The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation held a public meeting last Wednesday on the SUNY New Paltz campus. Dozens of community members were in attendance to discuss several proposed amendments to the 2010 Master Plan for the Lake Minnewaska area at Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Attendees were vocal and they were passionate — in some cases, a bit contentious — with several echoing the sentiment that the park is not just a recreational space to them but a spiritual place and sacred ground.
The meeting was moderated by Jim Hall, executive director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission; Eric Humphrey, park manager for the 21,000-acre Minnewaska State Park Preserve; and Diana Carter, director of planning at the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
The proposed changes to the 2010 Lake Minnewaska Area Master Plan come down to four specific things, Hall said.
The first involves shifting the location for a proposed visitor center from a former residential structure on the edge of Lake Minnewaska — the Phillips House — because “perc” [drainage] tests indicated there would be septic problems there. Instead, a new sustainably designed building will be constructed approximately 200 feet from the edge of the lake on previously disturbed land in a more central location. The Phillips House will be razed and the land it sits on restored.
Along with the new location for the visitor center comes the relocation of the septic field, the second proposed amendment to the Master Plan. The new site, where the existing tennis court parking lot is now, was “the only acceptable area that we found that has ample perc,” according to Humphrey. The 2010 Master Plan also did not provide enough storm water drainage treatment in the original location as required, he added, and installing a sewer line four-feet-deep into bedrock under the Phillips House would have created significant ground disturbance and required 1,200 more feet of wastewater line to be installed.
The third proposed change, and the one that seemed to incite the most comments from community members at the meeting, is in the amendments made to the parking areas. The existing layout includes 200 parking spaces on 1.7 acres. The 2010 Master Plan allowed for the construction of 340 additional spaces on 3.3 acres of land with the 2015 amended conceptual plan expanding that to 350 parking spaces on four acres.
The additional ten parking spaces, essentially the same number as that already in the approved 2010 plan, were not a concern for most at the meeting. Siting of the parking areas was. Some voiced concerns that the new proposed parking areas would interfere with cross-country ski trails while others felt the siting of the parking deeper into the preserve would cause cars to intrude too much on the visitor experience.
One of the parking areas was changed from its location in the 2010 plan because it was that of the area now proposed for the visitor center (and deemed the only suitable location), but other changes in parking were designed to reduce the number of cars that get parked on the access roads in the preserve on busy days.
“A major objective of improving the parking at Minnewaska is to minimize our parking attendants on busy weekends,” said Humphrey. “On any given weekend day, it takes from one to five staff members to park the various areas. We’re trying to eliminate some of that.” Currently the park has approximately 300 cars in need of parking on busy days, he said. “This [plan] would create defined parking for 350 cars. It’s the same number of cars we already handle on busy weekends, but we won’t be parking them all over the access roads and jamming them into spots. We’re not looking to change what the capacity for the area is — we’ll meet the same need — but we’ll be able to park cars in a way that they all have defined spots.”
The entrance to the park will still be controlled, Humphrey said. “We’ll be able to count when the parking is full and there will be some area where people can wait for someone to leave if they want to. We’re not looking to change the goal of the Master Plan for basic capacity in this area.”
One attendee at the meeting suggested the preserve create an app or a web-based solution allowing visitors to find out the park is full before making the trek there.
The final proposed change to the Master Plan is the addition of a year-round “warming hut” for winter visitors, in order to provide some transition space for people to warm up and dry off. The warming hut would feature a wood-stove inside and could be used simply as a closed pavilion in warm weather. The Lake Minnewaska area receives a great deal of winter visitors, especially compared to other state parks, said Humphrey, who noted that such a place to warm up has been requested by many. The response to the addition of a warming hut by community members in attendance seemed largely positive, particularly from people who identified themselves as cross-country skiers and winter users of the park.
Several people at the meeting thanked the representatives of the preserve for their good stewardship but expressed their concern that the integrity of the park continue to be maintained. Recommendations received from community members for further refinements included several requests to make the entire park smoke-free. One longtime resident suggested that the answer to parking difficulties at Lake Minnewaska lay not with building additional parking spaces but in creating a shuttle bus system, perhaps one that would run between the various recreational facilities in the area.
Another person suggested making the park more amenable to visitors by adding a vendor to the visitor center to rent out skis and boots on site to those who only ski occasionally. But others expressed concern that park officials were making the park “too” inviting with new amenities, bringing in masses of tourists who will contribute to local traffic problems and environmental degradation at the park.
The time period for public comment closes on Wednesday, August 26. Written comments may be mailed to Mark Hohengasser, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Planning Bureau, Albany NY 12238 or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. More information may be obtained by contacting Eric Humphrey at (845) 255-0752 or Jim Hall at (845) 786-2701.