The hills and meadows of the Catskills are enough to make you want to twirl around and sing at the top of your lungs like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
In 2006, no strangers to this sensation, Mark Izeman, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Ramsay Adams, then a greenhorn public relations executive with roots in the valley, put their heads together to battle the potential invasion of five casinos in the Catskills. Casinos are incongruous with the Catskills in spirit and in operation, they thought. People should come here to soak in the great outdoors, not to flush their money down the drain in an airless conference room injected with flashing lights and cheap liquor. Even then they were well aware that casinos were not the only evil on the horizon. Mark thought aloud, "The Catskills needs its own Riverkeeper to defend it." (Riverkeeper was founded in 1966 to protect the Hudson River and NYC's water.) At that moment, Catskill Mountainkeeper was conceived and Ramsay took up his post as its director with Mark and a growing roster of other powerful environmentalists on the board.
In the ten years since its founding, Catskill Mountainkeeper has defeated Goliath again and again. Five casinos? Denied. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale? Shut down. Support for farms to bring food to your table? Yessir. Mountainkeeper has been a part of all of that and more, leading the grassroots charge, keeping us informed, advocating for better environmental protection, helping politicians understand important complexities, working with other organizations, fighting day and night.
Mountainkeeper owes its success, in large part, to Ramsay's open, organic leadership style. His perfectly mussed hair seems to reveal that, for the 40-something father of twins, chaos is business as usual, a useful tolerance for someone who needs to deal with a multi front battle to save the earth. Ramsay is refreshingly less elevator speech and well-honed bullet points than he is genuinely interested in how the Catskills have affected you and what you might bring to the already crowded Mountainkeeper table to help the cause.
As a case in point, back in 2009, soon after my family and I started spending a lot of time in the Catskills, I connected with Ramsay via Mark, concerned that the fracking issue was heating up, but that none of my country or city neighbors seemed to know anything about it. They both indulged my panic, and brought their colleagues and experts to join me and my city friends, including then Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer who was mounting a "Kill the Drill" campaign, to produce a series of Eco Salons centered on the fracking threat to the majestic Catskills and the city's water supply. The coordinated effort brought experts, politicians and concerned citizens together, presented the facts about fracking and gave us all our marching orders. By the end of the salon series, we had a larger group of informed citizens, ready to spread the word, to pressure politicians and to find others to help.
In the years since then, Mountainkeeper has brought many more important friends to the fight, each with an authentic connection to the Catskills. Mark Ruffalo has sunk his teeth into defending the Catskills with a Hulk-like ferocity. Jon Bowermaster, probably the world's most acclaimed documentarian on the water crisis and six-time decorated National Geographic Expeditions Council grantee, produced "Dear Governor Cuomo" in 2012 and now "Dear President Obama," released in early 2016, to lay out the complexity of pursuing "clean" gas (and thus fracking for it) over dirty fossil fuel combustion. These and other Mountainkeeper efforts have featured Ruffalo and Natalie Merchant, Debra Winger -- who was also front and center on Josh Fox's Gasland-- and other actors, musicians and activists. Somehow Ramsay harnesses their passion alongside Mountainkeeper's mission and allows them to do their thing in a way where everyone wins... especially the planet.
On the evening of October 1st at the Beaverkill Valley Inn, in an intimate sold out event to celebrate its 10th year, Mountainkeeper mounts a ridiculous list of supporters to usher in the next decade of battles. Rumor has it Susie Essman will swear like a sailor, Dan Rather will toast Larry Rockefeller and Natalie Merchant will twirl in the spotlight -- as much like Julie Andrews as the teenage girl from the 10,000 Maniacs -- singing her own sultry ballads to evoke a sense of passion, of urgency, of action, of celebration.
Looking to the decade ahead, Ramsay knows Mountainkeeper has its work cut out for it. Perhaps he inherited the long view from his dad, John Adams (a Catskill native and founder of the NRDC), who I recall saying early in the fracking battle, "This is a 20-year fight, not a one-night fight." For the next 20 years, what Ramsay wants above all else, is for you to find your own passionate way to engage in supporting the Catskills: to defend it from evils, to sing its praises and to find your own unique way to do it. He and Mountainkeeper need a little help from their friends to make sure the 'Skills are alive long into the future.
Doe, a deer...
XOXO Farm Girl
For more information about Catskill Mountainkeeper and how to support their efforts click HERE.