Esopus Creek

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Esopus Creek
Esopus Creek near Shandaken, NY.jpg
The Esopus in Shandaken
Map of Esopus Creek and its watershed
EtymologyLocal Lenape tribe
CountryUnited States
StateNew York
RegionCatskills, Hudson Valley
TownsShandaken, Olive, Marbletown,
Hurley, Ulster, Saugerties
Physical characteristics
SourceWinnisook Lake
 ⁃ coordinates42°0′56″N 74°24′44″W / 42.01556°N 74.41222°W / 42.01556; -74.41222
 ⁃ elevation2,660 ft (810 m)
MouthHudson River at Saugerties
 ⁃ coordinates
42°4′17″N 73°55′45″W / 42.07139°N 73.92917°W / 42.07139; -73.92917Coordinates: 42°4′17″N 73°55′45″W / 42.07139°N 73.92917°W / 42.07139; -73.92917
 ⁃ elevation
0 ft (0 m)
Length65.4 mi (105.3 km)
Basin size425 sq mi (1,100 km2)
 ⁃ locationMount Marion, NY
 ⁃ average507 cu ft/s (14.4 m3/s)
 ⁃ minimum5.6 cu ft/s (0.16 m3/s)
 ⁃ maximum65,300 cu ft/s (1,850 m3/s)
Basin features
River systemHudson River
 ⁃ leftStony Clove Creek, Saw Kill, Plattekill Creek
 ⁃ rightWoodland Creek

Esopus Creek /ɪˈspəs/ is a 65.4-mile-long (105.3 km)[1] tributary of the Hudson River that drains the east-central Catskill Mountains of the U.S. state of New York. From its source at Winnisook Lake on the slopes of Slide Mountain, the Catskills' highest peak, it flows across Ulster County to the Hudson at Saugerties. Many tributaries extend its watershed into neighboring Greene County and a small portion of Delaware County. Midway along its length, it is impounded at Olive Bridge to create Ashokan Reservoir, the first of several built in the Catskills as part of New York City's water supply system. Its own flow is supplemented 13 miles (21 km) above the reservoir by the Shandaken Tunnel, which carries water from the city's Schoharie Reservoir into the creek.


Cathedral Gorge on Esopus Creek, 1899

The creek, originally known as the "Esopus Kill",[2] takes its name from the Esopus tribe of the Lenape, who were the Native American residents of the lower Esopus when the Dutch first explored and settled the Hudson Valley in the early 17th century. The creek's wide valley made it an ideal trading route for the Esopus and other Lenape who harvested the beaver pelts the European traders desired. Later, under the English, it became the beginning point for contentious land claims in the mountains. After independence, the Esopus corridor became the main route into the Catskills, first by road then later by the Ulster and Delaware Railroad, for forest-product industries like logging, tanning and charcoal-making. Those industries declined in the late 19th century, shortly before the creation of the Forest Preserve and the Catskill Park made the region more attractive for resorts and recreation, particularly trout fishing. The renewed Esopus also attracted the attention of fast-growing New York City, which was able to acquire land and build the reservoir and tunnel after overcoming local political opposition.

It divided the creek into an upper stretch, mostly a wild mountain stream, and a lower stretch closer to the Hudson that gradually becomes more estuarine. Above the reservoir, its water quality is closely monitored, not only for its role in the city's water supply but to preserve its local economic importance as a recreational resource. As the upper Esopus is one of the most productive trout streams in the Northeast, fly fishermen still come in great numbers to take trout from its relatively accessible banks. Canoeists and kayakers have been drawn to its whitewater, which has also spawned a busy local tubing industry in the summer months. The lower Esopus is mainly an aesthetic and ecological resource, although the estuary at Saugerties is a popular bass fishery.

The Esopus's role in the state and regional economy has led to a concentrated effort to protect and manage it, particularly on the upper stretch. The interests of the various stakeholders have not always converged, particularly where it concerns the city's management of its water needs. Turbidity created by discharges from the Shandaken Tunnel after a 1996 flood led to a successful lawsuit against the city and a state regulation; downstream of the reservoir the city has been criticized for contributing to flooding problems by releasing too much water during heavy rainstorms. Boaters and anglers have also clashed, and invasive species are beginning to enter the upper creek as well.


The Esopus is usually discussed as an upper and lower stream divided by the reservoir. The upper portion, where most recreational use takes place, has the characteristics of a mountain stream — shallow, rocky and swift and is where most trout fishing takes place. Below the reservoir's spillway the stream begins again, becoming flatter, deeper and slower to its short estuary.

