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WJFF: NOMINATE A COMMUNITY LEADER!

 On Saturday, August 20th WJFF will honor volunteers and community members who have made an extraordinary impact on the WJFF listening area at a special Awards Night at Mr. Willy's in Monticello, NY.  Read more

Shandaken Studio Tour & Whole Arts Catalog

          Shandaken Studio Tour re-enters the 2016 Catskill atmosphere like a meteor with a new free guidebook: the “Whole Arts Catalog”. Open Studios July 16-17 10 AM - 5 PM. "Short Tall Tales" storytelling with MC Sparrow (6/15 7-10PM) and pot-luck reception (6/17 6-9PM) at the Arts Upstairs 60 Main St. Phoenicia.  Info: [email protected]   (845) 688-2977

Shandaken Studio Tour & Whole Arts Catalog

          Shandaken Studio Tour re-enters the 2016 Catskill atmosphere like a meteor with a new free guidebook: the “Whole Arts Catalog”. Open Studios July 16-17 10 AM - 5 PM. "Short Tall Tales" storytelling with MC Sparrow (6/15 7-10PM) and pot-luck reception (6/17 6-9PM) at the Arts Upstairs 60 Main St. Phoenicia.  Info: [email protected]   (845) 688-2977

Ukrainian Art Exhibit

The Ukrainian Art Exhibit in Jewett Center opens on Sunday, 5 July 2015, at approximately 1:00 p.m.

The exhibit, located in the Parish Hall (or "Grazhda") at the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church on route 23A (five miles west of Hunter). It's open during July and August every Friday, from 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m.; Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

The best time to visit is when the Sunday Buffet is open during July and August every Sunday after Mass, up until 2:00 p.m. Divine Liturgy begins at 10:00 a.m. Click here to view the works featured in 2014.

Red Cross Shelter Fundamentals Training in Phoenicia this Saturday

Red Cross Shelter Fundamentals Training

Learn how to support your community in times of disaster

 

Saturday February 28th, 10am-1pm

St Francis de Sales Parish Hall (across the street from the church)

109 Main St, Phoenicia, NY

This 3 hour course is designed to provide you with the necessary training to open, set up, operate, and close a Red Cross shelter during a disaster. In times of disaster, community collaboration is essential and this is a wonderful way to give back to our community. Become part of a team of caring volunteers who will provide a safe and secure environment for affected individuals during natural disasters, which have become more and more frequent as the climate continues to change.

The training is free and open to the public, but RSVP is required. A minimum of 8 registrants is required or the training will be cancelled.

Register below or by email to [email protected] or by calling 845-481-0331.  Read more

New York Invasive Species Awareness Week

The mission of New York Invasive Species Awareness Week is to promote knowledge and understanding of invasive species to h elp stop their spread by engaging citizens in a wide range of activities across the state and encouraging them to take action. Please join in the fun and help out with the effort!  Activities of all kinds take place July 6th- July 12th. Check out nyis.info and click on the logo for more information!

Shandaken Community Gardens (SCG) plots available now for 2014

Contact: 

Juliet Greenwood, Membership Coordinator 845-202-1117

[email protected]

http://shandakencommunitygardens.org/

https://www.facebook.com/ShandakenCommunityGarden

Shandaken Community Gardens volunteer steering committee and members spent the 2013 season building a 26-plot garden from the ground up, growing a bountiful harvest, enjoying and donating that harvest, hosting arts and gardening events, and preparing the way for future seasons.  Now is the time for you to get involved and claim one of the beautifully prepared plots for your 2014 garden!  Read more

Shandaken Community Gardens Seeks Gardeners

Would you like to grow your own food, flowers and herbs?

Cultivate community?

Share knowledge about sustainable gardening?

Collaborate in the creation of an exciting, new project?  Read more

Obituary: Leila Ruth Ellison, Phoenicia centenarian

The following is a reader-submitted obituary.

Leila Ruth Ellison,100, in recent years a resident of Phoenicia, NY, died Monday, December 24, 2012, at Northern Dutchess Residential Care Facility (Thompson House), in Rhinebeck, NY.

Born in Perth Amboy, NJ, she was the daughter of Theodore and Leila Jones Degenring. She was a graduate of Beaver College, Jenkintown, PA, and Newark State Teacher’s College, and for many years was an elementary school teacher in Elizabeth, NJ and Summit, NJ. She was married in 1936 to Harry C. Ellison, Jr., an engineer, who predeceased her. She was an avid reader, and enjoyed playing the piano and travel. For many years, she directed a children’s choir at the First Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, NJ.

She is survived by her daughter, Patricia L. Ellison, Esq., of Phoenicia, NY, as well as cousins in New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida.

A memorial service will be held at Evergreen Cemetery, Hillside, NJ, at a date to be announced. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Heart Association.

Simpson-Gaus Funeral Home, 411 Albany Ave. is in charge of arrangements  Read more

Lonnie Gale: "The single most accurate historical reference of the Catskills"

The following is a user-submitted obituary.

