Coming back to center
Throughout its existence, the Upper
Delaware River Valley has had a unique history and
a clearly defined sense of place. The area, according
to James Quinlan’s “History of Sullivan
County,” enjoyed a large measure of prosperity
following the construction of the Delaware and Hudson
Canal in the 1800’s.
Indeed, The New York Times Travel Section
recentlyshowcased a two-page spread on the D&H
Canal. The article describes a three-day journey along
the 160 miles of the gravity railroad and the D&H
Canal from Carbondale, PA to Kingston, NY.
Beginning in Carbondale, where anthracite
coal was mined, and ending in Kingston, where it was
loaded onto boats for New York City, the article traces
a journey along the D&H Canal, which operated
from 1828 to 1898, where “time was measured
in months” and man’s innovation with nature
birthed gravity railroads and wire suspension aqueducts.
It describes present-day Honesdale,
the end of the line of the gravity railroad that ran
from Carbondale and the beginning of the actual canal,
as “a vibrant town, with a handsome Main Street
lined with stately banks, antique shops and homespun
cafes.” Old stone churches, the article exclaims,
built on land donated by the D&H Canal, grace
the skyline. The story wends its way through Hawley
and describes rich canal remnants including Kimbles,
“a canal stop nearly deserted”—a
place found by turning right at the Woodloch Pines
sign in the northern woods of Pike County.
It tells the story of the building
of the Roebling Bridge at Lackawaxen, and the canal’s
entry into Sullivan County and onto Port Jervis. It
navigates through Orange County and then again through
Sullivan County and finally to Ulster County at the
Hudson. Along the way, it encounters the Hawks Nest,
“a spectacular stretch reminiscent of the Rhine
Valley, leading into historic Port Jervis.”
Touching on history lessons about the Neversink Valley
Area Museum and the D&H Canal Park in Cuddebackville,
it moves eastward onto and through the Basha Kill
wetlands and Sullivan County’s Delaware and
Hudson Canal Linear Park. Finally it reaches the Hudson
at Kingston. From there, it’s all downriver
to New York City.
The article—the trip—is
a retracing of the area’s heritage and an outline
of its future.
This particular article bodes well
for us. It clearly defines the Upper Delaware’s
pristine beauty, warm and open communities and unique
quiet glimpse into life before the technological evolution.
And with it, our gift then becomes
our challenge. How will we preserve this rich heritage,
the pristine environment and warmth of our communities
as we prepare for the onslaught of visitors, entrepreneurs
and those who seek to make money from the abundance
of natural capital our area has to offer?
Perhaps there is wisdom from history.
Quinlan, in his description of the
formation of the Town of Highland, writes in 1893,
“The same causes which retarded the growth and
prosperity of Lumberland and Tusten have had their
logical effect here. In early times, the population
consisted of lumbermen, who were employed by non-resident
owners to strip the town of its valuable timber, and
convert it as expeditiously and cheaply as possible
into cash. If the profits of the business had been
retained in the town, and expended for improvements,
the value and importance of Highland would have been
enhanced in a degree which we cannot now estimate.”
Which is to say that we, as a collective
whole encompassing residents on both sides of the
river, need to act to ensure that those invaluable
assets—trees, clean water, wildlife and quiet—are
preserved and protected. We need to heed the new-found
wisdom of the technological world that tells us that
the preservation of our natural capital is our best
bet for economic prosperity.
We need to support our town boards,
planning boards and zoning board of appeals with the
message that careful development, use of innovation
in preserving green space and enhancement of our cultural
heritage is essential to our future.
We are fortunate here, as our path
is clearly delineated and defined for us. We do not
need to reinvent ourselves to be attractive. We need
only to ensure that our actions and decisions, in
regard to development and our environment, are based
on sound principles which emerge from and sustain
our precious history.
The lessons of history are the future,
and the present is now. Let your voices be heard in
the preservation and protection of the uniqueness
of the Upper Delaware River Valley.