The unfinished business of recovery: Schoharie Valley five years after Irene

Above: A widely-circulated photo of the flooded Schoharie Valley during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, as seen from the top of the cliffs of Vroman’s Nose. Photo by Amy Colyer Fogerty.

The air was perfectly calm in the late hours of Saturday, August 27, 2011. A hurricane was heading north up the East Coast, with forecasters saying that there was a chance that the storm would push inland in New York and impact the Catskills region.

It had been raining heavily for weeks, and the creeks were swollen. So, too, was the Gilboa Dam, which holds back 19.6 billion gallons of drinking water bound for New York City in a reservoir on the Schoharie Creek. Within 24 hours of that calm Saturday evening, all of the Schoharie Valley was forever changed.

This article is part of our series of stories commemorating the five-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene in the Catskills.  

When the floodwaters caused by Tropical Storm Irene came rushing down the Schoharie Creek five years ago on Sunday, August 28, 2011, the communities that line the Schoharie Creek in the Schoharie Valley were inundated.

Thousands of acres of farmland, hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses were destroyed in a single day. The rising waters of the creek washed the historic Blenheim Covered Bridge off of its abutments and completely obliterated the first floor of the county jail. 

Everything located on the valley’s fertile floor was caught in the devastation, as the floodwaters turned the banks of the creek into a miles-long path of debris and destruction.

The flood forced the Schoharie Valley into a state of prolonged recovery, which has taken many different forms over the past five years.

Today, signs of damage caused by the flood are still visible across the county. But there are also many signs of resilience.

For some communities, recovery has meant paving roads and fixing houses. In others, recovery has meant revitalizing downtown districts and inviting new businesses to move in. 

Progress is evident at every turn you take in the Schoharie Valley, but so is the unfinished business of recovery.

Reminders of disaster; signs of recovery

The village of Middleburgh, which saw its Main Street covered in water and mud during the flood, now stands as the crown jewel of the Schoharie Valley’s recovery.

Business that survived the flooding on Main Street Middleburgh, such as the Conglomerate and Hubie's Pizzeria, have reopened, while new shops, such as the Green Wolf Brewing Company brewpub and the Green Iguana restaurant, have appeared, along with new murals and floral plantings, the results of a recent beautification efforts.

Above: Since the flood, the village of Middleburgh has enjoyed a renaissance, with new businesses, like the Green Wolf Brewing Company, opening on Main Street. Photo by Timothy Knight.

Down the road, the village of Schoharie, where dozens of homes were permanently destroyed by the flood, is regaining its footing more slowly.

On one side of Schoharie's busy Main Street is the county office building, which is currently under construction in response to Irene. Officials are installing a floodgate as a preventive measure against future flooding

Across the street, many buildings sit empty, with some still displaying notices that they are unfit for human occupancy.

Above: A fraying 2013 notice in the window of a building on Main Street in the village of Schoharie stating that the structure is unfit for human occupancy. Photo by Timothy Knight.

But thanks to the work of flood organizations such as Schoharie Area Long Term (SALT), Schoharie Recovery and the Schoharie Promotional Association, the village has again reached a sense of normalcy.

That feeling extends throughout the Schoharie Valley. The town of Fulton’s fertile soils are teeming with life and growth, where five years ago they were covered with water, as captured in a widely-circulated photo taken from the cliffs of Vroman’s Nose during the flood. (See the top of this story.)  Read more

Second hiker dies in Catskills, but not at Kaaterskill Falls

Above: The cliffside path near La Belle Falls in the Greene County town of Hunter where Marcy Yates fell to her death on Friday, Aug. 19. Photo by Forest Ranger Rob Dawson.

Widespread confusion and and eerie coincidence surround the death of a 56-year-old Westfield, New Jersey woman who fell off a cliff alongside Kaaterskill Creek in the Greene County Catskills on Friday, Aug. 19.

