Craig Chapman remembers when the plot of empty land in New Paltz which would eventually be called Sojourner Truth Park was just that, empty land. The area got a sign and some other improvements — such as unpaved parking and a clear path to the river — when it was dedicated as a village park early in the last decade. There were picnic tables and barbecues, but the tables floated away during floods, and that was that. Now, the lifetime resident has, with the blessing of Village Board members, brought in tables, benches, planters and a floating dock to make going out in a boat a lot easier. He expects it to benefit his kayak-rental business, but it’s a clear win for all users of this park. He was at the park on Saturday for a ribbon cutting to formally unveil the new equipment.
What was needed all along, in Chapman’s view, was someone to take responsibility for the amenities so that they’d stay in good condition. “I have a trailer, and if there’s rain for a few days running, I’ll pick up the tables,” he said, rather than lose them to the storm. He owns them all: the picnic tables, the benches overlooking the water, the planters filled with indigenous plants that he bought from Wallkill View Farm. That gives him the flexibility to protect his investment and takes the responsibility off the shoulders of village employees. All the furnishings will be collected for the season in October and stored so that they’re in good condition come spring.
For now, they’ll be out for enjoyment on Saturdays and Sundays, when he’s there renting kayaks. On the occasion of the ribbon cutting he was offering them for just $5, but normally it’s $35 per person for a two-hour trip. “Most people head toward Gardiner,” he said, because it’s a more picturesque route.
Some elected officials who were on hand were very much appreciative of the work Chapman has put in. “I’m really impressed with how much Mr. Chapman modeled how business and community can work together,” said village trustee Don Kerr. His colleague Dennis Young was equally gobsmacked, saying, “Craig has done a fabulous job cleaning up the usability of the park.”
Sojourner Truth Park runs between the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and the Wallkill River from just south of Main Street to the boat landing on Plains Road, where in addition to the boat landing there is a grassy field along the water that’s not visible at all from the road. Chapman said that even without any tables, he often sees families and groups barbecuing there.
“The signs are the next piece of the puzzle,” Chapman said. He’s already got smaller directional signs for the floating dock, but he plans on finding out if the New Paltz Community Foundation will pay to replace the main park sign, which it originally funded. He also wants to lay down more gravel for parking cars and launching boats; the area is largely packed-down earth right now.
“The village can have nice things,” Chapman said with a smile.