Disclaimer: The writer wishes it to be known that the views expressed in this article are strictly his own and should not be construed as the thoughts of any current board member and do not represent that of the Association.
There are many memorable events worth celebrating in Smallwood’s 86-year history--founding in 1928, the 1943 incorporation of the Smallwood Civic Association (SCA), the opening of the Volunteer Fire Department, the fight for public use of the Toronto Reservoir, and the creation and growth of the Club at Smallwood, a tribute to tolerance long overdue, to name but a few.
It's another event, however, that we celebrate this month for having staved off a long downward spiral and setting the course for Smallwood’s revival, the August 21, 1994 purchase of Mountain Lake, a.k.a. Smallwood Lake, by the SCA resulting in its ownership and management, and the development of the lakefront property over the past 20 years.
While most Smallwoodians have a pretty good idea of what’s gone on around the lake since the SCA stepped in, most of us only have a vague recollection or no knowledge at all of the lake’s history and what it has meant to this hamlet.
From the very beginning the lake has been the centerpiece of the community and continues to attract a wide diversity of new homeowners. The beach, in particular, was where everyone met on those hot summer days. It was where families intermingled, where children played and formed life-long friendships that kept them here from one generation to the next.
In the 1970s, however, Smallwood and its lake had come upon hard times The last owner-developer filed for bankruptcy in the wake of widespread allegations of realty fraud and theft. After a decade of intense litigation, the lake property fell into the hands of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) which had no interest whatsoever in what happened to it.
So what happened to Smallwood Lake? In a word… disaster.
With no one to manage it or take responsibility for it the lake soon became an eyesore and a problem. Garbage was routinely deposited all along Lakeshore Drive. The shoreline became a dumping ground for old tires, mattresses and even appliances. Rentees in nearby bungalow colonies came to the beach, frequently bringing and leaving their trash and household garbage. On weekends bass fisherman with Pennsylvania license plates would trailer in their boats and parallel park blocking driveways and causing congestion all around the lake.
Back at the beach, with a gate nobody ever locked, children ran wild, often unsupervised, with no lifeguards and nobody in charge. Tragically, in 1993, an 8-year old boy, visiting for the weekend and not able to swim, drowned at the beach while dozens of onlookers dived to the bottom until the body was recovered.
And then the dam. Once the lake went into FDIC receivership nobody was responsible for the dam’s maintenance and it soon fell into disrepair bringing the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) into the picture. Dams that fail sometimes cause flooding downstream and by the 1990s the DEC was shutting down dams all over Sullivan County. And Mountain Lake, with its aging dam that nobody felt obliged or could afford to fix had already caught the regulator's attention.
And it was then that 13 brave souls, the Board of Directors of the SCA made the awesome decision--not without trepidation--to take responsibility for the lake. So on August 21, 1994 after almost two years of debate, the membership voted to buy the lake and make it available to all SCA members for a buy-in fee and annual maintenance charge per household including guests. Then-Bethel Supervisor Alan Scott and then-County Attorney, now Treasurer, Ira Cohen resolved all the legal details regarding restitution and back taxes with the County and FDIC, making the SCA the owner and manager of the lake property.
The rest is what you now see this very day as you walk, jog or drive around the lake. The beach was restored and tightly supervised with all-day gatekeepers and then 2, 3, and now 4 lifeguards. Trash bins and porta-potties were brought in. New benches and tables. Water testing and bacteria counts. Swim instruction and certificates of competency for children. New sand, brush cleared and a reconfigured lawn and expanded beach house. On the backside of the lake a new clearing for boat storage, a launch area and dock. Then an expansion and another dock. A Lake Patrol with as many as 16 members enforcing lake rules and guarding against trespass. Members received identification cards and stickers for their boats to keep unauthorized ones off lake property.
And, yes, not only did the dam get those much needed repairs at a not inconsequential cost to the SCA, but a third section was installed to relieve the pressure and more recently a new mechanism for controlling the water level.
Encouraged by its success, in 1998, only 4 years after buying the lake, the SCA paid $20,000 for the 3-acre Pine Grove Road property and developed it into the Smallwood Civic Park which is now also the site of the new Lake Hill Lodge, the SCA’s meeting and recreation building.
One can’t end a celebration like this without a word about the future, While times have changed and the beach is no longer the only game in town, it’s also time for Smallwoodians regardless of other allegiances and how much or little time they spend here and whether or not they ever use the lake, to accept the notion that support of the lake must be a community-wide endeavor, the cost of which must not be born only by those who swim, boat or fish on it. The lake is a community treasure and remains the one single entity that binds our many divergent elements and gives us our identity. Let’s make no mistake about it. In dollars and cents it’s a clean, healthy, beautiful and well-managed private lake that attracts home buyers to Smallwood. The value of every home in the hamlet, whether on the lake or far from it, depends to some degree on the condition of the lake, and, hence, the cost of maintaining it should be shared equally by every homeowner. If all Smallwoodians accepted that responsibility the annual maintenance fee per household would only be about $35 instead of the $100 for 2014. While deeds to homes in other lake communities mandate the payment of fees to a homeowners association, Smallwood's lake can rely on the good will and civic-mindedness of its people.
Most importantly, SCA membership in the lake produces a sense of “ownership” and ownership is about commitment, dedication, and purpose… pretty much what a community is all about.
Mountain Lake deserves nothing less than 100% support from everyone who lives here. It must never again be taken for granted. As we point to the lake’s silver anniversary can we join together to make that our goal for 2019?
Collegially and with warmest Anniversary wishes, Hal Saltzman.
With special acknowledgment of the Civic 1994 Board of Directors:
Peter Conroy and Ed Lubniewski, the vice presidents, remain year-round residents. Herman Wiener and Charlotte Tessier still own their homes and visit. Joe Rossiter now lives in Kauneonga Lake. Dave Bush is in nearby Wayne County, PA. Mary Ann Burke remained on the Board as Recording Secretary until 2012 when family called her to Baltimore. Laurie Stolworthy, the president, lives in NYC. Michael Stolworthy, Treasurer, is on Long Island. Barbara Noran has passed. Janat Klimchak is survived by husband Mike who spends half the year in Smallwood. Sam Rosenblum, the voice and face of the purchase, is survived by wife Shirley who returns for the summer. Last month Allan Feld, a SCA president in the 1970s, passed on in Boynton Beach, Florida with wife Suzanne retaining their Smallwood home.
Since Laurie Stolworthy’s historic presidency the SCA has had five other presidents each of who contributed mightily to the growth and development of Mountain Lake: Peter Conroy, Herman Wiener, Bob Barrett, Pat Roggero and Myron Rock, currently completing his first term. Kudos as well to all past Board members and lake volunteers during these first 20 years, with special thanks to beach director Pat Canavan and lake chairperson Dale Borris.