News of Lake Minnewaska and the Lake Minnewaska History Site
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Following are:<ol>
<li>A letter from Ken Phillips to New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Bernadette Castro</li>
<li>A small map drawn by Park or State staff (was included with the Residential Permit).</li>
<li>Water sample test report.</li>

Commissioner Bernadette Castro
New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Albany, New York

Dear Commissioner Castro:

Recently Tom Cobb called on behalf of Ken Kreiser regarding comments about the Park Office sewer that have appeared on the website. Though he had not visited the web site, Tom evidenced concern and when I suggested a written response he accepted. After gathering information I felt that it would be appropriate to respond directly to you as I did in the past regarding the history of drownings at Lake Minnewaska. I hope that you and your staff will have a chance to visit the web site as I feel it would help you understand the legacy of concern and appreciation of this beautiful mountain top and its history that brings together so many former guests and staff at

The purpose of the Minnewaska web site is to publish photos, stories and information on the history of the Cliff House, Wildmere, and other historic sites within the Minnewaska environs. The goal is to make information available that enhances visitor's enjoyment of Minnewaska State Park and, in that spirit, to help preserve the trails, scenic views and, of course, Lake Minnewaska itself.

The Minnewaska website was started by Sam Lewit in 1997 after re-visiting Lake Minnewaska in 1995. Walking around among the picnic tables and lawn where the Cliff House and Wildmere once stood was extremely emotional for Sam and when he returned to California he wrote a letter to the State of New York offering to help preserve the history of the Minnewaska Resort. Ironically, this is the same thing that The Phillips Family offered to the State less than a year ago. As you know, we hoped that a visitor center might make use of the photos, artifacts, memorabilia that our family has collected over our lifetimes. We are sorry that The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has chosen to reject both offers, but we are encouraged that the web offers us the opportunity to preserve Minnewaska's history for the benefit of future visitors.

My role in all of this is a simple one: I lived and worked at Lake Minnewaska longer than any other living person. Therefore I, and the members of our family, can provide historical information and back ground that is simply not available from any other source.

As to the comments regarding the sewer that caused Tom to call me, these comments echo valid concerns from many people who have spent a great deal of time at Minnewaska; they should not be taken lightly. For example, the first person to publicly comment was a former Sports Director and guest who has been visiting Minnewaska for more than 50 years!

As you may not be familiar with the sewage issue, here is some background information:

<ul type="square">
<li>The Nature Conservancy and thus the State of New York leased Windsong, the Phillips residence, to Kenneth and Lucille Phillips in a document found in Liber 1718 page 0165 filed on May 20, 1987 at the Ulster county Clerk's Office. That agreement states on page 6, paragraph 22, B: "The Conservancy, at its own expense, shall be responsible for the development, operation and maintenance of all facilities and improvements, including leach fields and septic tanks, necessary to dispose of all sewage from the residence of the Permittees and the Ranger Station."</li>

<li>The sewage disposal field constructed per this agreement lies approximately 75 feet west of the Ranger Station (formerly the Wayside Snack Bar) and approximately 100 feet South (on the lake side) of the Cliff House Drive. The sewage disposal field is approximately 250 feet North of Lake Minnewaska itself and approximately 75 feet above the lake's surface.</li>

<li>There are cliffs and crevices between the sewage disposal field and the lake.</li>

<li>The soils beneath the leach field are very shallow and Parks trucked in fill to create the enough depth to bury the pipes. Downhill of the field, surface water flows over the exposed rock and into crevices and fissures leading into Lake Minnewaska.</li>

<li>All of this occurs within the watershed of Lake Minnewaska.</li>

<li>This is the first time that sewage has been discharged within this watershed. Both the Phillips and Smiley Families took great pains to ensure that sewage was never discharged within the Minnewaska watershed. Both Hotels discharged sewage far below lake lever and at least a thousand feet away. Trenches channeled water from the stable area to both the northwest and north east, a trench also ensured that and runoff from the golf course flowed west away from the Lake, the garage septic system discharged below lake level and to the northwest, and the Ranger Station sewer originally ran several hundred feet across the Cliff House Drive and into a field that also drained to the northwest.</li>

<li>As the Residential Permit included a small map drawn by Parks or State staff, it is included for clarity. I added the location of the Ranger Station leach field. I must note that the buildings do not appear to be drawn to scale.</li>

<li>After the hotel closed and until about 1997, the members of the Phillips family and their guests drank water directly from the lake without any form of purification. However, when my sister Suzanne brought my parents to Minnewaska in 1997 or 1998, parks staff immediately advised them that the water was no longer potable and suggested that they install water purification equipment. After water tests indicated that the water was indeed "Unsatisfactory", Ken Phillips, Sr. installed a water purifier at Windsong. During the past few years, family members drank bottled water.</li>

<li>A copy of our latest water test was also "unsatisfactory"; a copy is attached.</li>


<ul type="square">
<li>Locating the sewer close to the ranger station and therefore within the Lake Minnewaska watershed was quick, easy and cheap. However, it is obvious that something has occurred when two people who have drank directly from Lake Minnewaska all of their lives are forced to install water purification equipment. When the hotels were operational, our water quality was routinely checked by the Ulster County Health Department. On occasion we failed a Chlorine Residual Test, but, to my knowledge, we were never told that the water was of an unsatisfactory sanitary quality.</li>

<li>The sewage problem is exacerbated by Parks failure to winterize the water system that feeds the Park Office. Because this system is subject to freezing, a continuous flow of water is discharged all winter long in the vicinity of the sewer. This has the effect of flushing effluent from the soils, along the rock and ultimately into the lake.</li>

<li>Parks staff might learn a great deal by testing the puddles on the Lake Shore Drive after a substantial rain. Clearly any coliforms present there will flow into the lake.</li>

<li>Converting Windsong into a visitor's center or similar public facility should not be considered until an adequate system flowing outside the watershed has been constructed. Certainly, a certificate of occupancy -- especially one contemplating public or staff access to the only flush toilets at the lake -- should await such a system.</li>

<li>In the interim, Park Staff should use portable toilets as their guests are asked to do.</li>

Bottom Line:

Putting aside all other arguments, it is simple common sense to locate any sewer at Lake Minnewaska outside the lake's watershed. Commissioner, The State of New York has taken control of a priceless treasure that had been cared for by a continuum of private owners for over a century. It is a shame that we even find ourselves discussing this subject.


Kenneth B. Phillips, Jr.

<img src="" alt="Rough sketch of sewage map showing location of leech field.">

<img src="" alt="Test report from water sample.">
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