You can’t exactly call it shovel-ready when the ground is frozen and covered with several feet of snow; but the site of the future Williams Lake Resort and spa in Binnewater was recently deemed chainsaw-ready. “The work’s already started, about two or three weeks ago,” according to Williams Lake Project community outreach coordinator Brian Cafferty. “We let out our first major contract, for a limited amount of tree-clearing. A new road is being cleared, leading to where the new resort lodge is going to be.”
When completed, the project will include wellness and recreation amenities along with a 130-unit resort with a 500-seat conference center. Five neighborhoods of homes will be clustered within the 779 acres of forested landscape: the Kiln Village (42 townhomes), Point Comfort (47 townhomes), Binnewater (23 single-family homes), Indian Rock (eleven homes) and Lover’s Lane (31 homes). Of these 154 homes, 12 will be dedicated to workforce housing. Other amenities will include a 4,000-square-foot fitness center, an 800-square-foot wellness center, a 17,000-square-foot spa, two restaurants, an 800-square-foot pizza café, three lakes, a recreation center and extensive trails for hiking, biking, bird-watching and nature study.
A new interpretive center will also be created to educate visitors about the site’s history as a cement manufacturing operation during the 19th century and as a family resort during the 20th century. Interpretive trails and guided walks will inform visitors of the site’s geology and ecology. During construction, deteriorating kiln walls and other artifacts from the site’s industrial past will be preserved as architectural features.
The arborist doing the initial clearing is J & J Tree Works, based in Saugerties. “They weren’t the lowest bidder, but because they were a local contractor, we chose them over people from Westchester and Putnam,” Cafferty says. “We used a very detailed process, issuing a Request for Qualifications [RFQ], and we got seven proposals back.”
The work-in-progress at this point consists solely of felling trees and grinding up the timber. “We’re going to leave the stumps in place for now. We’re chipping the treetops and slash, and the chips are being put on the ground as an erosion control measure,” says Cafferty. “Everything else will remain undisturbed until we’re ready to pull the stumps and start building the road,” which will eventually lead to a hitherto-undeveloped building site. “The access road into the old resort isn’t being impacted at all; that part is unchanged.”
Why do the work at a time when contractors have to slog through deep snowdrifts? “We’re not allowed to cut trees except between November and March, because of the bats,” he explains. “That’s part of the bat mitigation plan that we worked out with the DEC [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation]: We can’t cut trees except in wintertime, when they’re in hibernation.”
In fact, among the few activities at Williams Lake this time of year is the biennial Winter Bat Census conducted by DEC inspectors. “Every two years they go into the hibernacula and count the bats — or more accurately, they take pictures of the bats and then count them.”
“A couple of years ago, I went in with them,” Cafferty says. “It was quite a harrowing experience, because you have to rappel about 100 feet to the bottom of the mine and then walk down to where they hibernate — mostly on the ceiling.
“That’s the good news: It’s fortunate for the bats that they chose a place that’s not easy to get to,” he continues. “The bats are in there for a very specific reason: The temperature and humidity are exactly what they want. That’s why we’re so protective of the mine. We have data loggers installed in the mine to monitor the temperature and humidity constantly. When it comes time to do the kind of construction work that involves vibration, we will install a seismograph to monitor any vibratory effects.”
Besides the DEC and the tree crew, the site has a few other human visitors in the dead of winter, including the Bloomington Fire Department. “We provide access to those guys for ice rescue training,” Cafferty notes. The organization Wild Earth also conducts winter nature workshops for youngsters at Williams Lake. “We’re really excited at that partnership. It’s a great program, Wild Earth.”
Conspicuously absent this snowy winter, except on the segment of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail that passes through the site, are cross-country skiers, despite the fact that Williams Lake has a long history as a Nordic skiing destination. Cafferty explains that the narrow, single-track mountain biking trails that crisscross the site are “not good for cross-country skiing” at present because they have not been cleared of deadfall from storms in a long while. “The trails are blocked by blowdown, and until the time comes when we’re ready for them to be managed, it’s going to be that way.” That’s because it’s very difficult to keep all-terrain vehicles from trespassing on the property to use the trails once they’re cleared, he says.
Public use of the rail trail keeps increasing since it was officially opened in 2013, according to Cafferty. “People just love the Williams Lake section of the rail trail, partly because it’s so nicely interpreted” with signs explaining the geology and history of the Rosendale cement-mining boom. “We’ll be adding more of that this coming summer.”
Meanwhile, he says, “We’re waiting to find out when we can put out the RFQ for the next phases of work, which will be asbestos abatement and demolition of the old hotel,” tentatively scheduled for spring and summer of 2015 respectively. “It’s not set in stone, but that’s when we’d like to do it. It all comes down to finance phasing.”
The RFQ is already prepared for those two components of the project, and the developers are currently compiling and categorizing a comprehensive database of local contractors interested in bidding on aspects of the work. Cafferty wants to encourage “anybody who does any of the kind of work that we will be needing” to visit the Williams Lake website at www.williamslakeproject.com/contractors and fill out the online form, in order to be entered in the database and be sent notifications whenever an RFQ goes out to bid.
In the meantime, says Brian Cafferty, “We’re excited that we’ve actually started doing some work — that the project is moving forward.”