A small stream with some downed branches in it flows out of a lake at the rear, underneath a chainlink fence with a small wooden bridge behind it to a concrete culvert in the foreground
Source of the Esopus at the outflow of Winnisook Lake

Upper Esopus[edit]

The Esopus flows out of Winnisook Lake on the northwest slopes of Slide Mountain, the Catskills' highest peak, within 300 feet (100 m) of the West Branch of the Neversink River on the other side of the divide between the Hudson and Delaware watersheds. It descends from there northward into Big Indian Hollow, dropping a thousand feet (305 m) in its first mile (1.6 km), a narrow and rocky stream through this section. Its curving course marks the walls of the buried meteor impact crater that created Panther Mountain to the east. Several tributaries flow down from the slopes of Fir, Big Indian, Balsam and Belleayre mountains to the west.[3]

At the hamlet of Big Indian, it receives Birch Creek, which drains from the small former village of Pine Hill to the west, and then turns eastward, closely paralleling state highway NY 28. Bushnellsville Creek flows in from the north, where it drains Deep Notch and the slopes of Halcott Mountain and Mount Sherrill.[3] Through this section it widens to 15–40 feet (4.6–12.2 m).[4] Five miles (9 km) further west, near the small former hamlet of Shandaken, the 18-mile (29 km) Shandaken Tunnel brings water from Schoharie Reservoir into the Esopus, a junction known by fishermen as the Portal, increasing its flow.[5]

The creek continues eastward, now 40–80 feet (12–24 m) wide,[4] along the circular route around Panther. At Phoenicia, four miles (6.5 km) east of the Portal, the first major settlement along its course, Woodland Creek flows in from the south along the other side of the circle from its headwaters on Wittenberg Mountain. At the NY 214 junction, the Esopus receives Stony Clove Creek from the north, where it drains southern Greene County. The creek is now 60–100 feet (18–30 m) wide[4] but shallow here, remaining on the north side of Route 28 as the Catskill Mountain Railroad parallels its banks. It crosses and recrosses the highway after Mount Tremper.[5]

Just west of Route 28's intersection with NY 212 at Mount Pleasant, the Esopus crosses Route 28 again in an area with flood control measures along its banks. It stays south of the road all the way to where NY 28A crosses it above the west end of Ashokan Reservoir. This is the end of the creek's 26-mile (42 km) upper section.[6]

Lower Esopus[edit]

The reservoir continues for 6.5 miles (10.5 km) to its spillway near Olive Bridge.[7] Its eastern section, slightly to the north, is not part of the creek's course. Below the dam, having descended almost 2,000 feet (610 m) from Winnisook Lake, it runs through a wild, rocky section with cascades and rapids, flowing southeast, away from Route 28, until it reaches US 209 at Marbletown.[8] There, it turns northeast and parallels the road to Hurley, where it crosses.

A brick building with yellow wooden trim and a pointed roof with a chimney and weather instruments on the roof. On the other side part of a lighthouse is visible. A wooden ramp leads up to a deck on its stone foundation surrounded by an iron fence.
Saugerties Light

After the New York State Thruway crosses just west of Kingston, the Esopus bends to the north and meanders parallel to it.[9] After Route 209 crosses again, it receives the Saw Kill, which drains the southeastern corner of Greene County, from the west and straightens out past Lake Katrine. The riverside is more developed here, with homes and docks on the east bank. Just southeast of the village of Saugerties, it turns east and forms the south boundary of the village, with one bridge carrying US 9W and NY 32. Just below the bridge it flows over a small dam. It bends north, passes Saugerties Light, and empties into the Hudson 1.3 miles (2.1 km) east of the dam.[9]


The history of the Esopus, like the creek itself, has several distinct eras. Its story begins with a meteor falling on the future mountains and goes through several phases of human history from prehistory to the present day.

A green topographical map showing a nearly complete circular stream valley around Panther Mountain, accentuated by red lines indicating roads.
Circular pattern of Esopus headwaters and Woodland Creek, indicating past location of crater walls

Natural history[edit]

The Esopus's upper course was set 375 million years ago in the Devonian period, when the Catskills were still a river delta of low sedimentary beaches and the shallow channels between them to a large inland sea that corresponds to the location today of the Allegheny Plateau. A meteor impact during this time left an approximately 6 miles (9.7 km) wide crater whose walls correspond to the courses of the upper Esopus and Woodland Creek today. Geologist Yngvar Isachsen of the New York State Geological Survey discovered the traces of the meteor impact, including a higher fault density in the bedrock on the Esopus, in the late 20th century.[10]

Later, the crater began to fill in with silt and became a crater lake, as the delta uplifted into a single plateau, the stream bed began to form along the heavily jointed and weaker shale and sandstone above the buried rim of the crater wall.[10] As with the Catskills as a whole the newly forming streams began dissecting the plateau into mountains and valleys. This process led the Esopus, with its particularly deep and wide valley, to fill up its bed with the red clay that clouds the waters of the stream in high water and floods.[11] More recently in geologic time, about 12,000 years ago, the Wisconsin glaciation filled the valley, carving the slopes on its sides more steeply and eroding more sediment into the river.[12] It shaped the lower Esopus as well, as the long glacial ridges closer to the Hudson channeled the stream north to Saugerties after they melted.

