by Ariadne Prior-Grosch
Since 1970, the average annual temperature in New York has risen 2.4°F. This rise in temperature represents only a fraction of the warming we could see over the next 60 years under climate change scenarios. Recently, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) published a report detailing how the State’s economy and environment may be affected by climate change. By understanding climate change and its associated risks, New York State can plan more effectively to adapt, mitigate and prepare for these vulnerabilities.
While there are many uncertainties associated with climate change, climate scientists agree that the frequency and intensity of extreme events will increase. This means that the Hudson Valley will experience more extreme flooding events (à la Hurricanes Irene and Rita last year), heat waves, and droughts. Researchers estimate that the average temperature in the Hudson Valley will increase 3 to 5 degrees by 2050, threatening many popular apple varieties of the region. The effects of climate change will create many challenges for energy production, agriculture, water supply and human health. Therefore, it is imperative that we begin to take steps to address these challenges. However, the current lack of understanding and acceptance of climate change has hampered attempts to take serious action.
Recently, vocal climate change deniers have successfully dominated and driven the debate on climate change even though the climate science community overwhelmingly agrees that the Earth’s climate system is unequivocally warming. When thinking about climate change communication and education, trusted messengers play a crucial role in changing this trajectory to move the conversation toward addressing how we will deal with the effects of a warmer climate.
Research at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication has focused on the underlying psychological, social and political reasons that people choose to engage or disengage regarding climate change issues. Since 2007, there has been a noticeable decline in the percentage of Americans who believe climate change is happening. Between 2008 and 2010, Yale researchers estimate there has been a 13 point drop in the percentage of Americans who believe climate change is occurring; additionally, almost 40% of Americans think there is a significant amount of disagreement between climate scientists. This statistic illustrates that the concerted campaign on the part of various interest groups to convince the American public that the science of climate change is still unsettled has been extremely effective at sowing seeds of doubt. In light of this research, “perceived scientific agreement” has emerged as a gateway belief that can fundamentally change one’s perception of climate change.
In order for climate change communication to be effective, it must be personable and connect the effects of climate change in a tangible way to every American’s well-being. Since the slow economic recovery and preoccupation about jobs has dominated the conversation in the United States in recent years, media coverage of climate change has declined. General confusion regarding the difference between climate and weather and previous winter events such as “Snowmageddon” have confirmed in the minds of some, that climate change is a hoax invented by scientists looking for funding. On the contrary, extreme droughts in the Southwest and the warm winter we just experienced in the Northeast have been framed by some climate change activists as proof of climate change.
Global Warming’s Six Americas, a joint project between Yale and George Mason University, groups Americans into categories across a spectrum from “highest belief/most concerned” about global warming to “least belief/least concerned.” The messenger, and how trustworthy they are perceived to be, emerges as a critical component for successful climate change communication. Different people have different concerns and will connect to a tailored message that speaks to their life experience. It is possible, however, for everyone to find common ground; research shows that all Americans support renewable energy research and rebates for fuel efficient cars and solar panels. Interestingly, when it comes to issues such as preparedness and resilience at the community level, everyone believes it is important to implement policies to protect the local water supplies and environment in light of a changing climate.
Concerned about the effects of climate change? Consider reaching out to the editors of your local paper and requesting information regarding climate change to show that interest in the issue exists. Since many people still tune in daily to the local weather report, television weather forecasters could serve a critical role as climate change communicators to their viewership. Weather forecasters are generally perceived as trusted individuals by their audience, so call up your local weather forecaster and ask about climate change. Ask if this weird weather we’re experiencing is related to climate change. Maybe it could engage some of the doubtful and move them along the spectrum towards being concerned about climate change.
Take the quiz online to find out which of the “Six Americas” you belong to: http://environment.yale.edu/climate/
Image Credit: The GOES-13 satellite captured this stunning visible image of Hurricane Irene at 8:32 a.m. EDT, just 28 minutes before Irene’s landfall in New York City. The image showed Irene’s huge cloud cover blanketing New England, New York and over Toronto, Canada. Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project.
Ariadne Prior-Grosch is a first-year graduate student at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy. She blogs for the Center on the National Climate Seminar and writes about environmental topics for La Voz, a free monthly publication in Spanish that serves the Hispanic communities of the Mid-Hudson Valley, http://lavoz.bard.edu. She is a member of Few for Change, a scholarship program for students to continue past primary school in the indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca in Panamá. Visit http://www.fewforchange.com/ to learn more.
by Indigo Munoz-Weaver
So far, winter 2011/12 has been an unseasonably warm one here in the Hudson Valley. Everyone seems to be familiar with global warming, but many remain unaware of the current energy crisis. Anticipated record high temperatures in the summer months with increased demand for air conditioning, is only going to add to the energy problem.
