The 'Blue Hole' under siege
There is a magical place, high in the eastern Catskills, where crystalline waters flow to form the “Blue Hole.” It is part of the upper Rondout watershed in the Town of Denning and is fed by Rondout Creek, which flows along Peekamoose Road.
This reach of the upper Rondout is part of the New York State Forest Preserve, which is administered and managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). For years the Blue Hole was a favorite destination for locals, who sought its cool waters to escape the doldrums of summer. Then the national media somehow found this beautiful place, and use increased dramatically.
In 2014, Travel and Leisure Magazine listed the “Blue Hole” on its list of America’s Best Swimming Holes, and it also appeared on several other websites. As a result, the Blue Hole was inundated by folks seeking refuge of the mountains with a place to swim.
Peekamoose Road is a rural two-lane, with very little parking. Soon the influx of cars blocked the road, causing traffic jams; refuse and litter became a problem. The locals were not happy, and complaints caused the authorities, including the DEC, New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the town of Denning to become involved. The DEC advised on its website that in 2015, day use increased exponentially. Overuse became so bad that in June 2017 the state implemented emergency regulations restricting use of the area. Parking was limited with violators finding their cars towed.
To mitigate the problems associated with overuse of the Blue Hole, the DEC is proposing a free day-use permit system that would be in effect on weekends and holidays from May 15 to October 15. Up to 40 permits would be issued per day and allow six persons per vehicle, or a total of 240 per day. The state is accepting comments on its proposal until May 28 at its 21 South Putt Corners Road office, New Paltz, NY 12561.
While a permit system seems like a reasonable way for the state to deal with the Blue Hole’s popularity and overuse, there is a story here that has not been told, despite all the coverage. The upper Rondout Creek, including the Blue Hole, is one of the few remaining wild brook trout streams in the eastern Catskills. Brook trout are our native trout, and they have been extirpated from much of their former range by logging and over-harvest during the 1800s and 1900s. When compared to other swimming “holes,” the Blue Hole is very small. Brook trout live in the Blue Hole, or at least they used to. So is it a good idea to allow even 240 people a day into this area to frolic and swim, in one of the remaining wild brook trout habitats in the area?
If you are an administrator of public lands trying to manage the resource for a variety of use, perhaps so. If you are a biologist or fisherman concerned with the wellbeing of a threatened species, not a good idea at all. I have reason to believe that because the Rondout Creek/Blue Hole are part of the Sundown State Forest, that the DEC, through the Division of Lands and Forests, has complete control over management of the area. As a result, and because of the wild brook trout, it has the authority to close the area to swimming. Most of us that know the area and the status of the fishery wish it would do so. There are a lot of places to go swimming and observe nature; the Blue Hole need not be one of them.