Alonzo " Lonnie " Gale of Waterwork Road died Wednesday October 10, 2012 at the Benedictine Hospital. Lonnie, as he was known to all, was born in Tannersville on January 22, 1927 son of the late Lemuel Chichester Gale and Hazel Wright Gale. He was a graduate of Hunter-Tannersville H.S., and he then joined the Merchant Marines, where he was stationed in Alaska. In 1945 he was aboard the Sueja III (Q137US), a supply ship in World War II. Upon returning home, Lonnie married Peggy ( Ruth ) Every and they raised their family in Phoenicia.  Read more

Shandaken Democrats Annual Thai Feast

Sat. Sept 29th, 6:30PM 

The Arts Upstairs, 60 Main Street, Phoenicia

Only $10 with reservation.  Our entree offerings will include many  favorites from the past as well as some exciting new Thai dishes that include vegetarian and vegan options.  Thai iced tea, beer and wine will be among the available beverages.
We are keeping the price down because we want a great turnout, and we want to make sure that there's plenty of food for everyone, so we are requesting you RSVP your reservation to receive this $10 offer.  Please email [email protected] with the number of guests in your party, and please advise us of any changes prior to the event.  Guests without reservations will be asked for $15 at the door. 
 
We hope to hear from you soon, and look forward to an evening of great food, fun and comradery.

 

Better with Trout

Once again, leaping trout are on display throughout the community of Woodstock, Olive and Shandaken! Get a map at local businesses or online and follow the Art Trail. The Leaping Trout Art Project is a community art initiative sponsored by The Ashokan-Pepacton Watershed Chapter of Trout Unlimited to raise awareness of the importance or our coldwater resources. This year, the project involves 35 artists. More information and to bid on a trout, including the one above, visit http://www.theleapingtrout.com.

Ninth Annual SHANDAKEN DAY in Pine Hill

Shandaken Day is a free annual event for the family providing Live Music, Arts and Crafts Booths, Kids Games and great Catskill Mountain Fare. This year's event is being hosted by the Hamlet of Pine Hill on Main Street from 10am until 6pm. This year's event, aside from the usual celebration of all the organizations that make Shandaken a great place to live, work and visit, will be higlighting the recent designation of the Hamlet of Pine Hill as a State Historic Site. There is a kids day-long scavenger hunt where they can hunt for several unique buildings and historic features of the Hamlet.

A "Let's Move" ZUMBA dance will take place for all ages from 11am until 2pm at the Pine Hill Community Center.

Live Music to be performed by the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice, Ben Rounds Band and Earl Pardini and the Slide Mountain String Band.  Read more

Phoenicia Young Writers' Creative Writing Contest

Phoenicia Library's first-ever creative writing contest for young writers! Open to ages 5-24. Click here (http://phoenicia.lib.ny.us/2012/06/29/phoenicia-young-writers-creative-writing-contest/) to receive an entry form to submit your writing! Contest closes July 27th at 5pm.

Rita Schwab at the Shandaken Art Studio Tour 2012

Rita Schwab will open her Irene ravaged art studio in Mt. Tremper for the upcoming tour on July 21-22. A heroic effort! Just off the intersection of Rte 28 and Rte 212.   Also- tune in to The Roundtable on WAMC July 19 at 11:30 AM. Tour organizers Judith Singer and Dave Channon will do an interview on The Shandaken Art Studio Tour.

Chichester Yoga is headed to Rwanda!

See video

At the end of the month, I'll be heading to Rwanda to lead a yoga teacher training at The Ubushobozi Project.  In the evenings, I'll be teaching the National Rwandan Cycling Team. When I leave, if all goes well, the girls will take over my job and be the first local teachers to the team.

This trip is possible because my students donated the money for me to go. Without this incredible community this training would not be happening. So thank you so much for all of your generosity!

When I return I'll be offering the same training here in Chichester. If you want to go deeper into your practice or you want to learn how to teach, email me as we still have room. I also have one partial scholarship available if you are local and one barter available for someone who is tech and marketing savy.  I look forward to serving the community when I return!  And if you would like to donate, it's not too late.  Donations can made on Paypal (Chichester Yoga at yahoo) or via mail.  PO Box 126 Chichester, NY 12416.

Morton Memorial Library Book Club

Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. --Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Come join the book club at the Morton Memorial Library in Pine Hill!

Our next discussion is on November 30th at 6:30pm. We will be talking about the first part of J.R. Moehringer's "The Tender Bar."

Please call 845-254-4222 or email us at [email protected] with any questions!

 

You can also find us on Facebook

Holiday Book Sale

                                                         Holiday Book Sale!

"The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbors, kindle it at home, communicate it to others and it becomes the property of all." Voltaire

Come down to the Morton Memorial Library in Pine Hill and find a great book to treasure for yourself or give to someone you love.

Non fiction, fiction, childrens and some movies

Great prices and all proceeds go to buying new books.