The US produces 25% of the world’s greenhouse gases and yet we only account for 4% of the world’s total population. Up to 60% of the US’s electricity is generated from coal, which accounts for 40% of our carbon emissions. These statistics become staggering, added to the exponential rise in consumer and industrial demand for electricity that, since 1982 has exceeded utilities’ ability to meet that need by 25%, annually.
Something has to give—but what? We have an outdated electrical system, an accelerated increase in energy demand, and a pending decrease in our primary energy source—coal. That’s right. The Federal government has new laws pending to enforce stricter environmental regulations on coal-generated power plants by 2014. According to the Chicago Tribune, the resulting expensive upgrades will force many plants to close and energy costs to skyrocket by as much as 40-60%. Combating climate change, environmental degradation and a struggling economy, utility companies will have to leverage the delivery systems already in place to manage energy demands.
One of the key solutions to the growing problem is quickly gaining national support because of its multitude of benefits. We are talking about Smarter Grids, which offer improvements and cost savings from generation of electricity to consumption. Smart Grids are digitized systems that can increase utilization of energy by sending 50-300% more electricity through existing corridors. Smart Grids enable utilities to reduce high-demand periods, balance electric loads to help avoid local and regional blackouts and manage voltage changes. Smart technology also helps offset the need for new power plants and infrastructure.
A very important component of the Smart Grid is Smart Metering—which enables users to monitor and manage their electricity use in real time. Smart Meters give consumers greater control over their own electricity usage. By creating a two-way communication between the consumer and a utility, individuals will gain a window into their energy usage, giving them an awareness tool previously lacking. Washington D.C.’s Smart Meter pilot project, called PowerCents, revealed that through improved consumer awareness alone, energy savings of 5% can be achieved.
A number of countries, including most of the European Union nations, and Asia are way ahead of the US in the adoption of Smart Technology. That’s not to say America is standing idly by. As of September of 2011, 22% of all US households had Smart Meters installed. The Institute for Electric Efficiency (IEE) projects that by 2015—54% of all homes in the US will have them.
A number of states have adopted Smart Meters but New York is the first state in the Northeast to see this technology. In fact, right here in the Hudson Valley, Red Hook and Tivoli have been chosen to pilot Smart Meters because of their towns’ strong environmental record. This lower-carbon technology works. So far, every utility has implemented smart meters after their pilot projects’ completion. This is the future of energy technology—A vital tool for positive change. A real solution for real people.
If you live in Red Hook or Tivoli, you may qualify to be part of the Smart Meter pilot project. For more information or if you are interested in getting involved, please contact Green T Energy, Inc., a local electrical contracting company with an emphasis on energy conservation and sustainability at (845)247-3473.
Green T Energy, Inc. is a local electrical contracting company with an emphasis on sustainability and energy conservation. They are currently running a free Smart Meter Pilot Project exclusively for the Red Hook/Tivoli area that will help homeowners control their electric usage to save money, and the environment. They have also been involved in Central Hudson’s Commercial Lighting Retrofitting program for over a year. They handle all aspects of electrical work and lighting design from residential to industrial, and also offer home and business electrical energy audits. Their ultimate goal: Help secure the future for generations to come by decreasing our environmental impact on the planet.
by Melissa Everett, Executive Director, Sustainable Hudson Valley
At Sustainable Hudson Valley in late 2009, we had some cabin fever around the office. International climate negotiations were limping along and the 10/10 movement was catching fire in the U.K. It was under these conditions that the Hudson Valley 10% Challenge was born as a community engagement campaign with a simple, two-fold call to action.
• Cut energy use 10% (and oh yes, use clean energy for the rest).
• Get 10% of your community involved.
We asked for feedback. We got feedback. Leo Weigman, the energy-conscious and savvy mayor of Croton, sent me an email headed “Reality Check.” Leo said, “I’ve been assessing and upgrading every system from backup generators to Christmas tree lights, tweaking every control, getting all my staff on board. And if we are lucky, we may achieve a 3% reduction in energy use over a year.” A staffer at the New York State Climate Change Office wrote to caution that this campaign would set people up for disappointment with an unrealistic goal.
