Ulster County is home to a hardy community of hikers and bikers who need nothing more than a canteen and a pair of sturdy shoes to comfortably explore the Minnewaska State Park. Yet for the more pedestrian park patrons, tackling the nearly 24,000 acres of dense forests can feel daunting.
With inclusion in mind, a park Visitor’s Center is under development to expand and enhance the experience for everyone.
This 5,421 square-foot facility offers an array of educational opportunities and guidance, new parking and fresh walkways. The Open Space Institute (OSI) who spearheaded the project, currently campaigning for more funding. The project that is expected to be finished by this October.
“We hope it will help people get the most out of their park visit and hopefully come back,” said OSI Spokesperson Eileen Lackabee.
Minnewaska State Park is perched atop the Shawangunk Mountain Ridge, which stands a staggering 2,000 feet above sea level. According to the park’s website, the rocky terrain is home to “numerous waterfalls, three crystalline sky lakes, dense hardwood forests, incising sheer cliffs and ledges opening to beautiful views, clear streams cut into valleys.” It is home to a unique ecosystem, a variety of wildlife and rare plants like the Dwarf Pitch Pine. The 35 mile carriage trails and 50 mile footpaths attract close to 500,000 guests each year, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Phase one of the project was dubbed the “private phase.” During this time, OSI reached out to connections in the community and looked to the state for “introductory donations.” The cause garnered support from the State Regional Economic Development Council Grants, State Sen. Jen Metzger and a number of private donations. So far, the campaign has raised $2.65 million towards their $3 million goal. Those interested in donating can purchase window tiles with local songbirds and raptors printed next to the donor’s name. The tiles will be part of a window exhibit featuring native feathered flyers.
The structure was designed to be “multi-seasonal,” with areas to warm up after wintery walks and water stations to refuel water bottles in the heat. Indoor bathrooms will also populate a chunk of the interior. There will be an information center and park ranger station to aid patrons with their questions about trials and the surrounding ecosystem.
“It’s something the park has wanted for a long time,” Lackabee said. “People can plan their hikes to find the most beautiful views.”
One of the Center’s features that Lackabee is most excited about is the interactive trail map tool. Their display will include a 3D model of the entire park along with a screen that suggests a selection of trails based on a guest’s preferences. This tool could help hikers find the best path to cater to their children in tow or find the paths that leads to the most waterfalls. Other educational opportunities — geared towards children — include bird-watching walks, leaf-identification classes and informative field trips for schools.
A representative from Minnewaska State Park was unable to be reached in time for print.
While the project hasn’t received much pushback, Mayor Tim Rogers is concerned about the increase in traffic that may result due to the upgrades.
“It’s nice that we can have improvements, but with that we need to consider other impacts on the community such as downtown parking and congestion [in New Paltz],” Rogers said.