Interpretive Center boosters have changed with the times
By Jay Braman Jr.
It has been a long road for the Catskill Interpretive Center, but that road, according to supporters of the project, does lead to somewhere despite what the critics say.
So says Ettore Infante, chairman of the Friends of the Catskill Interpretive Center, who spoke last week in Shandaken at Town Hall.
Infante provided an update on the project and brought along students of the Architecture Department of SUNY Delhi who unveiled several siting and conceptual plans for a building for the Interpretive Center at its Mount Tremper location.
Infante outlined the history of the project, which began in the 1980s, and brought along with him the original design plans for what was to be a very grand, very large facility.
But that was then. This is now.
Lots of hard work
Speaking to an intimate gathering of local residents, public officials and collage students, Infante said that those who had worked hard for years and years to make the interpretive center come to fruition were hit hard by reality in the mid 1990s when New York State, the original champion and financier of the plan, changed focus to the New York City Watershed.
With funding and interest gone, a new game plan was needed.
“Circumstances had changed,” he said. “It was time to rethink the whole thing.”
First, Infante noted, it’s important to realize that there is no public park of this size in the nation that does not have an interpretive center, except the Catskills.
“The Adirondacks have two of them,” he added with a tinge of resentment in his voice.
The need for one is there, and there’s already a location ready and waiting. A beautiful 62-acre parcel held in trust by the Arkville based Catskill Center for Conservation and Development.
Thanks to the way information is now available, Infante said that a giant structure is no longer needed to house museum-like depictions of Catskills’ treasures. Therefore, the students were asked to design a “modest facility” that would be built soon, sometime in 2013, that could be expanded if need be.
“We told them that we wanted a very attractive, inviting facility, built as cheap as possible but not look cheap,” he said.
Cheap was the operative word.
“Yes. We are cheap. We are counting on a lot of work being donated.”
Early design work
The preliminary designs all showed small structures and included such elements as an outdoor amphitheater, year-round bathrooms, and some site work along Route 28 designed to attract visitors to the structure, which would no longer be seen from the highway now that it is no longer the large building originally planned.
The designs will be refined and brought to Shandaken again on December 14 at 3 p.m. in town hall.
Infante said that there is still over $350,000 in federal funding allocated for the project, funding secured by Congressman Maurice Hinchey nearly 20 years ago.
Also, the project has been given a name change. Last July it was announced at the annual meeting of the Catskill Center For Conservation and Development that the facility will now be named the Maurice Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center in honor of Hinchey, who retires from Congress at the end of this year.
Shandaken Councilman Vince Bernstein told Infante that the renaming should be reconsidered because naming the facility after a career politician, “puts a little bit of a political swing to it.”