Sobered but not stymied, we decided that somebody had to figure out how to mobilize communities for the stretch goals that are needed to prevent catastrophic climate change and stem the drain of energy dollars from our communities. We met with citizen sparkplugs from a number of communities, and with business partners whose products and services could help make it happen. We were blessed with the sponsorship of Central Hudson, Prestige Toyota, SunDog Solar and EarthKind Solar, which pledged a solar thermal system to the first community to achieve the campaign goals. With incentives including an Americorps outreach team for the first community to sign on, Red Hook’s Conservation Advisory Council persuaded the Town Board to jump in. The Villages of Red Hook and Tivoli, and the schools, soon followed.
We ventured into this unknown terrain with an overall vision of working with the brighter side of human nature, using a framework called “community based social marketing” to draw out commitments, help people overcome barriers, and inspire changes in energy use through positive role models. Initially, we planned to use a wide variety of tactics and tools, from resource maps to compelling events. We lined up software, My Energy Plan (.net) so that households could come to terms with their consumption. We used our partnership with Central Hudson to begin with a convenient value proposition, bringing lighting assessments and upgrades to more than 24 Red Hook businesses.
Quickly, we learned that the secret weapon of the Red Hook Challenge was the citizens and businesses of Red Hook. As we figured out how to translate vision into action, the relationships of the local spokespeople were our biggest asset. This became apparent during the launch phase, at Hardscrabble Day, where over 150 people pledged to take the Challenge in that one day. Ten special events, from a foot race to an energy workshop, formally launched the Challenge on October 10, 2010.
The path has not been simple and we don’t yet know the results, but the campaign has unleashed the inventive spirit of the community. The Red Hook Library now offers a “Kill-a-Watt Meter” you can check out to measure your electricity use. The schools ran a student contest to identify energy saving measures and have already started moving into paperless communication with parents, for example. As the year’s experiment wraps up, Red Hook’s Climate Action Plan is taking form to guide the community’s next steps.
And the next celebration will coincide with Red Hook’s own Hardscrabble Day. September 24, Moving Planet Day, is an international day of celebration and commitment to move us all off fossil fuels. New ArtBikeRack designs will be unveiled in a daylong celebration, which of course people are invited to attend on their bikes. There will be a bike decorating contest, a chance to comment on the Climate Action Plan, a bike raffle and much more. For more information, visit www.redhookchallenge.org. To learn more about the regional 10% Challenge visit www.sustainhv.org.
by Owen O'Connor
It’s hard to overlook the vast environmental impact of animal agriculture. Animal agriculture uses 57% of the agricultural land in the U.S., either for growing animal feed or as pasture/range land. Every day, farm animal operations in America consume almost 2 billion gallons of water, which does not include any of the irrigation water applied to arid farmland for growing fodder. The threat of water contamination from concentrated feeding operations is real, and fertilizer run off from feed crop fields and animal farms have caused serious problems in aquatic ecosystems. It should have come as no surprise when, in 2006, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization released a report citing Animal Agriculture as one of the main contributors to the build up of greenhouse gases. The report blamed farm animals and their raising for 18% of human-made greenhouse gas emissions, more than is produced by transportation. It went on to point the finger especially at cattle, which produce large amounts of methane as they digest their food. While few would challenge the idea that the cattle industry has a tremendous impact on the environment, the report spawned a debate about whether 100% grass-fed, pasture raised cattle had an equally damaging impact as conventionally raised cattle, whether they might have less of a carbon footprint, or whether they might have an even worse impact.
In the wake of the increasing popularity of grass-fed meat, and its promotion a more environmentally friendly alternative, researchers have been lining up to try to show that grass-fed isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. An Australian study concluded that cattle being finished in a feedlot and fed a corn-based diet will produce 38% less methane than grass-finished cattle. The difference is attributed to two reasons: First, that grain-finished cattle are slaughtered at a younger age, so they have less time alive to emit methane. Secondly, their forage contains less hard-to-digest cellulose, leading to less methane burping on the part of the cow. Out of Washington State, another study received a lot of press, though it was not published in a peer reviewed journal. The study determined that it takes three times as much land to finish a grass-fed beef animal, and that the centralization of resources and factory production model of feedlots results in beef that takes less energy inputs to produce than grass-fed cattle.
