William D. Kastning was appointed executive director for the Monmouth Conservation Foundation (MCF) in 2012, replacing Adele Keller who retired after 10 years at the helm. Kastning returned to Monmouth County after a four-year hiatus working as the town planner in Denton, Maryland. Previously Kastning lived in Millstone Township for 12 years where he served on the Township Committee, Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

He worked for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Green Acres Program for eight years. During his tenure with the Green Acres Program, Kastning supported the Monmouth County Park System, MCF, numerous county municipalities and other non-profits with their land preservation and historical preservation efforts, which entailed acquiring properties to enlarge state parks, wildlife management areas and forests.

He began his career with New York Telephone in Westchester, New York. Subsequently he worked for AT&T and NCR and held numerous staff and field operations positions in five states and Puerto Rico, where he served as an AT&T telecommunications consultant for the Puerto Rico Telephone Company.

Kastning is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and the American Planning Association’s Professional Institute.  He currently resides in Holmdel.

Coming of Age in the Woods North of the Big Apple

The post-war period of the 1950s and early 1960s was an age of innocence in America.  My brother and I were growing up in Pound Ridge, a rural town in northern Westchester County, New York.  Living in the beautiful woodlands characteristic of this region would forever influence the remainder of our lives – our travels, our careers, and perhaps most of all, our deep attachment to the natural world.

Our 200-year-old former farmhouse sat along Honey Hollow Road, a winding dirt-and-gravel path with similar homesteads spaced nicely among wooded acres and small fields.  In 1948, our father took a big chance and moved the family here from Mamaroneck, in the southern part of the county where the developing villages were rapidly coalescing into the extensive ‘bedroom’ communities of New York City.  We were merely one and three years old at the time.  Dad and Mom, immigrants from Germany during the late 1920s, wanted us to grow up in this tranquil semi-bucolic area where we could enjoy life in an early-American style historic setting replete with close-knit life-long residents, and having numerous high-quality amenities such as small villages for shopping and, perhaps most importantly, one of the leading school systems in the state.

Aside from the comfort and social attributes of northern Westchester, the homes and historic buildings were nestled within a pleasant hilly topography with wide expanses of woodlands and water. There are many lakes here, or more precisely, reservoirs.  These impoundments were constructed beginning in the late nineteenth century as part of the vast New York City water system, the major source of fresh water to the huge metropolitan area.  These sizable reservoirs, holding ponds for runoff derived from the uplands through brooks and streams, are connected with each other and to the city through large-diameter underground pipelines.  The massive underground Catskill Aqueduct was constructed from 1907 to 1924 to carry water from additional reservoirs in the southern Catskill Mountains.  It is still the longest manmade tunnel structure in the world with at 163 miles and it passed through our area.  To us, the reservoirs were lakes, where woodlands meet the shores.  The reservoir lands are owned by the city and back then public use was been restricted to fishing and small, motor-less rowboats.  However, in our youth, my brother and I would occasionally sneak through the woods for a swim – a strictly forbidden activity of course.  Our dad would take us to the shores to teach us fishing.  We lost interest in this eventually as our only catches were only small sunfish that we would throw back into the water.

But the real beauty of our surroundings was the woods.  Honey Hollow Road runs in part along the western boundary of the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation.  At 4315 acres, it one of the largest county-owned parks in the northeast.  Being only about 50 miles north of the city, it became a prime destination for urban and suburban folks out for a weekend in the forested lands.  But for us, the lucky ones, it was our backyard.  We could easily walk to the park and along the miles of primitive trails that lace its inner reaches.  As youngsters, we first explored the back areas of the reservation with our dad.  We hiked to the active fire tower, climbed it, and chatted with the man in the cabin at its top. We toured the remains of the old Civil Conservation Corps camps left over from the post-depression New Deal efforts instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide employment while creating parks.

Perhaps the most memorable place in the park for us was the Leather Man Cave, one of the closest spots near home, merely a mile away.  We visited it often, envisioning the legendary 19th-century wandering hermit who would stop there among the glacial boulders precisely every thirty days to camp overnight on his 365-mile circuit through Westchester County and western Connecticut.  Dressed in a suit fashioned from leather patches and carrying a large leather pouch, he would routinely stop at designated homes for meals.  He was known not to speak, nor ask for assistance of any kind.  An elderly neighbor on our road, Elsie Wilkenloh, remembered seeing the Old Leather Man pass by when she was a little girl and she was the first to tell us about him.  Locally, the story of the Old Leather Man is well established and is retold today as often as are the tales of Rip Van Winkle, Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan elsewhere in American lore.

The legend of the Old Leather Man and his solitary wanderings through the forests and fields near our home would greatly influence our life-long love of the beauty and ambience of the eastern woodlands.  Later, my brother and I would pursue careers in engineering, science, and protecting the environment.  Perhaps most importantly we now enjoy enlightening others on the intrinsic wonder and value of all natural places and encouraging citizens to look after them as good stewards.

Our rural home in northern Westchester County set us firmly on our paths.  We will never forget the many experiences we shared growing up the woodlands and the community that treasured its natural heritage.

Pound Ridge Reservation: Ward Pound Ridge Reservation: Images of America, by Beth Herr and Maureen Koehl:  Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina, 2013

The Old Leatherman: Historical accounts of a Connecticut and New York Legend,by Dan W. DeLuca, annotated by Dione Longley, Garnet Books, Middletown, Connecticut, 2008