When Mike Reynolds was appointed highway superintendent of the town of Woodstock on Sept. 15, 2005, it was a bittersweet day. His promotion came suddenly, after his predecessor, Stan Longyear, died in a car crash in Idaho while vacationing. Alleviating his uneasiness, Longyear's wife, Cathy, assured him that his boss — and someone he'd known since he was a kid — had hoped Reynolds would take over after he retired.
It wasn't the first time Mike had stepped into the role. When the previous superintendent, Bill Harder, underwent bypass surgery in 1996, he was appointed deputy superintendent and took charge while the boss and mentor who hired him recuperated.
When Harder retired, Mike was appointed acting superintendent by the town board until the time when Longyear was sworn in. He served as Longyear's deputy superintendent until his death, at which time, he stepped into the role permanently, winning election shortly after his appointment.
Sue Reynolds, his wife of 36 years, said, “I'm very proud of my husband for stepping up to fill the highway superintendent position when needed.”
She conceded that it's not something he originally wanted, but said he felt obligated to serve the community by taking on the duties.
“My only regret is that his mom never got to see him in this position, as she was disappointed in Mike's choice not to run for highway superintendent when Bill Harder retired.”
Known as the colony of arts, Woodstock may be most famous for the 1969 music festival that bears its name, although that was actually held on a dairy farm in Bethel, 60 miles away. Long before the revolutionary concert, the town served as the host of the Maverick music festival, the longest-running summer chamber music festival in the United States.
It also functioned as a mecca for artists, musicians and writers.
Mike was well-acquainted with former Woodstock residents Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm of The Band, Bob Dylan's former backup band, who recorded their debut album “Music from the Big Pink” there, and even worked on Dylan's convertible when he lived in the area.
Established in 1787, the rural town in the northern part of Ulster County also has played host to the visual arts. Several of the Hudson River School painters spent time in the area in the late 1800s, and the Arts and Crafts movement appeared in Woodstock as early as 1902. The Byrdcliffe art colony, one of the country's oldest Arts & Crafts colonies, was established there in 1903. The Summer School of the Art Students League of New York, primarily for landscape painters, is held in the area each year.
But Woodstock is more than just a summer arts colony. The town lies within the borders of Catskill Park, providing mountain vistas and pristine wilderness. Also known as the Catskill Forest Preserve, it was established in 1895 and covers 286,000 acres of land that includes forests, meadows, wetlands and lakes, such as Echo Lake, a popular destination.
Overlook Mountain, the southernmost peak of the Catskill Escarpment near Woodstock, features Mountain House, a nineteenth-century mountain house built as a hotel to attract tourists. In addition to Overlook Mountain, one of the top destinations in the area, Woodstock and the surrounding area provides ample locations for outdoor activities, from hiking and camping to fishing, boating and more.
Protected under the New York State Constitution from development or sale, Catskill Park is designated as “forever wild,” keeping it much as it appeared in 1770 when the first non-indigenous settlers arrived. As such, it's home to a wide cross-section of animals, including bears, cougars, bobcats, coyotes, deer, porcupines and others.
Considered one of the best places in New York to live, Woodstock maintains a comparatively small population of just under 5,900.
Goals and Accomplishments
Mike has been part of that population for 66 years. Born and raised in Ulster County, he began working at his father's gas station as a mechanic and then worked for a local excavating company for 13 years before starting work as a mechanic for the town.
“They came after me,” he said of the highway department, where he started working in 1990 on a part-time basis. He signed on full-time in February 1991 as a mechanic, claiming it was the benefits package that convinced him to work for the town. During his tenure, Mike has taken part in or been in charge of every bridge replacement, all seven of which were completed without bonds. Instead, he saved money in a variety of ways, putting it away in a special bridge fund.
One of his current goals is to complete Mink Hollow Bridge across Little Beaverkill Creek, which the municipality engineering firm of Stinemeyer Engineering is currently working on. The bridge, built in 1920 and rebuilt in 1979, is the only route out for residents who live north of the Little Beaverkill Creek on Mink Hollow Road and on Van Hoagland Road. Heavy rain resulted in a log jam that dislodged supporting jacks placed by a contractor during work on the bridge. The resultant storm damage included a decrease in the bridge's weight limit to 8 tons.
With help from Ulster County, the town has installed a temporary bridge to service the area while the Mink Hollow bridge is under construction. They are currently finalizing the design with the hope of beginning construction in 2021. Using $100,000 from the town highway repair reserve account for the bridge replacement project, they plan to increase the weight limit to 12 to 15 tons.
Drainage work is never-ending.
“We're constantly upgrading pipes when we do roads,” Mike said.
But one huge pipe has been a major project. One large (9-ft. high by 12-ft. wide by 40-ft. long) pipe on Silver Hollow Road replaced two older pipes. Installed in 20-ft. sections with bands in the middle, the storm pipe worked well until something caught the edge of one of those bands and folded the pipe over, creating a dam. Now a new pipe is needed to replace it. Mike revealed that he's working on obtaining a grant to cover some of the cost of the project.
Another of his goals is to integrate highway maintenance and inventory software. He credits Heather Eighmey, highway deputy and secretary, for updating the department's technology and said their shop has already been using a vehicle servicing software to help shop supervisor Ralph Yankleok keep track of maintenance. But he's searching for a better way to keep track of things while on the road.
“We need a list of culverts — their size and date of installation,” he said. “That way we can prioritize our pipes based on age, not failure.”
