Catskills

The Catskills of New York are a "dissected plateau", a highland worn into mountains and valleys by erosion. Largely rural and wild, the Catskills are a popular vacation destination for New Yorkers, but they also have much to offer the traveler from out of state. The Catskills are adjacent to the Poconos region of Pennsylvania.

Regions

A view of the Catskill Mountains from Soyuzivka Ukrainian Resort in Kerhonkson.

Cities

Other destinations

Understand

The Catskills mean different things to different groups of people. To most residents of the Metro New York area to the south, they evoke summer camps, weekend homes and the vast reservoirs that supply clean, pure water to New York City. To historians of American popular culture they are home to the majority of the "Borscht Belt" resorts, where many legendary entertainers honed their skills before predominantly Jewish audiences, and where a later generation thronged to a dairy farm for "three days of peace, love and music" called the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. To art historians, they are the landscapes that captivated Thomas Cole, Frederick Church and the other painters of the Hudson River School, America's first homegrown art movement. To fly fishermen, they are the streams where the first dry flies were cast and tied in American waters, tested by Theodore Gordon and other legends of the sport. To hikers and naturalists, the 290,000 acres (1,150 km²) of "forever wild" land in the Catskill Park's Forest Preserve is an environmental treasure, the land where influential American nature writer John Burroughs grew up and which inspired him to write some of his most famous essays.

Yet for all these multiple meanings, no one is quite sure what "Catskill" originally referred to. Perhaps it was Henry Hudson's crew, seeing bobcats around the creek they stopped at, and then naming it "Catskill", which was extended to the distant mountains. Or the many Iroquois stockades along the riverbank, which the Dutch referred to as "kats". Or poet Jacob Kats, supposedly a shrewd land speculator. Or the Iroquois' lacrosse sticks, a small Dutch ship, or a Mohican chief who lived in the area. It's all the more surprising since the range was generally referred to as the Blue Mountains until the early 19th century, when Washington Irving's works popularized the long-scorned Dutch name.

Even with general agreement on the name, it's also hard to say where the Catskills begin and end, beyond the very abrupt boundary created by the Catskill Escarpment at the northeast corner of the range, where mountains suddenly rise to over 3,000 feet (900 m) above sea level from the valley floor. Communities far outside the Catskill Park's Blue Line, as far as the banks of the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers, claim to be or are considered to be in the Catskills. Perhaps the only real indicator is what a longtime resident once told historian Alf Evers: that as long as "there are two rocks for every dirt" in the soil, you are in the Catskills.

History

The Catskills began 350 million years ago as a river delta, absorbing the runoff from the Taconic Mountains to the northeast, then the tallest on the planet, as water drained into a shallow inland sea. At some point during that time, a meteorite one half-mile (1 km) wide struck the river delta; the resulting impact crater eventually formed Panther Mountain in western Ulster County, one of the range's highest peaks, through a process known as "inverted relief." Eventually the Taconics eroded to what they are now, and the rivers and sea dried up. What had been their floors became the shales, sandstones and other sedimentary rock that makes up the bedrock of the range.

Continental drift and plate tectonics formed the Appalachian Mountains. Instead of breaking up into smaller mountains and hills, the Catskills rose up as a single landform, a process visible in the dramatic rise of the Catskill Escarpment from the Hudson Valley floor in Greene County. Over the next eons, streams draining uplifted rock carved out deep gaps. The Catskills are thus, in geological terms, a "maturely dissected plateau", rather than true mountains, although you would be forgiven if the distinction was lost when driving around them.

Stony Clove Notch, carved by glacial meltwater

In the last million years, the various Ice Ages further shaped the mountains. The glaciers themselves were thick enough to cover all the mountains, save 4,180-foot (1,277 m) Slide, in the Ulster County town of Shandaken, the range's highest peak. The scouring under centuries of ice had some effects, the most significant of which may have been to remove any coal that might have settled there. But it was the lakes left behind as the glaciers melted which left us with the range as we know it today, the rushing meltwaters carving out the dramatic gaps like Stony Clove Notch and Kaaterskill Clove.

The first humans who came kept going. While the Iroquois who settled in Southern New York found routes through the mountains to the rest of their nation, and hunted there, they found the Hudson Valley a more amenable place to settle due to its more fertile soils and milder climate. It was there that they met Henry Hudson and the crew of the Halve Maen, journeying up the river that would be named for him in 1609.