We are open Tuesday through Friday 2-6 

                         Saturday 10-2

 

845-254-4222

[email protected]  Read more

Morton Memorial Library New Hours

Morton Memorial Library in Pine Hill NY would like to announce our new hours effective November 1st 2011. The new hours will be: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 2-6. Saturday 10-2.

'Like' us on Facebook- Just search Morton Memorial Library

Come join our book group! We will select our next book this Wednesday (October 26th) call or email for details.

845-254-4222 or [email protected]

FREE Hurricane Irene Holistic Outreach Clinic

The Hurricane Irene Holistic Outreach Clinic will take place for the next 2 Sundays (9/26 and 10/2) from 3-6 pm at Parish Hall in Phoenicia. There is no fee for treatments. No appointments required.   There will be a mix of different practitioners each Sunday including but not limited to massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy, EFT, reiki, matrix energetics, Shambala energy healing, and more.

Irene five years later: Eight untold stories from the Catskills flood

Above: Wilma Beers at the empty lot where her house once stood. Delaware County purchased her property as part of a flood buyout program and tore her house down. Photo by Rebecca Andre. To see a larger version, click here. 

On August 28, 2011, Irene, downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, arrived in the Catskills region of New York. The storm killed three people, destroyed entire towns and caused millions of dollars in damage.

In the days, weeks, months and years to follow, Catskills residents rose above the floodwaters, the mud and the broken bridges by relying heavily on each other.

Five years later, we explore eight untold stories about the flood and its aftermath.

***

Wilma "Nana" Beers, Arkville resident and flood buyout program participant

Above: Irene's water rising on the Beers' home. Photo courtesy of Wilma Beers.

Town: Arkville, Delaware County
Waterway: Dry Brook

"My house might be gone, but no one can take away the memories,” says Wilma Beers, a 66-year-old grandmother who is known as Nana to her friends and family.

There once was a house on Route 28 in Arkville, with robin’s-egg-blue siding and colorful annuals cheerfully facing the road. Wilma Beers lived there with her family for more then 40 years. They had seen more floods then she could count, she says.

"What they say was a flood and what I say was a flood were two different things,” she says.

According to the government, she says, there has only been three floods: 1996, 2006 and 2011.

"I've argued with FEMA, I have lived it,” she says. “There are a lot of people who have lived it, but you don't hear their stories.”

According to Beers, her property flooded "almost every other year."

In 2011, when Irene flooded her home, it was for the last time.

Beers and her husband John weren't youngsters anymore. This flood took a toll on their already deteriorating health.

"You could see the mold spores floating through the air," she says.

According to Beers, after the Irene flood many folks in the Margaretville and Arkville area suffered from upper respiratory infections.

Beers blames Irene and the storm's subsequent stresses for the death of her husband John, three Augusts later, in 2014.

Financially, Irene was the last flood that the Beers family could withstand. Beers remembers being told by a representative of FEMA: "We are not here to rebuild you, we are here to give you a hand up."

She needed a big hand. If she wanted to keep her house, FEMA required that it be raised up three feet on a new foundation.

"Who can afford that?” Beers says, still frustrated.

So, when Beers heard about the possibility of a Delaware County flood buyout program that would buy and demolish her flood-prone family home, she started attending meetings and looking for answers and hope.

Eventually, Beers sold her house to Delaware County and moved to higher ground in Arkville with her son John and his family.

She was required to continue paying taxes, the electric bill and homeowner's insurance until the sale went through, even though she was no longer living there, she says.

Then, worst of all, FEMA and the insurance company took back "every penny" they had given her. She ended up with about half of the money that her house had been assessed for, she says.

"It wasn't until the day I went to sign the papers that the deductions were fully explained to me," Beers says. By then, she was too tired and sick to fight anymore.

In January 2016, her house was leveled.

Is there anything positive to be gleaned from Nana Beers' story?

She takes a moment to answer, tears tugging at her voice.

"Even if I tried, I would never be able to thank everyone that helped us. All the volunteers, and the firefighters. Even local college kids, home on break, came over and shoveled eight inches of mud from my garage,” she says.

Beers also remembers driving to Roxbury, a town that had not been hit so hard by the storm. The United Methodist Church next to the school was distributing the basics to their neighbors. Simple things, like toothbrushes and combs.

Still in Arkville, Nana Beers now enjoys life above the floodplain, in a home where four generations of the Beers family share one roof.

"But I have a good bunch here, they take care of me," she says.

(Delaware County confirms Wilma Beers’ story. Kristin Janke Schneider from the Delaware County Planning Department says that the county bought Beers’ home with funds from FEMA and New York State. The purchase price was about half of the house’s assessed value before the flood. FEMA and flood insurance money that the Beers received was deducted from the final purchase price. The house’s pre-flood value was appraised at a lower value than its assessment price, which contributed to the reduced purchase price, Janke Schneider says.)

