Former Saugerties brickyard begins long journey to becoming a park

The view from what one day may be “Bristol Beach.”

The view from what one day may be “Bristol Beach.”

Saugerties town officials are beginning the process to bring more river access to the community, and have promised to do so without adding anything more than $5,000 for grant writing to the town’s budget.

Early planning is underway for Bristol Beach State Park, a substantial property located between the Hudson and Route 9W in Saugerties. The undeveloped park, which is owned by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, includes the site of the former Staples Brickyard, as well as a sandy beach, woodland trails and the rocky shoreline of Eve’s Point.


According to Town of Saugerties Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel, the town hopes to transform the site into a “multi-use recreational facility for town residents and visitors. There’s walking trails, there’s river access, there’s an eagle living there…An educational component certainly will be added to it. The possibilities are endless.” Engineer Ryan B. Weitz of Barton & Loguidice echoes that sentiment, calling the park a “phenomenal site” for activities ranging from kayaking and swimming to hiking and bird watching.

According to Helsmoortel, the town has been asking the commission about the property for approximately 25 years, but questions on both ends about the former industrial site’s safety have in the past stood in the way.

Two boilers from the former Staples brickyard.

Two boilers from the former Staples brickyard.

But the commission has finished a full environmental cleanup of the property and in May, entered into a 20-year agreement with the town, which gives Saugerties the right to “develop, operate and maintain recreational facilities upon the property.”

The project is a collaboration between the town board, the Parks & Recreation Department, and the Conservation Advisory Commission, said Helsmoortel. While the town budgeted $5,000 for the initial grant-writing, Helsmoortel says, “We’ve made a statement and a commitment that this project will be grant-funded.” Thus far, the town has a grant from the Hudson River Valley Greenway for $10,000 and one from the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program for $42,000.

Throughout the year, architects and engineers from the engineering firm Barton & Loguidice in Albany have done studies of the property. In a public meeting held at the Frank D. Greco Multi-Purpose Building on August 22, Weitz and landscape architect Ted M. Kolankowski talked about the first phase of the project and the findings of their access feasibility study. Weitz said that while the primary concern during phase one was identifying potential landward and riverward access points into the “nearly 200 acre” park, the engineers also considered the interior features of the park and which entrance would offer the most convenient access to the greatest number of those features. After considering additional factors like the slope of the land, sight distances allowing vehicles safe exit from the park, and navigation around private property, engineers have identified “three really prime access routes into the park,” said Weitz. Emerick Road, currently the only established entrance to the park, is situated on the north end. Two other sites that present opportunities for vehicle access are the area opposite Benzal Road on 9W near the middle of the park and the area opposite Stoley Lane at Main Street on its southern end

The engineers believe that the Benzal Road is the most likely candidate for what Weitz calls a “boulevard-style” main entrance, as its central location makes it ideal for getting to the park’s interior. The entrance opposite Stoley Lane would lead to the site of the old brickyard, which has ample space for parking and has existing public sanitary sewer and potable water that would allow for the installation of restrooms. While the engineers propose maintaining the entrance at Emerick Road, they don’t think it provides an ideal main entrance since the road is steep, crosses a railroad and ends in a small parking area at Eve’s Point that’s isolated from the rest of the park.

Engineers are looking forward to the project’s second phase, which Weitz said will likely include investigating the existing shoreline, determining the best use of the former brickyard and its remaining structures and “creating universal access to the shoreline for people of all abilities.”

The shoreline varies greatly, said Weitz. At Eve’s Point on the north end, there’s steep, rocky shoreline, whereas Bristol Beach offers sandy beaches with shallow waters. On the southern end, near the site of the brickyard, cribbing (a kind of retaining wall) is still intact and bricks that have been churned by the river have made red-hued beaches.

“There’s really a variety of form and along with that comes a large diversity of shoreline resiliency measures,” said Weitz, though he notes that the cove formed by Eve’s Point does provide some shielding for the beach.

According to Weitz, the engineers plan to determine what will need to be done to ensure that the park can rebound from events like storm surges with minimal repairs and “minimal impact to public access.” The currents and water quality at Bristol Beach will require further investigation, but Weitz says that residents familiar with the area report gentle currents and that it may be suitable for swimming.

With regard to the former brickyard, Weitz said studies will find out exactly what’s there and what kind of shape the buildings are in. He said remnants of the “vast operations” there include tenant housing, a factory building, boilers and a “beautiful workshop that you can tell was a showpiece for visitors to the site” in the brickyard’s heyday. Though he says that studies and “future public participation” will be necessary to determine the best use of the structures, Weitz notes that there is the possibility of utilizing them. “There’s the potential for historical interpretation of the working waterfront of the Hudson valley, as well as repurposing them for a use that fits a state park setting,” said Weitz.

When phase two will begin is not yet known, and the rate at which the project progresses will be dependent on the grants received.

“Hopefully we can keep progress moving forward in transforming the park into a public recreational asset,” said Weitz. Helsmoortel said that there will be more public informational meeting throughout the duration of the project.