Delaware Forest is over 200 acres of remnant secondary old growth woodlands east of Kingston on a limestone ridge overlooking the Hudson River, just north of the mouth of the Rondout River. Delaware Avenue crosses the ridge west-to-east on the south edge of the forest, separating it from Hasbrouck Park. Delaware Avenue descends over 200 feet to the little settlement of Ponck Hockie, which is tucked on a terrace below this ridge above the Roundout River, cutoff from Kingston by this hard limestone ledge. This woodland is the largest last contiguous forest left in the City of Kingston.
The thin soils on this limestone ledge are sweetened by this calcium-rich, alkaline bedrock, able to support strong natural communities. Such sweet sites often shelter special, rare and threatened plants and creatures. They also sustain several second growth communities of rather ancient, large trees. And around the planet, most sacred sites are built on limestone, and many holy places are built from limestone.
This remarkable sylvan sanctuary of biodiversity has suffered three centuries of settlement and development, and survived with many elements intact. For at least the last century, the forest was Owned by Tilcon, a limestone mining corporation, the forest has remained undisturbed, a nearly forgotten corner of the city. Today, it contains a thriving diversity of plant, bird and animal communities in various stages of disturbance and regeneration.
The ridge is formed by upturned layers of a thick bed of hard, durable limestone. A 400-million-year-old, shallow ocean reef has become a bony bulge of alkaline bedrock along the Hudson River. This stubborn,crystalline rock is dissolved and sculptured by water into fissures, sinkholes and caverns. This ridge has several features of a classic "karst" landscape, but the features are young and immature. Nonetheless, the ridge offers unique, spectacular and inspiring scenes of the Hudson River to the east and south, and Catskill High Peaks to the northwest.
In the 19th century, limestone was mined from the north end of this ridge for high quality cement to construct cities, factories and roads. Much of the rock was blasted, crushed, burned, and powdered, then loaded on ships to transport to Manhattan and points around the Hudson Harbor. Today, that rare geology is a moonscape of boulders and truck tracks amid lagoons and pits.
But the south end of this limestone ledge was barely touched by miners, and the forest has recovered from early settlement clear cutting, and now sprouts many big trees supporting a complex habitat. A mid-19th Century timber harvest was the last significant disturbance to this sylvan community, so it was left untouched for a century, survivors slowly maturing into elder trees—mostly oaks, white pine and hemlock, but a complete diversity of other sylvan species.
The Delaware Avenue Forest consists of several distinct sections, each characterized by different soil, topography and species mix. In the summer of 2002, NYOGFA survey team members made four visits to the forest. Aided by aerial photos, we have identified 80% of the forest components, although several key features are still unvisited. But we are impressed by the diversity and complexity of this forest.
Unfortunately, in 1995, the City of Kingston bought 107 acres of this forest to convert into an industrial park with five factories. The City intends clearcut the trees, level much of the terrain, and cover it with asphalt, concrete and steel. The City, led by the Mayor, will convert its last contiguous natural community into parking lots and big boxes.
The plan is to blast and bulldoze five level factory sites out of the ridge with public funds, the build a "field of dreams" industrial park. The City already has $300,000 federal and county funding for this productivity park. In the next few years, this forest of ancient trees on a scenic Hudson River ridgetop will be severely disturbed, and may be obliterated forever.
As a concession to nature, the development project director set a buffer zone around the edges of the factory sites that will not be disturbed, and preserved as forest. This area of steep slopes contains most of the larger, older trees on the ridge. On the aerial photos, the inside edge of this buffer zone displays as a yellow dotted line,