By Georgette Weir, Trail Walker editor
“No more second fiddle [to the Adirondacks]!”
Those sentiments were expressed again and again by many in the crowd of about 100 attending the groundbreaking for the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center (CIC) along Route 28 in Mount Tremper, in the central Catskills, on Tuesday, Sept. 23. The CIC is named in honor of retired Congressman Maurice D. Hinchey, who championed the center for decades, starting from his time as the region’s representative in the New York State Assembly.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, on hand to help break ground, recalled that Hinchey, as a state Assemblyman, “championed the idea for the center and secured the original funding to get the project started in the 1980s. Working with then-Governor Mario Cuomo, Hinchey obtained additional funding to allow the project to progress, including securing property in Mount Tremper and initial site development. Most recently, Congressman Hinchey secured a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that will allow DEC to construct the first phase of the interpretive center.”
The project has been a long-cherished dream, patiently nurtured over three decades by many Catskill enthusiasts and officials. Sherret Chase, founder of the Catskill Center and an original planner of the CIC, spoke for all when he concluded his remarks by urging, “Let us proceed with full expeditious alacrity!”
That is the plan, weather permitting. Construction on the 1,700-square foot building is expected to begin this fall with a grand opening anticipated for early 2015.
The CIC will provide information to visitors about the 700,000-acre Catskill Park, New York City’s one million-acre Catskill/Delaware drinking watershed, and ways to recreate and enjoy these treasured natural resources. The $1.3 million DEC-managed project will be funded with approximately $500,000 from New York Works III, $420,000 from the State’s Environmental Protection Fund, and $380,000 federal Housing and Urban Development grant.
The Friends of the Catskill Interpretive Center, working under the umbrella of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, will operate the center once constructed. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) has agreed to contribute $20,000 per year for the first five years toward operating expenses of the CIC. The center will be staffed through a partnership including the Catskill Center, the NY-NJ Trail Conference, Catskill Mountain Club, Ulster County Tourism, and Catskill Mountainkeeper.
Trail Conference Senior Programmer Jeff Senterman, who represents the Trail Conference on the Friends of the CIC, says, “The Trail Conference is excited to be part of this great day for the Catskills, one of the premier but underappreciated outdoor recreation areas in our country. The center will play an important role in raising public appreciation for the variety and riches of this wonderful and historic region. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners, to meeting the public at the center when it opens next year, and to invigorating the outdoor recreation economy in the Catskill Mountains.”