Growing up as a girl in the late 1970s, Heather Uhlar spent many happy hours riding her pony down the dirt roads in her hometown of Chatham, NY, stopping here and there to swim in a creek Or through rolling pastures strewn with asters and goldenrods. ,

Even then, she understood that Chatham’s dirt roads were something wonderful.

Ms. Uhler recently said, “I always thought that dirt roads gave character to our area.” “He made us special.”

Since then, growing up in Chatham, Ms. Uhlar has seen some of the most beautiful streets being paved. In his desperation, he helped start a non-profit organization Chatham Dirt Road AllianceOne who lobbies to promote appreciation for dirt roads and slow the progress of asphalt trucks.

It turned out that many people felt as she did: In a town of about 4,100 people, her Facebook group now has more than 1,300 members. According to the coalition’s website, the dirt roads are “a living connection to our history.” The site features a hand-drawn map of the city, showing Chatham’s network of dirt roads in light grey.

Not everyone shares Ms. Uhlar’s enthusiasm for dirt roads. Unpaved driveways are difficult to maintain and costlier in the long run than gravel; They are also muddy in spring and dusty in summer.

“Honestly,” said Chatham Highway Superintendent Jeff Entlake, “I’ve never gotten a call from someone living on a paved road who told me they wanted me to tear it up and turn it into an unpaved road “

Mr. Antalek himself lives on a dirt road. “I have antique cars,” he said. “It’s a royal pain driving them in and out. They get dirty, even sitting in my barn because of road dust.”

Coalition members don’t dispute that dirt roads are expensive and sometimes a nuisance. They simply agree that the hassle and extra cost to maintain them is worth it.

“It’s different than walking down a dirt road,” said John Wapner, a psychologist who lives in Chatham in an 1852 farmhouse. You can drive fast on asphalt, he said, but dirt roads force you to slow down, take in the scenery and enjoy the rural calm. You notice things that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

“It looks to me like you are walking on the ground, not on the ground,” added Mr. Wapner.

As unpaved road fans see it, something essential to a city’s identity is lost every time a road is paved.

A century ago, Chatham was an agricultural town, its rocky hills dominated by small dairy farms. But as family farms have slowly disappeared, more and more weekenders are commuting two and a half hours south to New York City. Dirt roads that once passed only one or two farmhouses may now be shared by 20 or more residences.

Unlike some of its neighboring towns in the Hudson Valley, Chatham still has more dirt roads than asphalt. But the traffic has increased, the pressure is increasing.

On a chilly Sunday morning, Ms. Uhlar, 49, stood outside her family’s stables in riding breeches and a windbreaker covered in dirt. Part of her fondness for dirt roads stems from her love of horses. In a nearby pasture, her Irish sport horse, Valhalla, rolls contentedly on its back as Ms. Uhler counts the roads lost to asphalt during her lifetime.

Woodward Road was where she grew up. After it was paved, cars started speeding by her house, and her parents became more protective about letting her play outside. There was Jefferson Hill Road, where she used to go horseback riding. and Drown Road, where his mother worked at a local advertising agency. Ms. Uhlar used to visit him in the afternoon. “That one broke my heart,” she said.

These days, she avoids riding paved roads entirely, mostly out of concern for her horses. Too much time on asphalt, he said, can make a horse lame.

The battle between pukki and kacchi is hardly a new one. In 1986, The New York Times reported in an article titled “Debate on Dirt Roads: Charm Versus Comfort” how residents of Bedford, Lewisboro and other New York suburbs known for their rustic byways, impassable and rough Were unhappy with the roads.

Yet across the country, as the pressures of development mount, an increasing number of cities are taking steps to preserve dirt roads. And in some cases, paved roads are being restored to gravel, said David Orr, director of the Cornell University Local Roads Program.

Mr. Orr said the movement gained momentum in the Hudson Valley after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when many people fled the city in search of rural safety and peace. Some towns have passed laws to protect dirt roads and set new standards for paving.

In Chatham, what finally spurred Ms. Uhler to action were rumors that several large construction projects were in the works, including a vineyard that could double as a wedding venue.

“Basically, when you use dirt roads extensively,” Ms. Uhlar said, “they’re going to be paved. You can’t have as much traffic going up and down. Eventually, they widen the road.” And it worried me.

His concerns were shared by Doug Welch, 69, a longtime resident who spent a career in advertising.

