spring, I decided to try a new route for my afternoon walk from
my house in the village of Woodstock, something more ambitious than
my usual stroll to Bread Alone for a peanut butter cookie. It was
route I'd studied all winter from town, but never tried despite
all my local hiking: the 35 Catskill 3500 foot peaks several times
each, plus Overlook Mountain in all seasons.
wasn't on trail maps, but it promised gorgeous views. And as I climbed,
panting, sweating, and regretting my winter of peanut butter cookies,
I wasn't disappointed. Many times on the curves and switchbacks,
I paused to admire the panoramic views of Woodstock, the Ashokan
Reservoir, and the Hudson Valley as far south as the Hudson Highlands.
Although I knew the views from the top of Overlook, I was rediscovering
my home terrain from a fresh angle, an elevating experience. By
the top, I knew this route was my new favorite hike, even if the
damn thing went relentlessly uphill.
The only oddity
was that I never left the road. On my way up, I passed a dog walker
coming down who told me that the switchbacks led all the way up
to a bulldozer at the end of the road. I imagined a bulldozer frozen
for winter like an old explorers' ship caught in the Arctic ice,
waiting for spring to forge ahead.
In fact, I
didn't find a bulldozer. But I did see survey tape on the trees,
telephone poles lying by the roadside ready to be raised, and at
the end of a future driveway a groomed flat septic field waiting
for a house. It had to have the most spectacular view from any septic
field in the Catskills, one that looks up at the Overlook fire tower,
down into the wild ravine of Lewis Hollow, and across the Hudson
Valley to the eastern horizon of Connecticut hills.
Catskill mountain, this site would be an idyllic location for a
lean-to or a campsite. But almost anywhere else in the Catskills,
a spot this rugged and high on a ridgeline would be far from any
road. It would be protected park wilderness.
Not at the top of California Quarry Road. My idyllic lean-to could
become the next mountainside castle.
On my ornery
days, I look up from town at the houses climbing the southern slope
of Overlook, and think, What a blight! But after hiking past some
of these homes I can appreciate their allure. They have fantastic
views with red-tailed hawks soaring by on the winds. They offer
the magical feeling of being on-top-of-the world. And they're handsome
But I'd hate
to see their number double or triple. I'd hate to see Overlook fill
up as a semi-vertical subdivision.
we needn't be passive onlookers. In December, the Woodstock Land
Conservancy announced a campaign in partnership with the Open Space
Institute to raise $1 million to buy land on Overlook from willing
sellers. Of this total, the Conservancy has pledged to raise $350,000,
admittedly a challenge for our community. But why not? Why not try
to protect more of the mountain that Woodstockers see and cherish
campaign launch, the Conservancy has raised more than $60,000 from
over 230 people. That's a strong start. But it's only a start. Now
that I've finally made a donation, I won't be hypocritical in urging
more people to do the same. If we don't join together to save Overlook,
little donations-it all helps! You may send a check to the Woodstock
Land Conservancy at: Box 864, Woodstock, NY 12498. For more information,
call the Conservancy at 845-334-2418, or check the web site at www.woodstocklandconservancy.org.
What the hell,
I'll even treat you to a peanut butter cookie. After we hike the
road. I've still got a lot of winter to work off.