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NY – Catskill Mountains: Kaaterskill Falls
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Kaaterskill Falls is a two-drop waterfall located near in the eastern Catskill Mountains of New York, on the north side of Kaaterskill Clove, between the hamlets of Haines Falls and Palenville in Greene County’s Town of Hunter. The dual cascades total 260 feet (79 m) in height, making the falls the highest in New York, and one of the Eastern United States‘ taller waterfalls. The falls are one of America’s oldest tourist attractions, wappearing in some of the most prominent books, essays, poems and paintings of the early 19th century.
While the falls are on public land, they can only be reached via the Kaaterskill Falls Trail, a state-maintained yellow-blazed path running 0.4 mile (650 m) uphill from NY 23A, the only road through the clove. Built in 1967, the trail, though challenging enough for experienced hikers, is the most-hiked trail in the Catskill Park, contribtuing to erosion.
The falls, like the clove and creek with which they share a name, are a relatively recent addition to the Catskills in geologic time. They evolved through stream capture at the end of the Illinois glaciation, when runoff from the glacial melt that created North-South Lake began to flow away from the nearby headwaters of Schoharie Creek and down the steep slopes of the newly-created clove. The rushing waters of what would become known as Spruce Creek eroded a natural amphitheater at roughly 2,000 feet (609 m) on the south slope of South Mountain. Most of the drop is accounted for by the upper cascade. The shelf breaking the two falls (and creating the huge pool) is the break between the Manorkill Sandstone formed in the Middle Devonian period and the Oneonta-Genesee sandstone-shale mix of the late Devonian period.
While the falls’ existence was known prior to colonization, it played minor role among the indigenous peoples of the Hudson Valley, who avoided the Catskills due to the limited agricultural possibilities of higher elevations. The falls’ name probably came from a later corruption of "Catskill" by English-speaking colonists who had supplanted the Dutch by the early 18th century. Cat could mean Bobcat or Mountain Lion, while "kill" means stream in Dutch.
Early American naturalist John Bartram visited the falls on his 1753 expedition to the area. In "A Journey to Ye Cat Skill Mountains with Billy," one of the earliest Catskill travelogues, called it "the great gulf that swallowed all down." Still, Americans regarded upstate New York as unsafe and populated by savage natives. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 when the frontier shifted far to the west that attitudes changed.
The falls’ fame began with a mention by Washington Irving in "Rip Van Winkle" in 1819. Drawn by Irving’s story, pioneering Hudson River School artist Thomas Cole took a steamboat ride up the Hudson in October of 1825. The resulting paintings were featured on the front page of the New York Evening Post, and in turn helped make the Hudson River Valley one of the foremost tourist destinations in the country. A trip to the falls became something of a pilgrimmage for the first influential class of truly American artists. The earliest known view of the front of the Falls by Thomas Cole, dated 1826, is in the Westervelt Warner Museum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Perhaps the best-known depiction is Asher Durand’s highly stylized "Kindred Spirits" (1849), eulogizing the recently deceased Cole.
At some time in the 19th century the falls were used as a mill to power a tannery. The Laurel House, a nearby hotel, acquired the water rights to Spruce Creek and dammed it during tourist season, charging spectators a fee to watch as the falls were "turned on". In 1885 New York State established the Forest Peserve, which later became part of the New York State Constitution. The "forever wild" requirement helped protect the area from logging and commercial development, once the falls property came into state ownership during the early 20th century. They are today part of the North Mountain Wild Forest, a Forest Preserve Unit owned and managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).Tags: New York, New York City, Thomas Cole, Rip Van Winkle, Kaaterskill Falls