Wars between the Dutch and the English kept most settlers for venturing into the mountains for the rest of the century. It was not until 1708, well after English rule had been established, that Lord Cornbury, the colonial governor, granted the Hardenbergh Patent, covering most of what is today considered the Catskills. Subdividing and selling the land, however, proved difficult. The Iroquois, as well as the few squatters in the region, disrupted the survey to the point of unreliability, and as the century wore on there were increasing questions about the validity of the deal, given the Cornbury's well-deserved reputation for corruption and the patentees' willingness to enrich themselves by selling shares despite all these issues. It took until the middle of the century for all the land to be subdivided and settlement to begin.

Nevertheless the Catskills came to the attention of the wider public, if only through scientific research. Swedish botanist Peter Kalm passed through the region on his journeys to Niagara Falls, noting some of the species he found. One was "balm of Gilead fir", today known as balsam fir and mostly found only on higher summits in the range. Philadelphia botanist John Bartram went to the North-South Lake area with his son to collect some seeds of the tree for correspondents in London. His 1753 account of the trip, "A Journey to Ye Cat Skill Mountains with Billy", was widely read both in the colonies and England.

Most early settlers were tenants, who held their lands under a quasi-feudal arrangement known as the "three-life lease", by which a father, son, and then grandson could theoretically take title to their land if the three generations were able to pay for it. In practice this rarely happened, and even after a pro-British tenant uprising against their independence-minded landlords was put down at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the many Anti-rent wars continued until a new state constitution abolished those leases in 1840.

The Catskill Mountain House, ca. 1836

With the region's politics finally settled, its economy began to shake out. It was built around two industries—tourism and tanbarking–that would shape it into the 20th century. The first began with the Catskill Mountain House hotel, near North-South Lake in the Greene County town of Hunter. Hotelier Charles Beach marketed the spectacular views over the valley from the Escarpment after taking over sole control in the 1820s, and by the Civil War presidents, artists and other visiting dignitaries and celebrities were visiting "America's First Wilderness", where other hotels, some on mountaintops, had been built as well.

Deeper in the mountains, barkpeelers went into the abdundant forests looking for the many large groves of Eastern hemlock. They sought not the wood itself, useful for some pieces of furniture but little else, but the reddish bark. When stripped from a sufficiently mature tree and boiled, it yielded quality tannin for the tanning process essential to making leather. The woods yielded enough bark that most of the leather holsters issued to Union Army officers during the Civil War were tanned in the Catskills. Other than bluestone used in making sidewalks, it was the only exploitable resource the mountains yielded.

In 1879 a guest at the Mountain House, Princeton geology professor Arnold Henri Guyot, took note of the many mountains to the west and southwest visible from the peaks near the hotel. It was already known that, contrary to Beach's publicity materials, nearby Kaaterskill High Peak, which had graced so many Hudson River School paintings, was not the range's highest peak. Guyot wondered what was, and in his spare time returned to the Catskills with a survey team. They became the first to record ascents of many of the range's highest summits, and in 1885 stunned the Escarpment hoteliers with the revelation that the highest peak in the range was, in fact, Slide Mountain, located 20 miles to the southwest in the Ulster County town of Shandaken.

The same year, politicians in that county had grown sick of dealing with an expensive problem resulting in part from tanbarking. Once they had stripped the good trees, the barkpeelers often left the land behind; while they reaped the profits, the land defaulted to the county, and by law they were responsible for property taxes owed to the state. The increasing costs incurred were beginning to strain the county's coffers, and when they could not get a reprieve their representatives in the state legislature found an even better solution. Earlier that year the legislature had designated certain state lands in the Adirondacks to be the state Forest Preserve, "forever kept as wild forest lands." They had the lands with the tax delinquencies transferred to the state as payment in full of the outstanding debts ... and nothing in the Catskills would be the same afterwards.

Slowly the quarrying and barkpeeling industries ebbed, done in by the development of cheaper synthetic materials and processes. The hotels around North-South Lake, too, went into decline as their founders died. In their place came those drawn to the newly protected land, especially after the legislature drew the "Blue Line" in 1902, creating the Catskill Park. John Burroughs, a native of Delaware County who became one of the era's leading nature writers, devoted some of his most memorable essays to his journeys into the Catskill wilderness, including one of the earliest accounts of an ascent of Slide.