The woman, Marcy K. Yates, was hiking on Friday with her boyfriend and another companion when she lost her footing and fell 50 feet off the side of a ravine bordering the creek in the Kaaterskill Wild Forest section of the Catskill Forest Preserve.

Oddly, Yates is the second person from the town of Westfield, New Jersey to die in this part of the Catskills in less than a month. Last month, a 17-year-old man named Ezra Kennedy, also from Westfield, died in a similar fashion: falling off a cliff while hiking.  Read more

Woodstock Writers Radio with Martha Frankel and guests

Hiking the Catskills ski mountains in summer

Above: Plattekill Mountain from above in summer. Photo by Alan Via. 

Few hikers think about the Catskills’ four ski areas during warm weather, but these lightly-used mountains have some great foot trails for summertime adventurers.

Windham Mountain in Greene County, Belleayre Mountain Ski Center in Ulster County and Plattekill Mountain in Delaware County all welcome summer hikers and mountain bikers. Hunter Mountain has a ski lift that allows hikers to climb a trail to a fire tower on its summit.

All four ski mountains boast multiple hiking routes of varying steepness, from double black diamond ski trails to gentle bunny slopes. Hikers looking for easier trails might find the dirt or grass summit service roads an accommodating alternative.

The sunny ski trails usually are overgrown with tall grass by midsummer, but they’re often bordered by a variety of wildflowers. Bring your binoculars, as those open meadows are attractive to multiple bird species.  Read more

Fire destroys two buildings on Main Street Delhi

Above: A fire on Main Street Delhi destroyed two buildings on Thursday morning. Photo via the Delaware County Department of Emergency Services Facebook page. 

Area firefighters spent much of Thursday morning fighting a massive blaze in the Delaware County village of Delhi, which destroyed two buildings on Main Street, according to multiple media reports and updates posted to the Delaware County Department of Emergency Services Facebook page  Read more

Lexington overlooked in round one of state broadband grants

Above: Adam Cross, the code enforcement officer for the town of Lexington, at a "broadband pep rally" held in the town of Lexington in 2015. Photo by Julia Reischel.

The squeaky wheel is not getting the economic grease in the tiny Greene County town of Lexington, much to the chagrin and frustration of Lexington Broadband Initiative co-chairman Bonnie Blader.

Blader has made her exuberance and presence well known in the campaign to eliminate telecommunications dead zones in Lexington, gaining the attention and respect of local, county and state officials. In 2015, she spearheaded a “broadband pep rally” in an attempt to put a spotlight on Lexington’s dire lack of internet connectivity, one of the worst in the Catskills.

At the time, Blader and other local officials hoped that the town would receive $1.5 million in state funding for a project that would lay 76 miles of fiber optic cable to 90 percent of the town’s residents.   Read more

Millions granted for broadband infrastructure in Catskills

Above: The podium at Gov. Andrew Cuomo's August 3 announcement about $54.2 million in grants slated for broadband internet service across New York State. Photo via the governor's Flickr page.

Hundreds of miles of remote rural roads and thousands of local homes, businesses and anchor institutions will be lifted from the telecommunications Dark Ages following the announcement of new NY Broadband Program grants

Round one award winners in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initiative to connect every New Yorker to the fiber optic 21st century were announced on August 3.

The grants were part of an intensive $500 million plan from Governor Andrew Cuomo to modernize the entire state by the end of 2018.  Read more

Vulto Creamery: Brooklyn’s celebrated cheeses, made in the Catskills

Above: Vulto Creamery cheeses in Walton. Photo by J. N. Urbanski. 

Tucked away in a businesslike industrial corner of Walton behind a nondescript office block, you'll find the Vulto Creamery, without signage and easy to miss. It's a lot less hip than the Brooklyn sidewalk basement where the Vulto cheeses once matured, but for owner Jos Vulto, it's never been about being trendy.

