Mongaup Interpretive Center
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Mongaup Interpretive Center
Background - Mongaup Interpretive Center - Site Selection and Cooperative Management with New York State

The Upper Delaware River was one of the original twenty-seven rivers designated for study upon passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. A federal study team, led by the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR), began its evaluations in 1969, and a Draft River Qualification Study and Draft Environmental Impact Statement was released in 1974. Concern over the level of federal land acquisition arose at that time and residents sought local involvement in the river's management. The Final River Qualification Study and Environmental Impact Statement which recommended increased reliance on local land use controls for conservation instead of federal acquisition was released in 1976.

The 73.4-mile segment of the Upper Delaware River was added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System and made a unit of the National Park System through the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 (Public Law 95-625). Between 1976 and passage of the 1978 Act, local community groups and individuals organized in preparation for pending designation. One group, the Upper Delaware Clearinghouse (Clearinghouse), served as a forum for many interests, including the planning and development offices from the five Upper Delaware River counties: Delaware, Sullivan and Orange in New York, and Wayne and Pike in Pennsylvania. In 1980, the National Park Service organized an intergovernmental planning team to begin preparation of the required guidelines and management plan. Many of the people who participated in the Clearinghouse served on the intergovernmental team.

Site Identification - Members of the Clearinghouse had identified a property owned by Orange and Rockland Utilities in the Town of Deerpark, Orange County, New York as a promising site for the new unit's primary visitor contact facility. They presented this idea to the intergovernmental planning team and it was included in the 1982 Draft River Management Plan. Review of early planning documents and committee notes indicate that other sites were considered, but failed to meet the committee's primary criteria of being inside the corridor boundaries and in a location which would effectively serve visitors entering the valley. Preferably it would be a property that would not have to be purchased from a private owner, unless that person was a willing seller. The site selection criteria are explained in more detail below:

Within legislative boundary - The facility had to be within the river corridor. At the time the Draft River Management Plan was written, keeping the National Park Service confined to the river corridor was an important issue for many people. Some residents and businesses at the southern end of the river corridor had worked to assure that the designation would not extend downriver past the #2 railroad bridge. Therefore, what otherwise could have been likely sites in the vicinity of Sparrowbush, New York, were eliminated from consideration.

Effectively serve visitors - The facility had to be located in a place that would effectively intercept visitors early in their travel up the river valley in order to be effective. Sites north of Pond Eddy were not considered because they would not serve river users who entered down river from that community. Several sites down river from Pond Eddy were considered and rejected:

- At the time the plan was written there was an active hamlet in the Mongaup area. Because acquisition of private property within the community would have been needed, this site was rejected. Note: After the final River Management Plan was written and adopted, Orange & Rockland Utilities (O&R) (subsequently Southern Energy and now Mirant Energy) acquired most of the existing residential and commercial properties in the Mongaup area. (At the time of the utility's purchases in the Mongaup area, it was rumored that O&R was buying up the land for the National Park Service's visitor contact facility.) O&R acquired the land as an alternative to trying to insure the community against losses in the case of a possible multiple dam failure of its Mongaup River dams. An inundation line was established and deed restrictions put on properties to prohibit permanent structures.

- Concerns for private property acquisition, taking lands off the tax rolls and insertion of a facility in an existing community, were an issue in Pond Eddy and this community was not considered as a suitable site for the facility.

- Between Mongaup and Pond Eddy, steep slopes and cliffs edge the New York side of the Delaware River. Very few "buildable" locations exist. Camp Mogisca, now leased by Kittatinny Canoes as their Staircase Rapids access, is in the floodplain and is not big enough for a building and parking. Knights Eddy is a developed community and lacks space for a visitor contact facility and parking. The undeveloped part of this community is in the floodplain.

- No locations in Pennsylvania were considered because of the lack of a highway paralleling and serving the river corridor.

River Management Plan - The work of the Clearinghouse and the Intergovernmental Planning Team on facility development withstood throughout the process that led to the 1988 adoption of the 1996 Final River Management Plan. In a 1994 report to the National Park Service's Mid Atlantic Acting Deputy Regional Director, NPS Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River Superintendent John T. Hutzky explained:

"The Mongaup visitor center site was virtually the first site identified by the planning team for facility development for the plan. The 'recreation facility committee' was so enthusiastic about the Mongaup site's potential that they arranged a site visit for the entire planning team during the fall of 1980. The tour included alternative sites, of which there were few, and the entire planning team endorsed the Mongaup site. The concept of the Mongaup Visitor Center was included in the earliest drafts of the plan and has survived the controversies surrounding other aspects of the River Management Plan's proposals."

Hutzky continued, "In 1983, the Intergovernmental Planning Team's River Management Plan was on its way to approval. During the fall of 1983, with the Regional Office's blessings, I arranged a meeting with the property owner, Orange and Rockland Utilities (O&R). Orange and Rockland was agreeable to selling their property - and even allowed us to perform percolation testing. (The site passed the 'perc' test.)" Representatives from the National Park Service Lands Office were actively engaged with O&R for the purchase when opposition to the Draft River Management Plan surfaced and a long period of controversy began. The plan's modest land acquisition and development proposals were not at issue. Throughout all of the reviews and plan revision efforts, the Mongaup site remained the favored location for the area's visitor contact facility."

The first Draft River Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) had been circulated for review in October 1982. Comments were received, and an extensively revised plan and EIS were issued in October 1983. Opposition to the plan grew and in early 1984 the Conference of Upper Delaware Townships (COUP) requested that a new Draft plan be prepared which would be more sensitive to local concerns. The National Park Service agreed, and work on a new plan under the direction of COUP began in August 1984. The 1986 Draft River Management Plan was prepared cooperatively by COUP, the National Park Service, the State of New York, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Upper Delaware Citizens Advisory Council and other public and private interests. COUP formed three working committees - Plan Oversight, Land Use Guidelines, and Water Use Guidelines - and hired consultants to assist in preparation of the proposed plan. The membership of these committees represented a broad range of local landowners, commercial interests, and local, state, regional and federal governmental agencies, as well as local and national conservation and recreation organizations.

