The Mohonk Preserve’s Testimonial Gatehouse Trailhead opened on May 23, just in time for Memorial Day weekend. This announcement came just days after the Mohonk Preserve had reopened the majority of its trails to the public after shutting down during the height of the COVID-19 public health crisis.
“Thanks to the generous support of donors, partners and state and local governments, Mohonk Preserve has established its first new trailhead in 26 years in the 836-acre Foothills,” said Kevin Case, the Preserve’s newly appointed president and CEO. “Featuring the iconic Testimonial Gateway tower, this brand-new trailhead expands public access for people of all ages and abilities to the Foothills’ carriage roads and trails.”
Located just off Route 299 West at the corner of Gatehouse Road in New Paltz, the restoration of the tower and the creation of the trailhead is part of an estimated $2.72-million project that includes an 80-car parking lot, EV charging stations, visitor contact kiosks, landscaping and restrooms.
The new trailhead’s signature feature is the 111-year-old tower itself — a stone edifice with a large archway that served as the formal entryway to the mountain hotel until 1945. Construction of the tower began in 1907 with the final touches being placed on it in October of 1908 in honor of the 50th wedding anniversary of Albert Keith Smiley and his wife Eliza Phelps Smiley — the co-founders of Mohonk Mountain House.
Prior to the more common use of cars as transport, hotel guests would arrive via train or trolley in downtown New Paltz where they would take horse-driven carriages across the Wallkill River and the Flats to check in at the Gatehouse Tower and then be led along the Pin Oak allee, past Humpo Marsh, Duck Pond and through meadows and forests until they arrived at Lake Mohonk and the mountain house resort itself, nestled in the cliffs on the water’s edge.
In addition to the parking area and related trailhead features, part of the work also included maintenance work on the tower itself, which required some stabilization of the roof, windows and selected masonry restoration. The scope of the site-plan also included the replacement of the Lenape Lane bridge and resurfacing of the Lenape Lane carriage road. Due to the early opening of the new trailhead, the old bridge has not yet been replaced.
To this end, Town of New Paltz building inspector Stacy Delarede worked closely with the Preserve staff and the town’s engineer and highway superintendent to ensure a way to provide a safe crossing for visitors to traverse Butterville Road and enjoy the sweeping vistas of Lenape Lane and the foothills beyond. The foothills encompass 836 acres that were acquired by the Preserve with the help of the Open Space Institute (OSI) several years ago.
“We all understand the importance of being outside right now and the benefits that has for reducing stress and health and well-being which is in demand more than ever,” said Delarede, when asked earlier in the week if the Preserve would be receiving the necessary approvals it required to open by Memorial Day weekend. “And I’ve been working closely with the Mohonk Preserve so that they can open.” Delarede said that they were working to put up some protective barriers along the sides of the old bridge to provide a temporary certificate of occupancy. Pedestrian crossing along Butterville Road was not deemed to be a safe temporary measure by the town as the site-line running north and south is very poor.
The new trailhead allows members and visitors to stroll along the level, tree-lined Pin Oak Allee, or continue to hike up Lenape Lane through the fields of historic Brook Farm. Those looking for a multi-use trail with direct access from town can also choose to explore the Mohonk Preserve foothills loop of the River-to-Ridge Trail. This six-mile trail, which was created in partnership with OSI and Mohonk Preserve, provides a direct pedestrian and cyclist link to the Town and Village of New Paltz.
“We look forward to welcoming members, visitors and the community to the Testimonial Gateway Trailhead beginning on Saturday, May 23,” Case said. “We also encourage everyone to enjoy our recently reopened Visitor Center, West Trapps and Spring Farm trailheads.”
The Preserve anticipates that the parking lot at the new trailhead will fill up early on peak weekends. Limited alternate roadside parking is available on nearby Pine Road, with access at the Upper Duck Pond Trailhead.
The trailhead will open daily at 7 a.m. for Preserve members and at 9 a.m. for day-use visitors and close at 7 p.m. Day-use passes and memberships will be available for purchase at the trailhead. Memberships can also be purchased or renewed online at www.mohonkpreserve.org/how-to-help/join/.
More information on visiting the Preserve, including COVID-19 related policies and procedures, can be found at https://www.mohonkpreserve.org/visit/.