If a New Paltz resident wanted to show where he or she lives to someone who doesn’t speak a common language, the simplest method would be to draw a dog-legged horizontal line to represent the Sky Top cliff and add a little rectangle on top for the Albert K. Smiley Memorial Tower. It’s so iconic a profile against the sky that when an exhibitor at a local crafts fair was selling a quilt depicting what the Shawangunk ridgeline must have looked like before European settlement, she had to name the piece Where’s the Tower? because that was the first thing that came out of the mouths of everyone who looked at it.
Opened in 1923 to honor Mohonk Mountain House’s founder, the structure known colloquially to most of us simply as the Sky Top Tower has 100 steps to climb before you reach that famous five-state view. All that stonework requires a lot of mortar, which in turn requires maintenance over time. That time has now come, as visitors to Mohonk have been noticing in recent weeks. Scaffolding surrounds the tower, and you aren’t allowed inside at present.
“The tower has not been touched in over 90 years, and it just needed a little repair,” reports Nina Smiley, director of marketing at Mohonk Mountain House, “both interior and exterior: some stone pointing and concrete work.” Pointing, for the uninitiated, means troweling on a fresh layer of mortar in between layers of stones or bricks, then using the tip of the trowel to press an indentation into the wet mortar. It refills gaps where crumbling mortar has fallen out, redirecting rainfall that could infiltrate between the stones and dislodge them when it freezes. Pointing also cosmetically brightens the surface of mortar that has become stained by weathering and mold over time.
Also on the docket are renovations to the reservoir at the base of the tower. “We needed to drain it and repair the concrete liner,” says Smiley. “It had a leak in it.”
The work started in late spring, as soon as weather permitted, and will be completed by late August or early September, according to Smiley. Until then, summer visitors to the resort will have to forego the climb to the top of the structure. “It’s fenced off at the base,” she says. “People are being very understanding. You can still walk all the way around the tower and get the same spectacular view.”
Some hotel guests will no doubt be disappointed, but what’s an extra 100 feet or so in elevation gain? If you haven’t been up to that beloved eyrie perched way above the Town of New Paltz and the green Wallkill Valley in a while, this is still as good a time as any for a brisk uphill walk and a look at the 360-degree panorama — especially when the skies are nice and clear. “Come back and hike as usual!” urges Smiley.
Day passes to Mohonk Mountain House grounds cost $26 for adults, $21 for children under 12 on weekends and holidays; $21 for adults and $16 for children midweek. Pay your entry fee at the Gatehouse and park in the adjacent lot. In summer a shuttle bus runs daily to take you up to the Picnic Lodge at the top of the mountain, if you don’t want to walk the whole way. For day visitor information or updates on the progress of the Albert K. Smiley Memorial Tower renovation project, visit www.mohonk.com.