By Simona David
1. AIR AND WATER QUALITY
The Catskill Park, situated a hundred miles north-northwest of New York City, is known as America’s First Wilderness, because of its role in the environmental conservation movement. The New York State Legislature established the park in April 1904 to recognize and protect this magnificent mountainous area, which is part of the Appalachian plateau, and is dated back to the Devonian period (380-million-year-old). The place is also known as the birthplace of American fly fishing.
The Catskills encompass 700,000 acres of private and public land, with close to 300,000 acres of state-owned forever wild land known as the Catskill Forest Preserve. The Catskill Mountains span over six counties: Delaware, Greene, Otsego, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster. Only four counties – Delaware, Greene, Sullivan and Ulster – are within the boundaries of the Catskill Park per se. The region has thirty-five peaks that are over 3,500 feet elevation. It is drained by tributaries of the Delaware, the Hudson, the Mohawk, and the Susquehanna.
Despite its proximity to major metropolitan areas, the Catskills have maintained their idyllic and remote look. The preservation of historic homes and sites make the region an ideal place to live, work, and slow-down. Having late morning coffee and a bagel at a local diner, catching up with a neighbor, or spotting a bald eagle nearby are a great substitute for the rush hour in the Big City.
4. NATURAL BEAUTY
The Catskills, endowed with breathtaking scenery in all seasons – majestic peaks, forests and lakes, rivers and streams – attract outdoor enthusiasts year-round and provide the perfect backdrop for any occasion. Kaaterskill Falls had served as an inspiration to the Hudson River School of Painting, and poet William Cullen Bryant memorialized it in his poem “Catterskill Falls”. For star-gazing enthusiasts, the Catskills Visitor Center occasionally hosts guided events when participants are given star maps, telescopes, and instructions on how to use them.
5. OUTDOOR RECREATION
The area’s four ski resorts – Belleayre, Hunter, Windham, and Plattekill – are a major attraction to visitors from all over the world during the winter months. During the summer kayaking, fishing, swimming, hiking, biking, and rail exploring offer plenty of opportunities to outdoor enthusiasts. In the fall, vintage train rides provide the most spectacular foliage experience.
Catskillians are an eclectic mix of locals and transplants from downstate and other parts of the world brought together by their shared love of the region they call home. It is the place where the likes of Marc Chagall, Bob Dylan, and physicist Richard Feynman spent time, and also the place where comedians like Sid Caeser, Mel Brooks, and others started their careers.
7. FOOD SUSTAINABILITY
Fresh local produce available at nearby farmstands, local meat, trout, dairy, maple syrup and apple cider enrich the quality of life of local residents but also speak to the region’s long standing farming tradition. The farm-to-table movement is at home in the Catskill Mountains; local restaurants use locally sourced ingredients in their menus, both seasonal and sustainable.
Landscape painters Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church, exponents of the Hudson River School of Painting, and writers Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, who wrote specifically about American realities, have established the foundation of the first authentic American art movement, inextricably embedded in the Catskill Mountains’ ethos. The tradition has grown over the span of two centuries to include mainstays of the American artistic expression such as The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, founded in 1902, and The Woodstock Playhouse opened in 1929 as a rural extension of Broadway. Maverick Concert Hall, the oldest chamber music hall in the country still in existence, opened in 1916: it was at Maverick that John Cage premiered his famous 4’33” of silence in 1952. Hollywood movies have been made in the Catskills, and famous writers and artists have settled in. Throughout the summer festivals and concerts, art galleries, bookstores, and antique shops animate an enthusiast crowd of new and repeat visitors.
In the mid-1800s, with the expansion of the railroad system, boarding homes and hotels became ever more common in the Catskills to accommodate an increased number of City dwellers eager to leave the metropolis and rejoice with nature in the hot summer days. In the early 20th century, the Catskills had more than five hundred hotels and boarding houses, and became a hot spot for comedians, entertaining a predominantly Jewish population. Around that time the area became known as the “Borscht Belt.” The Borscht Belt’s heyday ran from the 1920s through the 1970s. The region has been memorialized in movies such as Dirty Dancing and The Marvelous Mrs. Mazel, among others.
In recent years the Catskills have experienced a resurgence propelled in part by renewed interest in country living and remote work. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a shift in lifestyle choices that is making even more people move to the country.
10. PROXIMITY TO NYC
And just like that, in two or three hours one is in Manhattan, enjoying some of the world’s best restaurants, a good play or a museum, and then returning home to the country.