"I grew up eating good food, because we grew our own food," said Vulto, who was raised in Holland by parents who cultivated their own vegetables. "When I was a kid, we never went to a greengrocer; I couldn't understand why greengrocers had stores.”

Vulto, 56, started the Walton location of the creamery in 2012 after honing his craft back in Brooklyn for four years. Expanding his business meant moving up to the Catskills, closer to the source of his milk, which comes from Rolling Ridge Farm in Delhi, owned and operated by Cecil Davis.

  Read more

Schoharie votes to refuse settlement with stone company

Above: Jenna Risse, a resident of the town of Schoharie, protests mining expansion in April 2016. Photo by Timothy Knight.

Following months of spirited public opposition to a proposed settlement between the town of Schoharie and Cobleskilll Stone Products (CSP), Schoharie town board members voted to reject a settlement with the mining company at the town’s monthly meeting on Wednesday, August 10.

The decision comes after a series of tense public meetings in which town residents voiced opposition to the proposed settlement, which would have ended 11 years of litigation between the town and the company. The settlement would cost the town over $500,000 and allow the quarry to expand its mining operations.

Over 100 residents attended a public hearing held on the proposed settlement in April, with many blasting the deal in front of a packed audience at the Schoharie United Presbyterian Church.   Read more

Andes Community Day balloons into two-day historical extravaganza

Above: A clown and a float at Andes Community Day in 2007. Photo via the Andes Community Days Facebook page.

In past years, the main event of Andes Community Day was the parade, featuring the members of the local fire department and other town worthies, that kicked off just after the Trailways bus passed through along Main Street.

But this year, Andes’s annual celebration has ballooned into a two-day extravaganza featuring belly dancers, a petting zoo, watermelon and corn-on-the-cob eating contests, a “tractor dance,” horse and buggy rides, live music by multiple bands, auctions and raffles, wildlife and sheepdog demonstrations, a family fishing clinic, guided hikes and paddles, a magician, bake sales, bratwurst, beer and farm tours. We hear that Congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout may be in attendance.

  Read more

State OKs pink camo; lady hunters unimpressed

Photo by Breigh Hammarlund, via Flickr. 

In an attempt to make hunting more appealing to young girls, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a new law into effect on July 21 that okays the use of florescent pink camouflage as an alternative to the traditional blaze orange protective coloring for young hunters.

But not every female hunter thinks it’s a good idea.

Richmondville resident Alysha Hoffman told the Watershed Post, "I am glad the color is approved, but I hope that's not the only reason females decide to hunt . . . That's just nonsense."  Read more

Five years after flood, Schoharie recovery nonprofit faces uncertain future

Above: The sign outside SALT's offices in the Schoharie County village of Schoharie. Photo by Timothy Knight.

When Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee shattered communities in the Catskills in August 2011, the flood recovery group Schoharie Area Long Term Recovery (SALT), which serves the Schoharie Valley, sprang up to help in one of the areas hit hardest by the storms.

Five years later, SALT has accomplished its immediate post-flood mission. According to Sarah Goodrich, SALT’s executive director, the organization met its immediate goals by bringing in funds and rebuilding homes for flood victims in the aftermath of the disaster.

SALT coordinated 36,000 volunteers, “leveraged” $7 million and raised $2 million after the disaster, according to Goodrich.

"We helped over 600 families," she said.

But now the recovery organization is facing new challenges: falling revenue due to slackening donations and a complaint to the AmeriCorps VISTA program over the use of volunteers.

Underscoring those logistical problems is a larger question: What role does a flood recovery organization have in a community when the disaster is over?  Read more

Delaware & Ulster Railroad still sidetracked by breakdowns

Above: A tour bus picked up stranded Delaware & Ulster Railroad passengers in Halcottsville on Friday, July 29. Photo by Rebecca Andre.

A locomotive pulling a private charter for the Delaware & Ulster Railroad broke down around 2:30 p.m. on Friday, July 29, stranding its passengers in the Delaware County hamlet of Halcottsville.