***

Shirley Van Valkenburgh, grandmother and lifelong Catskills resident

Above: Shirley Van Valkenburgh stands in front of her Lexington home of 54 years. Photo by Rebecca Andre.

Town: Lexington, Greene County
Waterway: West Kill and the Schoharie Creek

"I hope I never live to see it again," says Shirley Van Valkenburgh, a bag of just-harvested elderberries in one hand, a shovel in the other.

Walking across her manicured lawn towards the house where she has lived for 54 years, she stops at a footbridge crossing a small drainage ditch. That became a stream during the storm, she says.

"But we were lucky," she says, echoing the words of so many folks remembering Tropical Storm Irene.

Van Valkenburgh recalls the morning of the storm, when an emergency services helicopter landed in a field just past her house. Her sick elderly neighbor up the road needed to be transported away from the danger zone. Van Valkenburgh remembers being urged to leave as well. She was told that she had 15 minutes to gather her belongings.

"We had to stay here,” she says.

She explained to the emergency responders that she had her own sick family member, a nephew. She wasn't sure if he would survive being uprooted, and the rising waters of the West Kill (a tributary of Schoharie Creek) did not threaten to reach her property, which was perched high above the banks.

Little did she know that her decision to stay was important for the entire town. Van Valkenburgh’s house became an unofficial restaurant that fed neighbors and strangers for more then a week in the Greene County town of Lexington.

"We had generators, we kept on the lights, and the stove,” she says. “But the freezers, we had to empty them out.”

And empty out the freezers she did. Along with her sister, she cooked and baked every day and night, feeding all the neighbors who found themselves trapped in Lexington between two collapsed bridges on Route 42.

"Strangers came to the door. 'Is this the place to eat?' they would ask," Van Valkenburgh says. Then they would hand the sisters their own rapidly-thawing frozen food, which would be turned into a hot meal.

Despite the camaraderie, it was a dark time.

"It was living hell," Van Valkenburgh says.

But there is no mistaking the pride Van Valkenburgh has in her family, her property, her community and her temporary role as a restaurateur during that first harrowing week after Irene.

***

Shirley and Mike Perpetua, New York State Fire Police with the Phoenicia Fire District

Above: Shirley Perpetua with four of her grandchildren on her daughter's porch in Shandaken. Photo by Rebecca Andre.

Town: Shandaken, Ulster County
Waterway: Bushnellsville Creek and the Esopus Creek

"We lost everything," says Shirley Perpetua, "Fifty years of memories."

Standing on the porch of her daughter Tanya Morton's current home, surrounded by four of her grandchildren, Perpetua is just a few doors up from the first-floor apartment she shares with her husband, Mike. She vividly remembers the day that the flood forced them out of it, making them homeless for four months.

Shirley was next door at a neighbor's house when it became clear they were unprepared for the depths of Irene.

"I saw the water rising; it came up to the back porch, and went out the front door,” she says. Shirley ran to rescue her bird, a cockatiel named Penny, from inside the house.

The Perpetua family spent that first night at Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, which had quickly evolved into a shelter and provider of emergency services.

The next few nights were spent at a friend’s, and then, for three-and-a-half months, Shirley and Mike lived with another daughter, Theresa Jones, who then had a house in Fleischmanns.

During those months, because Irene's destruction in New York and beyond had been declared a disaster by the federal government, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stepped in and helped the Perpetua family and their landlord rebuild.

Four months after the storm, the family moved back into that same Shandaken apartment where they had lived before the flood. The mud had been scraped off the walls and "new" used furniture had been provided by the Phoenicia Rotary Club.

"We have seen the community come together before, but never like this," recalls Mike, who has more than 20 years of experience serving with the Phoenicia Fire District under his belt.

His wife stands next to him, nodding her head.

"I am so thankful for all the help from friends, family and volunteers. And I just glad to be alive,” she says.

"But I still have nightmares when it rains.”

***

René and Carrie Garcia, managers of La Cabaña Mexican Restaurant in Fleischmanns, and brother Roberto Garcia

Above: Rene Garcia in front of his restaurant, La Cabana, in Fleischmanns. Photo by Rebecca Andre.

Town: Fleischmanns, Delaware County
Waterway: Little Red Kill, Vly Creek and Bush Kill

"The storm took us by surprise," says Rene Garcia.

 

He remembers how all the focus was on New York City as weather reports predicted that Irene would hit hardest there. At 2 a.m. the evening before, he had closed up the bar and checked out Vly Creek, which runs right behind the restaurant.

"It was running low and clear," Garcia says.

By 6:15 a.m., his uncle called him, frantic. Garcia says his uncle warned him: "The bridges in Arkville are already closed, this is starting to look bad—worse than '96." (In 1996, a winter storm flooded parts of Margaretville and Fleischmanns, one of the worst disasters to affect the area before Irene.)

This time, Irene dumped more then two feet of water on Main Street Fleischmanns, Garcia says.