The county is currently surveying pipes by region. He's hopeful he'll find the right software by the time they reach Woodstock. He has plans to conduct a road evaluation and document sign locations, all of which would be included in the inventory software.
It will be a significant update for the highway department office, which currently uses minimal technology: office computers and radios in the trucks.
Building for the Future
The Woodstock highway department operates out of a garage built in 2006. His first day in the new garage was his best on the job, Mike said. But there were some challenges in getting it done.
Mike was the deputy superintendent during design and the initial stages of construction; he oversaw completion after he stepped into the superintendent position.
The building features six bays for vehicles or storage; a wash bay with a built-in pressure washer system and radiant heat floors; and a mechanics bay with one in-ground lift and one above-ground lift, built-in oil systems, radiant heat floors, an “eco” parts cleaning system, a separate parts room and an office.
Four additional offices are reserved for the superintendent, deputy superintendent, mechanic and secretary. A tool room, parts room and extra storage room also are in this main building.
A single-bay, “very old” garage is used for more storage and a salt shed does double duty as seasonal truck storage when the side garage doors are down. Its maximum under cover capacity is 3,500 tons.
The highway department has 13 plowing routes to clear 76.10 lane miles made up of 130 paved roads, eight gravel roads and seven bridges. The full loop takes about three hours to complete, Mike estimated.
It's one of his favorite parts of the job, maybe because of the satisfaction in seeing a pure white snow-covered road turn into clear, safe roadway, or maybe because when he worked at his dad's gas station, he traded his 1961 Corvair in for a brand-new 1973 Chevy pickup and put a plow on it — and has been plowing ever since.
Today, plowing and other duties in Woodstock are accomplished by 15 full-time employees, with two summer helpers and two on-call winter helpers, who work 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week. Mike called them an innovative group who can “create usable material out of junk.” For example, they collect sand off the roads with a sweeper acquired in 2003.
“We used to get rid of the sand, but I decided to 'recycle' it and use it over,” he said.
Once he began capturing, screening, stockpiling and reusing sand, he said the idea evolved to “ditch dirt,” to which he added material to create top soil. Now, every year, they rent a screener for a few weeks. They use it to create sand and top soil, as well as blacktop millings to use in potholes and on dirt roads. Although his annual budget is $2.5 million ($182,246.11 of which is their CHIPS allocation), Mike's wife said he's always conscious of his budget, “saving where he can and not wasting taxpayer money.”
Mike's frugality extends to saving money by purchasing used trucks and refurbishing them in-house.
“We buy big trucks from other townships,” he said. “Most of our plow trucks were purchased that way.”
Money is saved on some co-owned equipment. Woodstock co-purchased a 2009 paver with the towns of Ulster and Hurley, and acquired a new blacktop roller with the same two towns in 2019. The town of Ulster stores, maintains and repairs the machines, with the three entities splitting the bills. They each assist one other when one town does paving work.
“It's a good way to save money and get help paving,” he said. They're now considering a sweeper.
The department's fleet consists of more than a dozen dump trucks, the oldest of which, an International, dates to 1997; a Freightliner Vac-all; several pickup trucks and trailers; a JCB 3CX backhoe, a John Deere 80 excavator; an R80CR-9 Hyundai excavator, a DL200 rubber-tire loader; a Bobcat 220 loader, a 244 Vibromax roller, an I-R DD90 vibratory roller and a 720A-VHP Champion grader. Smaller equipment includes a chipper, mowers and an Ingersoll Rand air compressor.
Some Days Will Test You
Content with his hometown and his job, Mike enjoys life. Happily married with two grown children — Brendan and Becky — and one granddaughter (Paige), the Dale Earnhardt fan likes to watch NASCAR and dirt car racing. He also likes to “tinker” on many projects and is an avid snowmobiler. When he's on the job, he enjoys meeting people and appreciates that there's something new to do every day.
But some days give him a little too much to do — like the August day in 2011 when Hurricane Irene hit town. Hurricane Irene produced the worst storm effects since Hurricane Agnes in 1972, causing heavy damage over much of New York State. Ranked as the second-costliest at $296 million, much of the destruction was the result of flooding, both from heavy rainfall and storm surge.
“There was so much water!” he recalled.
The hurricane ravaged Woodstock worse than anything since flooding of Mink Hollow in 2006, but the superintendent knew he had to wait out the storm before even thinking about addressing the carnage. “It's tough to watch it happening when you can't do anything about it.”
His current four-year term doesn't expire until 2024, at which time he'll be 70. Noncommittal about whether or not he'll run again, he jokingly confessed that “the light at the end of my career tunnel is getting brighter.”
Always unopposed in elections, Mike was a reluctant candidate. “I never asked for any of this. I just filled in when necessary.”
Overcoming his fear of taking responsibility of a $2 million budget, Mike imagined part of his legacy will hinge on his ability to save the taxpayers money, as well as his innovation in recycling and reusing materials and equipment.
The humble superintendent will undoubtedly also be remembered as a selfless leader who was not afraid of hard work and never complained about it either.
“Mike is a hands-on guy, who would never ask anything of his crew that he wouldn't do himself,” his wife said.
Whether or not Destiny thrust him into the role, Mike follows the philosophy of his esteemed predecessor, whom he quoted: “Cowboy it up and go get it done.”
After all, he said modestly, “It's just my job.” P