James Hood for the Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development. Used with permission.   

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Delaware Phoenix: Walton's one-woman absinthe factory

Above: Delaware Phoenix began with absinthe and has recently expanded into whiskey. Photo by Jacob Pucci. 

Delaware Phoenix Distillery grew out of a personal hobby and an 8-gallon still.

Proprietor Cheryl Lins, a pioneer among upstate New York spirits makers, began experimenting with making absinthe back in 2006, a couple of years after moving to Delaware County from New Mexico.

“I like to say I crash-landed here,” she said. “I needed a change of climate.”

She traded desert heat for long, snowy winters, and then decided to heed her friends, who, after tasting her spirits, urged her to trade in her careers as a computer programmer and an artist as well.

Today, Lins is still a one-woman show, but her absinthes, and more recently, whiskeys, have earned accolades far beyond her Catskills and New York City markets—and helped launch a mini-boom of upstate New York distilleries.

Left: Absinthe in the making. Photo by Lucille Huffman.

When Lins opened Delaware Phoenix in 2009 with two versions of absinthe, Meadow of Love and Walton Waters, she was the first in the Empire State to produce the formerly outlawed concoction, two years after the federal government relaxed its rules on sales of the “green fairy.” Lins’ products almost immediately made waves through the burgeoning absinthe community, both here and abroad.

In 2010, the New York International Spirits Competition awarded gold medals to her Walton Waters absinthe and her Rye Dog whiskey. Reviewers at the Wormwood Society, a consumer education and advocacy group named after one of the primary ingredients in absinthe, rate Meadow of Love as the second-best traditional absinthe worldwide. Both Walton Waters and Blues Cat, a limited-time product produced in 2011, rank in the group’s top 15.

The process to make Delaware Phoenix a reality began in earnest in 2007, soon after Lins’ new hometown of Walton was hit by a devastating flood. That event prompted the name for her distillery: “Delaware” for the county and the river that runs through it, and “Phoenix” from the mythical bird that rises from the ashes of its predecessors.

Lins applied for state and federal licenses, a process that took roughly 18 months and a sizable upfront financial commitment. Under current law, prospective distillers must obtain a workable commercial location that fits within certain guidelines and purchase and set up all the distilling equipment—all without the promise that the equipment can even be used. In addition, Lins had to get special permission to distill within the village of walton, as zoning did not permit it.  Read more

In the Catskills, spring is construction season

Above: The Phoenicia Library under construction. Photo by Nancy Howell. 

Spring in the Catskills means new sounds in the landscape: the patter of raindrops, the tweeting of songbirds, and the sweet, sweet sound of hammers on nails. This season brings a bumper crop of much-anticipated new construction in the area, as several long-planned projects near completion. 

It's been almost exactly three years since the Phoenicia Library, right on the hamlet's main drag, was destroyed in a catastrophic fire. It's been a long haul, but thanks to generous support from donors and the community, the library is rising from the ashes again. In the photo above, taken by Nancy Howell, roofers take advantage of the early spring sunshine on Monday.

Liz Potter, the library's director, is hoping the rebuilt library building will be ready to move the books back into by late July. "We're just tying up loose ends in terms of design," she said. "Soon they'll be putting in the electrical and the plumbing."  Read more

Your awesome photos

You Catskills folks are a talented bunch.

Sixty-five of our readers submitted photos to our 2014 Catskills Outdoor Guide Photo Contest before the deadline last night at April 3, 2014, and they're breathtaking. Check them out in the slideshow above or in our Facebook photo album here

Entrants, if you notice that your photo is missing, let me know: julia.reischel@watershedpost.com

The winner will be announced by Tuesday, May 27, 2014, when we launch this year's 2014 edition of the Catskills Outdoor Guide.

Thanks to our sponsor, the Peekamoose Restaurant & Tap Room, for providing our grand prize of dinner for two to the winner of the contest.

This weekend: The Woodstock Writers Festival

Above: Panelists at last year's Woodstock Writers Festival. Photo by Dion Ogust.

Now in its fifth year, the Woodstock Writers Festival kicks off tonight with four days of workshops, story slams, and panels that put writers, readers and bibliophiles together to talk about what they love.

Many of the events are already sold out, but a few are still open, including the keynote address by actor Stephen Tobolowsky, an interview with Jennifer Clement, the author of Prayers for the Stolen, and panels and workshops on journalism, biography, memoir, fiction, and writing "when a nap is preferable."   Read more

Field Trip: Heather Ridge Farm and the Bees Knees Café

Above: The view from the table at Heather Ridge Farm. Photo by Jennifer Strom. 

Owner Carol Clement calls her place “centrally isolated” at the top of Scott Patent mountain in the southeastern corner of Schoharie County. The location makes a visit there a lovely half-day adventure through gorgeous country from pretty much any direction. The farm raises cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry, and began selling its pasture-raised, grass-fed meat and award-winning raw honey about 10 years ago.  Read more

Police talk Carlisle woman out of fiery suicide


Above: Photo from the scene posted on Facebook by Schoharie Co. Fire Wire & News. 

A 47-year-old woman threatening suicide, and splashing herself and her home with gallons of gasoline, triggered a massive police response to her small single-family home on Route 20 in Carlisle on Tuesday.   Read more

Give us your best shot: The 2014 Catskills Outdoor Guide Photo Contest

Above: “Two Boys and a Dog in East Meredith” by Cindy Dunne, the second-place winner of last year's Catskills Outdoor Guide photo contest.

Update: The contest is now closed. Winners will be announced on May 27, when the 2014 Catskills Outdoor Guide hits the streets. Thanks for all the great shots. To see all the entries this year, click here. -- Julia Reischel

As part of our 2014 Catskills Outdoor Guide, we're hosting a 2014 edition of our "Catskills Outdoor Experience" photo contest, once again sponsored by the Peekamoose Restaurant & Tap Room in Big Indian.  Read more

Go fish: Opening day for trout in the Catskills

Above: Delaware River July 2013, by Jody Bryant, an entry in our Catskills Outdoor Guide Photo Contest. (The deadline to enter is Thursday, April 3.)  

Today is the first day of fishing trout fishing season in New York State, one of the first true signs of a Catskills spring. On cue, the Times Herald-Record recorded anglers taking their first casts of the season at Junction Pool in Roscoe this morning.

Looking to get your fishing permit? Head to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's new online license website, where you can buy and print your license from your computer.   Read more

Tried and true: Catskills restaurants with staying power

Above: The Java Lounge, an upstairs café at Joshua's, overlooks Tinker Street in Woodsock. Photo courtsey of Joshua's.  

It’s an exciting time for the Catskills restaurant scene. In the past few years, the area has launched many new restaurants. (For a smattering, see our related story in the Catskills Food Guide.)

But the flip side is that restaurants tend to come and go, especially in the far-flung rural corners of the region. Nothing puts the kibosh on an evening out as surely as showing up at that cute little bistro you’ve heard so much about only to find that it’s closed, or has changed its hours, or the owners decided to take off for Palm Beach until spring.

Here, then, are a few well-loved mainstays of the local dining scene. If you’re in search of reliable hours, battle-tested entrees and service that runs like a well-oiled machine, look no further.  Read more