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Rudi's Big Indian ashram to reincarnate as retreat center

Above: A ten-foot-tall granite statue of Mariamma, a south Indian rain goddess, at a dedication ceremony at the former ashram in Big Indian on Sunday, July 27. Photos courtesy of the Bodhivastu Foundation.

A ten-foot-tall, 10,000-pound statue of a Hindu rain goddess arrived in Big Indian on Sunday celebrate the reopening of a long-dormant Catskills ashram.

The Poughquag-based Bodhivastu Foundation is planning to open a Buddhist spiritual retreat center at the site of an ashram founded by legendary Catskills guru Swami Rudrananda -- known as Rudi -- in 1968.

John Mann, the owner of the parcel located at 126 Lost Clove Road in the Ulster County town of Shandaken, donated it to the foundation, according to Lama Rangbar Nyimai Özer, the spiritual leader of the Bodhivastu Foundation.

According to Ulster County real estate records, the property was sold on February 25.

"We explained our intention to him about making [it] a spiritual sanctuary retreat and healing center," said Lama Rangbar, who is also known as Adam Friedensohn. "It was very much in line with Rudi's original intention."  Read more

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Belleayre Resort will fail unless scaled back, Catskill Heritage Alliance claims

Above: A rendering of the planned hotel and lodge buildings at Highmount -- part of the proposed Belleayre Resort project -- from a supplemental draft environmental impact statement released in April 2014 by the DEC.

The Catskill Heritage Alliance, a local environmental group that has long been critical of the proposed Belleayre Resort project in Highmount, has released a study that claims the resort will fail unless scaled back.

The study, commissioned by Washington, D.C.-based firm Public and Environmental Finance Associates, takes aim at another study commissioned last year from national hotel consultants HVS by resort developer Crossroads Ventures. In documents prepared in 2013 for the state's ongoing review of the project, Crossroads relied on the HVS study to make a case for the resort's financial viability and economic benefits to the region.   Read more

TMI Project: Voices in Action plays Rosendale

Above: TMI Project stage manager Erica Pivko, left, talks with founder Julie Novak. Photo courtesey of the TMI Project. 

"I had constructed these pants when I was in one of my nuthouses," Joanee Tarshis says in a video produced by the TMI Project. "I had been refusing to make a wallet in occupational therapy. Only crazy people make wallets."

Stories like this, from mental health patients, at-risk teens, and domestic violence survivors, are the heart of "Voices in Action," a monologue show produced by the TMI Project that comes to the Rosendale Theatre on Tuesday, July 29.  Read more

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Transition Catskills proposes 'Catskills dollars,' tool libraries, and farmers' markets

Above: A design for a local Catskills currency created by members of Transition Catskills.

About two dozen people attended the first public forum of Transition Catskills, a group dedicated to making the Catskills more economically resilient, on Wednesday night at the Open Eye Theater in Margaretville.

“This was our first effort to organize a conversation,” said Jeff Tomasi, a former partner at Goldman Sachs who helped found the group.

There will be another film screening and public forum for the Transition Catskills movement on Saturday, July 26, at 4 p.m. at the Roxbury Arts Center in Roxbury.

Tomasi, who owns a second home in the Delaware County town of Middletown, also lives in London, where he first got word of Transition, an initiative that began in England around 2006 and addressed issues of oil dependence and economic instability.

“I’m not a leader, I’m a facilitator,” Tomasi told the group. “I’m not here to tell people how to live. Just here to start the dialogue.”  Read more

The Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice celebrates Spain

Above: The tent housing the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice mainstage goes up in Phoenicia's Parish Field. Photo via the festival's Facebook page.

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Above: Camille Zamora performs zarzuela. 

Each year, Phoenicia’s International Festival of the Voice kicks off with something akin to a barn raising. Volunteers unload a massive 5,000-square-foot stage with large white tents flanking from its roost in a local barn and put it together in Parish Park in the tiny hamlet of Phoenicia in Ulster County. 

The tent is already up and ready for this year's festival, which kicks off next Wednesday, July 30, with a theme of “Celebrating Spain.” The five days of vocal events and lectures spread across eight local venues offer a wealth of flamenco and salsa-inspired numbers along with gospel, Jewish liturgical music, shape note singing, and the centerpiece performance of "The Barber of Seville."   Read more

Guide me a river: The art of Catskills wilderness guiding

Longtime Catskills wilderness guide Charles “Sonny” Somelofski has earned a few more gray hairs since this photo was taken — and caught countless more fish. Photo courtesy of Catskill Outdoor Adventures (catskilloutdooradventures.com).