As the glaciers melted slowly, they created ice dams and glacial lakes. The most significant along the Esopus's course left behind the large plain at Shokan. In the 20th century the original lake would be recreated as Ashokan Reservoir.

The Esopus was one of three valleys that trees followed into the Catskills, as revegetation of the mountain slopes took place in the glaciers' wake. First to come were the boreal species, such as balsam fir, that today persist only on the summits of the range's higher peaks. Next were the northern hardwoods, primarily beech, birch and maple species, that dominate much of the Catskill forests today. Last were southern hardwood species, mostly oak, hickory and American chestnut, probably following the Indians as they migrated north. Most of the chestnuts died in the chestnut blight of the early 20th century. Catskill forest historian Michael Kudish found that other southern hardwood species can be found in the Esopus valley all the way to Oliverea, a mile or so below the creek's source.[13]

Prehistory–1704: Native and European use[edit]

Human habitation or use of the stream's lower reaches has been recorded as far back as 4,000 years ago. As with many other streams in Ulster County, the Native Americans used the flat flood plains of the lower Esopus for cornfields, and there are accounts of the area around Olive, today inundated by the reservoir, planted as an apple orchard. The Natives did not settle the area permanently, and only ventured into the higher reaches of the valley to hunt as there was less arable land there.[14]

The Esopus would be important to the area's early European colonization. It took its name from the Lenape band that inhabited its banks, some of whom entertained Henry Hudson on his voyage up the river in 1609 after possible earlier contact with fur traders.[15] European traders began plying the river in greater numbers, eventually establishing permanent settlements for the purpose. Dutch settlers established Wiltwyck, today's Kingston, on the high ground between the Esopus and the Rondout in 1649. After the Esopus drove them out of the settlement in two wars, colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant ordered that it be enclosed in a stockade so it would be safer from raids by Indians and the other contending colonial power in the area, the English. The latter took over the New Netherland colony in 1664, taking a more nuanced approach to the native peoples of the area.

The settlement's location above the point where the Esopus came out of the Catskills made it an ideal trading post for Indians responding to the European demand for beaver pelts to make the beaver hats then in vogue. In the later 17th century, with European settlement well established around the eastern Catskills, land replaced fur as the Indian-held commodity most desired by the new arrivals.[16] The English government in London charged local officials with granting large chunks of land on the colonial frontier so that it might be better protected from the French to the north and west, but those officials dallied, only making such grants when they could enrich themselves and their friends in the process. The Catskills and the Esopus Valley, with little land that could be cleared for farming, were not suitable to that end.[17]

1704–1885: Settlement and exploitation[edit]

Early Autumn on Esopus Creek (circa 1861-1897), by Alfred Thompson Bricher

In 1704 a group of farmers in Hurley petitioned the colonial governor, Viscount Cornbury, for some of the undeveloped land to their west along the creek to use as common pasture and firewood, since they were getting squeezed by Kingston to their east and Marbletown to the south. The petition was put off for several years while it was ostensibly being surveyed, and in 1706 a grant of 2 million acres (8,000 km2) was made to Johannes Hardenbergh and a group of investors starting from the same point along the Esopus near Kingston and going out to the Delaware River, taking not only all of Ulster County to the west but much of today's Delaware and Sullivan counties as well. The Hardenbugh Patent, as it became known, is the source of much of the land titles in the Catskills today, although its legitimacy was contested from the beginning, a dispute which continued until after the Revolution, aggravated by inadequate surveys of the region. Encumbrances remained on many properties into the 20th century.[17]

The complications with the land claim delayed an accurate survey of the Catskills until 1885. In the meantime permanent settlement of the Esopus valley began in the mid-18th century and finished with the establishment of the Slide Mountain post office in 1805.[18] Most of these communities were supported by local forest-products industries: loggers harvested trees for sawmill operators,[19] and furniture makers set up shop nearby.[20] A road, the Ulster, Delaware and Dutchess Turnpike, was improved from an old colonial path that led up the valley and then into Delaware County past Highmount.[21] It would, by the middle of the century, be paralleled by the Ulster and Delaware Railroad.

