"We have been displaced, because the weekend use is overwhelming, and at this point we're waiting to see what the park management plans to do, if anything, about that."
The displaced are the people who live around Minnewaska State Park and Preserve, Mohonk Preserve, Sam's Point Preserve, and the whole galaxy of parks and trails and climbs that lay on top of the Shawangunk Ridgeline, which dominates our area.
The speaker is Anne O'Dell, a woman wearing a number of hats. She is the author of "Ride New York," an invaluable compendium of horse- and multiple-use-trails in New York State, as well as being Chairperson of the New York State Trails Council. In addition, come wintertime, she switches modes of transportation as the Ulster County District Director of the New York State Snowmobile Association, who voted her "Snowmobiler of the Year — 2008."
"That may seem a little unusual," she says, with a smile, "but really, I just love being outdoors, out in these beautiful, wild places, and I have to admit, I'm not great on hiking. Moreover, snowmobiles are not the noisy, smoky monsters of the seventies. They got a bad reputation back then, but today they are fuel injected, they are clean, and they are pretty quiet too."
Mrs. O'Dell speaks on the back deck of her house, in the lee of the Awosting Reserve. In the big paddock, which curves around one side of her house, her two gorgeous Arabians are chasing each other in between nibbles of grass and gulps of water.
"My white horse, that's Legacy, she's twenty, and she's the mother of the other one — that's Ryan, and he's five."
O'Dell has ridden just about every horse- and mixed-use-trail in New York, and to get her horses to and from those trails, she has what she calls her "Thruway Schooner" — deluxe horse trailer hauled by a Ford Super-Duty truck.
"I moved back to the Hudson Valley from Syracuse. And one reason was that you don't find carriage-roads elsewhere in New York State. The carriage roads, not just here at Minnewaska, were built by very wealthy families. The Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts: they all created these estates with carriage roads. The Smileys, too, of course, who had grand hotels, like Mohonk, back in the 19th century. So, those carriage trails are rare and very precious. I am fiercely protective of those carriage roads, because they don't exist elsewhere and they are an historic treasure.
"Mohonk is doing a fabulous job of looking after them. But, of course, local people don't go there very much. We have annual passes to ride there, but for day users it's pretty expensive. But I can't criticize Mohonk, really. They're doing a great job.
"Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Minnewaska. There, the carriage trails have been allowed to fall into disrepair. They are rutted from erosion, your basic wind, weather, and water. They were built to withstand the weight of horses and carriages, but if you can't keep up with the elements then you have problems. The root of this is an unfortunate lack of capital, a lack of resources being spent there.
"Carol Ash, the new Commissioner for the Parks, is much more focused on taking care of what we have. I have great hopes for her stewardship of our parks and trails, she is a real preservationist.
"I would like to make a couple of points about the horse-riding community," she says, switching to Chairperson mode. "It is a fractured community, and the trail riders are just one part of it. The people who are into show horses, they are not going to take a $60,000 show horse up onto trails with stones and rocks and branches and stuff. Racehorses, of course, never run on anything hard at all. So, it's just us trail riders that use the park system, okay? And we contribute heavily to local economies. It isn't cheap to keep horses. This pair costs us about $5,000 a year. We shop at the Agway in Pine Bush, and we get our hay from local farmers.
"But with an aging population and people with disposable income looking to get out and enjoy themselves in the great outdoors, this is the fastest growing segment of the horse world.
"The New York State Horse Council and equestrians across the state are one of the most committed communities when it comes to getting behind preservation of our parks."
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