Ashokan Reservoir
May 29, 2011
The Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskills in upstate NY was built around 1910 to supply New York City with water. A dam was built to trap water from rain, melting mountain snow, and nearby rivers into the valley submerging several communities in water as deep as 180 feet. Two thousand residents were relocated. Because few, if any, would give up their livelihood so easily, eminent domain court proceedings ran up until 1940, almost 30 years later.

We went there by way of one of the hamlets south of the reservoir, Olivebridge. We parked at the start of a road called the “spillway” which hugs a portion of the reservoir’s coastline. The spillway was once open to traffic but since 9/11 was closed for security reasons. Schoolbuses as a result have to drive longer to reach the other side of the reservoir. New York City compensates the school district for the extra gas but for local villagers, driving through the woods to get to the other side was just another sacrifice in a long line of sacrifices for the urbanite neighbors they hardly even know one hundred miles away down in New York City.

The spillway today remains open to pedestrians. It has become a public walk and favorite summer spot for those wishing to go biking, rollerblading, or just walking on a long stretch of asphalt road in the scenic Catskills. The view of the Catskill Mountains in the distant coastline from the spillway caps the breathtaking expanse.

But the villagers couldn’t care less. They want the spillway to remain open to traffic. They need it for commerce. They’re already living in a tourist attraction -- the whole Catskills -- and they didn’t need another tourist attraction at the expense of their comfort and convenience. Since the reservoir was built in the early 1900s, the city’s far-reaching tentacles have been affecting the daily lives of the local villagers often not in productive ways.

I didn’t know all this until I read about it online after our visit. To me, Ashokan Reservoir is one of those nature trails that I would take friends to, where getting there meant fun driving through hamlets with rustic homes and farms, and where the mountains in the distance seem to follow us as we navigate our way through the narrow, tree-shaded country backroads until the reservoir’s expanse breaks suddenly out in the open.

We’ve always respected Nature. We take in the view with admiration and feel the harmony that dwells. We then leave Nature the way we found her, taking out whatever we brought in. But for our future visits to Ashokan Reservoir -- a manmade lake and the world’s largest reservoir at the time -- it may also be worth remembering that sacrifices have been made by people who live there and whose only mistake in life it would seem was living in a valley.

Click on a picture to enlarge.
Ashokan Reservoir. Vi took this picture.
The Catskill Mountains are visible in the distance. Vi took this picture.
The south shore is on the left.
View from the parking lot.
Water spills out of the reservoir into Esopus Creek on the east side of the
Building near the dam. Vi took this picture.
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