The incident was the latest in a string of mechanical failures that have sidetracked DURR’s 2015 and 2016 seasons.

DURR had to end its 2015 season early due to breakdowns. This year, a mechanical failure on the Fourth of July weekend delayed the beginning of the 2016 season for three weeks, according to a representative of the Catskills Revitalization Council, the nonprofit organization that runs the railroad.

Now, the railroad’s operation is delayed again. According to an outgoing message on DURR’s answering machine, the regular service of the railroad will happen “in early August.”

  Read more

Three busted for narcotics sales in Margaretville; pot plants discovered at home of one suspect, police say

Above: Christopher H. Fairbairn, Salvatore M. Esposito and Karen C. Certain. Photos via the Delaware County Sheriff's Office. 

Three people were charged with selling narcotics in and near the Delaware County village of Margaretville on Friday, July 29, according to a press release from the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office.

Thirty-nine-year-old Christopher H. Fairbairn of Weaver Hollow Rd. was arrested for allegedly selling heroin three times in the town of Middletown in March 2016, police say. He was charged with three counts of felony criminal sale of a controlled substance.

Salvatore M. Esposito, a 69-year-old man who lives on Route 28 in Margaretville, was charged with allegedly selling Oxycodone and Fentanyl, both opioid prescription drugs, from his home in March, police say. He was charged with three counts of felony criminal sale of a controlled substance.

Karen C. Certain, a 62-year-old living on Austin St., was charged with allegedly selling hydrocodone tablets from her home on three occasions in June and July, police say. She was charged with three counts of felony criminal sale of a controlled substance.  Read more

Giant heads, electronic music and DIY fun: The Anomolia Festival

Above: The Anomalia Festival. Photo by Drew Harty. 

The Anomalia Festival, which brings a diverse crowd of bands, artists and avant-garde art exhibits to the Delaware County town of Andes on Saturday, July 30, is a somewhat anarchic DIY event.

Back in 2009, when it was founded, it had a much more risqué name: Cockstock. 

“It was a tongue-in-cheek pun about badminton,” said Alex Gohorel, the festival’s founder.

Gohorel lives in New York City, but his mother, Anne Gohorel, runs Bread Fellows, a bakery, on the family property near the border of Andes and Bovina on Route 28.

That’s where the festival, which Gohorel expects to draw over 100 people, happens today starting at noon.

Gohorel books the event himself. He’s been doing that kind of thing since high school, when he put on DIY punk shows and raves.  Read more

Despite safety improvements, another death at Kaaterskill Falls

Above: Kaaterskill Falls. Photo by Andy Arthur via Flickr. 

Despite extensive safety improvements at Kaaterskill Falls, another person has died after falling off the famous waterfall while hiking.

A 17-year-old New Jersey man died on Wednesday morning, July 27, after he fell from the waterfall while hiking, according to a press release from the New York State Police.

A 911 call was made from a group of the man’s companions around 8:55 a.m., according to the Daily Mail.   Read more

New Bramley Mountain trail opens on NYC lands in Catskills

Above: Photos from the Bramley Mountain Trail via the NYC DEP's Flickr page.

A long-awaited new hiking trail will open in the Delaware County towns of Delhi and Bovina on Friday, July 29.

The four-mile Bramley Mountain Trail is multi-part loop that leads to the 2,817-foot summit of Bramley Mountain, where the Bramley Mountain Fire Tower once stood.

The fire tower is now gone, but its stone foundations remain, and visitors at the top can catch open views of the Catskills high peaks to the south and farmland to the west.

Above: One of the views from the summit of Bramley Mountain. Photo via NYC DEP. 

Another section of the trail passes impressive cliffs, two large caves and an abandoned bluestone quarry. The whole route is designed to be moderately difficult for hikers of most abilities.  Read more

Rattlesnake found in Mount Tremper yard

Above: Environmental Conservation Officer Myles Schillinger and Nuisance Wildlife Agent Roy Lane removing a three-foot Eastern Timber rattlesnake from a Mount Tremper home on July 1. Photo via the NYS DEC.

