History of Friends of the Shawangunks & The Shawangunk Conservancy

Throughout its history, Friends of the Shawangunks (Friends) and its affiliate, The Shawangunk Conservancy (TSC), have faced down threats to the Shawangunk Ridge.

In the Beginning

In 1963, the first recorded threat in Friends’ history, senators from New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania proposed a bill to study the feasibility of creating a skyline parkway running along the crest of the Kittatinny-Shawangunk ridge between the Delaware and Hudson Rivers. The Smiley Brothers of Mohonk Lake sent a message to Friends of the Shawangunk Mountains, a group of conservation minded people, describing the Skyline Drive Proposal and providing key information on how to resist the initiative. The proposal was dropped when the supporting senators realized how unpopular the skyline project was.

he group’s name was shortened to Friends of the Shawangunks and adopted with permission by early climbing luminaries Hans Kraus, Frits Wiessner and James P. McCarthy in their fight “to save the Minnewaska-Awosting land from being sold for development” and to raise money to purchase the face of Millbrook Cliffs. By 1971, The Nature Conservancy, with the help of Friends and other groups, had purchased 6,950 acres of Minnewaska-Awosting land. The land was transferred to the Palisades Interstate Parkway Commission (PIPC) and Minnewaska State Park was created.

The Fight to Save Lake Minnewaska

During the 1970s, Friends continued to raise money for land purchases by The Mohonk Trust (now Mohonk Preserve). It advocated for tax-exempt treatment of The Mohonk Trust lands. It continued to urge the State to acquire more land to add to Minnewaska State Park. In the last few months of 1977, it became apparent to the Friends group that there was no end to the need for concern and action to save the Shawangunks, so the group declared its intention of remaining “a permanent, ongoing organization to serve as a private citizens’ watchdog.” Its activities would “include public education, legislative lobbying, support of private conservation efforts such as those of The Nature Conservancy and The Mohonk Trust, and work for public acquisition of suitable park lands.”

By 1979, the Marriott Corporation had announced its plans for a new 400-room luxury hotel and conference center plus 500 condominiums on the Lake Minnewaska property. And so began Friends’ 8 year battle with Marriott and later Knickerbocker Associates to preserve the Shawangunk Ridge. In 1985, Friends won a key lawsuit against the US Department of the Interior preventing Marriott from using Lake Minnewaska as part of its water supply. Faced with this loss, Marriott Corporation announced it was abandoning its Minnewaska project. Next, Knickerbocker Associates attempted to acquire the property in bankruptcy but this too failed and in March 1987, Lake Minnewaska was added to the Minnewaska State Park Preserve.

The Shawangunk Conservancy is Formed

In 1988 Friends formed The Shawangunk Conservancy to target and acquire critical parcels of open space in the Shawangunks at a time when no other organization was actively pursuing acquisitions. In 1989 TSC acquired the Cross parcel on Rock Hill Road. In 1992 it acquired the Rappaport parcel on Knob Hill Road. The following year it acquired the Bowers parcel on Rock Hill Road.

Over the years, TSC worked with other organizations to save open space in the Shawangunks. It acquired an option on 878 acres in the Sam’s Point area which was later purchased by Open Space Institute (OSI). TSC initiated efforts to acquire 30 acres of the Southern Trapps’ cliff face and top land which were later transferred to Mohonk Preserve. It pledged $85,000 to support OSI’s Joppenbergh Mountain project at a critical time in that project’s history.

Recent History

Friends joined Save the Ridge (paying 85% of the legal expenses) for a successful battle against development of the Awosting Reserve, a significant 2,700-acre parcel on the Shawangunk Ridge. OSI and Trust for Public Lands purchased the Awosting Reserve in 2006 and transferred it to Minnewaska State Park Preserve.

Most recently, TSC acquired the Alder Lane parcel, the DeGraw parcel on Clove Valley Road and the Brooks parcel on Rock Hill Road.

Friends and TSC continue to monitor threats to the Shawangunk Ridge, acquiring lands to add to open space where it can and advocating against harmful development when necessary.