A hero rests.

Jeff discusses Maurice Hinchey with Midge Maroni on WJFF's Making Waves

Midge Maroni:  Coming up next on Making Waves, it's our pleasure to speak with Jeff Senterman, Executive Director of the Catskill Interpretive Center in Arkville, NY, and we're going to talk a little bit about our late Congressman, Maurice Hinchey. Thank you for being with us tonight, Jeff.


Jeff Senterman:  Thank you for having me.

Midge Maroni:  Certainly. You know, I wanted to open tonight just by reading a little bit from this actually very thorough and beautiful press release that was announcing the idea that Maurice Hinchey would be laid to rest at the Catskill Center. If I could just read a little bit of that.

Jeff Senterman:   Sure.

Midge Maroni:   This press item says "The honorable Maurice D. Hinchey, who represented upstate New York in Albany and Washington for four decades, was laid to rest in a private ceremony November 29th, on the grounds of the Catskill Interpretive Center, a facility he fought for more than 30 years to create. As one of the leading progressive voices in Congress, Maurice Hinchey was a tireless defender of the environment, and an unwavering champion of working people everywhere, fighting to ensure economic fairness and human rights worldwide."

Midge Maroni:  Of course, Maurice Hinchey died on November 22nd. He had a fairly rare disease, I understand, frontal temporal degeneration, and I believe he had to leave office because of that disease, but on the 29th of November, last month just a few weeks ago, he was laid to rest there at your Catskill Interpretive Center. How did that come to be, Jeff?

Jeff Senterman:   It was a long process. You know, Maurice Hinchey and his family were very involved, like you read in the press release, securing the original vision of the interpretive center, and shepherding it through that 30 year process.

And the way that the Catskill Interpretive Center works is that it's a program that is a program of the Catskill center for conservation and development, in partnership with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. And so the Catskill Center actually owns the land that the Interpretive Center sits on, and we signed a lease and then an operating agreement with New York State, in order to have them build the building, and then to have us manage the site.

And so, many months ago the family approached both myself and staff members from the State, asking would this be something that would be possible. And we had multiple conversations. I brought it before my board of directors at the Catskill Center. Everybody agreed that it seemed to be a very natural thing, and we all felt honored that the family would ask that.

You know, there was some work that was done, but generally we were prepared and waiting. And then unfortunately when Maurice did pass away, we started moving ahead with the plans and putting them into action. And he was then buried there a few weeks ago, and now we're ...

Given the time of the year, there's not that much work that we an do on site in terms of landscaping and such like that, but we're looking to have the site be kind of quietly resting over the winter, and then in the spring there will be additional landscaping work done.

The family is planning a public ceremony to unveil the new headstone, and also just have the opportunity for the public to come out and think of Maurice, and say a few words about him, if it's a constituent that had a good experience, any kind of ... Or all kinds of things, I guess I would say.

So that's where we are now, that's kind of how we got to where we are. It wasn't a very sudden process; it was organic over the years, and then just seemed to become the most natural thing to do.

Midge Maroni:   It sounds like a beautiful idea, and it sounds like it's going to be a beautiful site for people to visit. And I could hear in your voice that you were probably pretty close to Maurice Hinchey.

Jeff Senterman:   Yes. You know, he has been a friend of the Catskill Center, and the family has too. Over the years, they have ... Like we said in our press release, Maurice really was a champion for the Catskills. He was a champion for his entire district, but he did tireless work for the whole region, and for the environment, and just for the constituents throughout the area.

Jeff Senterman:  And he really made the Catskill Interpretive Center possible. 30 years ago it was an idea. When he was first in the assembly, he fought very hard for it, and actually secured some funding. And some work was done. And Mario Como at the time was supporting it, and then unfortunately as administrations change in the State, the next administration didn't support it, and the work that was done kind of sat unfinished there on the site in Mt. Tremper.

Jeff Senterman:   And just before Maurice left office, he was able to secure Federal funding. And then Mario's son Andrew Como, the current Governor, was able to match that Federal funding with State funding, and that's really what made the Catskill Interpretive Center from a dream to a reality, so that the Catskills finally have an official Visitor's Center for the Catskill Park.

Midge Maroni:   And I notice that there will be, or there is already, a fund established, and that programs are planned to honor Maurice Hinchey's legacy. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Jeff Senterman:   Sure. So as part of him being laid to rest at the Interpretive Center, the family had asked, and the Catskill Center had worked with them to establish what we're calling the Maurice Hinchey Legacy Fund. And that's a Fund that will be managed by the Catskill Center, gifts made to it will be used ... A portion of those funds will be used for operating and programming costs at the Interpretive Center.

So currently the Catskill Interpretive Center, like I said, is a program of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, and even though we've signed an agreement with the State to manage and operate the site, New York State currently provides no operating funding for us to do that. So all that funding currently comes from private donations and the budget of the Catskill Center. So this was one way that we all thought that we could continue to support the Catskill Interpretive Center, and make it better year after year.

Midge Maroni:   That sounds terrific. What about the programming? Do you have anything in mind?

Jeff Senterman:  You know, the Catskill Interpretive Center has been open since July of 2015, and we've created a really amazing mix of programming that's been happening there over the last two or so years, that's included ... We have a Catskill Book Fair, where we have all the local authors and local publishers from pretty much the whole Catskill region come together. This past year, in June, we had over 1,000 people come out to that Book Fair.

Jeff Senterman:  We have lectures and chats almost every couple weeks there, on a whole host of topics. Anything from how to live with bears as your neighbors, to information about invasive species, or Ranger programs at night. All kinds of things. And we've had also guided hikes on the trails that are there on the property. There's now a trail to the Esopus Creek across Route 28, so there's opportunities to do fishing activities.

This winter we're looking forward, fingers crossed, that our first snow is just a start for snow throughout the year, so we can do some winter activities at the Interpretive Center, like tracking, snowshoeing, an introduction to skiing.

The Interpretive Center is also the home to the ... One of the very few fully ADA accessible trails, so that's built to standards so that anybody of any needs, whether they're in a wheelchair or otherwise disabled, are able to use those trails. So we've been also doing activities like that, to get everybody out and enjoy the outdoors.

Midge Maroni:  All right. Well, that sounds terrific. We're going to have to let you go in a few seconds, but could you just tell us briefly how someone could find the Interpretive Center?

Jeff Senterman:  Sure. They can visit CatskillInterpretiveCenter.org, or visit us on Route 28 in Mt. Tremper, right in the heart of the central Catskills.

Midge Maroni:  All right. Thank you so much for being with us tonight, Jeff. It's a wonderful thing that you've done.

Jeff Senterman:   Thank you very much.

Midge Maroni:  Take care.