The answers would vary if one asked people on the street what drew them to Ulster County. Some were born here. Some came here for college and never left. Others settled here for jobs and decided to stay even when their employers relocated elsewhere. There are the leafpeepers, rockclimbers and their ilk, the politically conscious and the spiritually aware. It’s reasonable to expect six or more opinions if you ask four people what the best parts of Ulster County are.
What do the people who are paid to promote the county think are its best assets? Rick Remsnyder, who directs the county’s tourism department, has no difficulty finding good things to say about our local treasures. He often goes to travel trade shows, and a lot of what he does for a living is to sing about what’s unsung, and encourage people to visit and see for themselves. “Ulster County is a four-season destination,” he explained. “All of our advertising and marketing is geared towards getting people to come here twelve months out of the year. It’s such a special place to visit.”
“A lot of people have no concept of upstate beyond Westchester,” said Ward Todd, who is president of the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s almost like being a used-car salesman. If you can get them in the seat, they will be much more likely to buy.” Todd believes that the work done in the county tourism office has been instrumental in raising awareness and thereby driving in the tourism dollars.
Outdoor recreation first comes to Remsnyder’s mind. The county offers skiing and other winter recreational opportunities throughout, and as soon as the weather warms up there are many people clamoring to try out the world-class rock climbing in New Paltz. “The prime time for people to visit is summer, when schools are on vacation, and straight into leaf season,” he said. Recreational options include fishing, bicycling, lake swimming, boating and camping.
Attractions and festivals continue to crop up throughout Ulster’s communities, attracting thousands of attendees, both local and those from farther away, to sample foods, crafts and arts. The county fairgrounds outside New Paltz hosts a rib fest, garlic is celebrated in Saugerties, cupcakes decorate Gardiner, and there’s also the Hooley on the Hudson. “Where else outside of New York City are you going to find a selection like that?” asked Remsnyder.
Some other events include the summer-long horse shows at HITS, the fright-fest at Headless Horseman Hayride & Haunted Houses from September through Halloween, and the iconic Mohonk Mountain House, where guests can experience high-class hospitality and access phenomenal outdoor opportunities at the same time. For a more family-focused indoor-outdoor visit, there’s the Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland.
Golf is also one of the reasons people come to visit, particularly down from Albany and up from New York City, according to Remsnyder. It’s easy to make the drive, the lines to play are all but non-existent, and the greens themselves are excellent. He cited Lazy Swan in Saugerties and Applegreen’s in Lloyd as being two that he, a golfer, would recommend. Some foursomes, he said, are even coming up for the weekend, meaning that they’re booking hotel rooms, patronizing restaurants, and likely discovering many of the other hidden attractions off the county’s main roads.
Arts are a significant part of the Ulster County experience, from the Woodstock Film Festival to the Festival of Voice in Phoenicia. Visitors and residents alike also are welcome to take in a Broadway musical at the Belleayre Conservatory, the doors of which have been reopened this year. The music scene has a long and storied history. That’s thanks in part to the existence of Woodstock, which gave its name to the granddaddy of all rock festivals, and has put a musical spin on Ulster County ever since.
“We’re fortunate to have an iconic place like Woodstock,” Remsnyder said. “Everybody has heard of it.” That makes it easier for him to orient people on where Ulster County is located, and educate them on what else is available besides good music.
Todd also thinks that the live music being played locally continues to be phenomenal. There are so many places to see a good show that it was beyond him to name all the ones he’d even heard about. One of his own particular favorites is Keegan Ales in Kingston, however.
Three Thruway exits are an asset, in Remsnyder’s eyes, and make it possible for the antique shops and restaurans in Kingston to become destinations themselves for metropolitan residents looking for a quick getaway with some shopping on the side.
Todd agrees, saying that the Kingston restaurant scene, in particular, has “grown exponentially” in recent years, offering a wide variety of meals. “People who have traveled all over the world tell me that there’s no better choice for food than here,” he said.
In Todd’s mind, an important attraction for new permanent residents and businesses are the relatively low taxes in Ulster County. While locals might gripe and complain, he said, residents of New York City find that the cost of doing business lower than what they’re used to in the Big Apple. He points to Raleigh Green Inc., a services company which its eponymous owner moved here. Green has since become a cheerleader of sorts, Todd said, encouraging entrepreneurs and established business owners to consider Ulster County as a serious option.
“It’s an attractive place to move your employees and business,” Todd said. “You don’t have to make a hundred thousand dollars a year to live here.”
Places to stay, resorts and spas
We no longer have the grand Catskills resorts and mountain houses which accommodated up to 300 guests, or the boarding houses that were really just spare rooms in residents’ Victorian homes. However, those popular turn-of-the-century lodgings have been reincarnated in the current era, with many kinds of places for visitors to stay, depending on taste and budget.
Campgrounds are an option for those who want save money, cook outdoors, and sleep really close to nature. The next step up the price scale is the smattering of motels that offer convenience and basic accommodations. For more luxury, attentive hosts, and possibly a swimming pool, look for a small hotel or bed-and-breakfast.
The old boarding houses have been replaced by home-sharing services such as HomeAway and Airbnb, which enable residents to rent out all or part of their houses for a weekend or longer. To save money, young people band together to stay in a house, families have a homey atmosphere to spread out, and most houses have kitchen facilities.
Many family-oriented resorts from the mid-1900s still exist, usually offering packages that include meals, rooms, and access to swimming, hiking, tennis, recreation halls, entertainment, and other amenities, plus the opportunity to socialize with fellow guests. Another kind of resort is the spa, which generally provides exercise, saunas, massage, yoga and other health-oriented activities, all in the healing serenity of the mountains and often in the context of a high-end luxury hotel — not all that different from the old resorts that brought myriads of guests to enjoy the beauty of the Catskills.