Timber wasn't the only product taken from the mountainsides and sent down the valley. Tanners brought up cowhides via those routes to treat in water boiled in hemlock bark,[22] and charcoal kilns were more numerous in the Esopus Valley than anywhere else in the Catskills.[23] Bluestone for city sidewalks and buildings was also quarried out of the hills. These industries had a deleterious effect on the creek at the center of the valley, adding eroded soil and pollutants to it.

1885–1915: Recreational development[edit]

The potential for silt from eroded Adirondack slopes to clog the Erie Canal had led the state's business community to rally for the creation of the Forest Preserve in 1885. A legislative maneuver by the Ulster County delegation later that year added the Catskills, relieving the county of property tax obligations to the state on lands it had taken by foreclosure after the tanners and loggers had harvested everything of value and absconded with the revenue. The lands transferred to the state by the legislation were required to be kept forever wild.[24] The legislation became Article 14 of the state constitution nine years later, in 1894, with added provisos that prohibited their sale, lease or any other transfer without a new amendment authorizing such a transaction.[25]

By that era most of the easily accessible woodlands had been harvested. In combination with technological advances in some fields that eliminated the need for the raw materials of the forest, most of the industries that had made such an impact on the region in the early 19th century declined. In their place a new one arose, mountain tourism, giving the newly affluent of the Gilded Age a place to connect with nature and get away from hot cities in the summer months.

One destination resort was the Tremper Mountain House, outside Phoenicia on the slopes of Mount Tremper. During its peak period in the 1880s, it had a small trout pond out front. The house doctor, H.R. Winter, was an avid practitioner and promoter of the new sport of fly fishing, which he believed had therapeutic effects, making "a person for a time forget he ever had any care, business, or anxiety".[26]

Anglers of the era who ventured into the Esopus valley were usually advised by guidebooks and magazine articles touting the Catskills' trout populations to bypass the main stream in favor of the tributaries, since the Esopus itself was generally too warm for brook trout, the favored species at that time, and still too polluted by runoff from the tanneries. In the 1880s pioneering fish farmer Seth Green advocated the stocking of rainbow trout in streams where the brook trout population was beginning to thin as a result of the fishing pressure, as they could handle warmer water better. Other anglers feared that, if introduced, the more aggressive rainbows would displace the native brooks.[27]

In 1883 and 1884, thousands of rainbow fry and mature fish were stocked in the Esopus between Phoenicia and Big Indian. They soon became the stream's dominant fish, and the Esopus became an angling destination in its own right. Specimens of 3–4 pounds (1.2–1.6 kg) were reported, and some were displayed in tanks at the Big Indian Railroad Station.[26]

A small lake with a smooth surface reflecting the blue sky above and a hill beyond it with some buildings along the far shore. In the foreground, at lower right, the edge is marked by a stone retaining wall
Winnisook Lake

Unlike the Beaver Kill and Willowemoc Creek to the south, the development of Esopus Creek as a fishing stream did not result in the establishment of private fishing clubs, with one exception. In 1887 Alton Parker and his friends bought the 600 acres (240 ha) on the slopes of Slide Mountain where the stream's source was located. They dammed the stream and created the 6.4-acre (2.6 ha) Winnisook Lake, the highest lake in the Catskills, for their exclusive enjoyment. In 1896 the members received William Jennings Bryan, then the Democratic nominee for President, as a guest. His visit attracted much attention locally, with residents lining the Ulster and Delaware's rails to see him and huge crowds waiting to shake his hand at stations.[28]

1915–present: Watershed development[edit]

A black and white photograph of the lower sections of a sloped dam, with cranes and other construction equipment on top
Construction of Olivebridge Dam ca. 1910

In 1861 the city of Kingston had considered buying the land around Bishop's Falls near Ashokan to dam and use as a reservoir. It dropped the idea quickly since the creek's waters were still fouled by tanning effluents. A quarter-century later it took a second look, and found the waters had returned to their pristine state with the tanneries gone. It eventually developed Cooper Lake (New York) on a tributary of the Saw Kill, for its water needs instead, after the privately owned Ramapo Water Company bought the rights.[29]