Another writer was Theodore Gordon, who went to live in the mountains during the 1890s to fight off his tuberculosis infection. To pass the time, he began fishing, and made some money writing about his experiences for Field & Stream. The remote headwaters of streams like the Beaver Kill had been quietly known for years outside the region as brimming with trout, and farmers had been living off the fisheries for years. Gordon not only popularized them, he revolutionized American angling when he introduced the dry fly, developed in Britain to imitate a surface insect, as a lure. Later anglers refined techniques and developed new flies, and thousands follow in their footsteps annually, wading into the cool clear creeks and rivers looking to land a trout to remember.

Ashokan Reservoir

The waters also interested New York City, which had begun to outgrow its Westchester-based supply network at the end of the 20th century. The city looked all the way to the Catskills, where the "forever wild" language, added to the 1894 state constitution as Article XIV, protected the watersheds of streams like the Esopus and Schoharie creeks. A protracted legal and political struggle over the lands to be condemned led to the 1915 opening of Ashokan Reservoir in central Ulster County, the first of what are now six serving the city.

The city was home to another group of people that would redefine the Catskills. Jewish immigrants in the city, at the time banned from most established resorts, began spending summers in boardinghouses at the farms of their co-religionists in the lower Catskills, where they could at least keep kosher. Those boardinghouses and bungalow colonies gradually grew into resorts of their own like Grossinger's and the Concord, the nucleus of the "Borscht Belt", where dozens of entertainers would hone their skills and launch careers that took them to far greater heights. That era passed when laws ended religious discrimination, although many ultra-Orthodox Hasidim still relocate to the region for the summer. Today the large resorts are closed, and most of the smaller buildings gone, but the memories have been captured in films like Dirty Dancing, Mr. Saturday Night and A Walk on the Moon.

As the Borscht Belt era was ending, in 1969, the event that would redefine the Catskills for the present generation took place. Late that summer, thousands of the era's hippies gathered on a dairy farm near the Sullivan County town of Bethel for "three days of peace, love and music" from some of the era's top acts such as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; The Who, Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix. While the festival was actually declared a disaster area, launching scores of lawsuits, and many of the performances were subpar, the Woodstock festival gave the baby-boom generation a name and a spiritual touchstone for years afterwards, as many claimed to be there who had not been.

And it continues to frame the region today. It's most evident in the town of Woodstock, miles from the festival site, but throughout the modern Catskills you'll find a focus on the artsy and the spiritual, with retreats focusing on Eastern religion and New Age mysticism drawing outsiders to the region in the summer. Older communities hold on, too, even after the severe flooding caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011, damage which can still be seen in many places, particularly the Greene County village of Prattsville. And the hikers and fishermen continue to flock to the trails and streams, rich with the history of their sports, not only in the summer but most of the year.

Climate

New York City gets the bulk of its water from the Catskills for a very good reason: the region, in particularly the area around Slide Mountain, is the rainiest in the state. But that's not the only thing that stands out.

Damage caused by flooding after Hurricane Irene in 2011

As an elevated mountainous plateau, the Catskill climate differs from its neighboring, lower regions. Summers are generally pleasant and cooler than elsewhere (why else would so many residents of the metropolitan area come to the mountains for long periods during that season?) although the experience of Irene has been a sobering reminder that the region is not some isolated mountain idyll beyond the reach of nature's fury.

After summer gives way to the shorter days and festive colors of fall and its leaf-peeping highlights, winter comes. And that's a different story. The first snows have been known to accumulate on higher summits in early November, before hunting season even starts. With much of the region at least 2,000 feet (600 m) above sea level, there is usually plenty of snow and, in a typical winter, at least a few nights with temperatures several degrees below 0°F (-17°C). The ski areas nevertheless maintain ample snowmaking facilities.

As February turns to March and saplines string trees to each other, gaps start to appear in the snow cover. While some white areas have lingered into early May in shaded areas of the summits, in the valleys it's all gone by the April 1 opening of trout season. From then to Memorial Day, spring gradually creeps up the slopes, just in time for another glorious Catskill summer.

Read

Watch

Talk

Get in

By air

There are no major airports in the Catskills themselves. The two that best serve the region are located to the southeast and northeast.

By train

There is no passenger rail service directly to the Catskills. The Rhinecliff and Hudson stations on Amtrak's Empire Service line along the Hudson River correspond to the river crossings closest to the Catskills, and bus connections can be made. Amtrak also serves Poughkeepsie, which has the most bus connections, although if you're coming to that station from within the New York area you must use Metro-North to get there instead.

