At first glance, the Minnewaska Master Plan seemingly has something for everyone. Here’s an abbreviated list of the major improvements mentioned in the plan:
- New Visitor Center/Park Office at the Phillips House
- New Roads and relocated gatehouse to reduce congestion on Rt. 44/55
- Open the long awaited campground on Rt. 299 to replace the raucous and unwieldy DEC Multi-(ab)use Area
- Renovate Tilson Lake Boat Launch
- Develop Trails in the newly acquired Mine Hollow area
- Build new/renovate lots at Stony Kill Falls, Awosting Reserve, Minnewaska (upper and lower), Jenny Lane & Peter’s Kill
- Construct a trail so that visitors do not have to walk the road from the lower Awosting to Upper Minnewaska lots
- Develop climbing at Dickie Barre
- Install new roof and pave floor of Maintenance Facility, screen building from view using landscaping
It’s an ambitious and expansive list. That is, until you realize that all of it is going to take money that the state is quite unlikely to come up with (in the middle of a serious recession). If you dig a little deeper into the Master Plan document, you’ll see that quite a few of the improvements in the current Plan are leftovers from the 1993 Plan. So what exactly is going to get done during the span of this Master Plan. Well, dear reader, much of that is up to you!
The Master Plan requires the State to collect and then respond to the comments that you make. You can submit comments by email or snail mail. Here are the addresses:
NYS OPRHP <—-that’s Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation
Bear Mountain, NY 10911
You can also use a handy web-based letter generator located at the Access Fund Site.
As long as you comments arereceived by Friday, November 13th, your voice will be heard.
So knowing that there’s not a lot of money to go around, what projects are going to get funded? Well, the Master Plan contains an Implementation Priority List in Chapter 6 show level 1 priorites that are expected to be completed in the first 5 to 10 years:
- Complete the design and construction of the Preserve office and visitor.
- Complete the design and construction of the Lake Minnewaska entrance area reconfiguration.
- Complete the design and construction of restroom facilities in the Lake Minnewaska picnic area to include potable water, flush toilets, heat, water, electric and sewer systems; the construction of a water plant, if needed, including piping from the lake or construction of a well if quantity and quality are supported; construction of waste water plant,
including a new sewer collection system from the visitor center and restrooms to the waste water treatment plant.
- Advance the implementation of the historic carriage road restoration project to the next phase of design and engineering and begin rehabilitation of carriage roads.
- Rehabilitate the existing maintenance facility.
- Repair the Lower Awosting Causeway (75% FEMA Reimbursement).
- Complete the design of the Shawangunk Gateway Campground.
- Implement the Trails Plan recommendations for the Mine Hollow and the Awosting areas using volunteer labor.
- Implement the Shawangunk Ridge Fire Management Plan.
- Continue implementation of the Invasive Species Management Plan.
- Implement the Shawangunk Ridge deer management strategies.
- Improve interpretive kiosks and trail head signage.
- Begin the restoration of historic vistas.
- Facilitate the creation of a Friends group and develop partnerships with user groups.
- Pave and improved the drainage of the main entrance road.
- Initiate the design of the Stony Kill Falls area.
- Re-establish a satellite Park Police base.
Does this list reflect your priorities as a park user? Here are some activity-specific issues that you might consider mentioning when you comment on the Master Plan:
Climbing: If climbers in California’s Yosemite Valley were limited to climbing in the parking lots, I think they would understand how climbers in NY feel about Minnewaska State Park. Minnewaska has an un-paralleled abundance of climbable rock. Spectacular routes with views over the Hudson Valley have stood untouched for years, as climbing in the park is prohibited with the exception of an unremarkably small set of low cliffs in the Peter’s Kill area. Gertrude’s Nose, Millbrook, Castle and Hamilton Points are all inspirational to climbers–but are off limit in the new plan (and the plans before it).
There has been rock climbing at Peterskill for almost 10 years now. The program (which was started as a test program for climbing) brings in significant revenue to the park each year, as climbing permits are one of the few revenue streams that the park gets to keep. It does not have to send the funds back to a state-wide general fund as is done with revenue from say gate receipts.
The current version of the Master Plan proposes to expand climbing to the Dickie Barre area. An equally small and uninspiring cliff a short distance from the Peter’s Kill.
