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Troutbeck and Golf: Lessons from the past?

Historical reflections
by Antonia Shoumatoff
Mon Jan 2nd, 2017

Although we will no longer cover news, we are open to historical reminisces.  As we begin a New Year, it can be helpful to peer into our past, remembering lessons forgotten. What follows is a comment on a golf course that never happened; those comments are as relevant today as they were when spoken by Tonia Shoumatoff to the Amenia Town Planning Board in 2001.

As the town-appointed Hudson Greenway Committee member and Conservation Advisory Committee representative I have a number of concerns regarding the proposed Rivercourse at Troutbeck.  Number one is the impact on the Webutuck Creek and further down, the Housatonic River basin as well as the potential damage to food crops along the Oblong Valley which are irrigated by waters from the Webutuck.  One of the chemicals named in the DEIS, Fen-Am-I-Phose, is admitted in the DEIS to be of potential danger to public health although it is cited as to be used on greens only, although it is "highly toxic to aquatic and mobile organisms."  The Rivercourse proposal stated that it is not acceptable for the project to go through without the use of this hazardous pesticide but that it is acceptable to allow the potential fallout from that pesticide to go into the surrounding environment.  Although the DEIS cites extensive monitoring of waterways there is no fiscal coverage for the extensive remediation of wells and farmlands who may be experience losses and pollution in the future.

So therefore I support the Town Planning Board requesting the putting up of a BOND to cover potential losses and liabilities. In light of the recent situation with Mr. Hugh O'Hanley's development project not having been required to put up a bond and the resultant quagmire of who is now responsible for remediation, I do not think that the Planning Board can afford to be accused of making the same kind of error twice.

 Also, as the former Media Specialist for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, I have been aware of the extensive efforts to regulate and clean-up waterways in New York State.  The Webutuck is classified by the DEC as a CT waterway which means it is recognized as a trout-spawning stream and applications are not permitted which will degrade the quality of the water or threaten the spawning of aquatic life.  I question the wisdom of the Town permitting 104,000 lbs. a year of chemicals to be deposited into our sensitive and beautiful surroundings for the sake of the recreation of a few dozen wealthy people.  

 Furthermore, we also have a history in this town of golf-courses going belly-up and new owners selling the property or leaving town.  The Silo-Ridge Golf Course, formerly Island Green and Segalla's slipped into existence without any DEIS due to the good-old-boy network at work in Amenia Town government at the time and we have yet to measure the environmental impact of that project—another reason to put up a bond.  In fact, we still have PCB's in our old landfill which have not been completely remediated in spite of extensive DEC and EPA involvement in a 29 million-dollar clean-up.  The cumulative impact of all these disasters has not actually been measured, including 3 Construction and Demolition sites that have still not been cleaned up.  How much environmental overload should we be asked to take in Amenia, which means "beautiful to the eye." 

 I would like to read a piece of verse by the first owner of Troutbeck, the farmer-poet, Mr. Myron Benton.  I had the privilege of speaking to his great-nephew, Mr. William Benton today who is a respected Amenia historian and 95 years young.  He told me that Myron christened the ancestral home of his father and grandfather "Troubeck" because it had a never-failing spring and the trout there were so friendly that they came up to your hand.  Myron was a romantic nature lover and the first cousin of Joel Benton who started the Amenia Times.  He made Troutbeck a center of interest to such great fellow followers of nature and its connection to the intellectual and spiritual life as Thoreau and Emerson who came here and John Burroughs who often drove over from his woodchuck lodge in the Catskills.  This poem speaks his tribute to the natural beauties of the locality around the Webutuck, its valley, those sheltered banks, and that magical farm, Troutbeck, which he loved so much:

                        Oh, well I know what thou wast seeking long,

                        Blithe Webatuck, in all thy devious sallies,

                        Past groves and meadows echoing with song,

                        Countless green coves, no sweeter ones I ween,

                        Thy waters find in all their paths serene,

                        From cool springs that bubble in Taghkanic,

                        To where they join the troublous Housatonic.

                        …..Oh Webatuck, from thee what coolness pressed,

                        What azure calm, upon my throbbing head

                        …to mystic realms by light unearthy led.

                        ….This is one spot for which my soul will yearn."

Another great man whose heart yearned for the tranquility of Troutbeck was the great social philosopher, Lewis Mumford who has a chapter in his book, Sketches from Life, called "The Domain of Troutbeck'" which dominated the upland village of Leedsville—then the classic Chinese hamlet of ten houses—nestled in the hollow below where the Troutbeck Brook and the Webutuck River joined.  As friends of the family, we had the freedom of the Spingarn’s large domain.  What a domain it was!  For its eight-hundred-odd acres (roughly the size of Central Park) embraced very aspect of the extraordinary landscape, from the wooded top of Oblong Mountain, where rattlesnakes nested on rocky ledges, to Troutbeck Lake, fashioned from an old ton-ore bed, from a swamp at whose edges the beautiful leaves of the elecampane plant flourished….past a remote ore bed to the further bridge over the Webutuck. In less than an hour's tramp we could sample the most varied experiences of nature.  How we came to value that!"

 Perhaps if the investors in the Rivercourse at Troutbeck were to apply for an environmental tax easement (in exchange for meeting additional requests) to put up a bond and protect the environment and neighbors, and also to provide the public with a hiking trail along the river, the people of Amenia would be more sympathetic to this project, which seems to be destined only to be of benefit to the rich.  Perhaps if they felt—as Thoreau, Mumford and Benton did—that "very landscape became a part of them," they would respond more cautiously to the potential degradation and pollution of the landscape.