By bus

Adirondack Trailways offers two routes across the region from its west-of-Hudson line. One follows Route 28 west to Pine Hill, Belleayre Mountain and beyond from Kingston. The other, from Saugerties, follows Routes 23A and 23 across Greene County, with stops in Tannersville, Hunter and Stamford. Both lines eventually reach Oneonta, where transfer is also available from Trailways' service along the Interstate 88 corridor.

By car

The New York State Thruway (Interstate 87), a divided toll road, is the primary route to the Catskill region for visitors coming from the south and southeast (i.e., New York City and its suburbs).

Ahead lies a 30-mile (50 km) drive up the Esopus Creek valley that just gets more and more picturesque as you go, taking you past New York City's Ashokan Reservoir to the hamlet of Phoenicia, the largest settlement in the corridor, nicely recovered from the floods that ravaged it after Irene. After you continue past Shandaken and Big Indian, the road climbs almost 2,000 feet (600 m) in a steady two-mile (3 km) stretch past Pine Hill to the divide between the Hudson and Delaware watersheds (also the Ulster–Delaware county line), and the entrance to Belleayre Ski Center. Beyond, it continues to Margaretville, Delhi and the city of Oneonta at Interstate 88 before heading north to Cooperstown and the Adirondacks.
There are two sections to this journey:
First is the drive from the Thruway at Exit 18/New Paltz to the Village of Napanoch (on US Route 209, 2 miles north of Ellenville) via Minnewaska State Park.
The second half of the journey begins in the Village of Napanoch at the junction of US Route 209 and Ulster County Route 55. Ultimately it will lead through Claryville, past Slide Mountain and on to Big Indian in Ulster County, NY and State Route 28.
This route may be a destination in itself - there are many wonderful Catskill hiking trails along this route. The eastern terminus of the FLT is in the not-even-a-village-anymore place called Dennning. The FLT begins (ends?) at the Long Path, and just north of Claryville on Ulster County Route 47 is Frost Valley and just north of that is Slide Mountain, the premier trophy peak of the Catskills.
Consult a map - and bring it with you - for more details on this route. While you are in Claryville, stop by the Country Deli - clean, modern and serving excellent food. This trip covers some remote territory - make sure your fuel tank is at least at 3/4 tank.


New York State Route 17: is a freeway in the process of being converted to Interstate 86.


Interstate 88: spans the 140 mile distance form Albany NY to Binghamton NY, with Oneonta NY roughly the half-way point between these two cities. This modern, limited access, divided, non-toll road does not enter the Catskills at any point, but it is worth listing this road as an important contributor to access by car into the Catskills.


Route 28 in western Ulster County

Get around

By bicycle

Some of the state routes through and within the region are also designated as bike routes. In addition, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is considering formally allowing mountain bikers to use some unpaved roads within the Forest Preserve areas, which would make some shortcuts possible.

By bus

By car

Deep Notch

Several ways to enter the Catskills, as alternatives to the main routes include...

Roads that traverse the more mountainous area of the Catskills include...

In Delaware County, try exploring the roads surrounding the two main reservoirs, the Cannonsville and the Pepacton. These roads are actually owned and maintained by the City of New York, and travel through the pristine landscape responsible for supplying NYC with drinking water.

By foot

As with most large mountainous regions, there have been efforts to link hiking trails into a long-distance network. So far, there have been two that allow long-distance multi-day hikes in the Catskills:

By rail

Although it is primarily a tourist heritage line, the Catskill Mountain Railroad, serves some short-range transportation needs along the Route 28 corridor, most notably for tubers on the stretch of Esopus Creek below Phoenicia. It has recovered from severe damage inflicted by Hurricane Irene; there have been plans to connect its Kingston segment with that one using the old Ulster and Delaware tracks although those have faced strong local opposition from proponents of a rail trail.

See

North-South Lake from Sunset Rocks


Do

Fishing

Rivers like the Willowemoc and the Beaverkill are famous for their brown trout, particularly in the spring and fall when the weather is cool. Three streams in Sullivan and Delaware Counties — the Neversink, the West Branch of the Delaware and the East Branch — are tailwaters (released from reservoir impoundments) whose temperatures stay cool and fish-favorable all summer.

