REGIONAL – As our local leaders survey the economy of the Hudson Valley, sooner or later they recognize that the area depends on New York City. That means jobs and second homes, but also tourism in its many forms.
The big signs are becoming obvious. New ventures readying to open in the area include the Montreign Casino/Adelaar Resort complex in Sullivan County, currently opening up its hiring and vendors process; the reviving Hudson Valley Resort in Rochester; the Belleayre Resort in the central Catskills and the Wildberry Water Park scheduled for New Paltz. But that, many are realizing, now means figuring out how to capture the new visitors coming up for these now destinations to show them what is already here... and then get them to return.
Such thoughts have been running through the minds of Bill Herrmann and his town board in Mamakating.
"We talked with other towns and took stock of our resources here. We have the ridge, the hills, the Basha Kill, a lot of natural beauty," the recently reelected town supervisor said. "We think that eco-tourism, adventure tourism, and things with that outdoors feel are the natural way for our town to go."
Herrmann adds something that came to him via an unusual source.
"I was on a trip to Salt Lake City. Now, as everyone knows, they restrict alcohol sales and that has produced a booming little micro-brewery thing," he noted. "Microbreweries line the streets in the appropriate places. They all act as restaurants, too, because the law insists that they serve food... I thought that's something we should promote in our town."
Herrmann also notes the "hub" effect.
"When you have a group of businesses in the same area you become a hub," he observes, noting his town's proximity to the new casino being built down the road from Mamakating. "Nobody is going too far out of their way for one antique shop. But put together a lot of them, like Sugar Loaf has, and it becomes a destination... We want to really encourage bed and breakfasts here, but we also want to see real overnight camping experiences available here."
That balancing act — of getting economic improvement without changing too much — turns out to be something all our local leaders are keeping an eye on.
In Marbletown, which has already achieved much of the promise of a tourism driven economy, supervisor Michael Warren notes the important anchors in his town as including the Mohonk Mountain House and the Mohonk Preserve, but also the O&W Rail Trail, set to run from Kingston down the Rondout Valley with hook-ups to other trails leading into the Catskills and Shawangunk Ridge area, as well as for hikers and bicyclists to visit small towns, stop for lunch, and stay over in an Airbnb or more formal lodgings.
"Marbletown has been able to maintain its character," Warren explains, noting how careful planning is needed to help promote the elements needed for strong tourism. "I was on the planning board and town board before I became supervisor. We made sure to keep the town character the way it was. There are no dollar stores, no super gas stations here."
He adds another element of the new economy, one he's very familiar with due to his own family business lodging horses scheduled to compete at HITS events held now in Saugerties, now one of the big economic drivers in both Ulster County and the entire Hudson Valley.
"People will bring eight horses to compete with. They leave some with us and take the others to Saugerties for the first few days of competition," he explains. "Then they swap them over, and leave those with us."
What Warren is describing is a tourism "halo effect" thrown out by a major event that draws visitors in large numbers. Bethel Woods, with its growing reputation for high end music concerts in multiple genres, works similarly. As does Bard College across the river, and the summer draw of cooling Catskills creeks.
In Wawarsing and Ellenville, such ideas are percolating. The village's recent burst of restaurant openings may be the beginnings of a new "hub" experience and the Shadowland Theatre remains the town's biggest draw. But outdoors lies the Ridge, Lippman Park, and the vastness of the Catskill Mountains. Runners, hikers and mountain bike enthusiasts are coming in ever increasing numbers. As many figure will continue when rail and canal trails reach down into the town and beyond to Mamakating and the Delaware River vicinity.
Sure, it's being said now as tourism starts to build as a rising economic tool, not every town has a Mohonk Mountain House. But all our towns do share the Shawangunk Ridge. And small town charms. And across that ridge, a growing number of monasteries and spiritual retreats, now being augmented with conference centers and corporate getaways.
Let the future begin... as well as that future planning.