MDSA Photos

HISTORY OF THE MINNEWASKA DISTANCE SWIMMERS ASSOCIATION (MDSA)

by Judy Mage, MDSA Coordinator & Founding Mother

Once upon a time a group of very dedicated persons with a desire to swim in Lake Minnewaska organized and coordinated a strong effort to hammer out an agreement with New York State and the story goes like this...

Dates

Events

1980s and prior Men, women, and even children swim anywhere and everywhere in the clear, clean waters of Lake Minnewaska, Lake Awosting, and the Peterskill creek. One of our active original members and benefactor, Sol Kershaw, wrote an account of the "old days" when he was a hotel guest, and when swimming the length of the lake without the benefit of lifeguards was normal and permitted without incident. See Sol's note!
1983 New York State purchases Minnewaska from the Phillips family
1987 MInnewaska Park is closed to the public with no plans for swimming on the premises in the NYS park Master Plan.
1988 At the behest of Helga Schwartz and petitions she circulates, swimming is allowed in Minnewaska but only in a small crib, and closes at 5:30 PM.
1999 Myriam Miedzian meets Judy Mage on a bus to NYC, they forge an alliance, and give momentum to the idea that distance swimming should be allowed in Minnewaska. See the note!
April 19, 2000 Calling themselves "the Committee to Restore Real Lake Swimming at Lake Minnewaska," Judy Mage, Myriam Miedzian, and Ellen James meet with officials of MSPP and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC) and present their proposals.
For Summer 2000 As a result of the meeting, the size of the swimming area is increased slightly and the closing time is extends to 6:00 PM
April 2000 Petitions to allow "deep water swimming" are circulated and garner more volunteers, in particular Ray Greenberg whose dedication becomes instrumental to the committee's success.
June 11, 2000 Approximately 15 people meet in New Paltz at the studio of Tona Wilson and by candlelight after a thunderstorm establish SWIM--standing for Swim Without Interference at Minnewaska--and discuss strategies and future plans.
June 17, 2000 Two dozen SWIM members meet with Park Manager Cobb at the crib, present petitions with 1500 signatures, and speak passionately about the loss of distance swimming. Major local publicity follows this meeting/demonstration, bringing the existence of SWIM to the attention of thousands more people and to local politicians.
Summer and Fall of 2000 SWIM leaders write and phone PIPC at Bear Mountain, whose jurisdiction includes Minnewaska. After long delays, all our proposals are rejected and we then focus on letter writing to Park Commissioner Bernadette Castro in Albany, and phone and write to local legislators.
Summer and Fall of 2000 continues We research the NY State recreation laws and learn why it is much more restrictive than the laws of all of our neighboring states. We are at a dead end in our efforts to improve the law.
Fall 2000 to
Spring 2001
SWIM supporters continue to convey their frustration to their local legislators. Those with the highest concentration of frustrated swimmers in their districts become particularly helpful to us. We continue to educate ourselves and we keep the issue in the public eye.
May 9, 2001 After months of letters and appeals, Commissioner Castro appoints Julia Stokes, Deputy Commissioner for Operations of NYS Parks and Recreation, to meet with us. The concept of a swimming club is broached.
June 24, 2001 — a demonstration In protest over the slowness of negotiations, we hold our first "swim in," a legal demonstration involving nearly 100 SWIM members marching around the lake ending with dozens charging into the "crib" with placards and chants. Eloquent letters written by demonstrators are sent to Commissioner Castro with copies to local legislators. Extensive local publicity follows the "swim in."
July 23, 2001 The NY Times reporter Winnie Hu, investigating the loss of "swimming holes" in NY State, contacts us about the loss of the historic swimming hole in the Rondout Creek. Learning about the history of our struggle with the State over Minnewaska, the NY Times sends a reporter and a photographer to Lake Minnewaska and runs a front page article on July 23rd, 2001. This publicity helps create a climate in which our negotiations can progress.
Summer and
Fall 2001
SWIM proposes to Julia Stokes that we form a club that will test people for their swimming ability, purchase insurance for each member, and have them sign release of liability forms. We introduce the idea of a long cable running parallel to the shore off the former "Family Beach." A meeting in Albany is organized by State Senator Bonacic's office, attended by representatives of Parks and Recreation and by other local legislators. After more negotiations, the agreement is forged that establishes our present swimming beach.
Fall 2001 and Winter 2002 More meetings and more hard bargaining over the details of the agreement continue, including the criteria for evaluating swimming ability, frequency of retesting, hours, and dates of swimming, etc. The final agreement represents a huge compromise over our original goal: the right to swim freely throughout the park. But after 2 years of struggle it is clear that we cannot achieve more than what the State now offers, which is substantial.
Spring 2002 Out of our brainstorming sessions comes our new name, Minnewaska Distance Swimmers Association (MDSA) which now succeeds SWIM. We have to organize swiftly to administer the agreement, get recognition as a corporation, get nonprofit status, arrange tests, compose and print forms, pay for insurance. 430 eager swimmers join the first year.
The Present Since 2002, each season has been "uneventful" as we happily inform NYS Parks and Recreation in our annual report. Our membership is over 1100 people, with those who do not renew because they have no time to get to the lake balanced by those who test and enjoy our peaceful beach for the first time. We look forward to years ahead of swimming freedom in a stunning location. To read how the state thought we were doing, click here.