Hiking

The following organizations are worth taking a look into as prep for hiking in the Catskills:

Some of the most popular - and more demanding - hikes worth mentioning here:

Less demanding - and possibly kid friendly - hiking ideas:

Trout Pond/Mud Pond: in the far southwest corner of the Catskills, near the intersection of Morton Hill Road and Russell Brook Road in the Town of Colchester. Take New York State Route 17 to State Route 206 north at exit 94 (Roscoe) Proceed north on 206 for 2 1/2 miles, take a left onto Morton Hill Road and go another 2 1/2 miles to the seasonal and rugged Russell Brook Road. There are loop trails, two lakes, and several campsites. Be advised - this place fills up on busy weekends.
Huggins Lake: located on Holliday and Berry Brook Road in the town of Andes, roughly half way between the Beaverkill Campground in Sullivan County, and State Route 30 at the Pepacton Reservoir in Andes. This gentle, less than 2 mile hike ends at a lovely, very remote lake, that has an old canoe laying around, left there by the DEC for your use. They did not leave any life vests around, so an adult should accompany children on any boat rides.

The western Catskills (Cherry Ridge area) is easily accessed from NY Route 17 (Future 86) Seasonal homes are located on the many north/south roads that run from Route 17 north to the Pepacton Reseroir).


Skiing

There are several ski areas in the region.

Mountain Biking

Trails for beginner and experienced mountain bike riders are available and well marked. Cautions include sharing trails with horseback riders, and the fact that the roads in the park are open to traffic using the park as a short-cut to remote communities.
On these trails, you will pass the City of Oneonta water tanks, and eventually approach Hartwick College property. Call the number on the signs and speak to security if you wish to continue onto Hartwick property. The cliffs at Table Rock are worth the extra effort.
While in Oneonta, there are sporting goods stores both large and small, and a four-block-long urban pub/restaurant scene on Main Street.

River Riding

River adventurers riding in inflatable boats should be aware that there are large chucks of either conglomerate rock or actual concrete that can rip open the bottom of the boat. These hazards are located just past the put-in point.
In years past, there have been many naturally occurring changes in the river, including tree-falls and washed-out riverbanks that have made river-riding dangerous. Fortunately, they have been repaired, but since history is an indicator of future events, it could happen again. Most dramatically, sections of track from the former Delaware and Ulster Rail Road, which closely parallels the river (as does Route 28) have draped into the river as a result of wash-outs of the track bed. Again, these have been repaired, but the lesson is that rivers are ever-changing creatures.
DO NOT put-in at the Shandaken Tunnel, also known as the Portal, or the Chute. The water in the Chute is exiting the 18 mile-long tunnel, coming from the Schoharie Reservoir, on its way to the Ashokan Reservoir. It exits the tunnel with furious force. Fatalities occur here at a distressingly frequent rate.

Eat

The eastern Catskills have as their lifeblood the dollars brought into the region by skiers, hunters, anglers and other tourists. Therefore, in the villages of Hunter, Windham, Woodstock and Tannersville, there is an ample supply of excellent restaurants. A walk down Main Street in each of these villages will yield the opportunity to dine in a different location each night, and yield no disappointments.

The same cannot be said as one travels west, however.

As it turns out, the western Catskills, while arguably even more picturesque than the east, have lower mountains - they are hills, really - and between those hills are valleys of rich soil and gentle rivers. And that means farming. Lots of it.

People make their homes in the western Catskills. Delaware County may have the lowest population of any county in New York south of the Adiraondacks, but these are real, hardworking people. At best, you may get a slight wave from them on a quiet county road.

But you are not going to get them to open a restaurant, not just for you.

So let's take a ride west, into farm country, and take a village by village look at where you may want to stop in to eat...

In the village of Bovina Center (Delaware County Route 6 - two miles east of State Route 28) is Russell's General Store, which has been there since before any of us were born, Two Old Tarts is the seasonal place, and the Mountain Brook Inn three miles down County Route 6 is the rustic hotel with gourmet food. All are excellent. Oh, and Russell's is available as a movie location - it's also a must see country place that pretty much defines rural Delaware County in one building.
Oneonta is also home to a number of those places where you point to the picture of the food you want, and the lady shouts something to the guy in the back. If you are pulling an all-nighter on dorm, go for it. However for a decent sit-down meal in a clean place, China 19 is located in the strip mall behind the Recruiting station (across from the Fire Department).
Oneonta is also roughly a half-way point on a day trip from the Catskills to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall-of-Fame.

