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A view of history: Catskills fire towers

Hunter Mountain Fire Tower. Photo by Gordon Hoekstra, chairman of Friends of the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower.

Once upon a time, 23 steel fire towers dotted the high peaks of the Catskills. They were staffed by fire tower observers, who scanned the horizon for smoke and filled their downtime with shimmying up the steep steel struts, taming bears and sharing space with pet snakes. (Those stories and other fire tower tales are collected in the book Fire Towers of the Catskills by Martin Podskoch, published by Purple Mountain Press.)

The job of the fire spotter vanished decades ago, and the towers fell into disrepair. But between 1997 and 2000, thanks to the efforts of Catskill Fire Tower Project volunteers, five of the original fire towers of the Catskill Park were renovated and opened to the public.

They are:

Balsam Lake Mountain in Hardenburgh
(3,723 feet)

Red Hill in Denning
(2,990 feet)  Read more

Hail in Hamden, tornado warning in Albany

See video

Above: Video of hail falling in the Delaware County town of Hamden on Thursday afternoon, taken by local videographer Jess Vecchione. 

Intense, fast-moving thunderstorms are moving through the Catskills region, bringing rain and, in some places, hail. 

Around 3:39 p.m, forecasters at the National Weather Service in Albany declared a tornado warning for parts of Albany, Montgomery, Saratoga, Schenectady and Schoharie counties, in effect til 4:15 p.m. A second tornado warning was issued, in effect until 4:30 p.m.

Severe thunderstorm warnings have been posted for Delaware and Schoharie counties, where forecasters were calling for quarter- to ping-pong-ball-sized hail. The rest of the Catskills region is under severe thunderstorm watch

Got hail or other intense weather in your neck of the woods? Let us know at [email protected].

Below: Live social-media reports of weather in the Catskills and Capital Region. A tornado may have touched down near Delanson, where a home was destroyed, and two tractor-trailers were overturned on I-88.

 

  Read more

Our guide to a Catskills Memorial Day Weekend

In Tannersville, Memorial Day means it's time once more for rubber ducks and crazy boats. Photo from the Great Northern Catskills website.

Everybody knows when summer really starts: this weekend. Monday will be marked by official Memorial Day observances in many towns, but all weekend long, there’s plenty of unofficial fun to be had, from music fests to boat races to town-wide yard sales. Here’s our five-county guide to the good times.

AROUND THE CATSKILLS

The five restored fire towers of the Catskill Park open for the season this weekend: Balsam Lake Mountain in Hardenburgh, Red Hill in Denning, Tremper Mountain in Shandaken, Overlook Mountain in Woodstock and Hunter Mountain in Hunter. Volunteer staffers will be at the towers every weekend from now through Columbus Day, to help fill you in on fire tower history, mountain know-how and more. Lace up your hiking boots and dust off the binoculars for those 100-mile views.  Read more

Local school budgets pass

Voters went to the polls Tuesday to decide the fate of local school budgets, and elect members to school boards

In the five counties of our Catskills coverage area -- Delaware, Greene, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster -- all school budgets passed, most with wide margins. 

In last year's school elections, voters rejected school budgets in Marlboro, Middleburgh and Cairo-Durham. All three districts saw their budgets pass this year; the narrowest vote of the three was in Marlboro, whose budget passed 1,102-1,026.

Here are a few links to detailed coverage of local school election results:

All Ulster budgets get voter approval - Times Herald-Record)  Read more

Catch up with Catskills food trucks

Above: Heather Williams of Pippy's Hotdog Truck greets customers in Palenville. Photo by Clancy Nolan.

The geographic spread of the Catskills region creates often-daunting distances between would-be diners and their dinner plates. One solution to that problem: mobile meals. The food truck scene is growing exponentially here, both in numbers and in variety of cuisine. Artisanal hot dogs, all-sliders-all-the time, Alsatian flammkuchen—there’s a food truck specializing in each of those things, traveling the hills feeding hungry customers. During warm months, they gather for a monthly rodeo in Saugerties called the Hudson Valley Food Trucks Festival; during the winter, many of them operate as catering kitchens that come right to your work or home for parties and events.

Specializing in roasting whole pigs to serve hungry throngs at weddings and parties in Delaware County and beyond, Catskill Mtn. BBQ is a mobile unit (formerly parked in Gilboa), now open in a permanent spot in Grand Gorge also. Pork, brisket, chicken and ribs are marinated and slow-smoked for 14 to 24 hours. Grand Gorgecatskillmtbbqteam.com

Black-Eyed Suzie’s is a travelling food stand and caterer with a local, seasonal menu that changes weekly, celebrating the seasons and using fresh, beautiful local ingredients from neighboring farms. Woodstockblackeyedsuziesupstate.com @BESupstate

  Read more

School voters go to the polls

Tuesday, May 20 is election day for school districts across New York State. Today, voters go to the polls to decide the fate of school budgets, elect candidates for local school boards and vote on school propositions. 

Statewide, increases in school taxes are slowing, according to a report from the NYS Association of School Business Officials (NYSASBO). Schools are under pressure to keep tax increases low because of a statewide tax cap passed in 2011, which restricts the growth of the annual tax levy unless voters pass an override at the polls. The average school tax levy increase in the state this year is 1.8 percent -- the lowest increase in six years, according to NYSASBO. 

Here are a few of the most interesting school races around the region this year:   Read more

Slush fund: NYS doles out extra cash to fix weather-battered roads

Upstate New York is notorious for its rough winters. But even for those inured to feet of snow and frozen mountain passes, the winter of 2013-14 was a brutal one, marked by long stretches of subzero temps and winter weather that lasted well into April. 

Amid the storm clouds was a silver lining: Towns and villages are getting a little bit of extra cash from the state to fix up roads that took a beating during this year's unusually harsh winter. This spring, the New York state budget included a one-time $40 million fund for winter weather recovery, in addition to $438 million in the state's regular highway budget.  Read more

Flood watch in effect for Catskills

Above: A graphic produced Friday morning by the National Weather Service in Albany, showing widespread flood watches west of the Hudson River. 

Flood watches are in effect across the Catskills region for Friday afternoon through Saturday morning, as heavy rains move into the area.

A slow-moving band of rain is moving from west to east, and is expected to drop an inch or two on the Catskills region before moving on. Hudson Valley Weather is predicting drier weather for the upcoming weekend.

If you have a rain gauge, the National Weather Service in Binghamton is looking for rainfall reports.  Read more

Table limit: New York State releases minimum investment figures for casinos

Photo by Flickr user Mark Menzies; published under Creative Commons license.

Casino developers hoping to land one of four prized licenses from New York State will have to prove that they're investing enough in the project. But although the state's minimum investment figures are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, they're not likely to prove an obstacle to deep-pocketed casino developers, many of whom have already unveiled plans to spend much more than the state's required minimum figures.  Read more

Four injured in Trailways bus crash

Above: An injured victim being treated at the scene of this morning's bus accident on Route 17 in Ramsey, N.J. Photos by Boyd A. Loving; courtesy of the Cliffview Pilot.

A flying car wheel smashed through the windshield of a Pine Hill Trailways bus bound from Kingston to Manhattan on Route 17 around 7:30 this morning, injuring four people, according to several downstate media reports. 

The wheel flew off a Lexus that was driving north, in the opposite direction from the bus, the Cliffview Pilot reports. Two people aboard the bus were critically injured in the accident, and two others sustained head injuries.

One of the injured victims was airlifted to a hospital, and a few others were transported by ambulance, NorthJersey.com reports.  Read more