Editor’s Note: On July 9, heavy rains hit much of New York state, leading to catastrophic flooding, particularly in the Town of Highlands in Orange County, which includes the village of Highland Falls, hamlet of Fort Montgomery and West Point. In that community, more than 8 inches of rain fell within several hours, causing damage to homes and infrastructure. The storm also claimed the life of a Fort Montgomery woman. CSEA members have been key to helping the community and surrounding areas recover from the storm. On this page, we highlight the efforts of CSEA members to recover from flooding at nearby Bear Mountain State Park, which was heavily damaged in the storm.
BEAR MOUNTAIN — Officials called it a “once-in-a-thousand-year” storm, but Bear Mountain State Park Regional Maintenance Supervisor Leroy Conklin can only attest to the last 48 years he’s worked for state parks.
“It’s just another day in the park,” said Conklin wryly, while surveying the destruction at Bear Mountain State Park caused by more than 8 inches of rain that fell over several hours on July 9. “The power of water; there are people who don’t realize what water can do.”
Torrential rain knocked down trees, washed out roads, created rivers through structures and swallowed whole vehicles, particularly in Orange and Rockland counties where the park is located.
When the storm struck, there were no workers or visitors at the park.
CSEA Palisades Interstate Park Commission Local 1st Vice President Cristian Gonzalez, who lives near the park, had planned to have dinner with his family that evening but had to scrap those plans when roads started flooding.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Gonzalez, a carpenter.
As this edition went to press, the park remains closed to visitors. Some roads remain closed and buildings and structures like the ones that housed his carpentry shop and Conklin’s machine shop have either been condemned or require extensive cleanup and renovation.
“Thank God it happened on a Sunday because we would have been here,” said Gonzalez, pointing to the stream that now flows through his carpentry shop. The walls are warped and inside, mud, dirt and debris are scattered throughout. The building has been condemned.
As soon as the workers returned, they rolled up their sleeves and got to work cleaning and salvaging whatever they could.
“We all pulled together,” said Conklin. “No one was idle.”
A skilled craftsman who takes great pride in making from scratch anything that’s needed, Conklin bemoaned the loss of valuable tools and equipment that many workers also individually owned.
“A lot of the workers are upset about it,” said Conklin. Yet, he praised management for being attentive and responsive to their needs.
More importantly, he stressed the importance of unity and simple acts of kindness that rise to the surface during and after events like this one.
“He’s my brother,” said Conklin, gruffly while pointing to Gonzalez and stealing a reassuring smile in the midst of all the chaos.
— David Galarza