What does a handyman adept at plumbing, carpentry and electrical work, plus ten years experience in sales, decide to do when he hits his 30s and wants to be outdoors more often? If you’re New Paltz native Craig Chapman, you look around your bucolic landscape and figure out what’s missing. And when Chapman did just that, he came up with a plan.
New Paltz Kayaking and New Paltz Biking are the results of Chapman’s creative efforts. Six years ago, he noticed the lack of kayak rentals in an area threaded through with a picturesque river. “Nobody was doing it anywhere along the Wallkill. I wanted to be outside full-time, so I figured I’d hang out by the river one summer with some kayaks for rent, and the business took off from there.”
More recently the young entrepreneur contacted the Open Space Institute (OSI) and proposed a bike-rental scheme to be launched in conjunction with the new River-to-Ridge Trail that runs along the Wallkill River Flats from the Carmine Liberta Bridge to Springtown Road and further links to the protected lands on the Shawangunk Ridge off Butterville Road. Spanning OSI and Mohonk Preserve parcels, the trail is relatively flat, making it an easy ride and offering area residents and visitors access to enjoy what OSI president Kim Elliman calls the “irreplaceable scenic, agricultural and recreational landscape.”
Chapman could not agree more. He loves the land where he grew up. “As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be outside in nature,” he says. He doesn’t regret his early experience in sales, however, because in doing that, it became natural for him to engage with people and know how to answer their questions satisfactorily. “But after five years in an office, it wears on you. Still, my whole life – including sales – has geared me up for this. I have a wife and young children, so I wanted to carve out more family time. I operate out of two locations: one at Sojourner Truth Park for the kayak rentals, and at the trailhead parking lot on Springtown Road for bicycles. Both are open Thursday through Tuesday; I hire a college kid to help out on weekends.”
Chapman parks a trailer full of bicycles – 18 mountain bikes, a selection of kid-sized bikes plus two trailers and a tagalong and helmets – at the Trailhead just outside New Paltz. He sets up a mini-maintenance station near the picnic tables and pulls out a few bikes. One of his goals is to arrange bike tours where people can participate in a couple of outdoor activities along the six-hour tour, including visiting local wineries.
“I’m also thinking of advertising in the wedding industry to do pre-wedding activities with wedding parties. And I’ll do dropoff services within a 15-mile radius, such as delivering bikes up at Minnewaska for riders to take the four-to-five-mile downhill ride back.” The six-mile River-to-Ridge loop is open to walkers, runners, hikers, cyclists, equestrians and others. It’s a carry-in, carry-out trail, and pets should be leashed at all times.
Chapman’s other trailer is parked along the Wallkill at Sojourner Truth Park at 31 Plains Road, and it’s loaded with single and tandem kayaks and canoes. He’ll also do dropoffs and pickups at Chodikee Lake and Black Creek in Highland, at locations on the Rondout and Esopus Creeks and at private lakes and other Wallkill River locations. Chapman says that these kayaking excursions are great for first-timers. “We’ve had people from two years to 80+ years old. You will not have a problem navigating the river. Even for some of the locals who hike and bike the trails, but have never been out in a kayak, you get to see different scenery on the river.”
Partnering with Minnewaska State Park, the Mohonk Preserve and OSI has been crucial to Chapman’s business and to his commitment to stewardship of the land and river as well. He talks about how OSI purchased 850 acres of flatlands and gave them back to the Preserve, and doubled the size of the State Park. “People need to know about these nonprofits that conserve and protect the land, the water, wetlands and wildlife. This could all be houses instead of beautiful scenery. I want to be an ambassador for everything New Paltz and outdoors – forever.”
Both concessions are open through October: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Thursday from 2 to 6 p.m.; closed Wednesday. Rental rates are reasonable and run by the hour, two hours, half-day or full-day; group rates for parties of six or more are available. Kids under 12 receive a reduced rate. For more information, call (845) 594-6353, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://npbiking.com or https://npkayaking.com.