Local Roots

Community Description: The Town of Marbletown is located in the Mid-Hudson Valley near the geographic center of Ulster County, between the Catskill Mountains to the west, and the Shawangunk Mountains to the east; these two significant tributaries of the Hudson River significantly contribute to the town’s abundance of natural resources, beauty and recreational opportunities. The two largest creeks in the town, the Rondout Creek in the southern portion of town and Esopus Creek in the north and east part of town, hold prominent places in the character and history of the town: the valleys of these rivers support many of the town’s farms and agricultural lands and offer dramatic scenic vistas.

The main road, Route 209, is a historic regional transportation corridor connecting the Town to the City of Kingston and provides easy access to the culturally significant remnants of the D&H Canal and Railroad. The former rail and canal lines recall early industrialization and settlement of the town. A portion of the Shawangunk Mountains Regional Scenic Byway passes through the Rondout Valley of Marbletown along County Route 1 (Lukas Turnpike). At the north end of town is the Ashokan Reservoir, part of the New York City water supply, and the Catskill Aqueduct passes through the center of town from the reservoir on its way to New York City.

The vast expanse of undeveloped forests and farmlands is privately owned with no permanent conservation easements, and therefore vulnerable to development. Far less land in Marbletown (10% or 35,700 acres) is conserved through ownership or easements compared to its neighbors New Patz and Gardiner. The majority of protected lands are clustered near the Ashokan Reservoir (the NYC watershed), the Shawangunk Mountains (Mohonk Preserve), and the Esopus and Rondout Creeks (Rondout-Esopus Land Conservancy holdings). In addition, approximately 150 acres of land is enrolled in section 480(a) of the New York State Real Property Tax, which is considered a temporary form of conservation. About 6,000 acres are enrolled in the state Agricultural Districts program which provides tax incentives to the landowners to keep the property in active farmland, and thus provides a temporary conservation benefit to the public.

The scope and importance of Marbletown’s forest was the most surprising and significant finding resulting from the open space planning analysis, known as The Marbletown Natural Heritage Plan (MNHP). While farms are a highly visible and valued asset in the town, Marbletown’s forests are far more extensive -- more than two-thirds of the Town of Marbletown is forested – and since they are often privately owned and located on gradually-sloping lands, essentially 80% of the town’s large forest areas (greater than 100 contiguous acres) are developable. Many of the forests occur in contiguous blocks of 100 acres or more, with many of the unfragmented forests located in the Pacama Vly in the west, along the border the Ashokan Reservoir in the north, surrounding the Binnewater Lakes in the east, and along the Shawangunk Ridge in the south. There are over 2,000 parcels in the town with 50% or more forest cover.

For Ulster County, the amount of land in agriculture has decreased over the decades since 1940, but essentially stabilized since 2000. In 2002 there was an increase in the number of farms but a decrease in the total amount of acreage used for them. There are approximately 5,600 acres of farms, orchards, and other agricultural lands producing, for example, apples and other fruits, vegetables, beef, plants, flowers, trees and nursery products, dairy calves, maple syrup. Individual parcels range from an acre and a half to over 300 acres and only about half of these farms receive an agricultural tax exemption. Approximately 70% of the active farmland is free of development constraints, making them vulnerable to development. The state’s agricultural district, however, covers nearly 6,000 acres of the town. Farmlands are located primarily in the Esopus and Rondout Valleys, with a large percentage being located along the Route 209 corridor. Over a third of Marbletown contains soil suitable for agriculture. According to soil data obtained from the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, there are 4,700 acres of prime farmland soil and an additional 7,300 acres of farmland soil of statewide importance located in Marbletown. Due to challenges experienced in the farming sector, in 2003 of the Rondout Valley Growers Association, Inc formed to promote local farms and provide safe food sources for our region.

In the past decade several significant dairy farms have been converted to high end housing developments yet efforts at cookie-cutter subdivisions of high density have meet with community opposition. One multimillion dollar development effort, touted as sustainable, involved higher density (over 300 units) yet also included community benefits; it was, however, countered by the emergence of a vocal local group, Preserve Marbletown, which quickly rallied widespread opposition, causing the proposal to be temporarily suspended. Local residents had a very different view as to the meaning of sustainable or the value of “green” building relative to a green orchard. Critics perceived development on fertile agricultural land a threat to the town’s rural character and were not convinced by its carbon neutral claims as it did not fully address negative local impacts such as cars and the loss of valued farm land. Net benefits appeared to have been more geared more to a national or international assessment and not a local one. Actual local interest, according to environmentalists, had been significantly misjudged.

Marbletown has a rich diversity of natural features, communities and species with unique forests, wetlands, and streams that all contribute to the vast natural landscape that is closely tied to the underlying geology. The varied topography of Marbletown includes major river valleys (less than 100 feet above mean sea level), to the Shawangunk Ridge which is over 1,500 feet above sea level. Much of the north and western portion of the town are in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains and reach elevations of up to 1,200 feet. There are four significant ecosystems, 20 rare plant species (five sensitive), and eight rare animal species (New York DEC Natural Heritage Program). Marbletown has numerous surface waters -- rivers, streams, ponds and lakes throughout the town and approximately 2,100 acres of mapped wetlands; many of these bodies of water are regulated by New York State DEC or the army corps of engineers yet numerous smaller wetlands, especially seasonal wetlands such as vernal pools, are not currently regulated. In addition, there are three large aquifers in the town: the Vly aquifer, School aquifer and Rondout aquifer with an overburden and a bedrock component. The Vly and School aquifers, however, can produce large volumes of water and could serve as a public water supply yet are susceptible to contamination. The Ashokan Reservoir in the northern portion of Marbletown supplies water to New York City as well as the High Falls Water District.

The historic districts, stone houses, scenic vistas all add value to the town’s rural character and visual quality which attracts tourists and contributes to the local economy. Cultural resources include the old canal-era houses and museum, the rail-trail, and historic hamlets like High Falls and Kripplebush. Other outdoor recreational opportunities are numerous such as sportsmen’s clubs, hiking in the forests, visiting the Mohonk Mountain House and Mohonk Preserve, or playing a round of golf at Stone Dock Golf Course.

Population: In 1990, the population of Marbletown was 5,285, with a density of 97 people per square mile compared to 5,854 and the density 107.3 by 2000. Population growth fluctuated on average since 1960s between 1-3% per annum. In the last 40 years, the population of Ulster County has grown by 50%, while Marbletown has grown by 83.5%. It was predicted that the population growth for the county would be 10% in 2007 (Ulster County Planning department). In 2000, of the 5,854 residents, 2,886 (49.3%) were males and 2,968 (50.7%) were females.

The area was substantially reliant on agriculture until tourism and manufacturing began to play a more important role in the mid 20th century. In 2000, the percent of the population of Marbletown engaged in farming, fishing and forestry occupations or related industries was 0.5%, slightly less than Ulster County (0.6%). In 2000, 0.05% of the population was, down from 15% in 1960. While farming has been decreasing, the education and tourism industries have been increasing. Besides making a small economic contribution, farming is a valued agrarian tradition with aesthetic appeal. 9.5% of the economy is dedicated to construction, extraction, maintenance. Tourists contribute to the local economy, particularly spending time and money in the Catskills and the Shawangunks (including the Mohonk Preserve and Mohonk Mountain House). The lackluster local economy has influenced recent efforts to revitalized the economic base by attracting new industries and tourists. The Town of Marbletown has proactively initiated efforts to manage future economic growth and development so that it does not hurt the environment: fragmenting habitat, disrupting functioning ecosystems, and endangering the water supply.