Since the early 1900s when New York City began using the mountain streams and lakes as a water source, the environment of the Catskill Watershed region has been protected. Prior to that, loggers and tanners all but stripped the mountains bare through much of the 1800s, prompting an outcry from naturalists and environmentalists. In 1885, the Catskill Forest Preserve was created to reclaim and protect this important ecological resource.
Today, about 40 percent of the lands in the Catskills are publicly owned "forest preserve." The mountains are an indispensable watershed, providing drinking water for local people as well as millions of others in the lower Hudson Valley.