History of the Watershed

The history of the Catskill Watershed is usually told as the history of the Catskill Forest Preserve. This remote mountain landscape rarely used by Native Americans was settled by the Dutch, English, Irish and Germans. Its rich history includes logging, bluestone quarrying, leather tanning, wintergreen and blueberry harvesting, trapping, fishing, mountain house tourism, railroads, and even World War II pilot training.

Since the early 1900s when New York City began using the mountain streams and lakes as a water source, the environment of the Catskill Watershed region has been protected. Prior to that, loggers and tanners all but stripped the mountains bare through much of the 1800s, prompting an outcry from naturalists and environmentalists. In 1885, the Catskill Forest Preserve was created to reclaim and protect this important ecological resource.

Today, about 40 percent of the lands in the Catskills are publicly owned "forest preserve." The mountains are an indispensable watershed, providing drinking water for local people as well as millions of others in the lower Hudson Valley.

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