Catskill Strategic Planning Advisory Group Submits Final Report to DEC Commissioner Seggos
Final Report Recommendations Build on DEC's Ongoing Efforts to Promote Sustainable Recreation, Diversity, and Protection of the Park's Natural Resources
The Catskill Strategic Planning Advisory Group (CAG) submitted its final report on promoting sustainable recreation in the Catskill Forest Preserve to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos. Comprised of stakeholders with expertise in local government, recreation, natural resource protection, business and tourism, and other priority areas, the CAG was tasked in October 2020 with providing recommendations to DEC on how to address critical issues associated with increased public use of Catskill Park resources in order to protect these areas in the short term, as well as for future generations.
"I commend the efforts of the Catskill Strategic Planning Advisory Group for producing this comprehensive report and key recommendations to help enhance DEC's ongoing efforts to manage use and protect all the natural resources within the Catskill Forest Preserve," Commissioner Seggos said. "DEC continues to see increased visitation to State lands with a growing number of outdoor enthusiasts looking to experience New York's treasured natural resources. This report focuses on addressing sustainable use and ensuring visitors of all abilities and backgrounds can share in these outdoor experiences. DEC is already working with our partners to implement the CAG's recommendations and looks forward to continuing our progress."
The final report includes proposed actions DEC and its state and local partners could undertake, pending available funding and continued partnership, to balance increasing and diverse recreational use of the Catskill Forest Preserve, protecting the park's natural and historic resources, and ensuring visitor experiences when using the Park are welcoming, accessible, and inclusive.
The CAG has been meeting throughout the past two years to develop this report with recommendations for immediate actions and strategic investments and priorities under six major themes:
- Whole Park Management - The Catskill Park is currently broken down into many different jurisdictions. Recommendations include management strategies to operate the Catskill Park as a whole park in a more cohesive manner;
- Natural Resources - Ensuring the protection of the Park's natural resources remain a high priority for the State and all stakeholders;
- Marketing, Communication and Education - Recommending the State and other stakeholders work together to promote the Park, while also educating visitors about how to reduce their impacts;
- Traffic and Parking - The current infrastructure of the Park was not developed to handle the volume of cars that are traveling to the area. Recommendations include joint investment between the State and other stakeholders to address overflow at locations that are particularly affected by the impacts of frequent visitation;
- Benefits to Park Communities - Recommending the State and stakeholders work jointly in efforts to maximize the economic opportunities of the Park to better the lives of the residents of the Park; and
- Building Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Justice (DEIJ) principles - Recommending these principles be included in recreational, educational, and operational frameworks and the economic benefits provided in the Catskill Park and seeks to promote and embrace the benefits of DEIJ and to achieve a more welcoming and inclusive Catskill Park.
Commissioner Seggos and DEC experts are reviewing the final report as the agency continues its efforts to promote sustainable use while supporting communities in the region and throughout the Catskill Park, as well as in other popular recreation destinations on public lands across New York State. DEC established a similar effort with Adirondack Park stakeholders with the creation of the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group (HPAG) in 2019.
DEC has already begun to implement many of these recommendations including the hiring of a Catskill Park Coordinator. The Catskill Park Coordinator position was created in 2021 after the CAG recommended this position in its interim report. DEC continues to work through a Visitor Use Management Frame (VUMF) process to protect the trailless peaks of the Catskills and is planning to begin a second VUMF in the Kaaterskill Clove area in 2023. Additionally, DEC is working to expand professional trails construction and visitor education capabilities. Leading into the peak hiking seasons, DEC worked with many other public and private partners to protect public safety and natural resources in the busiest Catskill corridors and trails.
Melissa Abramson, Local Brand Engagement and Impact, REI
Ramsay Adams, Founder and Executive Director, Catskill Mountainkeeper
Patrick Barnes, Region 1 Director, New York State Department of Transportation
Adam Bosch, President, Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress
Thomas Davidock, Acting Section Chief, Bureau of Water Supply, Watershed Lands and Community Planning
Dr. Joshua R. Ginsberg, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and Catskill Science Collaborative
Warren Hart, Deputy County Administrator, Greene County Economic Development, Tourism & Planning
Joshua Howard, Executive Director, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
David Kukle, Town of Hunter Councilman and Director of Food and Beverage at Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl, Inc.
