Catskill Center for Conservation and Development founder Sherret Chase — who will be honored at the venerable regional organization’s annual meeting Saturday, July 27, in the same month that the still-active regional booster and pioneering corn scientist turns 95 — has deep memories of this area that he’s identified as home throughout his life…even when he’s had to live elsewhere.
If the 44th annual meeting that starts at 10:30 a.m. at the Erpf Center in Arkville (and is open to the public) has an overriding theme this year, it’s the model of Chase’s continuing drive to make things happen here. The gathering will include speeches by National Resources Defense Council founder John H. Adams, Adirondack Wild’s David Gibson, state Department of Environmental Conservation Natural Resources Supervisor Bill Rudge, MARK Project director Peg Ellsworth, and this paper’s publisher (and long term Catskill Center board member) Geddy Sveikauskas.
Just two weeks ago, after voting in his hometown of Olive’s Democratic caucus on the arm of his daughter, former town councilwoman Helen Chase, Sherret was quick to talk about the new developments in his push to have his Catskills hosting their own interpretive center.
“We got funding again, after 20 years wait,” he said, as the leading light for the ever-insistent Friends of the Catskill Interpretive Center that evening. “But one never knows…I’m hopeful…” — which is a statement that seems to capture Chase’s life, along with the professional quality and well-reasoned passion of all that’s filled his life.
Chase’s family based itself on Shokan’s Chase Mountain for years; it was a special place throughout Sherret’s years as a student; as a young scientist working with corn’s potential; as a navigator for U.S. Air Force bombers over Eastern Europe and Italy during World War II, and as a family man whose children and grandchildren have all started working to maintain their presence in the Catskills for another century or two.
A few years ago he talked fondly of how he proposed to his late wife, Kenny… taking her up the Hudson from New York City on a day boat to Kingston, then hiking with her up the mountain behind the family home he still inhabits, and through a notch to the spot he likes to refer to as “Two Views” where he went down on one knee, ring in hand. Later, he said, the young couple spoke at length about the beauty and richness of this region’s nature, and how they’d like to some day live in the Catskills full time, raise kids, and share in shaping its future to match that beauty that was so key in kindling their love.
That was 1941. Then, 29 years later, Chase was a key player in the 1969 founding of what has become known as The Catskill Center for Conservation & Development…as well as its first director. It all derived from a Catskill Commission that consisted of academics in the state university system devoted to studying the region, just as the Adirondacks were also being studied.
Eventually, Chase abandoned early plans for the Catskills to have its own Adirondacks-like centralized planning entity and focused on smaller projects…from publishing studies on the region’s history and natural attributes to the saving of older buildings such as an old Delaware County mill and Thomas Cole’s house in Catskill. In it’s early days the Catskill Center helped fight the introduction of gambling into the area, as well as use of ridgelines for the creation of complex hydro-power systems. It championed the indigenous culture, as well as the region’s natural resources.
Through it all, including recent discussions of resorts at Belleayre mountain, gambling, and ways to better local economic lots, Chase has stayed involved… a regular voice of reason wherever he spoke.
This Saturday, July 27, he gets to listen as others voice their gratitude for all he’s done…including the apparent success of his long-held dream for a visitors-welcoming interpretive center for the Catskills as a whole, a project new Catskill Center director Alan White will be coordinating over the coming years.
“The Catskills have always been deeply subdivided between six and a half counties and countless towns and villages, not to forget older divisions between the region’s eastern half, dominated by Dutch Huguenot and Algonquin traditions, and its west, which is more like New England, with Iroquois underpinnings,” he said just before the Catskill Center’s 40th anniversary events, where he was also honored alongside his beloved Kenny…“There’s deep antagonism here, and yet we’re doing much better politically, now, than we were 40 years ago. Although I’d have to remind everyone…there’s still a long way to go.”
For further information on this Saturday’s annual meeting, to be followed by a lunch, visit www.catskillcenter.org.