Minnewaska State Park and the Mohonk Preserve have both been moving at a steady clip to keep up with new parking areas, trailheads and various construction/renovation projects that are underway to meet the needs of an ever-increasing outdoor recreation population.
Although Dan Keefe, the Albany communications point person for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said that the newly created parking lots at the upper lot of Minnewaska are slated to be completed by the end of this fall, he would not comment on any other phase of the overall construction plans that, when completed, will add not only 250 new parking spaces, but also a new sewer system, stormwater management system and visitors’ center slated to look out over the pristine Lake Minnewaska. These plans, albeit not in any detail, can be seen at https://parks.ny.gov/parks/attachments/minnewaskaminnewaskavisitorcenterconstruction.pdf.
Anyone who has visited the 24,000-acre park and preserve at the upper lot of Minnewaska this past spring, summer or fall cannot have missed the massive parking transformations that are taking place at the crest of the hill. Due to the construction, parking has been limited at various times, as well as annual events. Open Space Institute (OSI) has completed the $1.9 million restoration of the Smiley Carriage Road at Minnewaska State Park and visitors are able to enjoy this part of the park like never before.
If you’ve driven west of the Wallkill towards the Shawangunk Ridge, it’s hard not to notice the work being done at the 111-year-old Gatehouse: the original entrance for visitors to the Mohonk Mountain House off Gatehouse Road in New Paltz. As part of its estimated $2.72 million Testimonial Gateway Trailhead project, the Preserve has been working to stabilize the old stone edifice, including its historic windows and peaked roof. It’s moving full steam ahead on completing an 80-space parking lot, complete with EV charging stations, restrooms, signage and new landscaping, as well as a “visitor contact center,” similar to the small wooden sheds at the Spring Farm and West Trapps trailheads. The project will also incorporate the resurfacing of the Lenape Lane carriage road and uniting the River-to-Ridge (R2R) Trail into the Foothills carriage road loop system for visitors and members to enjoy.
According to the Mohonk Preserve’s media spokesperson, Gretchen Reed, there will be two new visitor contact stations, including one at the Testimonial Gateway Tower and a smaller one, up at the intersection of Lenape Drive and Pine Road. “The visitor contact station at the main Testimonial Gateway Trailhead will be approximately three times as large as the West Trapps Trailhead visitor contact station,” said Reed. “The Lower Duck Pond visitor contact station will be about twice as large as the one at the West Trapps. The new visitor contact stations will be handicapped- accessible, with covered exterior areas for both visitors and staff, featuring signage and a map.”
Known to locals as ranger station, these are where visitors show their membership cards or purchase day passes, ask questions, get directions and in some cases fill up their water bottles. “We’ve already had a presence at Lower Duck Pond,” said Reed, noting that on weekends or holidays or other popular hiking days, there is often a Mohonk Preserve staff person in a little bend of the road just below Duck Pond and the farm off Lenape Lane, checking for passes and directing people away from the Catskill Aqueduct, which is private and is also undergoing an extensive upgrade.
Because of the new connection with the (R2R) trail that can lead visitors from the village to the heart of the foothills, there are “many pedestrians and cyclists who do not enter the Preserve through a gateway,” noted Reed. These new stations provide direct contact with visitors and members to the Preserve staff and services. Once the Testimonial Gateway Trailhead is completed — anticipated to be opening “around May of 2020,” according to Reed — the Preserve will start to get a sense of what that does to their visitation, as it’s the first new trailhead installed in 25 years. “We won’t know until we open,” said Reed. “We probably won’t even really get a handle on the visitation until after a year or two of being open.”
She noted that the new gateway entrance offers a beautiful visit for those who aren’t heavy recreationalists or may have mobility issues or young children. “They can pull up and park, have a beautiful walk along the Pin Oak Allée, past the Testimonial Gatehouse and be able to get the breathtaking view of the Ridge,” without having to go very far by foot or pedal.
Weather thus far has been on the better side for construction, with little rain as compared to last September which was the wettest in the Preserve’s 123-year-old record. As for Pine Road, there are no anticipated changes, as it borders the Preserve and provides access to it, but is owned by the Town of New Paltz and not the Preserve itself.
Both Minnewaska and the Mohonk Preserve are working in partnership with OSI, which helps to secure land and funding for open space preservation and passive recreation. In December 2014, the Preserve entered into an agreement to purchase the 836-acre Mohonk Preserve Foothills from OSI. The Preserve then began the planning process for the Testimonial Gateway Trailhead project and trails master plan. After a two-year review process, the Town of New Paltz Planning Board granted final site plan approval for the Mohonk Preserve Foothills Project in 2016.