As many grass-farmers and advocates before me have responded, the assertion that grain-finished cattle contribute less to climate change and use less energy is a bunch of bull. Yes, by living shorter lives and consuming an unnatural diet, the grain-finished cattle do, as individual animals, produce less methane. The focus of that inquiry, however, overlooks the carbon impact of producing the animal’s food. Corn and soy are highly mechanized, high fossil fuel, high input crops that require plowing of the soil (which releases carbon) or herbicide applications. The rotational grazing of grass-fed cattle also has the potential of sequestering carbon in the earth. As plants grow, they pull carbon from the atmosphere. As they are grazed, their roots die off, leaving the organic matter in a stabilized form in the soil. Yes, plenty of the greenhouse gas is released by the animals, but it is speculated that with responsible grazing management, the animals can be close to carbon neutral or even carbon negative.
The Washington State study looking at energy use and land use was comparing apples to oranges. The claim that feedlot beef are finished with less energy consumed obfuscates the subtleties between different kinds of energy use. Grass-based cattle are positioned to use solar energy in the form of growing grass which they harvest themselves. What does it matter that more energy is used if it is clean energy from the sun trapped by grass that doesn’t need pesticides sprayed on it? The feedlot industry may be very efficient but it’s very efficient at doing the wrong things: using crops that need much input of fossil fuels to feed cattle in concentrated areas. The land-use comparison assumed that the grass-finished cattle were finished on rangeland. This doesn’t really happen. Grass-fed cattle are usually finished on land that supports a denser sward of grass. Also, it means that the author is comparing nine acres of rangeland to three acres of cropland. Generally, rangeland is used for low density grazing because it is unable to grow crops at all.
Grass-fed cattle are not exempt from scrutiny of their environmental impact. Certainly, you can grass-finish beef animals in ways that are more or less harmful for the environment. However, grass-based agriculture has the potential to use permanent pastures to trap carbon and reduce erosion, and it can produce food on land that cannot produce crops. More research is needed to clarify whether grass-fed beef can actually improve the greenhouse gas situation, but attempts to label grass-fed beef as less sustainable than feedlot beef are just using narrow studies to back up an established but flawed industry.
Owen O’Connor runs Awesome Farm, ltd with his partner KayCee Wimbish. They raise and sell grass-fed lamb and beef in Red Hook and Claverack, NY. Owen grew up in Clinton Corners, and was working in organic vegetable farms before he and KayCee started their own project.
by Sustainable Hudson Valley
The Town and Village of Red Hook have become the first local communities to adopt the innovative energy-saving campaign, the Ten Percent Challenge. Endorsed by the Town and Village boards, the campaign challenges communities, businesses, institutions and households to reduce their fossil fuels use by 10 percent and also motivate 10 percent of their citizens, employees, or social contacts to become involved. Designed and spearheaded by Sustainable Hudson Valley, the campaign is supported by partners including Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation, Mid-Hudson Energy $mart Communities, the Student Conservation Association’s AmeriCorps team, and the local leadership coalition Red Hook Together.
The Ten Percent Challenge is a grassroots campaign calling on individuals and organizations to take simple actions that, when taken together on a large scale, make a measurable difference in energy use, environmental protection and economic security.
According to Melissa Everett, PhD, Executive Director of Sustainable Hudson Valley, a regional organization that is working to speed up the shift to a low-carbon economy while promoting a high quality of life for all, “Public attitudes are changing in a good way. People realize that wasting energy is not in anyone’s best interest. But there’s a gap between attitudes and common behavior, and that gap will only be closed if we work together and nudge each other forward. This ambitious pilot project is intended to develop a model that can be replicated in other Hudson Valley communities, and potentially on a much broader scale.
“The key to this campaign is participation and collaboration,” said Everett. “Central Hudson has provided seed funding for this important initiative, as well as targeting outreach for their home and business energy efficiency programs in Red Hook, making them a natural partner. Central Hudson is one of the leading utilities nationally in its support for solar energy, as well as continuously expanding its energy efficiency programs. Mid Hudson Energy $mart Communities, which educates, promotes and coordinates energy efficiency programs offered through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), is another strategic partner bringing education and financial assistance into the campaign.”
Sustainable Hudson Valley has enlisted a volunteer force of 30 AmeriCorps members to educate households and businesses in Red Hook about programs and opportunities offered by Central Hudson and NYSERDA to save energy, including refrigerator and air conditioner recycling, energy audits, and rebates for qualifying upgrades. On August 19, these trained volunteers visited homes and businesses, and staffed information tables in five Red Hook locations: Hannaford, IGA, Williams Express, Merritt Bookstore, CVS and the Health Food store. In addition to the AmeriCorps canvass, residents will have an opportunity to learn about the Ten Percent Challenge on Sept. 25 at the community’s popular festival, Hardscrabble Day, which will feature The Average White Band and an energy/environment exhibit area.
