The Doorway



Historic Signing of Agreement for Sale of Ashokan Field Campus Announced
Open Space Institute, NYCDEP, Campus Auxiliary Services (SUNY) Come to Terms on Future of Site

NEW YORK, NY - May 13, 2008 - The Open Space Institute (OSI) and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) today announced the acquisition by the Open Space Conservancy (OSC), the land acquisition affiliate of OSI, of the 394-acre Ashokan Field Campus. OSC acquired the property from Campus Auxiliary Services (CAS), an affiliate of the State University of New York, New Paltz, and will subdivide the property and sell a portion to NYCDEP to facilitate water supply operations, and transfer the remaining portion to the Ashokan Foundation, a new non-profit group that will continue to run educational, cultural and arts programs on the property. The Open Space Institute, which has protected 100,000 acres of scenic open space in the Hudson River Valley, played a pivotal role in the transaction by acquiring the site, initiating a subdivision and facilitating partnership between the Ashokan Foundation and NYCDEP for the future use of the property.


The newly renamed Ashokan Center (formerly Ashokan Field Campus) is located in the Ulster County towns of Olive and Marbletown. CAS has operated education programs there for more than 40 years in a secluded, natural setting adjacent to the Ashokan Reservoir and wilderness areas of the Catskill Forest Preserve. Ashokan Center, which is bisected by the Esopus Creek, provides an inspirational backdrop for hands-on educational experiences and group retreats with themes in all disciplines.

"This is an historic day," said Joe Martens, OSI's President. "Thanks to a concerted effort on the part of SUNY, NYCDEP and the Ashokan Foundation, school children and adults will continue to benefit from a one-of-a-kind outdoor learning experience. I want to personally thank Jay Ungar, Molly Mason and Commissioner Emily Lloyd for their unfailing commitment to protect this special property and ensure its continued educational use. This is truly a win-win-win situation," concluded Martens.

As part of the agreement, NYCDEP and the Ashokan Foundation will work together to make improvements to the site to ensure that NYCDEP's activities will have minimal impacts on educational programs being run at the campus by the Ashokan Foundation. Several buildings, currently located near the Esopus stream channel, will be rebuilt on higher ground to avoid impact from future reservoir releases.

"DEP is very pleased to be able to partner with the Open Space Institute, the Ashokan Foundation and SUNY New Paltz and preserve the use of Ashokan for educational and cultural programs, while enabling the City to use the property for important water protection purposes," said DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd.

The Ashokan Foundation, which was created by internationally acclaimed musicians Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, will take over the operation of the field campus and continue to offer an ever widening variety of year round environmental and cultural programs to people of all ages. Jay and Molly have been associated with Ashokan for nearly 30 years, through their annual Fiddle and Dance Camps at the site, which attract musicians and dancers from around the world.

"Ashokan feels like home to so many people," said Molly Mason, "from kids who spend a few days here with their elementary schools, to adults and families who return each year for retreats, conferences and special events."

"We and the Ashokan Foundation are extremely grateful for the dedicated efforts of OSI, NYCDEP, SUNY New Paltz and the Ashokan Center staff working together to assure that Ashokan can continue to be a place where people can re-connect with nature, history and the arts," added Jay Ungar.

NYCDEP owns and operates the Ashokan Reservoir. Located in Ulster County, the Ashokan Reservoir is about 13 miles west of Kingston and 73 miles north of New York City. It was formed by the damming of the Esopus Creek, which eventually flows northeast and drains into the Hudson River. Consisting of two basins separated by a concrete dividing weir and roadway, the reservoir holds 127.9 billion gallons at full capacity and was placed into service in 1915. The Ashokan is one of two reservoirs in the City's Catskill Water Supply System. The Ashokan supplies about 40% of New York City's daily drinking water needs in non-drought periods. DEP has the ability to release water from the reservoir to the lower Esopus Creek. Releasing water can allow DEP to create a void in the Ashokan Reservoir to capture high-flow runoff events. Capturing such events can have benefits for water quality and enhance the attenuation effect the reservoir already provides in relation to downstream flooding.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection manages the City's water supply, providing more than 1.1 billion gallons of water each day to more than 9 million residents throughout New York State through a complex network of nineteen reservoirs, three controlled lakes and 6,200 miles of water pipes, tunnels and aqueducts.

