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Cragsmoor

CragsmoorOne does not need to spend much time on the Shawangunk Ridge to appreciate the beauty and ecological importance of the landscape. The northernmost portion of the ridge, known as the Northern Shawangunks, starts out near Rosendale, NY as a series of convoluted valleys and cliff faces. Running nearly due southwest for approximately 17 miles, the ridge-steadily gaining elevation-culminates in a broad plateau above Ellenville, NY, before dropping dramatically at the escarpments of Sam's Point Preserve.

In addition to over 30 rare plant and animal species, the ridge is home to the world's best remaining example of a rare ridgetop dwarf pitch pine barrens and supports the second largest chestnut oak forest in New York. Based on extensive research, scientists believe fire played an essential role in maintaining the health of both the pine barrens and the chestnut oak forest, making these systems "fire dependent."

The Hamlet of Cragsmoor, the only ridgetop community of the Northern Shawangunks, is situated at edge of Sam's Point Preserve, a 5,000-acre natural area, creating a complex landscape that includes a mosaic of human development and flammable fuel types.

CragsmoorHistorically, large fires (more than 500 acres) occurred frequently along the Shawangunk Ridge. Over the last fifty years, however, fire suppression efforts, although necessary to protect life and property, have resulted in accumulations of fuel on the forest floor. Large amounts of fuel in the form of leaves, twigs, downed branches and brush, and highly flammable shrubs have set the stage for unusually severe, high-intensity fires.

The Hamlet of Cragsmoor, located in Ulster County in the town of Wawarsing, New York, consists of three square miles. Approximately 340 households, comprised of nearly 500 seasonal and full time residents, and five public buildings exist within Cragsmoor.

Public roads throughout Cragsmoor are paved and well maintained. Although a few of the private driveways are paved, a large number are long and gravel-covered, without a turnaround. The Cragsmoor Volunteer Fire Company is less than five miles from any structure within the community. However, there are no fire hydrants.

CragsmoorVegetation cover in the community consists of two major forest types; chestnut oak with a mountain laurel understory and eastern hemlock. Mountain laurel is often found interspersed with huckleberry forming a highly flammable shrub layer. Hemlock, which is generally not considered a threat in regards to fire, is mostly concentrated on the slopes of ravines. Due to the infestation of the hemlock woolly adelgid, many of these stands are experiencing branch die-back and tree death, potentially creating a volatile layer of downed woody fuels and needles.

Within the community of Cragsmoor, parcels of forested land are frequently situated between developed areas. Harsh winters and ice storms have caused an abundance of downed branches and brush to collect along with dead leaf litter and finer fuels in these wooded areas, which could easily ignite in a wildfire and threaten adjacent homes.

At Sam's Point Preserve, pitch pine is the dominant tree, while huckleberry, blueberries and sheep laurel comprise the shrub layer. These species are all fire adapted and highly flammable due to the resin in their needles and leaves.

CragsmoorA wildfire, under these conditions, could have devastating consequences not only to the homes and properties of the residents but to the forested areas as well. To address this threat, The Nature Conservancy, the organization managing Sam's Point Preserve, with assistance from the Cragsmoor Volunteer Fire Company, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and Ulster County fire officials, has drafted a Wildfire Pre-Incident Plan to ensure that any wildfire is suppressed as quickly and safely as possible. In addition, The Nature Conservancy received funding to initiate a Firewise Communities/USA pilot program in Cragsmoor.

A Firewise Board was formed, comprised of individuals from The Nature Conservancy, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Cragsmoor Fire Company, the Board of Commissioners of the Cragsmoor Volunteer Fire Company, the Cragsmoor Free Library, the Cragsmoor Association and the Cragsmoor Historical Society. Its members adopted the following mission statement:

The mission of the Firewise Board is to:

  • Identify and raise awareness of the potential for property damage, personal injury or loss of life in the event of a wildfire in the Hamlet of Cragsmoor and
  • To implement strategies to minimize the impact wildfires will have on the lives and property of Cragsmoor residents.

Residents of Cragsmoor were invited to attend a community meeting on June 27, 2004. An assessment form was developed based on NFPA 1144 - Standard for Protection of Life and Property from Wildfire 2002 Edition. A total of twenty individual home assessments were conducted. Most properties fell into the moderate category and could receive lower scores by addressing the recommendations made by the assessment team.

CragsmoorIn December, 2005, a Firewise Day was held. A hired tree service collected piles of brush from over fifteen homeowners and transported them to Sam's Point Preserve. A drill was later conducted by the Cragsmoor Volunteer Fire Company to burn the collected brush.

The final step towards achieving Firewise Communities/USA recognition was the submission of a Community Wildfire Hazard Assessment Report which included general recommendations by the Firewise Board to minimize potential loss in from a wildfire in Cragsmoor and to commit to the Firewise program in the future.

On November 27, 2006 Cragsmoor became the first community in the State of New York to earn Firewise Communities/USA recognition in an awards ceremony at the Cragsmoor firehouse.