The opening of a trail through the flats to the foothills of the Shawangunks has created a world of possibilities, one of which was realized this week in the inaugural New Paltz Challenge River-to-Ridge 5K race. More than 250 participants took to the gravel path on a brisk November morning, the Sunday sky blue with promise.
As with any event organized under the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce banner, this one was executed through the hard work of a bevy of volunteers dating back weeks, if not months. Runners (and walkers, as not everyone was in any hurry to finish) had access to fresh fruit and bottled water donated by local business owners, and laid out ahead of the 9 a.m. start time by Chamber and community members, including what appeared to be the entire high school swim team. Those who registered lingered to eye the unbaked apple pies — prepared and watched over by members of the Woodcrest Bruderhof community — which would be awarded to winners of various categories. Those who weren’t planning on running, after seeing those rewards, might have been tempted to sidle up to their athletic friends.
The course was laid out along the new trail, with the dual start and finish staked out across Springtown Road from the parking area to minimize road crossings. Even so, flag-wielding volunteers stood by ready to halt motorized traffic when needed. More helpers stood by to provide water along the course, which wended up into the foothills but looped back without crossing over into Mohonk Preserve, where a promised extension of the trail is not yet complete.
Some came to win, including SUNY New Paltz swim coach Tom Eickelberg, who was indeed the first to cross the finish line at a hair less than 18 minutes after the run began. Others were curious about this trail, which provides access to land that until recently was largely a refuge for non-human residents. Most asked admitted to some interest in pie.
Salisbury Mills residents Joanne and Jim Bixler said that they’re regular hikers in the area, but this was their first time on the River-to-Ridge trail. They were joined by friend Debi Heyer, who said she’s relatively new to running, but not as new to eating pie.
Kevin Borden lives nearby, and has been using the trail “a couple times a week” since it was opened to the public in September. “I’m excited about the extension into the Preserve,” he said, noting that the foothills is an area largely unseen by humans in recent decades.
The crushed-stone surface felt good underfoot, the cool air evaporated ample sweat in short order, and the views on the way up and down were alone worth the trip. New Paltz resident Mike Beck observed that it “reminds me why I live here.”
Although they came for the camaraderie, the competition, and to vie for the pie, there was swag aplenty for any and all. Frisbees, shopping bags and other knickknacks were handed out eagerly by Chamber members hoping not to load them back into their cars. Participants also got commemorative t-shirts for signing up and medals for completing the race. Those who came out tops in their age-and-gender category received a certificate, over and above any pies which were awarded.