Geoffrey Welch, Torne Valley environmentalist dies

“Geoffrey Welch, the unofficial riverkeeper in the Torne Valley, a wilderness tucked between the Ramapo Mountains in the historic Revolutionary War area of western Ramapo, has died. He was 80. The environmentally sensitive Torne Valley, inhabited by mountains, foliage, and wildlife such as the state-protected timber rattlesnakes and snake dens, is home to a drinking water aquifer for millions of people in northern New Jersey and Rockland and the Ramapo River tributary.

Welch held court for decades in the Torne Valley, bringing attention to the area and fighting against intrusive development and environmental erosion. He also was a musician and historian, mixing both with his advocacy for preservation and protecting the watershed, friends said.

Geoff Welch earns the moniker Ramapo Riverkeeper

“Geoffrey was the unofficial riverkeeper,” said Chuck Stead, a storyteller regarding the history of the region and Native Americans, teacher, and environmentalist.

“He never got the title or claimed the title,” Stead said. “He was interested in protecting the watershed and the sole source aquifer. When you talked to him you couldn’t help but learn about the area and its importance. His guardianship was the Ramapo River and protecting the river basin.”

Welch died Saturday of cancer. His arrangements are pending but friends said his remains would be cremated and a ceremony of life service would eventually be held.

Welch oversaw the Torne Valley with parental love

Welch, with his white hair and lean physique, was quirky and considered eccentric to some. Friends recall Welch always smiling and positive as he talked about the environment and the environmental music he composed and played on his electric keyboard at gatherings, especially at the Friends of Harmony Hall in Sloatsburg.

The historic building built by Jacob Sloat became added to the New York State and National Registry of Historic Places in 2006, due to the efforts of Welch and other local history buffs. He also lived for years in the historic Torne Brook Farm, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The hall provided a tribute – “With Deep Sorrow, We bid Farewell to Geof Welch”– by David Pereyra. The tribute pictures Welch standing on a large rock formation holding a staff and overlooking the Torne Valley. Pereyra writes Welch was a gentle soul with an oversized personality. His “efforts and interests have left an indelible impact on the area – from helping to acquire surrounding green space, including Liberty Rock Park, to helping save Torne Valley and establish Harmony Hall and the Highlands Bluegrass Festival as important local cultural features of Sloatsburg.”

Read the complete Journal News story here.