Granted, opening up the entire park to use by climbers would be an overwhelming task for a small park staff. But should that mean that the best climbing in the park (and maybe even the entire Northeast United States) be closed for a half-century or more?
Climbing should not be specifically limited by the current Master Plan. Instead, the park should continue to develop it’s separate Climbing Management Plan (due in 2010). A Climbing Management Plan would allow the park to be flexible in its approach to climbing. With careful planning and support from advocacy groups like the Gunks Climbers Coalition and The Access Fund, the park can identify, develop and manage a world class climbing destination that would draw visitors from the world over.
Ice Climbing: The current Master Plan continues to bar ice climbing within the park, even though the plan calls for better access to the Stony Kill Falls area, where most of the climbing is desired. Each year, ice climbers are ticketed in this area for climbing. Wouldn’t it make more sense to collect fees from all the climbers, rather than to penalize a few?
Swimming: The lakes of Minnewaska State Park cover almost 170 acres. Yet swimming is only allowed in 2 small “pens” on Lakes Awosting and Minnewaska (and the Distance Swimmers lane). The “swimmable” are of the park represents only 1/10th of 1% of the available acreage.
What’s worse, swimming is only permitted when a lifeguard is on duty. But lifeguard coverage only runs to Labor Day, often leaving no swimming opportunities in September when temperatures can still get into the 90s. Compounding the problem, lifeguard hours have already been reduced by half an hour in the evenings and the size of the swimming area at Awosting has shrunk in each of the past 2 season.
Distance Swimming: The distance swimming program at Minnewaska has been a great example of how the park can work with user advocacy groups. In 8 (incident-free) seasons the Minnewaska Distance Swimmers Association (MDSA) has overseen a program that allows members to swim a 400-yd loop at the Southern end of Minnewaska. But the program is hamstrung by a provision that requires that a lifeguard to be on duty–at a beach over half a mile away. So this program has also seen it’s hours cut back by 1.5 hours each day and it’s season also ends (on Labor Day) when the weather is still hot.
Judy Mage, founder of the MSDA program pointed out at the original reason for having a lifeguard available was to provide assistance should non-members attempt to use the MDSA swimming area (MSDA members sign waivers and take a swim test to protect the park from liability). Judy’s suggestion (and we wholeheartedly agree) is that the MDSA program should be de-coupled from the lifeguard requirement. MDSA swimmers have proven that they can look after themselves, and the threat of unauthorized swimmers has never materialized.
- Re-instate lifeguard hours until 7:30p in the summer
- Restore the original size of the Awosting Swim Pen
- De-link the distance swimming program hours from those of the lifeguards hours at far-away beaches
- Establish a distance swimming area at Lake Awosting
Mountain Biking: Minnewaska has always been a terrific place to bicycle. The seemingly endless carriage roads run along ridge lines with goregeous views of New Paltz and Gardiner in the east to the Catskills in the West. But for serious riders, the carriage roads can get a little boring–There is little (if any) technical challenge.
Fortunately, the Master Plan addresses this issue by proposing to build a single track trail (map) at the newly acquired Awosting Reserve property. What’s even better news is that the area has an enthusiastic population of mountain bikers who are eager to begin building the trails. Perhaps the one downside in the plan is that the trail is proposed as a “multi-use”, whereas horseback riders, hikers and mountain bikers would be expected to share the same trails. Clearly a recipe for conflict between user groups.
Cross Country Skiing/Snow Shoeing: This is one of the difficult activities facing the park. Like so many of the activities mentioned above, the ridge line trails and superb views make for a terrific X-C or Snowshoe experience. But people will only come to the park to ski if the trails are groomed, and groomed consistently. But the park has difficulty committing the significant resources required to groom unless people are coming consistently. A true chicken and egg conundrum.
But if the park here from enough of us (and there were many X-C skiers on hand for the Public hearing in October), perhaps we can tip the balance so that more grooming will be done, and more people will continue to come out in the winter months.
One obvious step the park should take is co-ordinating trail grooming with the Mohonk Preserve. Skiing the entire ridge line from Minnewaska to the Trapps is a winter-time experience like no other. The variety of terrain would draw large numbers of skiers at a traditionally sleepy time of the season.