One last piece of advice: never assume you can roll into the western Castkills late at night and find anything open, gas or food.

Buy

Oneonta (again, not really in the Catskills) is one of the few places in the region with a large selection of 'real' stores. Southside (Route 23) in Oneonta, has...

Delhi has a Tractor Supply right on Main Street in the middle of town, and a strip mall west on Main Street (Route 10) with a huge grocery store

Margaretville has a sporting goods store on Main Street, and a nice grocery store on Bridge Street

Andes has an entire Main Street lined with antique stores.

Hobart is known as a village filled with book stores.

Arkville has an on-again, off-again military surplus store which sells whatever they may have in at the time

Between Arkville and Fleischmanns on Route 28, there is a home improvement store which may sell items (flashlights, batteries) of use to the traveler

In Big Indian, at the corner of Route 28 and Route 47, there is a tiny store that sells the very basic necessities for survival in a Catskills summer, such as bug spray.

In Grand Gorge, there is a surplus store with army tanks and troop transports outside, if you want to help defend against a Soviet invasion. Seriously, he also may have surplus gear and clothing that may be of interest to a hiker.

Drink

Water:

If you are deep enough in the woods and come across a running stream or a spring, consider using a hand-pumped water filter to drink the water. None other than John Burroughs himself once said that you could live on Catskill water for a few days; if it's good enough for New York City, it's good enough for anyone.

Alcohol:

If that's your thing, even while on vacation, Oneonta has a decent pub scene. But please, have a designated driver, as these mountain roads are dangerous even for the stone cold sober. The State Police and the Oneonta City Police will be watching you drive out of the city.

Better yet, hit the various liquor stores on Southside in Oneonta (near Hannaford's), or Main Street in Walton (across from the bank), and take the booze back to your cabin.

Stay safe

Drive carefully:

Hiking:

Hunting:

Animal hazards:

Animals that may have undeservedly fearsome reputation among the uninformed are black bear and coyotes.

Crime in the Catskills region takes several forms...

Travel with firearms:

Many visitors from more populated area are often taken aback at the prevalence of firearms carried openly. There are several species of small game that the DEC has designated as 'open season' so be aware that there may be some hunting going on at any given time of year. Individuals who own homes or seasonal cabins in remote areas may engage in target practice on their own land, anyone can do so on public lands. If hearing shooting near a hiking trail makes you nervous, it is very reasonable to ask the individuals to stop shooting until you are well past. Do not take the following information as legal advice, but an overview of the laws and customs pertaining to this topic are worth knowing...

Culture

Proximity to the New York City metropolitan area is no guarantee that customs imported 'up the Thruway' will gain immediate acceptance in the Catskills. Quite the contrary; the Catskills are home to generally conservative, hardworking people who have a distinct culture of their own. The levels of tolerance for other cultures and habits that a visitor will experience and enjoy in this region, however, may be much higher than in many of the suburbs much closer to the city. The acceptance of cultural differences (and similarities) is always a two-way-street, and the more a visitor is aware and accepting, the more his or her hosts will be as well.

Politics

The Catskills region is located in the 19th Congressional District of New York, which has sent a Republican representative to Washington for sixteen of the past twenty years (as of 2016).

Barack Obama won the 19th Congressional District in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012.

All county sheriffs of the Catskills region have co-signed a petition in opposition to the New York State SAFE Act, which prohibits the sale and possession (with minor exceptions for registered firearms) of so called 'assault weapons.'

Religion

Except for Sullivan County, the Catskills region is populated primarily by individuals who self-identify as Protestant Christian. There is a very strong tradition of religious tolerance in the area, and the cultural influence of Catholics, Jews, Muslims (and others) far outweighs their relatively small numbers.

Buddhist retreats can be found in many communities, usually in very rural settings, and can be identified by their numerous colorful banners.

Muslim enclaves dot the landscape in western Delaware County, one in Sidney Center raises animals to provide fresh food for their restaurant in Franklin.

The Village of Fleischmanns, in southeastern Delaware County, is predominately Orthodox Jewish.

Environment

Environmentally, the Catskills are very unique, in that they supply the majority of the drinking water for one of the largest cities in human history. And they do so pretty much by just letting it rain. There has been a cultural, political and economic price for this, however, in that some of the most beloved communities in what is now known as 'the watershed' no longer exist, and have not for generations. A visitor may still meet old-timers who fondly recall their homes in long-vanished villages, which were moved, everything - including the cemeteries - to higher ground to build the reservoirs.