Adrienne Larys, President, Mountain Top Historical Society, Inc.
Lisa Lyons, Owner, Morgan Outdoors, Livingston Manor
Gilles Malkine, Architectural Modification Consultant, Resource Center for Accessible Living
Cathy Pedler, Director of Advocacy, Adirondack Mountain Club
Jeff Senterman, Executive Director, Catskill Center for Conservation and Development
Matthew Shook, Director of Development and Special Projects, Palisades Interstate Park Commission
Markly Wilson, Director of International Marketing, New York State Division of Tourism - I LOVE NY, and Ross Levi, Executive Director/Vice President, New York State Division of Tourism - I LOVE NY
Michelle Yost, Watershed Assistance Program Manager, Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District
Joshua Howard, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference Executive Director, said, "The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference is excited to share this report with DEC Commissioner Seggos and the public. The Catskill Advisory Group's final recommendations are the culmination of a great deal of collaboration and consensus building amongst organizations who care about the Catskills Forest Preserve. This report provides a roadmap for making recreation in the Catskill Park sustainable, welcoming, and equitable for all who seek the benefits of one of New York's greatest treasures."
Ross D. Levi, Empire State Development Vice President and Executive Director of Tourism, said, "The Catskills are a jewel in New York State's tourism crown, offering year-round opportunities to explore the region and experience all the park has to offer. I LOVE NY welcomes recommendations that will help make the region more accessible and inviting to guests of all backgrounds and needs, while preserving and supporting its sustainability for future generations of visitors."
Ramsay Adams, Catskill Mountainkeeper's Executive Director, said, "Since October 2020, the Catskill Advisory Group members have collaborated to develop strong recommendations for investing in the Catskill Park, in its residents and visitors, and in protecting its lands and waters to preserve the Catskill Park's splendor for generations to come. I'm looking forward to working with Governor Hochul, Commissioner Seggos, and the advisory group over the long term to bring to life the dynamic whole-park management plan for the Catskills envisioned in our report. By seizing on the many great park management opportunities within reach, New York will usher in the next Golden Age of the Catskills."
Michael Barrett, Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director, said, "As contributors to both CAG and HPAG, we are excited to see the completion of this report and look forward to the continued implementation of its recommendations. We commend the Governor's Office and the DEC for convening the CAG and working with its members over the past several years to produce this actionable plan to honor the vibrant culture of the Catskills, protect its biodiversity, offer first-rate recreational opportunities, and advance the economic vitality of its communities."
Adam Bosch, President of the Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, said, "The recent surge of visitors to the Catskills has yielded new challenges and opportunities that require our attention and investment. The CAG's research underscores that intensive use of the park must be met with intensive management. Our report provides a blueprint for the state to invest in the people, infrastructure and partnerships that will protect and preserve the Catskill Park while keeping it accessible to all visitors who responsibly enjoy its wild and scenic lands."
Jeff Senterman, Executive Director of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, said, "As one of New York's crown jewels, the Catskill Park and Forest Preserve must be protected and actively managed to ensure natural resource protection and recreational access, while also safeguarding and supporting the communities within the Park. The CAG's Final Report recognizes these challenges and opportunities, and makes specific, implementable recommendations that will improve the Park for all. Within those recommendations, we note the importance of the Catskills Visitor Center as the official visitor center for the Catskill Park and the increased investments in the CVC called for in the CAG's report. We are proud to have been part of the CAG's process leading up to the Final Report, and look forward to working with the DEC and our fellow stakeholders to ensure adequate and necessary long-term funding exists and that all recommendations are implemented."
The final report and summaries of CAG meetings are available on the DEC Catskill Strategic Planning Advisory Group webpage at https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/122227.html.