Catskill Interpretive Center celebrates grand opening

After 30 years of planning, it took less than a year to get the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center in the Ulster County hamlet of Mount Tremper from groundbreaking to ribbon-cutting.

Hundreds of people gathered to watch former Congressman Maurice Hinchey cut the ribbon in front of his namesake visitors' center, designed to a "gateway to the Catskills" that welcomes visitors to the region on Route 28, in a ceremony at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, July 1.

Hinchey himself did not speak at the event, but listened as a long list of dignitaries honored him and celebrated the interpretive center project.

Calling Hinchey a "living legend," Ulster County Executive Mike Hein said that the interpretive center is "the culmination of an extraordinary number of people simply pushing."

"As the mist rises off these mountains, so too does the veil that has far too long covered this enchanted region," said Rob Stanley, the town supervisor of Shandaken, where the interpretive center is located. "We are here, we are here, we are here."

Above: The newly opened Catskill Interpretive Center on July 1, 2015. 

Stanley mentioned that the opening of the center coincides with the official designation of Route 28 as the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway by the New York State Legislature last week.

"This has been a long time coming," said Joseph Martens, the commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. "Lots of you ... never gave up."

Martens made his remarks after going on a 22-mile bike ride through the region, and he appeared elated by the experience. "If you want world peace, ride a bike," he said. "Pick any ride you want; they're all spectacular. We are blessed here in the Catskills."

During the event, Martens was treated to an impromptu roast as his deputy, Marc Gerstman, announced that Martens will leave his position as the state's chief environmental officer on July 23. Gerstman will be Martens' replacement until a new commissioner is found. (News of Martens' departure broke yesterday.) 

"I'm not taking orders anymore," Gerstman joked to Martens.

Martens' departure announcement comes one day after New York state formally banned fracking

Below: DEC Commissioner Joe Martens speaks to hundreds of people at the grand opening ceremony for the Catskills Interpretive Center.