Yankeetown Pond bought for a dollar! (Part 2)

(Photos by Dion Ogust)

Part II

Read part 1 here

In the fall of 2013 Woodstock Town Supervisor Jeremy Wilber was asked by New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a recommendation from the town of Woodstock on whether or not the DEP should open a majority of its 828 acre “Yankeetown Pond Unit” to seasonal hunting. In response Wilber created two task forces to present opposing views on the matter, soon voted on by the town board.

After living 16 years away from what she realized “was the most perfect place in the world,” Erin Moran had recently returned to Woodstock — specifically to her new home on Pond Road. Hopeful of a compromise between hunters and hikers Erin joined the latter’s taskforce. In other words, Erin had lived outside the shire just long enough to enjoy the delusion that any compromise at all between opposing groups in Woodstock might somehow someday be reached.

The town board also invited the input of Hudsonia, a think-tank devoted to environmental research and education, whose extensive research (borrowing from field work by our own Spider Barbour) tended to side with the hikers.

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When Erin Moran realized that neither intractable taskforce would budge, she withdrew and began her own private investigations. Of course, the late and ever-invidious Jay Wenk (and Ken Panza) voted to abolish all hunting with a resolution over-ruled in tie-breaker 3-2 vote by Jeremy Wilber. A compromise resolution was next struck and the DEP went ahead with opening their lands to hunting with an extra buffer zone protecting private homes.

Meanwhile back at the pond…24 of the original 29 members of The Yankeetown Pond Association (founded by Jerry Wapner in the 1970’s) still thought they owned and controlled the 25 acres of the pond’s exit waters at the western edge of YTP — the one (and most active area) not owned by DEP. This long-standing myth was brought to the attention of  public works artist  Keiko Sono, who’d recently moved into the neighborhood with her family, when her lakeside installation (soliciting responses from lovers of YTP) was toppled and “Remove This Eyesore” was scrawled across its underbelly. The conscientious objector, however, proudly left his address, and so evolved a fascinating dialogue between the artist and this “adhoc protectorate of the pond,” Steve Morris (who Highway Supervisor Mike Reynolds entrusted with clearing beaver clogged streamlets back in Part I.)

As noted by Violet Snow in this paper, Sono’s half hour Yankeetown Pond Project video [yankeetownpond.org] carefully and respectfully captures the memories and opinions of long-time YTP residents as well as Sono’s own passionate relationship with Woodstock’s treasured mile-long lake.

We hear the rumor that, in the previous century a particular family introduced water lilies to YTP which have since “taken over,” reducing the once 15-foot-deep lake to a “circumneutral bog lake,” according to Hudsonia’s report to the Woodstock town board. (Wendy Rosenbach of the DEC ambiguously acknowledges that both indigenous and foreign strains of lily pad are found in YTP.) The video also functions as a model of diplomacy in so far as installation toppler, Morris, and artist, Sono, do most cordially converse. But most important of all, in response to Sono’s over-riding question, “Is Yankeetown Pond Disappearing?” this subtly crucial fact emerges.

The sanctuary provided by a lily-pad-stuffed YTP is so important to certain long-time residents, that several of these pond-dwellers are evidently willing to risk the health of the watercourse, itself, rather than remove the water lilies and thereby encourage an influx of outsiders — mostly boaters.

Admittedly, I personally equate “no action” with the eventual transformation of YTP into a marsh or what is called “a beaver meadow” through which very little if any water moves. However, the Little Beaver Kill would have to go somewhere — if rather slowly through the middle of a rather solid bog. This theory, proposed by local Ken May in Keiko Sono’s video, was only moments ago contradicted by an email from the DEP, with which I’ll conclude this article.

In the meantime, this eventual disappearance-of-YTP-into-beaver-meadow was also Erin Moran’s conclusion, which emerged from her at three consecutive “pond parties” to which locals were invited in January of 2015, 16, and 17. Naturally, Steve Morris was highly visible — as well as audible — at these gatherings, where he gradually became more and more impressed by Moran’s investigations and protective instincts towards his beloved Yankeetown Pond. In fact, Morris recently told me (and Erin agrees) that he informally passed his stewardship of YTP on to her, and today takes a fair measure of pride in how she has “taken the bull by the horns.”