Businesses were introduced to the initiative at the Red Hook Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Meeting on August 19, at the Red Hook Golf Club, where they had the opportunity to sign up for a free energy assessment from Central Hudson, and be introduced to NYSERDA’s rebate programs. As a result, four Red Hook businesses, including IGA, Mac’s Agway, Burnett &White Funeral Home, and the Red Hook Library all had energy audits done.
Town Supervisor Sue Crane commented, “We are so proud of our forward-thinking community and the amazing volunteers who have driven this initiative forward. We all recognize this is an era when we have to work together across geographic and political boundaries. This Ten Percent Challenge campaign moves us forward in that regard, and the expertise of our interested and committed citizens is the greatest kind of reward. We’re privileged to be part of this important and dynamic effort. Involving 10% of our residents as leaders seems daunting, but we’re up for it.”
Brenda Cagle of the Red Hook Conservation Advisory Council added, “We’re very excited about the Ten Percent Challenge that Red Hook has taken! The Town has been working on energy conservation and efficiency for many years and ‘taking the Challenge’ will help get the whole community involved. Residents will learn how to reduce energy use while saving money, having fun, helping the environment, and working with their neighbors. We are a Climate Smart Community, have completed a greenhouse gas inventory, and secured grant funding for solar installations. This is the time to keep the momentum going and invite our residents to participate. It should be a great year.”
Also adopted by the Town of Warwick, the Ten Percent Challenge Campaign will award a free solar hot water system to the first community that achieves a measurable 10 percent reduction goal, courtesy of EarthKind Energy. Prestige Toyota, Williams Lumber, and other area businesses are also sponsors of the campaign.
For more information on Sustainable Hudson Valley and to make a commitment to the Ten Percent Challenge, visit www.sustainhv.org; for information on Central Hudson’s Energy Efficiency programs, visit www.SavingsCentral.com; and to learn more about energy efficiency programs offered through NYSERDA, visit www.GetEnergySmart.org.
Join the Challenge!
Participate in any of the following 10 actions over the next year, with a focused day of action on 10/10/2010
• Black Gold: compost to save money. Visit Agway on 10/10 to build a backyard composter; learn how to compost from local Master Gardeners, or get a reduced price home composter
• Walk it Off: Run the 10/10 half marathon or 5K; walk 1K with our Seniors & PTA
• Home-Made Efficiency: sign up for home energy rebate programs when the Hudson Valley Student Conservation Association comes knocking on your door; learn to weatherize your home from local pros
• Plant a Tree: village & town tree committees will help you plant a tree in the right space to save 7-40% on cooling
• Food Miles: support local farms, eat fresh healthful food; bike or walk to our farm stands and save 10%
• Cycling Instead: bike swapping and repairs. Team up with a Bard student to fix your bike in time for the 10/10 bike race; outgrown yours? Come to the Town Bike Swap!
• Technology Unlocked: low carbon ways to communicate. Bard and Red Hook High School students will connect with you one-on-one to show you how to skype and use webinars
• Changing Transportation: sign up for ride sharing through NuRide
• Discover Renewables: local businesses will install it and the rebate is yours
• Pass It On: clothing swishing comes to Red Hook; make-your-own community events abound.
by Laurie Rich
When I was a kid, I was a devotee of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, hosted by Marlin Perkins. For those of you who aren’t that old, Wild Kingdom was a terrific show about wildlife in various parts of the world – particularly Africa. Perkins narrated, while film of animals in their natural habitats rolled. Rare turtles, coyotes, bear, lions and all manner of slithery and, to me, otherworldly things I’d never see in real life came into our house each week.
Little did I know that when my husband and I left Brooklyn with our new baby for a house on one of Rhinebeck’s (very) rural roads, we were moving into our own, private wild kingdom. Or, that some of the animals I’d seen on TV would actually come into my house, and my yard.
It started the week we moved, during the dead of winter. I’d put up a bird feeder (one of my very first purchases as a “country girl”) and was sitting with my son on my lap, watching the cardinals, finches, rufous-sided towhees and mourning doves, when a gorgeous red-tailed hawk got tired of hunting the field mice (we had field mice?) in their tunnels under the snow. The hawk hurtled out of the sky and took one of “my” cardinals. It was survival of the fittest, right in my new backyard.
