Gentrification? Some Thoughts On Our Growing Crowds
What a fourth! Threats of rain on the weekend yielded some mighty humidity, and a few downpours, but also great opportunities for local walks and hikes. Sunday was pure bliss, and for those lucky enough to also get Monday and Tuesday off, you couldn't ask for better parading and fireworks weather.
Of course, with the big holiday weekend came big holiday crowds, even in areas that used to be known around here for not being on any tourist maps. And with those crowds, as has been occurring in recent years, have come new problems... all involving issues that are certainly challenging, but also workable, especially when seen in metaphoric terms as representative of even larger things we need to address in our lifetimes.
It used to be, around here, that one could head away from the more crowded ridge-topping destinations along the Shawangunks, or in the older valleys and villages close to the Hudson River, by heading off to the Catskills. We've now lived in the area long enough to remember when people almost begged to be seen in the same light as the Hamptons, Jersey Shore, or even the Berkshires and Poconos. When the biggest problems on summer long weekends was the way all services shut down, leaving one stranded if your car blew a gasket.
Then the Catskills started touting the write-ups they were getting in hipster magazines and website "best of" lists. Which just increased crowds. Been to Phoenicia lately, or Margaretville and Greene County's Mountaintop? They're chock-a-block with young couples and families wearing sportster summer wear, and beards, searching out the newest breweries and eateries (forget the days when they were simply restaurants, or diners). All are becoming what Woodstock, Rhinebeck, and the Warwick area used to be. And even our once-lost small cities — Kingston, Beacon, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh and even Middletown and Monticello come to mind — and changing very rapidly. Gentrifying, many are saying with a sigh, noticing the social and political effects of such things. Including the ways they quietly homogenize and de-diversify communities.
But we've digressed (as one does when summer's weather rolls around). Last weekend we escaped to the Catskills and found... crowds. Last summer we realized that all the previous summer's reports about mounds of trash, and crowds, up in the Peekamoose/Blue Hole area were true. So we avoided all that for older haunts... and found even more crowds. An attempt to get a too-fancy sandwich at a once-hidden-away lunch spot on a back road took a half hour; an attempt to park at a simple trailhead on a distant back road revealed no spots (just as, later, usual "private" parking spots for our fave fireworks displays were filled... by out-of-staters). On Sunday we found our hideaway swimming hole, the sort of place we have to threaten friends with decapitation should they ever reveal its whereabouts, too packed to access.
But then something happened... we kept driving, based on our years of journeying around this region we call home. And you know what? We found magical spots that have stayed the same, except that they STILL yielded others on the trail, or in the creek. But... those folks were friendly, as glad as we were to have found havens, both now and matching our memories. So we ended up realizing something... that sort of universal truth we always search out in the challenges we face.
And what was it we realized? That unlike other tourist places around, there's enough of "up here" that it would take generations to lose our ability to share it. That what we were feeling, regarding loss of "what was" and change, was exactly the same that others felt when we moved here, or those who were here when they moved here felt... ad infinitum back to the various native cultures that have called this wide area we call "home" their own home.
As we noted earlier, we had a great Fourth... including heralded hipster restaurants that felt like failed dreams from our own pasts where new "comfort food" inventions ended up tasting like glop, too. Sure, there were some crowds. But there were also long stretches of driving without sight of other cars, or even houses. And that mix of old faces among the new that remind us, always, that whatever happens to where we live, it's still home. And still a true community.