Tragedy struck the town that day when the roaring waters claimed the life of one visiting elderly woman, a Holocaust survivor named Rozalia (Leah) Stern-Gluck, who was washed away after being trapped in the Valkyrian Motel on Main Street. 

Above: The Bridge St. bridge in Fleischmanns is still closed five years after Irene. Photo by Rebecca Andre.

In comparison, Garcia and his business suffered what he considered to be minimal damage. Five-and-a-half feet of water flooded the the basement of the restaurant and three feet of water flooded his mother's adjoining apartment.

"It was amazing though,” he says. “We never lost power."

Garcia and friends spent a week making repairs to the restaurant. The damage mostly consisted of water damage from the leaking roof.

While they worked, the whole village of Fleischmanns, one of the most diverse communities in the Catskills, came together, Garcia says. The village has large populations of Mexican immigrants, vacationing Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn and a variety of other diverse communities. In the aftermath of the disaster, everyone in Fleischmanns looked past these differences, he remembers. The Methodist Church was handing out free meals to anyone who came through the doors, he says.

A week after Irene, Garcia re-opened his own doors.

"We have been family owned and operated since 1993,” says Roberto Garcia, Rene’s brother. “Our journey in Fleischmanns has been a story of adversity. We have endured two fires and two floods."

When the Garcias welcomed their customers back to their Mexican restaurant, they hosted dinner crowd after dinner crowd of "drawn faces,” they remember. Everyone was trying to make sense of the surreal experience that was Irene.

***

Kristi Trimboli, student and clerk at The Nest Egg

Above: Kristi Trimboli of Phoenicia sitting on the porch of the Nest Egg, where she works. Photo by Rebecca Andre.

Town: Phoenicia, Ulster County
Waterway: Stony Clove Creek and the Esopus Creek

"I was terrified,” says Kristi Trimboli, who was 12 years old during Irene.

Living on Route 214 in Phoencia, Trimboli watched from inside her house as the swelling waters swept closer and closer to the windows.

"It was probably worse for others, though,” she says. “My friend Kara, who lives near the railroad museum, got flooded out completely."

Kara's mother, Tina Herdman, says, "Irene was the first time it flooded where the water actually came into the house."

She considers herself lucky. "At least we had flood insurance,” she says.

Herdman, who has lived on Station Road for over 20 years, points out that before Irene, there were nine families living on the road. Now she lives in one of the only three inhabitable dwellings on their road.

"We are the last family left," she says.

On Route 214, Timboli’s family was out of power for three weeks. Partway through that period, they decided to take a vacation for a week, to get away from the wreckage.

When they came back, Tropical Storm Lee was battering the Catskills with a second round of rain and wind.

Trimboli still works in Phoenicia, at the general store and candy shop The Nest Egg, where she has been employed for almost five years. Her best memory of Irene is how “our community came together during that tragedy.”

“Everybody just took care of each other,” she says.

***

Rayla-suzan Hart, guitar player, summer camp director, swim coach and retired teacher of children with autism

Above: Rayla-suzan Hart of West Shokan, by the Esopus Creek. Photo by Rebecca Andre.

Town: West Shokan, Ulster County
Waterway: Esopus Creek

Irene was no match for Rayla-suzan Hart. As she sees it, there was an angel on her side.

"The night Irene hit, it was our turn to take care of a neighbor that needed round-the-clock end-of-life care,” Hart remembers. “At 2:45 a.m., we got a call that Lois had passed on. We went up to her house, and as we got to her driveway the wind picked up everywhere but around our two houses. The coroner came and we left around 6 a.m. We went to Bread Alone [Bakery] for coffee, and on [Route] 28 the water was at the bridge.”

Hart and her partner, who Hart asked us not to name, returned home just in time. Their property, just two miles from the Esopus Creek, become trapped between two downed bridges.

Through the storm, the couple sat calmly on their back porch, drinking coffee and watching “a little trickle becoming a washed-out road.”

"The wind was crazy, there were trees down all around us, but not in our yard,” Hart says. “We still believe it was Lois protecting us.”

Afterwards, things got worse. Hart’s house was out of power for five days. This was bad news for the 1967 Good Humor truck she owned, which was packed with thousands of dollars of ice cream destined to be served at an upcoming town celebration called Shandaken Day.

Hart called Tony Lanza, the superintendent of Belleayre Mountain Ski Center at the time.

"He allowed us to plug in our truck," says Hart, a tearful smile on her face.

Irene demonstrated how a catastrophe can unite a community, Hart says:

“People pulled together from all over, to help each other, to build, to rebuild."

***

Peter Halvorsen, plumber and fiddle player, and Julie Halvorsen, nurse

Above: Peter and Julie Halvorsen in front of “River Music” by Michael Bauermeister at the Mount Temper's Emerson Resort. Photo by Rebecca Andre.

Town: Big Indian, Ulster County
Waterway: McKinley Hollow Brook

"It was a catastrophe of biblical proportions," says Peter, remembering Irene's violent visit to the Catskills.