The Open Space Institute protects scenic, natural, and historic landscapes to ensure public enjoyment, conserve habitats, and sustain community character. OSI achieves its goals through land acquisition, conservation easements, regional loan programs, fiscal sponsorship, creative partnerships, and analytical research. OSI has protected nearly 100,000 acres in New York State. Through its Northern Forest Protection Fund and Conservation Finance Program, OSI has assisted in the protection of an additional $1.6 million acres in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina and Georgia. Please visit for more information.


Weekend & Winter FestivalThere WAS snow! Though these annual events haven’t been too wintery the past few years, 2008 provided the perfect setting. Winter Weekend offered a plethora of workshops and activities for outdoor educators who attended from centers such as DEC’s Stony Kill and Frost Valley YMCA. Full-time teachers, nature center administrators, and other non-formal educators attended as well—enhancing their education. Slate pendant making (pictured left), Wolves as Teachers, Dream Catchers, music beyond midnight inspired by George Steele & Wayne Fisher, the lakeside sauna, and jumping into that near-frozen lake were just a few of the memorable experiences from the popular annual event. Winter Festival was the alternative one-day event whose blanket of fresh snow gave the snowtube run quite a workout. The free hot cocoa flowed as Jay Ungar & Molly Mason performed two intimate sets alongside the Pewter Shop’s toasty woodstove. The colonial craft shops experienced a steady flow, the trail to the 75-foot frozen Cathedral Falls was well-traveled, and the 1817 schoolhouse was packed full. One of few events like this in the area, Ashokan’s Winter Festival will continue through the years to get families and friends to realize just how much fun the outdoors can be in wintertime!

The Future of Ashokan--an update

     ASHOKAN has long been known as a place where schools, organizations, families and individuals come to re-establish their connection to the natural world and to one another through shared experiences in outdoor education, living history, art, music and dance.

  More than two years ago a meeting was held to discuss the impending change of ownership of Ashokan. Representatives from Campus Auxiliary Services, Open Space Institute, NYC’s Department of Environmental Protection, and the newly organized Ashokan Foundation Inc. all agreed on two things from the beginning: the property must be protected from commercial development; and it should continue to serve the needs of an extended community. 

Ashokan will continue be a place for people to share, learn and reconnect with nature and one another for generations to come.

  Through a carefully negotiated agreement, all of the parties will be able to achieve their objectives. CAS will no longer own and operate Ashokan, OSI will protect 385 acres of pristine land and the DEP will be able to release greater quantities of water from the Ashokan Reservoir. An additional shared goal of all parties is to keep alive Ashokan’s valuable long standing programs. Towards this end, Ashokan Foundation Inc. will be an ongoing steward of the land and will support Ashokan Center Inc., which will operate the facility, continue the programs and develop the mission.   Many people have worked long and hard toward these goals, often with little or no compensation. On behalf of all the staff at Ashokan, we would like to recognize those efforts and offer our most sincere gratitude for a job well done. And on behalf of the thousands of guests that have enjoyed the magic of the Ashokan Experience and the countless guests that will enjoy Ashokan in the future, thank you for your diligence and selfless efforts. Through your hard work, Ashokan will continue be a place for people to share, learn and reconnect with nature and one another for generations to come.

  To accomplish the job ahead, Ashokan Foundation Inc. will need ongoing support. If you’d like to help, please visit and click on ‘Support’.


