Photos by Lauren Thomas
Thousands flocked to the eastern entrance of the Hudson Valley Rail Trail near the Walkway Over the Hudson for the fourth annual Highland HudsonFest this past weekend. The weekend began with the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association (HVRTA)’s annual MoonWalk on Friday night at the 101 New Paltz Road entrance to the 3.6-mile rail trail. Approximately 300 people turned out for this event and were treated to a bonfire, a storyteller, apple cider and cider donuts, as well as a moonlit walk along the trail to Tony Williams Park and back.
“Members of the Highland High School theater group were stationed at various places along the rail trail, and when groups would walk by, they would shine flashlights on their painted white faces and tell ghost stories dealing with the history of Highland. It was fantastic!” said Claire Costantino, who chaired the MoonWalk.
After strolling under the moonlight and getting a fright or two along the way, participants enjoyed the warmth of a bonfire, refreshments and more storytelling.
Then, on Saturday night, the HVRTA held its big fundraising gala, “An Evening under the Stars,” at the Would Restaurant in Highland. “We were presented with an award by Chris White from Ulster County executive Mike Hein’s office for all of our work,” said Costantino. “There was a silent auction, live music and there had to be at least 200 people in attendance. It was wonderful.”
“The band [Cloud NYne] was phenomenal!” said George Sidgwick, whose wife Marie is on the HVRTA board. “I went up to the lead singer and congratulated her and said, ‘You got a serious pair of lungs on you!’ She was belting out one song after the next.”
On Sunday, food, wine, farm, arts and crafts and not-for-profit vendors set up shop along the rail trail and interacted with thousands of visitors from all over the region as well as the East Coast. “It’s been like this all day,” said Costantino, pointing to the crowds walking, biking, eating and sipping along the rail trail as part of the HudsonFest. “There have been thousands and thousands of people here today and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. That makes a huge difference.”
There was Whitecliff Vineyard selling wine and tastes, as well as Luigi’s Infused Oils, Mike’s Hot House and dozens of local food vendors. There were handcrafted jewelry, pillows, scarves and pottery. There were Girl Scouts selling mums and Boy Scouts selling local apples, cider and donuts — and the people just kept coming.
Asked what the HudsonFest does for the HVRTA, Costantino said, “It provides exposure to our beautiful rail trail, to the Highland community and raises awareness of what we have here.”
“It grows every year,” said Lloyd town supervisor Paul Hansut, who was at various HudsonFest events throughout the weekend. “It’s a fantastic event that brings in people from all over and shows them what the Highland community has to offer. The members of the Rail Trail Association did an incredible job, as they always do.”
Eric Norberg, who has chaired the event for the past four years, said that he was excited by “the fact that we’re growing exponentially every year. We had close to 70 vendors this year, and with the connection to the Walkway, social media, internal promotion and good weather, we’ll have no less than 4,000 people walk our rail trail today — which is the entire point: to make people aware of this incredible resource.”
He also said that doing it on Columbus Day weekend “is the perfect time of year, because it’s the peak time for people coming to the Hudson Valley to see the leaves change, pick their own apples, pumpkins and get a taste of the region. That’s what we offer here. They can get a true experience and taste of Highland and the Hudson Valley by seeing the Walkway Over the Hudson, coming to our festival along the rail trail and then going on to pick apples at one of our many local farms. We’ve had people obviously from the region and the Metropolitan area, but we’ve also had people from Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts…”
Because cyclists now have 18 miles of connectivity among the HVRT, the Walkway and then the Dutchess Rail Trail, Norberg noted that they’re seeing way more cyclists than they have in the past. “They’re loading up their bikes from New York City or New Jersey and riding to our event and beyond, which is a great thing.”
New this year was the addition of a two-mile fun run/walk along the Hudson Valley Rail Trail. To round out the weekend, the first annual “Move Your Caboose Fun Race/Walk” took place on Monday from 9 to 11 a.m. with plenty of surprises. “I just thought it was another way for people to experience the rail trail and promote healthy living,” said race director Susan Van de Bogart, who was sporting her race tee-shirt that had “Move Your Caboose on the Hudson Valley Rail Trail” printed on the bottom of the back of the shirt.
There was a dance flash mob and a deejay, and local businesses donated tons of bagels, cider, apples, donuts and more refreshments for the racers and walkers. The two-mile race that began and ended at 101 New Paltz Road was well-attended. Van de Bogart noted that all funds raised from the event will be used toward the restoration of the cabooses on the rail trail.