An environmental conservation officer and a snake wrangler were called in to remove a rattlesnake from the yard of a home in the Ulster County hamlet of Mount Tremper on Friday, July 1, according to a press release from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The snake was a three-foot-long Eastern Timber rattlesnake, a species that is listed as threatened in New York State. Hikers in Ulster County know to be mindful of encountering rattlesnakes on trails in the Catskills, but reports of rattlesnakes turning up at private homes are rare.

The Mount Tremper homeowner who discovered the rattlesnake called for help around 7 p.m. Friday, July 1, according to the press release. Environmental Conservation Officer Myles Schillinger responded to the call and contacted Nuisance Wildlife Agent Roy Lane, who is an expert snake wrangler.  Read more

One Catskills newspaper closes, two more cut reporters

Weekly newspapers in the Catskills region have had a bad month. One local weekly quit publishing entirely, while two more that are part of a regional chain laid off veteran reporters.

The Delaware County Times, a newspaper that traces its lineage back to 1839 in Delhi, published its last issue on Friday, July 8.

The paper employed three people in its Delhi office on a part-time basis and relied on a cadre of freelance journalists, including the author of this article, to cover local news. Contributors were notified on July 8 that the paper would cease publication.

Donald Bishop, the publisher of the paper, did not return a request for comment. Cathy Roloson, who coordinated the news gathering and layout of the paper, said that a companion publication, the semiannual Kaatskill Life magazine, will continue to be published online and that she will continue to work in the Delhi office. She also indicated that the Delaware County Times may resume publishing in the future.  Read more

Seward announces re-election bid as two Democrats vie to oppose him

Above: New York State Sen. James Seward on the floor of the New York State Senate. Photo via the Seward re-election campaign. 

New York State Sen. James Seward announced on Monday, July 11, that he will be seeking his 16th term in office this November. The Republican state senator, who represents a portion of the Catskills, will face two Democrats who are gunning for his seat.

Seward made the announcement just months after successfully battling bladder cancer.

Seward hails from the Otsego County town of Milford, where he once served as town justice.

Left: Audrey Dunning, a Democrat running against Seward for New York's 51st Senate District seat. Photo via the Dunning campaign website.  

First elected in 1986, for 29 years Seward has represented New York’s expansive 51st Senate District, which contains portions of nine counties (including all of Cortland, Schoharie and Otsego counties) and is roughly the geographic size of Connecticut.

Seward submitted nearly 3,800 signatures on nominating petitions for his re-election, and will appear on the GOP, Conservative Party, Independence Party and Reform Party lines against his eventual challenger.

In a official statement announcing his candidacy issued last week, Seward said that he would focus on key issues for his constituents in his re-election bid.

"My focus is on the concerns I hear from people every day—property tax relief, economic development, aid for our neediest schools, resources for our local roads and bridges, and the crushing heroin epidemic," Seward said.

“It takes a combination of experience and vision to meet the challenges we face—my record of service coupled with my proposals for future growth fulfill those requirements,” Seward’s statement said.

  Read more

Retired doctor dies of heart attack while fishing the Esopus

Above: The Esopus Creek. Photo by Flickr user ScubaBear68.

A 78-year-old retired doctor from New Jersey had a heart attack and died while fishing the Esopus Creek near the hamlet of Phoenicia on Thursday, July 14, according to a press release from the Shandaken Police Department.

Iuliu Todoran was a retired physician from Englewood, NJ, police say.

Around 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, police received notice that Todoran had not returned from a fishing trip near the Ulster County hamlet as expected.

After searching the roads near the Esopus Creek, police found Todoran’s vehicle parked on Plank Rd. just west of Waterworks Rd., according to the press release.

They then searched the banks of both sides of the creek, but did not find Todoran, police say.  Read more