Wildberry Lodge, the indoor water park and hotel proposed to be built adjacent to the Thruway in New Paltz, has not been in the news of late. Part of the reason for that is something that’s been the focus of considerable attention, the creation of a backup water supply for municipal users for when the Catskill Aqueduct gets shut down for two ten-week periods, slated for 2017. A portion of that backup system will come from tapping the aquifer underneath the old Plesser property, where Wildberry Lodge is to be sited. Details about those plans will affect the specifics of the resort hotel’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), but owner Steve Turk otherwise says the DEIS is ready to be filed.
What’s been proposed is a four-story hotel with 250-275 rooms, including family suites, together with an equally tall 70,000-square-foot indoor water park, indoor rock-climbing wall of more than five stories, fine and casual dining spaces, spa, fitness center, ten-lane bowling alley, tennis courts, and 10,000-square-foot conference center. Outside on the property’s 57 acres will be more water recreation, outdoor bouldering, additional tennis courts, zip lines, a ropes course, and ice skating. Despite the many opportunities to stay put, there will also be shuttles to bring guests to enjoy the outdoor adventuring which has drawn people to New Paltz for generations, as well as local restaurants and other recreational opportunities.
“I love the local businesses, like the Gruber Gallery, Groovy Blueberry and Water Street Market,” Turk said, and he laments favorites that are no longer around, like Chez Joey’s, which in his estimation had the best sub sandwiches around. “I think we will be a good fit.” A lifelong resident of the area, Turk has quite a bit of experience with hotels and water parks alike. He owns Splashdown Beach in Fishkill and the Rocking Horse Ranch in Lloyd, which also has a small water park off the hotel lobby. Despite the plans to build over an aquifer, water parks don’t use a tremendous amount of water. “The reclamation rate is very high,” he said. “It wouldn’t be good stewardship, or good business sense, to be wasteful.” Stewardship isn’t anything new to the Turk family, which gives back to the community in significant ways. Last November, $105,000 was raised for the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, for one. Their businesses also sponsor Special Olympics.
Despite the fact that the New Paltz Town Planning Board has many steps ahead of it before considering approving this project, it’s already remarkable for the positive interest that’s been generated. Two earlier projects proposed for this land — Walmart in the 1990s, and Crossroads just after the turn of the century — resulted in strong grassroots opposition, and were ultimately scrapped. Instead of organizing protests, people attending the scoping session during the summer of 2014 offered suggestions for improving the proposal, such as ways to reduce congestion at the problematic Putt Corners Road/Main Street intersection. Just recently, $1.75 million in state funding was approved through the Consolidated Funding Application process; decision makers were likely swayed by the expected 250 full-time jobs this project will bring, over and above the seasonal work which will be available.
That’s not to say that Turk and his team are sitting idle while they wait for a clear path from the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the aqueduct. This land is a former orchard and there is contamination from pesticides used there. That news wasn’t a surprise to Turk, who said that they selected this property with “eyes wide open,” but that it is a “remediable situation.” The presence of arsenic and lead, among other substances, was detected by his team and brought to the attention of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. “Heavy metals sit right on the surface,” he said, and can be cleaned up. The wells are not near where the orchards were and the aquifer is hundreds of feet below ground, far below the pesticides and an old underground storage tank that’s also been flagged as containing toxic chemicals. Nevertheless, the water has also been tested and came up clean, he said.
What Turk finds satisfying is the amount of support he’s seeing for Wildberry Lodge. That includes “diligent” work on behalf of both town and village governments, as well as the DEP, to finalize hooking up the aquifer to municipal water; feedback from local residents that wanted to make sure the land was tested for toxins in the first place; and certainly not least, the CFA award that he believes will help potential investors see this as an attractive project. The DEP plan is still to shut down the aqueduct in 2017, so Turk anticipates being able to finalize the water and sewer plans for Wildberry Lodge long before that. Once the water is running, it may not be long before the shuttle buses are running as well, bringing guests from the indoor rock-climbing wall near the Thruway to the real thing, the world-famous ascents of the Gunks.