Then the really BIG birds discovered the feeder. Turkeys! We had turkeys?? I was so excited. They chased all the little guys away and proceeded to gobble up every seed in sight. Then the white-tail deer discovered the feeder, and one doe – clearly the one with extra brain power – figured out that she could butt the feeder’s pole with her head and seed would scatter out onto the ground where she and her friends could eat hearty.
Spring came, and “Einstein” with her little Bambi and Feline in tow came back to (eat) my now-greened lawn. Did you know that fawns actually do gambol? I didn’t. I also didn’t know that they and their elders eat every plant that isn’t fenced in. We are officially the Northern migratory route for them. So pretty. I hate them. Our second spring they ate all 300 (yes, 300) tulip bulbs I had lovingly planted while my son took his afternoon naps.
Not long after the great tulip raid of 1989, my now two-and-a-half-year-old son summoned me, saying, “Lookit the doggie, Mommy!” while he pointed out the window. Oh, not a doggie at all. Red fox. We have foxes?! What else is out there…?
As it turned out, coyotes. They actually do howl at the moon, and each other. I still don’t know whether it’s the foxes or the coyotes that scream like shrieking babies when they’re on a kill at night.
Over the years, we’ve also had other four-legged visitors. A black bear that found its way into our little valley. A Blanding’s turtle that showed up in front of our porch and had a penchant for strawberries. Once we even saw a bobcat balanced on a dead tree that had fallen across the stream down the road, grooming itself.
Oh, and raccoons. Did I mention raccoons? The first time we were confronted with them, it wasn’t the raccoon, it was the raccoon hunters and their hounds that ran over our property in the middle of the night, wearing headlamps and carrying guns. Scared the stuffing out of me! They turned out to be nice guys, just doing their country thing. The raccoons? Not so nice. Just two weeks ago we had the Great Raccoon Raid of 2010. My porch screens are in tatters.
That’s this year. In summers past, our porch became an idyllic science laboratory, as our daughter, who as a child loved all things slimy, caught pollywogs at the neighbor’s pond, brought them home and raised them in a fish tank on the porch until they could hop away. She caught newts of all kinds. And snakes. I never knew what slithery thing would be our next “pet.”
We’ve lived here nearly 23 years now, and every year, some new beastie has come calling. Bear, bird, bobcat, Blanding’s, rattlers, things with antlers; we’ve seen them all. Mutual of Omaha turned out to have nothing on us. We’ve had our own wild kingdom, up close and personal.
Darn! I could’ve had my own show. Wait a minute. I did! It’s still going on outside my door right now.
Laurie Rich is an environmental sustainability and strategic marketing specialist who works with companies and organizations within the Hudson Valley and across the country. She serves as the Coordinator of the Dutchess County Fairgrounds’ Green Initiative. She is President of her company, Greening Fair and Expositions, and is the National Director of Business Development for the Clean Technology Trade Alliance. Visit www.greeningfairsandexpos.com to learn more.
by Brian PJ and Kristen Cronin
Editor’s Note: Just before press time, New York State legislators passed a last-minute bill to reopen the state’s 55 parks and historic sites – closed as a result of the budget crisis – using monies from the Environmental Protection Fund. The move came just in time for the Memorial Day weekend. The state still faces a $9.2 billion deficit, and the state budget is now two months overdue. While a solution to reopen the parks for this year has been found, uncertainty about the future remains.
Now is the time for all good campers to come to the aid of their state parks. The current proposed New York State budget (47 days late at the time of this writing) contained deep cuts to the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, resulting in 55 state parks and historic sites being closed for the season. Outraged citizens wrote letters, made phone calls, signed petitions, even took the extraordinary step of founding Facebook groups. Yes, Facebook groups. It’s getting rough out there.
We love a good Facebook group as much as anyone (we’ll admit to joining the one urging SNY, the Mets’ television network, to stop playing those Derek Jeter Ford commercials between every single inning), but there’s a better way to show your support for our State Parks: Use them. The more people that pass through the gates of our parks, the harder it becomes for Albany to cut their funding (and the more financially solvent we make the parks themselves). We decided to stick it to the man by heading up to the Copake Falls Area of Taconic State Park for the opening weekend of camping season in early May.
