DEP to remove 15,000 storm-damaged trees near Cannonsville Reservoir

Above: Storm-felled trees on New York City-owned land on Houck Mountain, northeast of the Cannonsville Reservoir in Beerston, NY, in May of 2013. Photos courtesy of NYC DEP.

Blame it on the rain -- and the wind, and the torrential flooding. In the past several years, extreme storms have taken a toll on Catskills forests, leaving many trees in the region toppled or damaged. 

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which owns and manages thousands of acres of land around the city's upstate reservoirs, recently announced the start of a major forestry project to remove about 15,000 storm-damaged trees from 120 acres of land on Houck Mountain near the Cannonsville Reservoir. 

About 60 percent of the trees at the site have been felled or damaged by Irene, Lee and Sandy, said DEP spokesperson Adam Bosch.

The trees will be harvested by a local contractor who bid for the job, Ostrander Logging of Walton, and milled into lumber. Many of them are valuable hardwoods, like black cherry.  Read more

Devil-mask-wearing church burglar does $18,000 in damage to steal $200

You can't make this stuff up: Police say two men, one wearing a devil mask, robbed a Mormon church in the Schoharie County town of Esperance last month, damaging the church to the tune of $18,000 in the process. 

On Monday, state police announced the recent felony burglary arrests of 26-year-old Justin Pethick and 18-year-old Roger Graham, both from the Esperance hamlet of Central Bridge. Police say that on Jan. 27, the pair broke into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Central Bridge, and proceeded to damage doors, cabinets and locking mechanisms while looking for things to steal. Pethick was wearing a devil mask to conceal his identity, police said. 

The alleged burglars didn't find much for their trouble, police said: $160 and two backpacks were stolen from Boy Scout Troop 46, which keeps a storage room at the church, and $40 was taken from the church's Family History Center.   Read more

MARK Project gets $250K grant to boost businesses in Roxbury and Andes

A highway runs through it: Route 30, Roxbury's Main Street, on a chilly January afternoon. Photo by Greg Henderson

In the rural Catskills, "economic development" often doesn't mean big-ticket projects. For the MARK Project, a nonprofit based in the Delaware County town of Middletown, it can mean helping a local small business build a website, install bookkeeping software, or buy a critical piece of equipment. 

Through their Small Business Development Fund, the MARK Project has given small grants and loans for projects like these to over 60 local businesses, most of them in and around Middletown. On Thursday, Feb. 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the approval of a $250,000 grant to the MARK Project to continue and expand the program.  Read more

Perfect landing

Above: A chickadee touches down at a backyard feeder, while an American goldfinch looks on.

Local photographer James McCracken took this shot in a neighbor's yard in South Kortright last week, with the aid of a GoPro Hero 3 camera and a color-enhancing Instagram filter. For more of McCracken's stunning mid-flight shots of backyard birds -- and more photos from around the Catskills -- check out the Watershed Post's Flickr group pool

Five arrested on drug and weapons charges in Ulster County

Complaints of constant drug sales from a Marbletown home sparked an investigation that led to the arrest of five people on Friday, the Ulster County Sheriff's Office reports

On Friday, Feb. 21, members of the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team (URGENT) executed a search warrant at 126 Vly Atwood Road in Stone Ridge, in the town of Marbletown. In the search, police found about a half-ounce of cocaine, ecstasy tablets, MDMA powder (also known as "Molly"), ketamine powder ("Special K," a controlled sedative), marijuana, drug packaging material, scales with cocaine residue on them, "cutting agents" used to dilute drugs, cutting paraphernalia and other drug paraphernalia. Police also seized cash, three rifles, two shotguns and a large amount of ammunition.   Read more

New manager at the helm of WJFF

Above: WJFF's Adam Weinreich, recently promoted to station manager. Photo courtesy of WJFF. 

Public radio may sound genteel, but it can generate some fierce drama. Last year, WJFF, Jeffersonville's independent community FM radio station, was the epicenter of a painful controversy, when station volunteers and community members lashed out at WJFF management after the abrupt cancellation of a beloved local program

In the uproar, eight of the station's nine board members resigned last April, along with station manager Winston Clark. To keep things running, the station appointed assistant manager Adam Weinreich to serve as interim manager. Weinreich had been assistant manager at the station since 2009.  Read more

Alleged Delhi Express Mart burglar flees -- but not far

A Hobart man who allegedly robbed the Express Mart convenience store in Delhi in the wee hours of Friday morning didn't get too far from the scene of the crime before his arrest. 

At 4:12 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 21, a man stole cash from the register at the Express Mart, at the corner of Kingston and Main Streets in the village, and then fled the scene in a vehicle. He was unarmed, police said.

"He went to purchase an item. When [the cashier] opened the register, he pushed her out of the way, took the cash and ran off," said Delhi Village Police Chief Michael Mills. 

As Delhi police were responding to a 911 call, state troopers from the Margaretville station heard the incident over the radio and began patrolling for the suspect's vehicle. At 4:36 a.m., the troopers stopped a vehicle traveling on County Road 18 in the town of Stamford, and arrested the driver: 41-year-old Jamel Wilson of Hobart.

The proceeds from the burglary were in the vehicle. Police say Wilson was found to be under the influence of a controlled substance.  Read more

Saugerties' Sauer Bridge closed through the end of the year

Above: A Google StreetView image of the Sauer Bridge in Saugerties.

The Sauer Bridge on the Glasco Turnpike, built on 1962 over the Esopus Creek in Saugerties, has been due for an upgrade for some time. But last Saturday, the Sauer situation got a lot more urgent, when a manhole-sized chunk of the bridge's surface fell through, forcing the immediate closure of the bridge. 

Drivers in the area are going to be waiting a long time for the bridge to reopen, Ulster County announced Friday. The bridge is being taken out of commission until full repairs can be made -- an eight-month process that can't start until the arrival of spring weather.   Read more

A side of maple syrup, please

Above: Photo by Bob Roney, courtesy of Willderhook Maple, Middleburgh.

Move over, Vermont: New York State produces almost a fifth of the nation’s maple syrup, and much of that comes from the Catskills, where dairy farmers looking to make a little extra income often have found it in their sugar bushes.

The mountains are home to many sugarhouses, from large operations with state-of-the-art syrup evaporators that use reverse osmosis to little shacks that still employ the old-fashioned boiling method.

Maple syrup is available all year long, but the tapping season lasts for just a brief few weeks in March, when frosty nights and warm, sunny days kickstart the sap moving. The best way to watch a sugarhouse in action is to visit one during Maple Weekend (actually two consecutive weekends), when special farm visits, syrupmaking demonstrations and pancake breakfasts abound throughout the Catskills. In 2014, the dates are March 22-23 and 29-30; see mapleweekend.com for a full schedule and list of producers.  Read more

Pine Hill Books to close

Above: Chelsea Goodwin (left) and Rusty Mae Moore in Pine Hill Books, which is closing this month. Photo courtesy of Goodwin and Moore.

Pine Hill Books, a used bookstore that opened on Main Street in Pine Hill in 2010, is closing its doors at the end of February, according to owners Rusty Mae Moore and Chelsea Elisabeth Goodwin.

"Business has been declining since the floods of 2011, and it has become impossible to continue to subsidize the store," Moore and Goodwin wrote in a letter to the Watershed Post last week.

The bookstore was unique in the Catskills because of its niche specialties: science fiction, steampunk, fantasy, and horror. In keeping with that theme, Goodwin and Moore founded the Pine Hill Steampunk Festival, which had its second season in 2013. It is unclear if the festival will continue.  Read more