Mr. Welch grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., moving to New York City after college. Eventually, they bought a second home in Chatham, the kind of picturesque old farmhouse that’s fueled the dreams of greenery-starved New Yorkers for generations. (The history of their quaint country house was somewhat unusual: During World War I, it was owned by the Horwitz family, whose sons would go on to fame as the Three Stooges.)

Mr. Welch was quickly captivated by the rural charm of the area and eventually moved to Chatham full-time. He also became a dirt road devotee, quoting naturalist John Muir, who said, “Whatever paths you take in life, be sure some of them are dirt.”

When Mr. Welch saw how popular Ms. Uhlar’s group had become, he decided to marshal his advertising skills in support of the cause. His goal was nothing short of finishing the floor in Chatham. “You don’t wait until there are machines at the end of the road,” Mr. Welch said, “to let people know you value the roads.”

The coalition distributed bumper stickers and dirt road maps. It raised money to rent billboards in the city, reminding residents that the dirt roads are “a rural heritage worth preserving”.

It also became a sponsor of a popular dirt-road bike race called Farmer’s Daughter Gravel Millwhich attracts hundreds of people to Chatham each May.

Mr. Welch discovered the alliance at an opportune moment. The City of Chatham was preparing a comprehensive plan, and a survey of residents showed widespread support for the preservation of dirt roads. Partly for budget reasons, Chatham has not undertaken a major paving project since then. But some city officials privately admit that the coalition’s efforts have made them reluctant to discuss the topic.

Of course, some people in the city would love to see an asphalt truck coming their way. Ronald McFarlane lives on a dirt road that connects a major state route with a heavily traveled local route. It gets a lot of it through traffic.

“I live 300 feet from the street, and we can get dust in the house,” Mr. McFarlane said. “When a vehicle passes by, it looks like a cloud of dust, and the wind eventually carries it to the house.” Mr. McFarlane has actually requested the city to pave his road, but, he said, money is very tight.

“I even thought about running for town supervisor once to get this done,” he said.

Building roads can be expensive, but in the long run, it is cheaper to maintain them, said Highway Superintendent Mr. Antalec. Dirt roads need to be resurfaced each spring, at considerable expense, and heavy rains can make them nearly impassable. Last year, Chatham used about 14,000 tons of gravel to fix potholes and potholes at a cost of about $100,000.

“It’s almost a losing battle with the dirt roads,” Mr. Antalec said. “You can’t pay them nearly enough money to keep them well maintained.”

Living on a dirt road can be an ordeal, especially in the spring, when the ground thaws and roads turn into swamps, said Gail Behrens Day, whose family is a longtime farmer in Chatham. But you learn to adjust, she said. In the rainy months, you take a pickup truck into town instead of a car.

“It’s just the rhythm of the road,” Ms Day said. “You know it’s going to be mud season, and it’s going to be the day, or it could be two weeks, when it gets really bad. But it’s going to get better.

And then there’s washboarding, a phenomenon in which horizontal ridges form on the road surface over time and turbulence can cause a car to rattle like a passing aircraft. Drivers who go too fast on dirt roads sooner or later pay the price in broken axles and ruined tires. Ms. Day pointed to a house nearby that had recently been purchased by a Brooklyn musician.

“When he first came, he drove too fast. Now he doesn’t drive too fast. I think he figured it out on his own,” she said curtly.

Mr Welch admits that dirty roads can be bad for cars. They said they have to replace their tires every 20,000 miles. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s kind of important to the character of Chatham. If you build roads, it’s not Chatham anymore,” he said.

One afternoon, before winter set in, as the sun drifted in and out of the clouds, Mr. Welch took his aging BMW convertible for a stroll along the back streets of Chatham. As an advertising man, Mr. Welch understood good visuals, and at times he began to rave about the pastoral vistas before him.

“Look at that view. It’s amazing!” said Mr. Welch. “That screams ‘rural’ to me.” He pointed to a herd of brown cows grazing on a grassy hill, the purple Catskill Mountains in the distance. was peering down at the wire. A small group of wild turkeys strutted across the road. The only sound came from a nearby stream, which turns into a stream each spring when the snow melts. But this year’s It was little more than a drop after a long, dry summer. It was a scene of utter peace.

“Do you think it would be the same if it was a paved road?” He asked. “I do not think so.”

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