Twenty years after that, in the early years of the 20th century, New York City's reservoirs in Westchester and Putnam counties were barely keeping up with the growing city's demand. The city's agents looked at land along the Ramapo River on the other side of the Hudson, in Rockland and Orange counties, for new reservoir sites, but found the Ramapo Water Company had gotten there first, and was locking up similar rights in Delaware and Sullivan counties as well. The city balked at rewarding this act of speculative profiteering, and after political wrangling the state created water commissions and granted the city the exclusive right to acquire land in the Esopus and Schoharie watersheds and construct two reservoirs.[30] The former was particularly promising as a water source since the summit of Slide Mountain, the north slopes of which are in the creek's watershed, gets 63 inches (1,600 mm) of precipitation annually, the highest average annual rainfall in whole state, as well as the Catskills.[31]

Residents in the Esopus valley objected to the dislocation the proposed reservoir would require, forcing out the population of seven hamlets and relocating the Ulster and Delaware. They also noted that both reservoirs would be outmoded in a decade, requiring the construction of more reservoirs, and suggested the city look further north, to the Adirondacks. They feared the dam would fail, and called the project the "Esopus folly".[32]

The state's water supply commission ruled in the city's favor, and once the city began acquiring land most local objections faded because local lawyers, well versed in the tangled history of land claims on the former Hardenburgh Patent, were able to negotiate prices highly favorable to local landowners. The reservoir was completed in 1913 and began delivering its first water to the city via the Catskill Aqueduct two years later.[33] It became the prototype for six other reservoirs built in the region over the next half century.

The water releases from the Portal made the sections below it into a whitewater stream with rapids of Class II-III on the International Scale of River Difficulty.[34] In the mid-1960s the Kayak and Canoe Club of New York began holding an annual whitewater slalom near Phoenicia.[35] Later businesses in the hamlet began offering tubing to summer visitors;[36] it has become one of the most popular recreational activities on the creek despite its negative impact on angling[4][37] and occasional fatalities.[38]

In the late 20th century, the population of the upper Esopus valley has more than doubled. Most of the increase comes from residential land use, which has also more than doubled as agricultural use has decreased 80%. Newer residents are primarily using the area for second homes.[39]



Trout from local streams had been a dietary staple since the earliest days of settlement in the Catskills.[40] The farmers used every means they could, including bait, nets, and even sledgehammers,[41] to catch enough to make sure their families had plenty to eat whatever the outcome of their harvests. By the 1840s the Esopus's trout fishery was beginning to attract anglers from outside the region. Many stayed at Milo Barber's Inn in Shandaken.[42]

Today the upper Esopus still attracts many anglers who fly-fish for trout,[37][43] particularly because the state land around it in the Slide Mountain and Big Indian-Beaverkill wilderness areas makes it more accessible than other streams in the region,[4][44][45] with a number of public parking areas.[46] In the late 19th century it became the first place in the Catskills where rainbow trout were successfully stocked,[26] and the population of that fish has since become indigenous to the point that it is considered one of the most productive wild-trout streams in the Northeast.[47][48] The state augments it with regular stockings of brown trout as well. Because of that species' preference for later spawning dates in the fall, trout season along the Esopus extends until November 30, a month and a half later than most other streams in the state.[49]

The Esopus is the only stream in the county with no minimum size restriction; up to five may be taken per day.[50] Most fish taken are thus less than 12 inches (30 cm) in length, but in 1923 a brown trout was taken at Chimney Hole just above the reservoir that weighed 19 pounds 4 ounces (8.7 kg). It was a state record that stood for three decades.[43]

A wide concrete channel carrying brown water from underground at the rear of the image. Trees surround it on all sides; there is a small mountain in the distant background and two small structures on the right.
The Portal

Anglers subdivide the upper Esopus into four sections: the small Esopus, from Winnisook Lake to Big Indian, and the three sections of the big Esopus. These are from Big Indian to the Portal, from the Portal to Phoenicia, and from Phoenicia to the reservoir.

Trout, along with walleye, bass and crappie are also taken in the reservoir,[46] where anglers must have a permit from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection as well as a state license. They must use unpowered boats[51] stored at designated areas along the shoreline and used only in the reservoir.[52] Here there is a 12-inch minimum with a limit of three per day.[53]

The creek's estuary below the dam at Saugerties has also become a popular spot for bass fishing. Several tournaments are held for both largemouth and smallmouths. Striped bass from the Hudson also spawn in the estuarine Esopus, making it a popular spot for them as well.[54]


Canoeists and kayakers use the stretch from just above the Portal at Allaben to just above the reservoir at Boiceville. They only run the Esopus when the stream gauge at Cold Brook near the put-in records water levels from 5–6.25 feet (1.52–1.91 m). These usually occur after major releases from the Portal or heavy rains.[55] The KCCNY has its annual 400-meter (1,300 ft) whitewater slalom race in early June after one of the former.[35] The American Canoe Association has also held its Atlantic Division Championships there every fall since 1979, and the stream hosted the U.S. Open Canoe Championship there in 1980.[56]

The lower Esopus is also attractive to boating enthusiasts who prefer flatwater. Much of it outside the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve is private property, open to the public only once a year when the Esopus Creek Conservancy holds its annual Decks and Docks on the Esopus fundraiser.[57] Marinas on the estuary in Saugerties shelter craft used on the Hudson.