His wife Julie agrees. "It was a travesty, devastating, shocking,” she says.

The road the couple lived on at the time, McKinley Hollow Road in the hamlet of Big Indian, was washed away. "There was no road, no recollection of the road," says Peter.

They watched as six of their neighbor's houses were completely taken by the water.

Miraculously, the Halvorsens sustained no water damage. They did lose power for a week.

They were trapped, like so many others, between two disintegrated bridges. They had to carry their bikes through a landslide on County Road 47 so that they could peddle to Pine Hill for supplies and cell phone service to call their bosses.

The two have several stories to tell of that dangerous time. This one is the best:

"Two community members ‘borrowed’ an excavator that had been left behind by the county,” Peter Halvorsen says. “Between the two bridges being gone and the landslide, people were trapped. So these guys, whomever they were, had heavy equipment experience.”

"They hot-wired the excavator and dug out the landslide so people could get through,” he says.

"Our community came together, more so then I have ever seen,” remembers Julie Halvorsen. “We met people that we have never met before. Police officers brought us our medication from the Phoenicia Pharmacy on an ATV."

Since then, the couple has moved from their home of 10 years to safer ground in Phoenicia.

"I just couldn't go through that again," says Julie.

Her husband nods.

"But we were lucky,” he says. “Windham and Prattsville, they were ground zero."

***

Nancy Barton, director of the Prattsville Art Center, and Maggie Uhalde, marketing assistant for the Catskill Mountain Foundation and lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the band Evvergreen

Above: Maggie Uhalde performing at the first Prattsville Music and Art Festival, held on July 24, 2016. Photo by Rebecca Andre.

Town: Prattsville, Greene County
Waterway: Schoharie Creek

"It took a year to clear the mud from the homes still standing—you can still see its dusty residue five years after the storm," says Prattsville resident Nancy Barton.

According to Barton, Irene destroyed 40 percent of the buildings in the hamlet of Prattsville.

"No home or business on Main Street was spared," she says.

The rain filled up the narrow valley, and the three creeks that converge in the town rose 15 feet, Barton says. The streams became a six-feet-deep river that washed away buildings, vehicles and an entire trailer park at a rate faster than water flows over Niagara Falls.

"Those whose homes tilted or fell huddled in upper floor rooms or on rooftops for hours, fearing they might not survive,” Barton says. “Incredibly, no one in Prattsville was killed during the storm.”

Barton recalls the great sense of caring and community during those early weeks. Many families lost everything.

As military helicopters began to arrive with supplies, residents, neighbors and volunteers pulled together to help those dig out those hardest hit by the flood, she says.

"A thick sea of gooey mud covered streets and sidewalks, filling every basement and turning couches, kitchens and bedroom furniture into shapes rising from the dark muck like dinosaurs caught in a tar pit," she says.

Above: Prattsville’s floodwaters beginning to recede on August 28, 2011. Photo by Rev. Greg Town, MudFest organizer.

At the time of Irene, Maggie Uhalde was a student at Gilboa-Conesville Central School. She was the chief of the Conesville Explorers and was living in Conesville with her parents.

"That's the week I discovered my comfort food—beverage actually—is coffee,” says Uhalde, who is now a 19-year-old college graduate. “I could go on and on about that week.”

Both of Uhalde’s parents were firefighters with the Conesville Volunteer Fire Department, and her mom was also an EMT. Since the family's house wasn't affected by the storm, they spent that first week assisting their neighbors in nearby Prattsville.

"The first night we didn't even go home,” Uhalde says. “That night, my sister and I slept on tables, and my little brother slept on a gurney.”

Uhalde's job was to listen to the radio and report back to the fire chief when there was a call for help. She also helped distribute emergency supplies. There was a whiteboard to keep track of which roads in town were destroyed or impassable, but the list grew so fast that it was quickly abandoned, she remembers.

"At times, we were just completely helpless, listening to the tones go off over and over again, and all we could do was just sit there,” she says. “We could see huge trees floating down the creek behind the fire house.”

But something beautiful happened that night, in the midst of all the destruction.

"At some point, a call came in that a woman was going into labor,” says Uhalde. “And my mom, she helped deliver that baby on the way to the hospital.”

There were other amazing things born from the unforgettable storm.

Above: Prattsville the morning after the flood. Photo by Rev. Greg Town, MudFest organizer.

MudFest, a town-wide party, was inaugurated on the first anniversary of the flood to celebrate the Prattsville’s rebuilding process. It was also a symbol of the town’s refusal to be beaten by Irene and its muddy waters.

MudFest included a muck-boot parade, art exhibitions and truckloads of fresh clean mud brought into a local park for folks to play in, with a local fire truck hosing down the participants throughout the afternoon.

"Prattsville’s citizens were determined to fight to keep the town alive," says Barton.

MudFest was held annually for four years after the storm. But this year, complications with insurance and funding shut it down, Barton says.

