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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:

email:  minnewaska.plan@oprhp.state.ny.us

US Postal:

Fred Williams
Deputy Director
Palisades Region
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:

rock climbingClimbing:  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?

swimSwimming:  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.

Swimming Recommendations:

  • 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

bikingMountain 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 skisnow shoeCross 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.

2 Responses to “Minnewaska Master Plan”
  1. I am an avid mountain biker from Colorado, which as you probably know is scattered with world class single track and brings many people to that area to ride. We need to develop this potential tourism and enhance the activities of the mountain beyond rock climbing.
    Also, we’d like to see more available swimming areas, as well as dog-friendly swimming areas. The opportunity to co-produce events and sponsor music acts, like Belleayre Mountain does in the summer, which is a great idea for bringing more people to see the beauty of the parks. I think we should explore the idea of a music pavillion, or ampitheatre something like Saratoga Performing Arts, or Bethel Woods. Please feel free to contact me on any of these thoughts, at (845)255-1144, or the above stated email address.

  2. Henry Atterbury says:

    The issues that seem to come up consistently relate to the management of Minnewaska and most often seem to be about number of things that are not allowed under current management. Those issues are a direct result of the philosophy of those in charge of the site, that being the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC). If you want different answers you need managers with a different philosophy. The NYS DEC manages with a philosophy that is very different from PIPC. Its time to ask Albany to hand management of the park over to NYS DEC and to managers who listen to the concerns of the taxpayers, users and local residents. That does not happen now at Minnewaska and expecting a different response from the same managers is not going to happen. The PIPC philosophy on Park Management will not allow for it.

    Call Gov. Paterson and say enough of bad management, we want Minnewaska back in the hands of NYS and not PIPC. Unfortunately Carol Ash, head of the NYS Parks system was the former head of PIPC. One might expect that the PIPC philosophy will be advanced to other state parks and further limitations on the number of activities that we are allowed to engage in will take place. Can we look forward to all NYS Parks will having bans on rockcliming, Mt. Biking, Swimming, Ice Climbing. You might think for a second that the PIPC philosophy is right and is only there to protect the park from our over use or for our safety. It is not. It is there to keep certain activities out of the park. The current managment style of Minnewaska will not change until we get managers who realize that part of the allure is that we want to get out into wilderness areas specifically because we do not want to be protected. We neither need nor want bureacrats setting policy to protect us. Not the real motivation, on their part, but usually the excuse given. I have no problem with policies that protect the natural resource but that is not what we have. I am not advocating motorized vehicles, snow mobiles, ATV’s and the like. Human powered activities are in a totally different category, have a very limited impact on the land and offer great opportunities for healthy recreation but this is a common sense notion that escapes the PIPC Board of Directors. A board which sets managment policy that covers Minnewaska but is not responsive to NYS residents and is not elected by residents of the state.

    The PIPC board is appointed by the Gov.’s of NYS and NJ and is made up of friends and polictical supporters of the Gov’s and other very rich and influential residents who live near Rockefeller State Park. Horse back riding is allowed in Rockefeller State Park and Minnewaska but not rockclimbing. Can you get hurt riding horses? Sure you can. So much for safety being the real concern. Do horses impact the land. Of course they do. So much for the argument we are protecting the resource. You can bet that if the head of a very wealthy and influential family was a climber that the activity would be allowed. The needs of the simple masses are not their concern. What other reason to keep Minnewaska under PIPC management than to control what some people do not want there. Very simple when you look but almost impossible to change. A bunch of rag tag climbers might wreck the view while the very influential crowd are visiting the park on the back of a horse. That will not, nay cannot, be allowed. If you want to rock climb in NY you better plan on going to a park without horse trails. Not that your rockclimbing would affect their horses, they just don’t want to look at cheap grubby climbing ass. Get over it, quit whining and go buy a horse.

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