Charles “Sonny” Somelofski of Catskill Outdoor Adventures in Margaretville (catskilloutdooradventures.com), remembers when the licensing process to become an outdoor guide in New York state was a simple paper questionnaire with a $2 fee that asked whether he could swim, handle a boat, and read a map and compass.

“That was it, back then,” Somelofski says. “Bang! I was able to take people out and do it all.”

Today, being a state-licensed outdoor guide requires a bit more: taxable income disclosure forms, a physician’s statement, and certifications in first aid, CPR, and water safety. Those are the just the basics. Guides can be licensed in a number of different categories, ranging from camping and fishing to whitewater rafting and ice climbing, each with different licensing requirements.

The heart of guiding, however, has remained the same: proving to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that you can reliably take paying customers out into the great outdoors and bring them back again in one piece.  Read more

State audit finds ORDA in the red

Sign at the entrance of Belleayre Mountain, a state-owned ski center in Highmount that has been run by ORDA since 2012. Photo source: Belleayre's Facebook page.

The regional authority that runs Belleayre Mountain Ski Center in the Catskills, along with Gore and Whiteface in the Adirondacks, has some troubling financial problems, according to a new audit released Wednesday by the New York State Comptroller's Office. 

The audit has been in the works since March of 2013, when state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced that his office would be taking a closer look at the authority's finances.

In the audit report (embedded below), DiNapoli found that the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) has racked up $45 million in losses in a three-year period from 2010 to 2013.

The authority took over management of Belleayre in 2012. The mountain was previously run by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. 

The audit found fault with several aspects of ORDA's management of Belleayre. In one instance, auditors wrote, ORDA awarded a contract for ski rental equipment concessions at Belleayre to an outside company without seeking competitive bids. The authority should open up the process to competition, the audit report stated:  Read more

On the ropes: Sundance Rappel Tower

Photo by Lissa Harris.

Tom Crucet built a 65-foot-tall rappelling tower in Phoenicia because he knew it would be fun. Thirty years later, it still is.

“It’s one of the joys of my life,” says Crucet, who is a lawyer by trade and has been a town justice for 17 years. “I loved doing it when I was in the military.”

Rappelling was just one of the skills Crucet mastered during his tenure as a Green Beret with the U.S. Army’s Special Forces: He also parachutes and scuba dives.

Crucet uses his Sundance Rappel Tower to teach skills to groups of Boy and Girl Scouts, firefighters and other rescue workers, rock climbers and anyone else who wants to learn how to descend a vertical obstacle using ropes.

Open year-round on weekends by appointment only, the tower offers four levels of training to groups of eight to 22 people. The sessions cost $25 per person and last about a half-day. The first part is about 40 minutes of classroom training, and the remainder of the instruction is devoted to practicing skills on the tower.

Some students come for one lesson. Others camp out nearby for a weekend and spend several days honing their skills, Crucet said.  Read more

Here comes the rain again...and wind, too

Look out, Catskills: Yet another round of thunderstorms is taking aim at the region, with the possibility of high winds, damaging hail and even the chance of a tornado. 

As of late Tuesday afternoon, a line of storms is organizing in western New York and Pennsylvania, and moving steadily eastward across the region. A severe thunderstorm watch is currently in effect across Central New York, including Delaware County in the Catskills region, until 8 p.m.

Storm trackers at the National Weather Service caution that there is a slight chance the storms could spawn a tornado or two as they swirl across Central New York. 

The eastern Catskills are not yet under severe weather watch, but thunderstorms are expected this afternoon and evening. Locals should keep an eye on the weather as the storms move eastward.   Read more

Hanover Farms plans a move to Shokan

Above: A sign on the shuttered site of Hanover Farms announces the farmstand's plans to reopen in a new location. Photo by Lissa Harris.

Hanover Farms, a Route 28 farmstand that has been embroiled in legal battle with the town of Shandaken since 2012, is looking for a fresh start -- a new town, and a new name.

Outside the shuttered farmstand, a new sign has appeared, announcing that the farmstand is re-opening at the "old bank" in Shokan. Eight miles east on Route 28, at the Shokan bank building that formerly housed a Bank of America branch, another sign has sprouted up: "Opening Soon: Greenheart Farmstand."

But the farmstand's announcement is unnerving officials in the town of Olive, who are hoping the business's father-and-son owners Al and Alfie Higley do things by the book this time.

"[Al] Higley was in yesterday to put in an application for a site plan. But there's no permission from the town of Olive for him to do anything at all," said Sylvia Rozzelle, supervisor of the town of Olive. "If he opens without a permit, that's not a good thing."  Read more