Visitors to the area may also hear - and be invited to engage in - arguments about the recent proposed upgrades to the energy infrastructure, including hydrofracking, power lines, electricity-producing windmills, and most recently, a natural gas pipeline. Local residents have been vehemently divided on these issues.

Economy

Tourism is the dominant economic force in the eastern Catskills, dairy farming is the predominant force in the western Catskills. Dairy farming shapes culture; it is a 7-day-a-week undertaking, and cows walk very slowly. It is worth noting that in many places in Delaware County, the farm buildings may be mere feet away from a two-lane highway, as on Route 28 east of Delhi. This may cause the locals to have a critical eye on the driving habits of all drivers that pass by, including tourists.

Farmers on slow-moving tractors can be seen on all roads except divided highways, their fields are not always contiguous to the farm buildings.

For someone looking to relocate, house prices upstate are generally much lower (as are property taxes) than in the suburbs of the NYC metropolitan region, or NYC itself. Retirees to the area are often accused of 'paying too darn much' for their dream house, thereby raising prices of real estate overall.

Regional influences

n 2015, fifteen towns in Sullivan, Delaware, Broome, and Tioga counties were reported to be looking into seceding from the State of New York and joining the state of Pennsylvania. There are communities throughout New York State in which one can hear the resentment that accompanies a feeling of political impotence, that Albany politics is not responsive to......(fill in your resentment here)

How this affects a visitor is that as one leaves the wealthy Hudson Valley, and approaches the southern tier and central New York, residents in the area identify less as members of an extended metropolitan area, and more as 'simple rural folk' even possibly Appalachian in terms of culture.

Hunting and firearms

In the late fall, the Catskills turn orange, not from the leaves, but from the hats and vests worn by hunters. It's a time - four weekends known as 'rifle season' - when even those vehemently opposed to hunting give up the fight (or should, at least) and turn the woods over to the men (and women) with guns. Like it or not, hunting and firearms are very much a part of the culture upstate New York.

In all seasons, there is also a strong tradition of firearms carried for self defense. One should not bother arguing - even if it is true - that short of a nasty slip and fall on jagged rocks, people are safer in the Catskill forests than pretty much any other place on earth.

That's not the point.

In 2015, each of the county sheriffs of the Catskills region issued open letters to their handgun licensees, encouraging them to carry their handguns as a deterrent to crime, and possibly terrorism.

Again, the possibility of that happening in such a remote area is not the point, either.

Americans will still respond to a 'call to arms.' They can't help but join a fight that is clearly over right and wrong.

If you see a law-abiding civilian carrying a handgun in the Catskills, don't let it bother you... that person is just doing what they feel is the right thing to do as an American.

You may disagree, that's your right, too.

Entertainment

Despite the collapse of the Borscht Belt, there still are world-class entertainment venues in the Catskills, as there are world class entertainers. The theme music from the Ken Burns' documentary The Civil War entitled Ashokan Farewell was not authentic to that era. Considered by its fans to be one of the most moving pieces of music ever written, it comes from New Paltz in the 1980s.

The Catskills are synonymous with Woodstock, not the village, and really not even the weekend of peace and love. More the fact that the Catskills were the epicenter of a youthful rebellion - the Haight Ashbury of the east, if you will - a rebellion that ended a divisive war and helped pass civil rights legislation to the benefit of us all.

It is that spirit, not just the incredible music, which one feels in every fiber of one's being, echoing through the countryside, nearly a half-century on.

Go next

On the east, the Catskills are adjacent to the Hudson Valley, to the point that it's almost impossible not to visit that region while visiting the Catskills.

The Albany metropolitan area, known in the state as the Capital District, is located in the valley's north, just to the Catskills' northeast.

Beyond it, to the north, are the Adirondacks, the larger of upstate New York's two mountainous regions.

Southeast of the valley is the New York metropolitan area, home during the week and the off-season to many Catskills visitors.

Due south is the state of New Jersey, split at its northern end between the suburban Gateway area on the east and the hilly, wooded Skylands on the west.

In Pennsylvania, the smaller mountains across the Delaware River are the Poconos, also a popular resort destination for New York metropolitan area residents.

Upstate New York has several regions to the west. Route 17 continues across the Southern Tier to Binghamton, Elmira, Corning and Jamestown. On the northwest, crossing Interstate 88 leads to Central New York.

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