Esopus Creek

Esopus Creek

The largest, most famous, and most fre­quented of all the streams in the Ashokan Water­shed is the Eso­pus Creek. The Eso­pus Creek drains 75% of the water­shed, is an eco­nomic engine for the water­shed Towns, a vital water sup­ply, and pro­vides rich and abun­dant aquatic and ripar­ian habitats.

The stream above the Ashokan Reser­voir is com­monly referred to as the Upper Eso­pus Creek (and the Lower Eso­pus Creek below the Ashokan Reser­voir) and cov­ers 192 square miles. The entire 26 miles of the Eso­pus Creek main­stem flows “clock­wise” in a sweep­ing arc from the head­wa­ters at Win­nisook Lake on Slide Moun­tain to the Ashokan Reser­voir through the Ulster County Towns of Shan­daken and Olive. There are nine pri­mary trib­u­taries from Big Indian to Boiceville and many smaller peren­nial and inter­mit­tent streams that join the creek before it enters the Ashokan Reservoir.

Upper Eso­pus Creek has a trib­u­tary net­work of at least 330 stream miles that drain some of the tallest and most rugged Catskill ter­rain, includ­ing 21 peaks higher than 3,000 feet above sea level. The slopes along Eso­pus Creek range from 13% in the cas­cad­ing head­wa­ter reaches, down to 3% — 0.5% as the stream descends to Boiceville. Any stream with a slope over 2% is man­aged dif­fer­ently as a “moun­tain stream” com­pared to lower gra­di­ent streams. This is sig­nif­i­cant because man­age­ment of steep, moun­tain streams is dif­fer­ent than for lower gra­di­ent streams. All val­ley side slopes in the Upper Eso­pus Creek water­shed are clas­si­fied as “steep to extremely steep” with val­ley bot­tom widths vary­ing from 144 feet in the head­wa­ters to around one-half mile (2,428 ft.) in the lower reaches. Much of the vari­a­tion cor­re­sponds to topo­graphic fea­tures asso­ci­ated with the ero­sion and depo­si­tion of the last ice age.

NYS Route 28 runs along­side approx­i­mately 13 miles of the Upper Eso­pus Creek from Boiceville to Big Indian and is the major east/west artery con­nect­ing Kingston, NY with the west­ern Catskills. Here the creek and the road occa­sion­ally come into con­flict with one another dur­ing floods. Man­age­ment of flood­ing, ero­sion, stream­side veg­e­ta­tion and wildlife habi­tat, and water dis­charged from the Shan­daken Tun­nel are top issues for com­mu­nity mem­bers, while water qual­ity is the fore­most con­cern for Fed­eral and State agen­cies and New York City.

The Eso­pus has been a haven for anglers since the local Native Amer­i­can tribes fished its shores in Pre-Columbian days. By the late 19th and early 20th Cen­tury, the Eso­pus Creek and the sur­round­ing water­shed were becom­ing more widely known for the fish­ery, and became the birth­place of Amer­i­can dry fly fish­ing, a pop­u­lar sport to this day. Abun­dant num­bers of Brown and Rain­bow trout as well as other fish species swim in Eso­pus Creek waters.

Fish­ing isn’t the only pas­time engaged in upon the Eso­pus. Kayak­ers and canoers enjoy a trip down the water­way dur­ing high flows. The country’s sec­ond old­est slalom race has its home here and has been the train­ing ground for dozens of Olympic hope­fuls. The Eso­pus is also a place to enjoy “tub­ing,” and from Memo­r­ial to Labor Day one can see dozens of peo­ple float­ing down the creek on inflated tubes, one of the most unique Eso­pus Creek activities.

The Eso­pus is not with­out its prob­lems. Flood­ing has washed out road­ways and inun­dated people’s homes in some loca­tions. Muddy or “tur­bid” water (a result of ero­sion into the under­ly­ing glacial geol­ogy of the area) has cre­ated con­cerns over water qual­ity, pub­lic and eco­log­i­cal health, and aes­thet­ics. The Eso­pus is des­ig­nated as a “nav­i­ga­ble” river which raises ques­tions about pri­vate prop­erty rights ver­sus pub­lic needs and desires for trans­porta­tion and recre­ation access. These are com­plex prob­lems that may only be solv­able through multi-agency and com­mu­nity partnerships.

Through it all, any­one who vis­its the Upper Eso­pus Creek may fall in love with the river and its grand, majes­tic beauty. The Eso­pus Creek has had, and will con­tinue to have a pro­found influ­ence on the land­scape, local com­mu­ni­ties, and the peo­ple who live near it and call the Ashokan Water­shed home.

Esopus Creek Stream Management Plan

For more infor­ma­tion please read the Upper Eso­pus Creek Stream Man­age­ment Plan:

 Esopus_volume_I  |  Esopus_volume_II  |  Esopus_volume_III

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