The proposed final plan was prepared by a Plan Revision Committee consisting of representatives of the river Towns, the State of New York and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Upper Delaware Citizens Advisory Council and the National Park Service. In June 1986, public meetings were held on the rewritten plan. The meetings were contentious. The issue was authority - the very existence of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, the presence of the NPS, and the authority of Congress to create the area and mandate land use controls to protect the resource were being challenged. The plan's modest land acquisition and development proposals were not at issue. However, throughout all of the reviews and plan revision efforts, the Mongaup site remained the favored location for the area's visitor contact facility.

New York State buys Mongaup Wildlife Management Area - During the late 1980's New York voters passed a series of environmental bond acts to support open space acquisitions throughout the state. The State entered into negotiations with Orange and Rockland Utilities in 1989 to purchase their holdings in the Mongaup Watershed for protection of the wintering bald eagle population.

On March 9, 1990, NPS Regional Director James W. Coleman wrote to DEC Commissioner Thomas Jorling concerning the state's proposed purchase of the Mongaup tract, approximately 10,800 acres, which included the 59-acre property identified in the River Management Plan. Coleman's letter also noted the State's intention to establish a whitewater boating access near the mouth of the Mongaup River.

Jorling's response - Commissioner Jorling replied to Regional Director Coleman on May 2, 1990. While much of Commissioner Jorling's reply addressed the whitewater boating issue, it also commented on the visitor contact facility proposal. Commissioner Jorling's May 2 letter to the National Park Service was one of a series of letters written to different entities including the Upper Delaware Council. It is the letter that the National Park Service responded to and set the stage for the agency actions that followed including site visits and ultimately to the project by the State .

"The plan creates a dilemma in this situation with respect to the site specific objective in the Facilities Section, titled 'Visitor Contact Facility'. This section refers to development of a visitor center at the confluence of the Mongaup River with the Delaware River, in the same area identified as eagle wintering habitat. There are no alternative sites for the wintering eagle area. However, I believe it is reasonable to suggest that alternate sites may be available for the visitor center. To that end, the Department is committed to working with the Upper Delaware Council and the National Park Service to investigate and evaluate all alternatives to achieve this important objective."

Mr. Jorling continued, "...DEC will not approve any proposals for intensive public use of State land at the confluence of the Mongaup River with the Delaware River unless it has been shown that such use would be consistent with federal and state resource management objectives for that area."

Note: In 1990 the eagle was a federally endangered species; in 1995 it was down-listed to a threatened species, and in July 2002 is scheduled to be de-listed. In both New York and Pennsylvania, the bald eagle is a threatened species.

Visitor Center would not have an impact on eagles - Regional Director Coleman concurred with the suggestion in Mr. Jorling's letter, suggesting staff-level follow-up between the Upper Delaware Superintendent and DEC Regional Director Ralph Manna. A series of meetings and site visits between the DEC and NPS ensued. A site visit with DEC officials, including the State's bald eagle expert, Peter Nye, took place on June 11, 1990. The site visit was followed by a meeting on June 28, 1990 at the DEC Region 3 office. Mr. Nye made a preliminary finding that the proposed site would not have an impact on the eagles. Based on Mr. Nye's determination, the State and the NPS moved forward with the proposed project.

Legislative Authorization - New York State completed its $14,936,586 acquisition of the 10,894-acre Mongaup tract on October 24, 1990. In July 1991 the state began formal planning for the Mongaup Valley Wildlife Management Area. On May 27, 1992, the NPS and representatives of the Upper Delaware Council met with the DEC's Chief Real Estate Counsel, James Echinomedes, and DEC staff regarding use of the visitor contact facility site. Because of constraints in the Environmental Bond Act, Mr. Echinomedes advised a 99-year lease between the State and the NPS as the means of building the visitor contact center. The state again reviewed all of the issues and wrote the legislation which was sponsored by Assemblyman Jacob E. Gunther and Senator Charles D. Cook at the request of the Upper Delaware Council, passed by the New York State Legislature, and signed into law by Governor Mario Cuomo in June 1993.

In preparation for the companion federal legislation, the National Park Service consulted once again with New York State's Endangered Species Unit Leader, Peter Nye. On June 1, 1999, Mr. Nye indicated that "we know of no nesting activity on or in the immediate vicinity of the subject parcel. Bald eagles do winter in the area, perching along the near-shore river trees or loafing and foraging; I know of no overnight roosting in the upland portion of this parcel."

Nye continued, "Given the fact that the proposed visitor center will be placed a considerable distance from the shoreline of the Delaware River, and that under our authorizing legislation an acceptable (to DEC) Eagle Management Plan is required prior to site disturbance, I do not believe that the center will have a deleterious impact on Bald Eagles." (The Eagle Management Study has been funded from internal NPS funds, and Mr. Nye is involved in designing the study, now underway.)

Companion federal legislation was needed to authorize the NPS to lease the State property. Congressman Benjamin A. Gilman introduced the federal legislation on Wednesday, January 6, 1999. On July 20, 1999, the House of Representatives held a hearing on the proposed legislation and subsequently passed the bill without reservations. On October 13, 1999, the Senate held a hearing and passed the bill on November 11th. On December 3, 1999, President Clinton approved and signed P.L. 106-119, authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to enter into a 99-year lease with the State of New York for land to construct and operate a visitor center for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.