When you walk into the newly opened Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center (CIC) in Mount Tremper, the first thing you see is a 3-D topographical model of the mountains spread out in the center of the space, as if you were flying high over a rippled white landscape. If it’s a weekend, when up to 70 visitors a day have been streaming through the CIC, the landscape will probably be clad in color, since the projector overhead will be running through its animation, casting green forests, blue rivers, and red hiking trails over the model. If the projector is off, ask the volunteer at the information counter to turn it on.
Built by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation after 30 years of civic and political maneuvering, the CIC opened at the end of June to much fanfare, with an bevy of local and state officials attending the dedication. Conceived as a tourist destination as well as a high-tech information center, the CIC will hopefully boost the economy of the Catskills by bringing local businesses and recreation opportunities to the attention of travelers and residents alike.
On a hot Monday afternoon, I was the only visitor, but volunteer Carol Stone White of the 3500 Club said the place had been hopping on Sunday, her first day of duty at the counter. “People love the high-tech display,” she said, nodding at the 3-D model. “It does need some fine-tuning.” I had lasted about five minutes, starting with the words “You are here” blazoned over the mountains in four languages, followed by a locator dot in the lower right, near the most obvious feature of the map, the Ashokan Reservoir.
Succeeding legends, projected over the map in block letters, identified the state-held lands of the Catskill Park, the thousands of miles of hiking trails, and the system of reservoirs, streams, and tunnels supplying water to New York City, each announcement followed by the appropriate illustration on the map. The labels lasted too long, while the animations went by too fast. After the tunnels, my attention waned. Luckily, the technology is such that with a little programming, the timing can be easily adjusted.
I had a specific goal in mind to test the center’s information systems. I want to take a friend kayaking, but I own no kayak and no roof rack, so I was looking for lakes with kayak rentals. I went to one of the four iPads mounted on stands, two of them at child height. Carol told me later there has been little interest in the iPads, except from children. The volunteers have been trained to help visitors with the devices, but I was determined to explore the system on my own, although I have little experience with tablets.
The iPads are set to access only the CIC website and associated sites, beginning with the CIC home page. The first problem, which will hopefully be fixed, is that the homepage menu, fine on a desktop, is bumped to two lines on the little screen, with the most useful option, “Plan your visit,” a millimeter above “Contribute.” I’m sure a childish finger can easily tap the planning option, while my fat adult digit took me to the screen that requested a monetary donation. Eventually, I found my way onto the “Plan your visit” page, but once there, it took me a few minutes to figure out that I had to sweep my finger up the screen in order to scroll past the photo of a sunset to the “interactive trip planner.” Two or three taps were required to activate the map and the list of categories to the right.
I scrolled down the alphabetical list of 49 topics, from “accessible destinations” to “ziplines.” Others include expected subjects like hiking, fishing, music and art, winter sports, as well as boat cleaning, lean-tos, privies, retreat centers, spas, youth camps, and more. “Kayaking” was not a choice. Farther down, I found “paddling,” which I tapped. Little icons popped up all over the map, along with a scroll-down list of places to paddle, with brief descriptions, addresses, and links to websites. But I need places that also rent kayaks, so I went back to the category list and tapped “rentals.” Among the bikes and boats, I found a few lakes with kayak rentals (Little Pond in Delaware County, North/South Lake in Greene County, and Wilson State Park, right down the road). Bingo!
For each of these locations, I clicked “Add to my itinerary,” and later I found the button that would allow me to see everything I added — along with everything a previous user had added, but those items could be easily removed. Printing out the itinerary does not seem to be an option.
The desktop computer against the wall was more familiar and easier to navigate, while the bigger screen made the map more useful, with zooming and scrolling capabilities.
Next I strolled over to a table bearing an array of flyers with information such as firetower hikes, locavore eateries, Shandaken parks and playgrounds, local festivals. I noted flyers advertising recreational boating opportunities at three New York City reservoirs. “Which of these is closest to us?” I asked Carol, and she took me outside to a map of the Catskills on the side wall of the building. We quickly determined that Cannonsville is far to the west, while Schoharie and Neversink are about equidistant from Shandaken. Carol’s husband, Dave, also a volunteer, even knew exactly which road outside Prattsville would lead me to a kayak put-in on the Schoharie, where work on the dam may limit the number of put-ins available. However, the reservoirs do not offer kayak rentals. Still, the low-tech representation was satisfying.
Posters around the room provide quick, useful, visually pleasing information on hikes (historic, view-oriented, family-friendly), wildlife, waterfalls, invasive species. Video screens loop through even more topics. At the information counter, Carol pointed out several Catskill hiking books that she and Dave had written, among the many items for sale, including detailed trail maps.
The CIC is a work in progress, as representatives from the Catskill Center for Conversation and Development, responsible for running the center, have pointed out many times. As experience smooths out the kinks, and the public expresses further needs, the CIC will hopefully be an increasingly useful resource on life and recreation in the Catskills.
The Catskill Interpretive Center, located at 5096 Route 28 in Mount Tremper, is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, see https://www.catskillinterpretivecenter.org.