People in inner tubes wearing lifejackets in a whitewater stream, with a wooded mountain in the background, just above a small drop over a rock
Tubers on the creek

Tubing the Esopus above and below Phoenicia has long been popular, with about 15,000 people a year taking the float.[58] Since the 1970s, local businesses have rented tubes to visitors, and it has become a major draw to the Catskills in summertime.[59] Some residents complaining about its local impact[36] and its negative effect on fishing (Other anglers are not as bothered by tubers, pointing out most tubing takes place during daylight hours rather than the crepuscular times at which trout are most active).[60]). The Shandaken Town Board proposed a law in 1983 that would have limited tubing to the lower stretch during prescribed hours, required bathroom facilities and levied a 10-cent surcharge on each rented tube to cover the expenses to the town. It was not adopted, but later the town required a special use permit under its zoning code. That requirement was dropped after one of the tube-rental businesses challenged it in court.[61]

Currently, two companies in the area rent to visitors, who can choose between the wilder but more dangerous stretch north of the hamlet (not recommended for children) or the calmer stretch below it. Those who take the latter option can ride the Catskill Mountain Railroad back.[62] Tubes are rented only when the stream gauge at Coldbrook indicates a level of 4–6 feet (1.2–1.8 m).[63]

Conservation and management[edit]

The upper and lower Esopus have different conservation and management issues as a result of the reservoir's intervention. Management of the upper stream is more hands-on due to its major role in New York City's water supply system, its importance as a recreational resource and its location amid the Forest Preserve. Below the reservoir it is not a source of drinking water, and its surrounding land is more heavily farmed. Conservation efforts on that stretch primarily focus on its aesthetic and ecological role.

Upper Esopus[edit]

The upper Esopus, located within both the Catskill Park and the New York City watershed, is closely monitored by both the state DEC and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Between the DEC's Forest Preserve holdings, city-owned buffer lands and privately held forested parcels, 99% of the land in the upper watershed is forested.[12] Trout fishermen are also active through groups like Trout Unlimited in working to keep the creek's water clean, although their interests sometimes clash with the city's.

According to the 2007 Upper Esopus management plan compiled by DEP, the Cornell Cooperative Extension and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Ashokan Watershed Stream Management Program, water quality in that part of the stream is generally good. Property owners and other stakeholders in the stream expressed concern about flooding risks and attendant erosion problems.[64] The plan did not find any evidence that floods have become more common in the last century (the record flood for the stream occurred in 1980, with discharges of 65,300 cubic feet per second (1,850 m3/s) recorded above the reservoir and was calculated to be a 40-year flood), despite two heavy floods in the preceding decade.[65] It recommends that new construction on the creek's flood plain be avoided wherever possible and that flood control measures and warning systems be improved along the length of the upper creek.[66]

Whitewater forming where water joins a wide stream from the right. There are mountains and trees in the background, with some rocks at the lower right
Portal discharge in spring

The Portal's effect on the creek's fishery is a continuing source of friction. For a long time after its construction it was believed to have a positive effect on the trout, but after the floods of 1996 some fishermen began complaining that the waters from Schoharie have been too turbid and warm (some calling it "Yoo Hoo Creek"[67]), with the rainbow trout population declining as a consequence. New York's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) says it has found no sign of that, but in 2000 the Catskills chapter of Trout Unlimited, Riverkeeper and some other groups sued the city, arguing the Portal releases into the creek violated the federal Clean Water Act.[37] After lengthy litigation the city was eventually required to get a state permit for the discharges. Environmental groups have said the problems would be solved if the Schoharie, like all the other city reservoirs, had a multi-level discharge structure, allowing water to be taken from the less turbid surface as well as the cooler depths.[68]

Boater and tuber user groups depend on releases from the Portal, which can add up to 900 cubic feet per second (25 m3/s) to the creek's flow, to make those activities possible. Their interests also sometimes differ with the stream's angling community on the question of large woody debris (LWD), such as trees or limbs loosened from the banks during floods. Those usually come to rest in the stream, sometimes at bridge abutments, creating habitat for trout and other aquatic life but creating navigational hazards. In 2002 a kayaker and tuber were killed in separate instances as a result of LWD in the stream; both deaths led to lawsuits against property owners. The management plan has recommended clarifying the liability issues.[69]