Aside from forest, lake, and game experts Erin consulted, she also mounted her own title search on the YTP Association lands which led to a conclusion she couldn’t quite believe. So she hired a professional title company which soon corroborated her finding: when Rivka Realty failed in the late 1970s, its outstanding mortgages (or some such legal instrument) were assumed by Saugerties’ Sawyer Savings Bank, through which the bank acquired the 25 YTP acres Steve Morris & other YTP associates believed themselves to own. The Saugerties bank, however, was as surprised to learn all this as Erin was, and cordially dispatched attorney Mike Graff — free of any charge to Moran — to, yes, convey the 25 acres below and to the sides of Yankeetown Pond lake to her for one dollar. It felt like a dream come true.

But in dreams begin responsibilities, and so Erin fast realized that although she was now able to, in part, steer the destiny of YTP she was also liable for any accidents or misdemeanors occurring upon or near her corner of paradise. And so appeared her ‘No Trespassing’ signs, forbidding outsider’s enjoyment of traditional uses such as boating and skating — recreations, which, in all fairness, are increasingly challenged by the ever-growing contagion of lily pads; lily pads which in fact today represent fate’s fulcrum at Yankeetown Pond.

On the other side of the vast Pitcairn estate (which begins only a few hundred yards due south of YTP) its luscious lake, nestled alongside route 28 — complete with its own beaver population — has been rescued from an aggressive lily pad invasion with the sporadic user of a hydro-thresher, which yanks water lilies up by the roots, and deposits them on the shore. It is strongly rumored that such a machine was once used on YTP, and it has been Erin’s hope that controlled use of a hydro-thresher could save the lake. For here is another crucial element in an admittedly delicate equation.

Though beavers — and there are at least four active beaver dams on YTP — are commonly blamed with forcing lakewater into evermore shallow areas (and so come spring flooding nearby roads), it is primarily the gargantuan root mass of the lily pads, growing from the bottom of the lake, which perpetuate the peat bog and displace such lakewater, pushing it into shallow areas where ever more lily pads (and cat tails, etc.) next grow.

So the following statement from Erin Moran, certainly addresses the core issues with practical optimism:

“I hope to restore the pond back to what it once was; a place that accommodated all wild life, anglers, paddlers and nature lovers. I think we can maintain the pond with proper management of the lily pads, beavers and the unique habitat. While I obviously do not personally have the resources to do all this, I have already begun the process of working with the DEC and DEP and will continue to look for ways to accomplish these goals.”

Nor does the DEP necessarily directly contradict Moran, although that all-powerful institutions sobering reply (of only a few hours ago) does reframe our understanding. “DEP scientists have found that our portion of Yankeetown Pond is home to a wide array of native plants and animals that are thriving in their natural habitats. At this time DEP does not plan to remove any of those native species from our property. They pose no harm to water quality, and they are indicators of a healthy ecosystem. In fact, removing native vegetation could make Yankeetown Pond more susceptible to the introduction of invasive species. We do, however, recognize that Yankeetown Pond has a long history of different uses. DEP is always willing to meet with our neighbors and other stakeholders to better understand their vision for the property and how those plans might relate to our core mission of operating and protecting the water supply.”

In conclusion we are forced to wonder whether the deep, clean waters of YTP in its heyday were not themselves an aberration brought on by Tom Shultis’ saw mill (see Part I), and whether an ever-boggier watercourse isn’t in fact the destiny of what we call Yankeetown Pond. Or if (as the DEP’s statement suggests) a collaborative intervention on the Western front of the lake might not bring about a lasting compromise bountifully beneficial to all?

I am an indebted to Adam Bosch of the DEP who, while on vacation, managed to elicit the quoted response from his office, as well as correct numerous errors I made in Part I. For instance, the fact that the Department of Environmental Protection is a a New York City (not State) run institution, which exclusively operates and maintains all elements of NYC’s water supply system, the largest reservoir within which is not the Ashokan but the Pepacton. I’d also like to thank Nick Henderson of the Woodstock Times for his coverage of town board meetings pertinent to this article. — T.W.

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