If aliens from some other planet are looking to Earth for pointers on how to utilize political theater to conduct a demonstration around an environmental issue, they got an eyeful a couple of Sundays ago: Gardiner-based conceptual artist Keith Buesing, known locally for his giant lizard topiaries, organized a colorful “Float-In” to protest the threat by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC) to drain Tillson Lake. On Sunday, July 29, more than 100 people clad in red, white and blue shirts arrived at the 25-acre lake to launch about 60 kayaks, canoes, inflatables and other “floatables.” Participants came from New York City as well as Ulster and Orange Counties, according to the grassroots activist group Friends of Tillson Lake.
The protest action included boats linking up to form the letters SOS, meant to signify “Save Our Sanctuary.” According to Buesing, his inspiration was an aerial photograph by Sebastian Copeland of demonstrators in Antarctica protesting global warming by lying in the snow, end to end, in their colorful snowsuits, spelling out SOS. He explained, “I wanted to try the same thing with canoes and kayaks. The real beauty of this project was that it was pulled off predominantly by amateur boaters, myself included.” Liz Glover Wilson of Stone Wave Yoga in Gardiner assisted Buesing in organizing the Float-In.
Buesing’s son, Cody Buesing, a filmmaker, shot the transition from a starburst formation of almost 60 boats to the SOS formation of 40 boats. The footage by ReThink Films may be viewed online at https://we.tl/Wqej3SGE28.
The July 29 demonstration coincided with a letter being sent to the PIPC and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation by Friends of Tillson Lake president Morey Gottesman, in which he requested the agencies to withdraw and revise the information they are using to gain approval of their plans to drain Tillson Lake. After failing to maintain the lake’s dam and then failing to budget $4 to 5 million to reinforce the dam to comply with new safety regulations, the agencies are seeking approval to remove it entirely.
Gottesman’s request is based on the completion of a new study by ecologist Karen Schneller McDonald confirming Federal Fish and Wildlife Service mapping of the western half of Tillson Lake as freshwater wetlands. The group Friends of Tillson Lake commissioned the study after finding survey maps including Tillson Lake as part of the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI).
“This report shows that the wetlands are far more extensive than PIPC documented in the information they submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC],” said Friends of Tillson Lake lawyer David Gordon. “They only acknowledged 3.7 acres of wetlands, on the shore. This corroborates the original federal inventory showing that the western half of the lake is full of wetlands, so the impact of draining the lake and removing that habitat would be far greater than they recognized.”
Friends of Tillson Lake plans a second study to document the extent of the wetlands in the lake and will petition the DEC for added protection if enough are found. Under state law, if there are more than 12.4 acres, a special permit would be required. Gordon said, “We don’t yet know the acreage, but there is every reason to think that there could be enough to have state protection. The federal NWI mapping indicated 12.7 acres in the lake based on aerial photos. If we can confirm anything close to that, adding the 3.7 PIPC acres found on the shore, it may be well more than the state minimum.” Wetlands permits are also required from the Army Corps of Engineers.
The lake is a popular recreational area for fishing and boating. The Towns of Gardiner and Shawangunk, which is about a half-mile from the lake, have passed resolutions urging its preservation. “We’re grateful for the support we’ve received from our elected representatives,” Gottesman said. “We’re going to keep going so everyone can continue to enjoy this lake.”