Riparian buffers are another issue to be addressed. Most of the upper Esopus has at least 100 feet (30 m) of buffer on either side, but there are portions with 25 feet (7.6 m) or less and 6.25 miles (10.06 km) have no buffer at all, with revetments shoring up the sides next to the highway or the railroad. The buffers are mostly closed-canpoy floodplain forests, with mowed lawns making up the remainder. In recent years colonies of Japanese knotweed, an invasive species, have been observed along the banks and in buffer areas.[70] They are considered detrimental to the stream's health since they do not provide shade, are less effective at controlling erosion and, since they grow in thick clusters, impede access to the stream.[71]

Oriental bittersweet, a vine which kills the trees in buffer forests by wrapping itself tightly around them, has also been observed in some areas. The stream management plan recommends that a comprehensive plan be developed for controlling and eradicating both species, and any others that may be found in the future.[70]

A red and white sign on a telephone pole seen in closeup from one side. The text that is visible describes rock snot and advises anglers how to control it
"Rock snot" advisory sign

In 2009, the invasive species problem in the buffers was complicated further by the confirmed arrival of Didymosphenia geminata, an algae species commonly referred to as "rock snot", in the creek's waters between Shandaken and the reservoir. It was the third stream in the state where it has been found, after Batten Kill in Washington County and the East and West branches of the Delaware River in Delaware County, just to the west of the Esopus valley. The species can clog water intakes but poses no threat to human life. Trout are more at risk because it often grows over river bottoms, smothering the insect hatches they depend on as a food source. There is no way at present to eradicate the species; the state has instead advised fishermen to thoroughly clean and disinfect their waders after trips in order to slow its growth and prevent it from reaching other streams.[48][72]

Lower Esopus[edit]

Conservation and management efforts in the lower Esopus are not as coordinated as they are in the upper stream, and there is no stream management plan. Most efforts have been spearheaded by local municipalities. In the wake of the 2005 flood, the towns of the lower Esopus and the city of Kingston began holding an annual Esopus Creek Lower Basin Watershed Conference. One of its chief concerns was the effects of that flood on the region: it took some farmers several months to recover from its effects.[73]

Much of the farmland affected by the flood was located in the town of Marbletown, first along the stream's lower course. Silt and other eroded materials piled up on the land and had to be removed, and some of the farmland was lost permanently.[73] Marbletown has planned to work with its farmers to acquire development rights to at least 750 acres (300 ha) outside the creek's flood plain, which cannot be developed, and further protect the rare plant and animal communities along the creek in addition to minimizing the effect of any future floods.[74]

Flooding concerns in the lower Esopus have also led to criticism of the DEP for maintaining the reservoir at capacity levels that may be higher than necessary, requiring releases during periods of heavy rain that aggravate flooding. In 2010 the city began implementing new computer software that more closely monitors water levels in all its reservoirs as well as data that allows it to estimate near term water availability. Local officials, particularly State Senator John Bonacic, praised the move but said they would keep working for DEP to be more conscious of its impact on downstream property owners[75]

Further downstream, in the Saugerties area, conservation efforts have been led by the Esopus Creek Conservancy, a non-profit organization that works to conserve the landscapes and ecosystems around the creek.[76] It was created in 1999 from a local citizen's efforts to protect a section of creekside property from development. Five years later, with the help of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, the land was purchased and the conservancy formed.[77] It is now the 161-acre (65 ha) Esopus Bend Nature Preserve,[78] just outside the village of Saugerties, that protects a long stretch of crucial habitat along the south shore of the creek. Trails within it lead to views over the creek to the Catskill Escarpment beyond.[79] Nevertheless, in January 2013 the EPA directed New York State to act on the muddy lower Esopus, which it classified as "impaired".[80]