 -Tim Neu, Jay Ungar & Molly Mason

A successful sugaring season! Success was due in large part to the immense efforts and ambition of Tim Schulte who constructed the new shack from the foundation up . . . bringing life back to the site. A new separate outdoor shelter (built from salvaged materials) was appreciated by groups who braved the late winter weather. Homeschool groups, Winter Fest and Weekend attendees, and hundreds of students had the hands-on opportunity to learn about maple sugaring in this exciting new setting.



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The Fire of Outdoor Education

We see it frequently. Either by students writing thank you letters, parents emailing their positive feedback from their child’s experience or even people stopping by and telling us how great an experience the camp was. As I paged through the stack of testimonials from kids and adults I couldn’t help but notice this underlying theme “I learned more things about myself and my surroundings than I ever knew existed”. Here is a story that is an example of just that:

     The sleep away camp was the most well-talked about subject in the 6th grade. The boy eagerly anticipated the experience and now it was at hand. It had been raining for 3 days. His teacher said “You will need to gather enough dry materials from outside in order to participate in the Fire Making Contest tonight.” All day long the boy looked for dry kindling. Everything was saturated which made foraging for firewood very difficult. He managed to find two handfuls of leaves, pine needles, and twigs hidden near the base of trees or stashed under clustered rocks in the woods. It was enough to keep a fire lit for about a minute and no more.

Education is not the filling of a pail,
but the lighting of a fire.
-William Butler Yeats

     That evening after dinner was consumed, the whole class of 60 students gathered in the meeting room—eagerly waiting for the Fire Making Contest to start. The teacher spoke “All those who are participating, come to the fire hearth; there you will get one match. The first one to light a fire and keep it burning for one minute is the winner.”   The boy did not know anything about how to make a fire but he knew it was simple if he had the right mix of dry leaves and twigs strategically placed. “ Ready… Set… Go!” The group of students’ voices rose to a crescendo as the participants frantically began their tasks. He went right to work, dry leaves as a base and small twigs on top and before he knew it he struck the match. Everywhere he placed the match, the leaves sizzled and smoked. Nothing caught though. After a few moments went by one of the other participants’ fire was lit. “We have a Winner” the teacher announced.

The boy was disheartened but a friend consoled him saying “You know, the winner is a Boy Scout, he’s been making fire for years. I wouldn’t beat yourself up over it.”

Upon pondering this tale I couldn’t help but think about the lessons learned by that one experience. A lesson of gathering dry material… A lesson of actually building a fire… A lesson of dealing with disappointment… A lesson of true friendship… Lessons….

The more we are exposed to new challenges the more we rely on the skills we learned from previous lessons. If we can open ourselves to the possibility that new challenges means better life-making decisions, then I vote for the new challenge. The boy in the story ended up growing up to be teaching others in an outdoor setting. Who knows if that one fire making contest changed his view on life. But I will tell you he had supportive people who exposed him to new challenges, and as Robert Frost said, “That has made all the difference.”

I was the boy in that story. The boy in the photo is me in 1987. The second photo was taken here at Ashokan in 2008. I can honestly tell you that I can light a fire with no matches (if the conditions are right).

-Brian Joyner

     This March, three Ashokan instructors – Annie Schlesinger, Kim Jackson, and Andrea Ace – had the opportunity to work as guest instructors at the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC), which is located in the Delaware Water Gap of Pennsylvania. The instructors taught pond study, led an interpretive three-mile hike, and facilitated confidence building on a low ropes course.


    During their stay, the instructors were housed in a cabin that had originally been built as part of a honeymoon haven for newlyweds. In their off-time, Andrea, Annie, and Kim went hiking, enjoyed a home-cooked meal, and hung out with PEEC staff. The cross-pollination of resources between Ashokan and PEEC was considered a success by all.

“I had a really great time at PEEC, but it was good to get back to my Ashokan family,” said Annie Schlesinger.

- Andrea Ace


The Ashokan Center |  477 Beaverkill Road  |  Olivebridge, New York  12461 | (845) 657-8333

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