With the proposed development of 350 homes on the Awosting Reserve, Gardiner was confronted with an unprecedented dilemma in regards to what is the proper use of such a large tract of contiguous and exquisite land occupying some 2500 acres in the Shawangunk Mountains. The results are still a point of controversy, heated debates and confusion for many of the residents of Gardiner as well as many who live outside the borders of our town.
Now with the rumors of a possible purchase of much of this land by the Trust for Public Lands which by their own admission would then be given to Minnewaska State Park a new dilemma may be looming on the horizon. For three decades the state has wanted a new entrance to the park in the town of Gardiner. That proposal would have created new access to the State Park off of Beecher Hill Road. Lands would have been acquired by eminent domain but lack of available state funds at that time brought this proposal to an end. Later in the 80s once again the State made an attempt by eminent domain to acquire much of the Awosting Reserve to create an entrance to the park for both cars and buses. The proposed access would have been off Aumick Road, going up Campfire Road culminating with a large parking lot and a Bus Depot to facilitate access to the park for people without cars coming from out of town. Once again at the last minute funds were not available for a purchase and the idea was shelved for some possible future opportunity.
If you recall, one of the major objections with the Chaffin and Light proposed development was the amount of traffic that would result from the presence of hundreds of homes on the Ridge. Our serene country lanes would possibly be no more as these routes would be the only way of ingress and egress for residents on the mountain. A park entrance in this part of Gardiner would realize the worst case scenario envisioned from a major development and then some. Hundreds and hundreds of motor vehicles would have to use Aumick Road, Lake Road, Beecher Hill Road, Decker Road, North Mountain Road and South Mountain Road in order to access the new park entrance. Add buses to this picture and for us humans who live in this area, our worst nightmare may have just been realized.
And while we are at it, what about the environmental impact on the state owned lands and parts of the Awosting Reserve contiguous to these lands that up till now have been too remote for most hikers, except for the most passionate and argue ably most sensitive to the flora and fauna that inhabit this region of the Gunks.
Areas that once provided true natural serenity and freedom for the life forms that have an indisputable right to call these lands home may find more and more frequent intrusions into their domain by those that by sheer fact of number and ease of access, may not represent the standards necessary to prevent a slow but irreversible erosion of this part of the Ridge and beyond into the interior lands. Clearly the biodiversity of this environment will be put under unnecessary and potentially harmful stress with little recourse once the die has been cast. In addition, any changes to the land concerning buildings, parking lots, roads and lightning would no longer be under the jurisdiction of our town zoning laws since it would be under the jurisdiction of the State of New York.
And yet the greatest irony of this all is that a potential solution has been offered and discussed with Town board members and other significant entities for over two years with unfortunately no success as of yet.
The pressure for rezoning if still necessary could be approached in a more equitable fashion if the issue of the Awosting Reserve was resolved once and for all, giving relief to many of the property owners who have become suspect in the eyes of many environmentalists simply because their lands fall into the AR-200 zone with no consideration of their past stewardship of these lands.
In my discussions with Conservancy Partners who are the original members of Awosting Reserve prior to Chaffin and Lights involvement, I have heard suggested that building approximately 50 homes or less on the lower lands and creating a preserve under a land trust of approximately 1400 acres of the upper lands adjacent to Minnewaska State Park to be deemed forever wild would be an acceptable, viable and welcomed plan.
Maybe its time we stop to consider the wisdom of a great teacher from the Near East that warned of the dangers of extremes and expounded on the virtues of the Middle Path.
Respectfully and sincerely,
Stan Putko, Gardiner