Plans to expand open space and associated recreational opportunities seem to be arising more and more often in the New Paltz area, and one of the projects in the works, the River-to-Ridge trail, will build upon a trail network that already allows access all the way to Kingston thanks to the crossing over the Rondout Creek in Rosendale, and will eventually hook into the Hudson Valley Rail trail, which connects to the Highland end of the Walkway Over the Hudson. Even without being part of the much larger system of walking paths emerging throughout the Mid-Hudson region, the River-to-Ridge trail is likely to be a draw locally because it will extend from the village limits clear into the Mohonk Preserve. The so-called “Watchtower property,” which will host much of the trail, has been owned by the Open Space Institute (OSI) since February, the same organization that acquired the Foothills parcel which has since been transferred to the Mohonk Preserve. A portion of the trail will wend its way through that part of the Preserve, with access to walkers on the trail being provided free of charge, a departure from the Preserve’s usual model of charging for entry.
According to communications strategist Eileen Larrabee with OSI, the Shawangunk Ridge is one of the organization’s “signature landscapes,” as it has been active in preserving much of it and the surrounding space. That includes acquisitions which have expanded Minnewaska State Park, the Mohonk Preserve and the Watchtower property, which makes the River-to-Ridge trail possible. When this land was obtained, she said, the question asked was, “How can we create this access and enjoyment for the public, and use the property to connect the village to the Ridge?” The six-mile loop dubbed the River-to-Ridge trail is the proposed answer. As it’s now conceived, the trail would begin at the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, cross the Carmine Liberta Bridge (which itself, when replaced, is expected to have improved pedestrian and bicycle access), follow the bank of the Wallkill River for a stretch before turning left and heading alongside farm fields owned by the Ferrante family towards the Mohonk Preserve, where the final loop of the trail will follow Pine Road and Lenape Lane. It will require improving the rough parking area used as a boat landing for the village on Springtown Road and the laying down of a ten-foot-wide, crushed stone path for much of its length. Details of a lease to obtain use of Ferrante land have not yet been finalized, so the planned course is still considered conceptual. Members of the public are welcome to comment on the plan, which is available for review at the Institute’s website, osiny.org.
OSI is generally a “transactional” organization, Larrabee said, with most land that it acquires being passed on to some other entity for long-term preservation. That’s how the Foothills property came to be part of Mohonk Preserve. Larrabee’s own work is focused on the expansion of state parkland, but she said that there are no specific plans identifying a permanent steward for the Watchtower property. “We’ve been in that landscape for a long time,” she said, and have “a commitment to the Ridge and the Foothills.” By creating easier access to the Preserve, she said, it’s hoped that they can “cultivate the next generation of stewards,” in the understanding that those who protect nature are those who have been exposed to it in the first place.
While the idea of this trail has been presented publicly since July, for some the first inkling that there was something in the works came in the form of fences, installed last month along Springtown Road, Route 299, Lewis Lane, Charles Lane and Butterville Road. Larrabee’s first comment about that was to respond to concerns she’d been hearing: “It’s not electric,” she said. It was installed after consulting with neighbors, who had observed an increase in the number of snowmobiles and trucks being used on that land, in an attempt to keep the landscape more welcoming for non-motorized uses, such as the cross-country skiing, which was started last winter. Snowmobilers have been using the land for decades — and some of them may have even had permission — but that’s over and done with. The New Paltz Times asked members of the active New Paltz group on Facebook to share their views of the new fences, now that construction is complete.
“I’m not a big fan of the fence,” said Ana Lynn. “It did not seem to me like ATVs and snowmobiles were much of an issue.” On the other hand, John Bligh liked the idea. “I’m all for it. Pedestrians like snowshoers/skiers can hop the fence easily enough. The ATV/snowmobile crowd can go somewhere else.”
Some of those commenting were concerned about the appearance itself. “I wouldn’t care,” wrote Mike Nist, “except that fence is ugly as sin. I am not sure what they were thinking — having wood posts all along would have been nice, but three-quarters of them are ugly/institutional metal ones, so what is the point of having every fourth post look nice if the next three are so grim-looking? It would actually look better if it was all metal posts for the sake of consistency, but as it stands it’s just turned a beautiful piece of open space into something awful and depressing to look at.”
Justin Finnegan, though, thought it could have been worse. “Although I am not a big fan of the fence they put up, I am sure it cost a fortune to have it put in. They could have put in a really cheap fence that was a real eyesore.”
“I have to drive past it multiple times every day and it makes me want to cry,” wrote Ivy Sciandra. “They have totally ruined the view there with this ugly fence. I never saw many snowmobiles out there. How about start with a sign forbidding motorized vehicles? That would have been the place to begin, [not] this hideous fence.”
“I also drive past it every day and I like it,” responded Jason Sarubbi. “It makes me smile. I am rather excited by the fact that there will actually be trails there soon. It’s going to be great and I would bet money that most folks will eventually be on board with how great it really is.” His main concern, he said, is that won’t survive a spring flood with ice chunks floating in it. “I don’t think that fence stands a chance.”
Longtime New Paltz resident Butch Dener wasn’t pleased that people owning snowmobiles wouldn’t be able to enjoy the same access that they’ve had for “three generations,” but his was a minority view, and several people refuted it by pointing out that a having the money to buy a snowmobile is more likely to make someone an elitist — the label he used to characterize the motivation behind fencing off the land — than owning a pair of snow shoes.
The fence also has openings, so it will not impede walkers or deer intelligent enough to seek them out. They will be able to join the cyclists, equestrians and cross-country skiers who will all be welcome to use the trail, which is expected to be completed in 2016.