"Perhaps there was also a sense that, for those who are still struggling with the aftermath of the storm, this was no longer the occasion they most wanted to celebrate," she says.

Also emerging from the recovery planning that followed Irene was the Prattsville Art Center and Residency. Along with MudFest, it was one of the first tangible signs of recovery in the town, Barton says.

Thanks to a “Creative Placemaking Grant” from ArtPlace America, one of the severely damaged historic buildings on Main Street was rebuilt as an art center to nurture creativity and resilience, "especially among rural youth," says Barton.

Uhalde was one of the rural youths who benefited from the new art center. She was one was one of the center’s original interns, and helped restore the building, which needed a "crazy amount of work,” she says.

The Prattsville Art Center’s first show, “The Art of Mudfest,” opened on August 27, 2012, on the one-year anniversary of the flood.

Above: NYC artist Jane Grissom, left and Nancy Barton, right, in front of the Prattsville Art Center. Photo by Katy Hamer, for the art blog “Eyes Towards the Dove.” 

"The art center is a place that I feel I belong to, but it also belongs to me, and to everyone else that's ever felt safe there," says Uhalde.

This year, although there is no MudFest, but there is a new 12-hour music festival in Prattsville.

"With the end of MudFest, the creation of a Prattsville Music and Art Festival in this beautiful mountain valley seemed like a natural evolution," says Barton.

Musician Patrick McGuinn came up with the idea to replace the MudFest with a music festival. He drew on his network of musicians and artists, and, on July 24, 2016, over 20 bands of local headliners and NYC musicians playing rock and roots music performed for free on the grassy lawn of Prattsville's town green. In the evening, the festival moved indoors to the Prattsville Art Center with electronic music, funk, rap and video art accompanied by a free barbecue and art events.

The artists called it the "Headin’ for the Hills” festival. Hundreds of people attended, according to Barton.

There are plans to make the festival an annual event. "As a nonprofit, we are seeking funding to be able to expand the festival across several sites and pay our musicians," she says.

To keep momentum going, the Prattsville Art Center will be hosting a free follow-up mini-festival in Prattsville on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, with headliners the Babes, JFP and Evvergreen—Uhalde’s band.

"There will always be more work to do, but I know we can do it," says Uhalde, "and we'll make it even better than before."

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

  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

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

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

Mount Tremper Arts leaps into year-round programming named for NYC's watershed

Above: Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian, the members of Darkmatter, a trans south asian performance art duo that will appear at Mount Tremper Arts on Saturday, July 16. Image via the MTA website.

Mount Tremper Arts is expanding its public programming from a summer festival to year-round events.

The gorgeous artist-run space, tucked away on a maple-thick hillside off Plank Rd.–i.e. Old Route 28–in the Ulster County hamlet of Mount Tremper, begins its ninth performance season on Saturday, July 16 with South Asian trans duo DarkMatter, followed in August by theater company 600 HIGHWAYMEN. Both groups are based in NYC. 

In the past, that would’ve been it for the year, performance-wise. (Since its 2008 inception, MTA has hosted year-round residencies, retreats, and rentals, and continues to do so.)  Read more

New York Gov. Cuomo plugs Catskills with Robert De Niro

Above: A poster promoting Lake Wawaka in the Delaware County hamlet of Halcottsville, one of six ads that will promote the Catskills region in the NYC public transit system this summer. To see all six posters, click here. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo pulled out all the stops to promote the Catskills region this week. As his staff bombarded social media with a media blitz about the charms of the Catskills region, the governor spent a day hitting Catskills tourism hotspots, at one point appearing with movie star Robert De Niro at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Sullivan County, the site of the 1969 Woodstock Festival.

De Niro, who owns 78 acres in the Ulster County town of Gardiner, cracked Borscht-Belt-style jokes while extolling his love of the Catskills.

“I wanted to change my name from Robert De Niro to Rugelach De Goldfarb De Niro Steinberg, and spend the summers in the Catskills telling jokes,” De Niro said, according to the Times Herald-Record.

Above: Robert De Niro delivers a tribute to Borscht Belt-style jokes. Video via New York Upstate.com.

“If there is a region of the state that has more potential for tourism activity, it is the Catskills,” Cuomo said, according to a transcript of his remarks issued by his office. “Mr. De Niro and I were talking on the way up, it is still basically a secret for generations of New Yorkers.”

Above: Actor Robert De Niro, who has a home in Ulster County, delivers one-liners at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on June 30 as part of the Catskills Challenge. Photo via the Gov. Andrew Cuomo Flickr page. 

On Wednesday, June 29, Cuomo was scheduled to take a “Ride the Catskills” motorcycle ride from Windham to Roscoe, stopping at Woodstock Harley-Davidson and Belleayre Mountain Ski Center along the way. But, according to the Catskill Mountain News, Cuomo himself wasn't in the convoy of bikers that made the trip. 