Columbia and Dutchess County residents have easy access to five state parks: The Copake Falls Area of Taconic State Park in southeastern Columbia County near the Massachusetts border, The Rudd Pond Area of Taconic State Park in Northeastern Dutchess County, Lake Taghkanic State Park near Ancram, Margaret Lewis Norrie State Park on the shores of the Hudson River near Hyde Park, and Clarence Fahnestock State Park near Cold Spring, just across the border in northern Putnam County. Rudd Pond was one of the unlucky 55 parks to be included on the closings list and although the town of Millerton was working on a contingency plan to keep it open, the park was closed indefinitely when we were doing our research. In the meantime, campers were being urged to head twelve miles to the north and check out Copake Falls instead.
Bash Bish Falls
Based around the ruins of a 19th century ironworkers camp, the Copake Falls Area of Taconic State Park runs across the border to Massachusetts, where it magically turns into Mount Washington State Forest. In fact, the falls referred to in the park’s name is actually a stone’s throw across the border. At just over a mile and a half, the trail to Bash Bish Falls in Massachusetts is an easy hike that’s perfect for those with children. Your reward at the trail’s end is a spectacular view of 80-foot twin waterfalls that were formed during the last ice age. There are about ten other trails to hike in the park, ranging from easy half-mile walks to a 2.5 mile scramble up to an elevation of 2,311 feet with a three-state view.
After a long day of hiking, it’s time to return to the main campgrounds which consists of 106 sites; campers can choose between tent ground sites, RV hookups, cabins, cottages, and tent platforms (basically a 14’ x 16’ raised deck). We couldn’t quite figure out the point of the platforms, but if you have a tree house fixation, then pony up the extra three bucks and knock yourselves out. If your goal is not to see another person during your camping trip, we suggest you support one of the State Parks further upstate that offers wilderness camping, or call the park rangers ahead of time and ask them to recommend a secluded site. We were fairly secluded when we went, but that may be because most people had the good sense to stay home in a wind storm. Some of the sites are within spiting distance of each other; this is either comforting or worrisome depending on your camping style. There is certainly an advantage to having other campers close by if bears wander down into the camp, which was once quite common at Copake Falls. Thanks to the efforts of the park rangers, bear visits have dropped dramatically over the last couple of years, but it’s nice to have safety in numbers. If nothing else, it means you just have to outrun the other campers instead of the bear. Also, those who scoff at having actual bathrooms within walking distance of their campsites have never experienced the pure joy of running your arms under a hot air hand dryer in 30 degree weather at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Even after a windstorm, it’s hard to beat the feeling of being woken up by birds while the sunrise creeps into mesh windows of your tent. As you peek out into the absolute stillness of the world at dawn, there’s an odd sense of contentment, as if you’ve finally returned home after thousands of years. Time to start a fire and break out the oatmeal. You can also take advantage of Dad’s Copake Diner’s proximity to Copake Falls for an emergency early morning coffee run when you realize you forgot to pack the sugar. Not that we did that. But if we did we would recommend grabbing an egg sandwich or two while you’re there. You’ve got trails to hike, quarries to swim in, and a state to convince not to let its most precious natural resources go to waste.
All parks are now open for camping season. Reservations at any camp can be made online at www.newyorkstateparks/reserveamerica.com. Most online reservations have a two-night minimum; for cabins the minimum stay can be up to a week. Campers who just show up do not have to stay a minimum number of nights, but first come first serve. All sites have a picnic table and a grill pit; some sites are more secluded then others. Fees are $15/night for tent ground and RV sites ($19/night on weekends and holidays), and $19/night for tent platform sites ($22/night on weekends and holidays). Cabins and cottages run anywhere from $116 to $175 a night. There is also a $2.75 registration fee for walk-ups and a $9 fee for reservations made online. Relax, it’s for a good cause, remember?
Camping in Columbia & Dutchess State Parks
name: Copake Falls Area, Taconic State Park
address: Route 344, P.O. Box 100, Copake Falls, NY 12517
number of sites: 106
types of sites: RV, Tents, Tent platforms, cabins.
swimming? Yes, Ore Pit Pond is a former quarry and remains refreshingly cool all season long.
activities? Hiking, biking, fishing, a Nature Center, a museum at the old Iron Works, hunting during deer season. In the winter, visitors can take advantage of snowmobiling, snowshoe trails, and cross-country skiing.
name: Lake Taghkanic
address: 1528 Route 82, Ancram, NY 12502
number of sites: 60
types of sites: RV, Tents, Tent platforms, cabins, cottages.