In 2007, the Lower Esopus Watershed Partnership (LEWP), a coalition of several municipalities, was founded "to foster appreciation and stewardship of the Lower Esopus Watershed."[81]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map Archived 2012-04-05 at WebCite, accessed October 3, 2011
  2. ^ The History of Ulster County, New York
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  4. ^ a b c d e "Fly Fishing the Esopus Creek in New York". 1998–2007. Retrieved February 19, 2010.
  5. ^ a b Phoenicia Quadrangle - New York - Ulster County (Map). 1:24,000. 7½ Minute Series (Topographic). United States Geological Survey. 1940. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  6. ^ West Shokan Quadrangle - New York - Ulster County (Map). 1:24,000. 7½ Minute Series (Topographic). United States Geological Survey. 1940. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  7. ^ Ashokan Quadrangle - New York - Ulster County (Map). 1:24,000. 7½ Minute Series (Topographic). United States Geological Survey. 1940. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  8. ^ Kingston West Quadrangle - New York - Ulster County (Map). 1:24,000. 7½ Minute Series (Topographic). United States Geological Survey. 1940. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  9. ^ a b Saugerties Quadrangle - New York - Ulster County (Map). 1:24,000. 7½ Minute Series (Topographic). United States Geological Survey. 1940. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  10. ^ a b Guterl, Fred (August 2000). "The Panther Mountain Crater". Discover.
  11. ^ Titus, Robert (1993). The Catskills: A Geological Guide. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press. pp. 22–34. ISBN 0-935796-40-1.
  12. ^ a b "Brief Description of Esopus Creek Watershed" (PDF). Catskill Streams. Retrieved February 21, 2010.
  13. ^ Kudish, Michael (2000). The Catskill Forest: A History. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press. pp. 36–38. ISBN 1-930098-02-2.
  14. ^ Kudish, p. 47
  15. ^ Evers, Alf (1972). The Catskills: From Wilderness to Woodstock. Woodstock: The Overlook Press. p. 10. ISBN 0-87951-162-1.
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  17. ^ a b Evers, 33–39.
  18. ^ Kudish, 155.
  19. ^ Kudish, 167–70.
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  22. ^ Kudish, 159–60.
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  25. ^ "New York State Constitution Article XIV". State of New York, reprinted at Retrieved March 2, 2010.
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  27. ^ Van Put and Werner, 129.
  28. ^ Van Put and Werner, 132–33.
  29. ^ Evers, 590.
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  38. ^ "Kerhonkson man drowns Sunday while tubing Esopus Creek". Times-Herald Record. Ottaway Community Newspapers. August 17, 2009. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  39. ^ Volume III, 21.
  40. ^ Evers, 395. "Trout still abounded in those mountain streams uncontaminated by tanneries, and during the 1830s a man could catch hundreds of them in an afternoon."
  41. ^ Evers, 664. "Generations of mountain people had taken trout by any means that came handy: by netting; by using worms as bait; by 'fishing with a sledgehammer' (which meant stunning fish wby hammering on the ledges beneath which they rested)."
  42. ^ Evers, 397.
  43. ^ a b Bern, Ronald Lawrence; Luftglass, Manny (1999). Gone Fishin': The 100 Best Spots in New York. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. pp. 11–14. ISBN 0-8135-2745-7. Retrieved February 19, 2010.
  44. ^ Michaels, Joanne (2007). Explorer's Guide to the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains. Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press. p. 117. ISBN 0-88150-772-5. Retrieved February 19, 2010.
  45. ^ Zeugin, Michael (April 1008). "Tying Locally". New York State Conservationist. Esopus Creek is fairly accessible compared to other water bodies in the Catskill region ...
  46. ^ a b Rybaak, Spider. Fishing Eastern New York. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot. pp. 55–58. ISBN 0-7627-1100-0.
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  48. ^ a b Nearing, Brian (April 28, 2009). "Invasive algae found in third water body". Albany Times-Union. Hearst Corporation. Archived from the original on May 5, 2009. Retrieved February 21, 2010. The Esopus is one of the most productive wild trout streams in the Northeast
  49. ^ "Upper Esopus Stream Management Plan, Volume II: Community and Stream Use Characterization (draft)" (PDF). Ashkan Watershed Stream Management Program. January 2007. p. 58. Retrieved February 25, 2010. The upper Esopus Creek boasts one of the longest open fishing seasons in New York State. According to NYS DEC Region 3 Bureau of Fisheries, the season was extended to November 30th (beyond the October 15th statewide deadline) because most brown trout spawning that occurs from mid-October to November is done in Esopus Creek tributaries. So an extension of the season along the main-stem provides anglers the opportunity to catch big fish coming out of Ashokan Reservoir to spawn, without directly interfering with the spawning.
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  51. ^ "Town of Olive Visitors Activity Page". Town of Olive. Archived from the original on January 17, 2010. Retrieved February 20, 2010. Fishing and boating (no electric or gas powered motors) are allowed on the Ashokan Reservoir by permit only
  52. ^ "Fishing and Fishing By Boat". New York City Department of Environmental Protection. 2010. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
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  67. ^ Worth, Robert (July 9, 2000). "As the Waters of Esopus Creek Grow Muddy, the Trout Disappear". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved February 23, 2010. Local fishermen call it Yoohoo Creek for the orange-brown clay that has muddied its waters for four years and driven away trout.
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  81. ^ About LEWP, accessed December 1, 2013

External links[edit]