On Thursday, June 30, the governor did show up at the “Catskills Challenge,” a day of activities modeled after a similar event his administration launched in the Adirondacks three years ago.

The Catskills Challenge began with the appearance with Robert De Niro in Bethel and ended with the governor racing state legislators in rafts on the Delaware River. (Naturally, the governor won, according to the Times Herald-Record.)

  Read more

How to stay safe in Catskills black bear country

Above: A black bear in the Catskills. Photo by Rebecca Andre.

Spring in the Catskills is a breathtaking season of roaring waterfalls, eagles taking flight and pastures covered in blooming wildflowers—and, thanks to our resident black bear population, of overturned trash cans, destroyed bird feeders and dented vehicles.

In May, Region 4 of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which covers a portion of the Catskills, received dozens of complaints about bears, according to Joshua Choquette, a DEC wildlife technician. By May 23, the agency had received 54 complaints about bears from its nine counties, Choquette said.

The majority of the complaints the DEC receives each year are calls from homeowners reporting that their trash or bird feeder is being feasted upon by a local black bear, according to Choquette.

But about 20 percent of the calls each year are of a more serious nature, with a bear causing damage to vehicles, property or agriculture, he said.

Above: A black bear and a cub stop traffic in the Ulster County hamlet of Phoenicia around 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8. Photo by Burr Hubbell.  Read more

Hand cranked souvenir penny machine comes to Phoenicia

Above: Souvenir pennies made by the new machine in Phoenicia. Photo by Brett Barry. 

Kitsch-lovers rejoice! You can squish one of four Catskills-specific designs onto a souvenir penny in the Ulster County hamlet of Phoenicia using a hand-cranked machine that has been installed on Main Street.

The machine, which was manufactured by a company in Colorado, can emblazon pennies with one of four Phoenicia-specific designs: a Catskills black bear; a “Quill Gordon” fishing fly; a map of Ulster County and the logo of the Phoenicia Diner. The process is manual, using a hand crank and some elbow grease, and costs 50 cents per penny.

The project is the brainchild of Brett Barry, a Phoenicia resident who owns Silver Hollow Audio, an audio production that is also the force behind a series of audio tours and books that celebrate the Catskills region: “Afloat & Afoot by John Burroughs”  and “The Route 28 Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway Driving Guide.”  Read more

New trail opens at the Catskill Interpretive Center

Above: Doug Senterman, the Catskills Program Coordinator of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, cuts the ribbon on a new 0.5-mile trail at the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center. Photo courtesy of Doug Senterman.

On Saturday, June 4, a new trail hiking trail opened at the Maurice D.Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center in the Ulster County town of Shandaken.

Doug Senterman, the Catskills program coordinator of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, cut the ribbon (with a little help from some friends) to open the trail, which is a 0.5-mile walk up a series of switchbacks, sometimes along stairs, to a plateau where a picnic area will be located.

The trail was built by a team of volunteers and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation earlier this year, and is an early phase of a longer trail that the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and the Catskill Interpretive Center plan to extend to the summit of Mount Tobias, according to Senterman.   Read more

Margaret "Peggy" O'Connell, den mother of the 1970s Catskills music scene, dies at 82

Above: Peggy O'Connell appeared on the back cover of “Oceans between Us,” a 1978 album by the Allen Harris Band, released by Tappan Zee Records/Columbia Records. Standing left to right are: Kim Wroble (bass) Mike Kimmel (guitar/vocals), Peggy O'Connell (in the middle, in background), Mandy Rosenblatt and far right standing Allen Harris (guitar/vocals). Sitting left to right: Larry Smith (piano/sax), Robert Rosenblatt (aka Blatts) (congas), Christine Cordone (guitar/vocals) and Rob Leon (lead guitar). Photo courtesy of Christine Cordone.

Margaret “Peggy” Grant O'Connell, the owner of the Pine Hill Tavern who was a patron of the 1970s Catskills music scene and a mother to many, died on Thursday, May 12 at HealthAlliance Hospital in Kingston after losing an 11-month battle with breast cancer. She was 82 years old. A celebration of her life is planned for Monday, June 6.

A lover of music, books and her dog Zorro, whose ashes will be buried alongside her, O'Connell dispensed motherly love and presided over a booming local music scene from behind the bar at the Pine Hill Tavern (now Zephyr Restaurant) in the Ulster County hamlet of Pine Hill from 1976 to 1982.

"We used to call her Mother Teresa," said her son, James Michael O'Connell, with whom Peggy lived with in the hamlet of Olivebridge for the last five years of her life.

"Mom was a people person,” he said. “She liked everybody; she never had a bad word to say about anyone."

During the 1970s, in the wake of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, bands performing original tunes flocked to the Catskills, looking for nurturing venues to host them as they honed their skills.

The Pine Hill Tavern, located on the westernmost edge of Ulster County just off Route 28, was often their last stop.

Often known just as "Peggy's Place,” the tavern was not just a bar—it was a home away from home for traveling musicians and others in need.  Read more

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