Summer life on the Sawkill

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

The site of the old Camp Madison above the Sawkill Creek in the Town of Kingston has been abuzz with workers ever since a new entity bought the 120 acre property and its 33 plus buildings several weeks ago.

According to Rabbi Shalom Goldstein of Yeshivas Kayitz Tannersville, a program of the Lubavitcher Chabad Educational Institute Oholei Torah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where he serves as a junior high school principal with a reputation for being hard working and visionary, everyone’s working towards the June 24 start of a six week camp season for 100 boys come together “as part of a maturing process.”

The camp was started by Goldstein as, “a summer experience of active living, learning and growing for eighth grade graduates” at the old Cortina Valley ski center in the Greene County Mountaintop community of Haines Falls, and found its current home, which started life in the late 1930s as Camp Woodcliff, with the aid of a broker.
“Each summer, hundreds of Talmidim leave 8th Grade as children and enter Mesivta as Bochurim, encountering endless new experiences, expectations, responsibilities and opportunities for achievement,” reads the “About Us” portion of Yeshivas Kayitz Tannersville’s website. “Our goal is to utilize these months as more than an island in time, but a bridge between worlds, providing the tools, knowledge, motivation and responsibility to thrive in Mesivta and in life.”


“In a summer setting out in nature, you’re together with boys your own age, away from your Brooklyn apartment homes, and able to be less distracted by things and become more independent,” Goldstein added by phone this past week. “It’s a great opportunity to disconnect from the world we live in and really study Torah in a relaxed fashion, so one internalizes the lessons more. Here in Brooklyn we play in the parks but need a permit every time we go out. Up in Woodstock, we’ll be able to go out on field trips, visit local businesses in your town there.”

He added that in addition to the 100 campers, a staff of approximately 40 will be on hand for the session set to run through August 11.


Up to code

At the old camp, which includes 18 camper cabins, staff cabins, a nurse’s cabin, a caretaker’s residence, a dining hall with commercial kitchen that’s now being transformed into a shul, an open-air theater, a nature center, a library, an office, and an arts and crafts building, along with a three acre lake, a one acre pond, a functional Olympic-size pool, sports fields, and even tennis courts, we meet up with Berl Zwiebel, brought in from Pennsylvania to “get the job done” working with local contractors and crews, as well as Town of Kingston officials.

“We’ve got to get everything up to code,” he said in a fast patter, noting how septic and water, electrical and drainage systems were being worked on first, while simultaneously doors and windows were being replaced and most surfaces repainted. “We’re trying to do everything as best we can and have a lead guy coming by next week, and taking out 200 trees. It’s not cheap but all needs to be done.”

Before us, between the pool and main buildings, is a former ball field now soggy from bad drainage. Zwiebel says he’s bringing in people to figure out how it can be drained and restored.

We asked about the neighbors, noting how we’d first heard of the activity up at the old camp from a number of people wondering about what was going on. And then we made calls to the Town of Kingston and supervisor and code enforcement officer, asking whether there’d been any concerns. Repeated calls had not been answered, indicating that nothing was amiss.

“Everyone’s helping us,” replied Rabbi Goldstein, in between classes down in Brooklyn. “We’re bringing the place back to life.”