ADVOCATE: As executive director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, Ramsey Adams oversees the organization’s efforts to promote the region’s environmental well-being. Robin Chavez photo

A job big as all outdoors

Catskill Mountainkeeper safeguards Park region

This is the first in a series of profiles about local nonprofit organizations. The Town of Rockland is home to many nonprofits that attract people and resources to our area and provide multiple benefits to the community and beyond.

By Amy Hines | Manor Ink Mentor

Livingston Manor, NY – “We are the leading advocate for the Catskill Park,” said Ramsay Adams, executive director and CEO of Catskill Mountainkeeper. “We organize coalitions to stand up against large-scale infrastructure and development projects that threaten the character of the Park. We could organize every time there is a threat to the Catskill region, but it became clear to us that we needed an organization ready and able to respond to emerging threats.”

Founded in 2010 by residents Ramsay Adams and Wes Gillingham, Catskill Mountainkeeper has grown to become an organization of 12 to 17 employees, depending on current projects, and an annual budget of about $1.3 million. With headquarters on Main Street in Livingston Manor, it is an advocacy and citizen-organizing group. Through its network of 40,000 concerned citizens, it promotes sustainable economic growth and the protection of natural resources. Mountainkeeper now serves as a model for organizations in other states.

“The Catskill Park is one of the oldest parks in America, with a vast wilderness,” says Adams. “Its unfiltered water provides drinking water to 19 million people. If New York City had to filter its water, it would cost billions and billions of dollars,” he noted. It’s a resource that needs protection from the potentially devastating impacts of pipelines and transportation of fossil fuels. “We at Mountainkeeper create a dialogue between larger environmental organizations and grass roots interests to effect real change,” says Adams.

The story of Catskill Mountainkeeper is one of a series of initiatives, not just to stop harmful development, but also to promote sustainable development. “I’m proud to say that Catskill Mountainkeeper has been a leading partner with New York State Energy and Resource Authority on the Renewable New York campaign. We were the fiscal sponsor for the three-year, $2.3 million outreach and education campaign involving 16 counties to solarize our region.”

Currently, Mountainkeeper is promoting the Heat Smart Campaign to advance the use of air pumps and geothermal energy for heating. It provides free energy audits for existing buildings in Sullivan and Ulster Counties and advice on tax incentives and installation.

The name “mountainkeeper” comes from the “riverkeeper” model that has been used to organize citizens around the country to advocate on behalf of monitoring and protecting rivers and estuaries. The Catskill Park region served by the organization covers eight counties, from the Hudson River to the Delaware River, Shawangunk Mountains and Schoharie Valley. Mountainkeeper’s efforts to date include farmers’ markets, 13 edible school gardens, and partnerships with Sullivan Renaissance, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development.

Nonprofit Snapshot
Catskill Mountainkeeper
(Based on IRS data available for 2017)
Number of board members: 16
Expenses: $1,300,522
Contributions: $1,432,569
Employees: 17
Volunteers: None reported (activists number 40,000, according to
Ramsay Adams.
Focus: Natural Resource Conservation & Protection
Geographic source of contributions: Statewide New York

Eighty percent of funding for Mountainkeeper comes from contributions made by foundations and individuals, including second-home owners. Other funding comes from the government and other organizations.

As if all of these initiatives weren’t enough, Adams indicated that Mountainkeeper is taking on a much bigger fight.

“There’s a last gasp effort by the fossil fuel industry to build out infrastructure in our country before the inevitable transition to renewable energy,” he said. “We have to stop them.” He tipped his hand toward Wes Gillingham who is waging the battle outside the Catskills to assist in stopping further fossil fuel infrastructure development.

Reporter Osei Helper conducted the interview for this story.