swimming? They don’t call it “Lake Taghkanic” for nothing.
activities? Biking, boat rentals, fishing, hiking. Winter visitors can go ice skating, ice fishing, sledding, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.
name: Margaret Lewis Norrie
address: 120 Old Post Road, Staatsburg, NY 12580
number of sites: 46
types of sites: RV, Tents, cabins.
swimming? Despite the fact that the Hudson River is, like, right there, no.
playground? Not unless you count the golf course.
activities? Biking, boating, fishing, hiking, golfing, and a marina. Stop by in the winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
name: Clarence Fahnestock
address: 1498 New York 301, Carmel, NY 10512
number of sites: 79
types of sites: RV, Tents.
activities? Swimming, fishing, hiking, (the Appalachian Trail passes through the park), biking, row boat rentals, a Nature Center, movies on the weekends. Winter visitors can go sledding, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.
Kristen & Brian PJ Cronin live in Beacon with their garden and cats. Kristen is the Communications & Marketing Associate for Safe Harbors of the Hudson in Newburgh, and Brian is the Development Associate for The Storm King School in Cornwall-on-Hudson. Check out their blog A Rotisserie Chicken and 12 Padded Envelopes on this site, or visit flickr.com/photos/teammoonshine to learn more.
by Luanne Panarotti
And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
1 Kings 19:11-12
I like to be outdoors at night in the winter; it’s a good time for owling. The best opportunities for hearing their calls or catching a glimpse of them in silent flight come when the trees are free of leaf-clutter, and the moon is bright, and the sound carries far through the chill air.
A number of barred owls live in the woods surrounding our house. Often, you can hear them hooting to one another, their distinctive “Who-cooks-for-you? Who-cooks-for-y’all?”. Sometimes, you can even get involved in the conversation. A few years ago, I spent an hour answering an owl’s call, her response drawing closer and closer, until she finally flew right over me. Had I been so convincing in my imitation that she thought I was one of her own, or so ridiculous that she had to see what manner of fool was pretending to be an owl? I suppose I’ll never know. But when the night is right, I always try for another sighting, all the while thinking what a blessing it is to live in the country. Out here, in our own bit of the wilderness, away from the artificial light and the man-made rabble, you can sometimes see and hear so clearly.
Perhaps that’s one reason why so many spiritual paths have rituals and traditions associated with being in the wilderness. Native Americans may embark on vision quests of solitude and fasting to seek spiritual guidance for the future. People of Aboriginal descent in Australia may break from their lives in civilization to walkabout the bush, a temporary return to traditional life to reconnect with themselves and with creation. Away from the responsibilities and distractions of daily life, and the electronic buzz of modernity, one can feel closer to the spirit world, and hear voices normally drowned out in the fray.
Hindus also encounter the divine presence in natural places, in groves of trees, rivers, lofty mountains. One might make a pilgrimage to such a sacred tirtha – a Sanskrit word which literally means ford, the shallow of a body of water that may be easily crossed – considering it a threshold between heaven and earth. For the ancient Israelites, the wilderness was a threshold of a different sort, the setting for wandering and transition from bondage to the Promised Land. Jesus himself was driven into the wilderness in order to discover who he was, and to prepare himself for his calling.
Of course, the wilderness can be scary. It doesn’t have the same rules as civilization; it may require you to change the way you think, or resort to skills you didn’t know you had. Whether it’s found in the natural landscape or the topography of your life, the wilderness can be a place of uncertainty and trepidation, but also of great renewal and discovery. In the solitude and stillness, away from the voices that pressure you to maintain the status quo, you may hear one calling you to something new in your life – a change of relationship, perhaps, or a new career path, the turning from destructive behaviors, or the nurturing of positive ones. Is it the Great Spirit, Yahweh, or a voice from deep within you? Whatever the source, it can usually be heard more easily once you get away from the distractions and noise of the day-to-day.
Chances are, you’re waiting anxiously for spring to arrive, for its warmth to beckon you out into vernal splendor. Stop waiting and get out there now, in the wilderness. Appreciate the stark beauty of winter, the architecture of the trees, the striking shadows cast by the unique slant of the sun. Look closely for the subtle signs of the earth transitioning between the seasons. But most of all, listen. You may be lucky enough to hear a barred owl. Or a still small voice.
Luanne Panarotti fills her days with work at The Phantom Gardener, preaching at area churches, mothering, cat-wrangling and cryptic crosswords.