Part II on tourism
By Ron Soodalter
As County Tourism Director Libby Pataki sees it, the biggest challenge the village faces in regard to tourism is the lack of overnight accommodations. “I am not advocating bringing in a Holiday Inn, but rather the building of an attractive inn or hotel to accommodate overnight and long-term visitors,” said Pataki. “I believe the village has desirable sites — Mystery Point, the Kemble Avenue property, possibly the Butterfield site. My goal is to put the county on the map, and that indicates more rooms.”
Teri Barr, owner of Hudson Valley Outfitters, agreed. “Another hotel would be excellent. I find that many people would prefer to stay for two days. That way, they could hike Breakneck Ridge, kayak on the Hudson, have the time to visit our shops and enjoy our restaurants.”
“I recently had an opening, and two of my artists wanted to stay overnight. They couldn’t find available rooms,” said Barbara Galazzo of Gallery 66 NY.
While Michael Armstrong, chair of the Special Board for the Comprehensive Plan, believes that Butterfield would be a good site for a hotel or inn of 25 or 30 rooms, he prefers an informal system of local bed-and-breakfasts, with the type of booking service employed by Columbia County. It would, he suggested, create a source of income for older residents, as well as involve them more in the business of tourism. “It would create a warmth that is preferable to staying in a hotel.”
Not all the merchants feel that additional accommodations are necessary. Regina Bei, co-owner of the Hudson House, finds the idea of another hotel “ridiculous. Perhaps it would work on weekends, during the tourist season, but what would the proprietors do during the week, and in the off-season? I don’t believe the town is losing business for lack of rooms.” Although Bei said that business is “great,” she acknowledged, “We have to make it on weekends,” and faced a solid six weeks of slow time between New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day.
There is general agreement that the village trolleys are a largely untapped resource. The Depot Restaurant’s owner Tom Rolston sees them as a “total waste” and thinks they should convey hikers to Breakneck Ridge, at the very least. “Our tourism is largely based on hikers,” he said, “and we have to service them.”
Pataki suggested the trolleys “have to be made more accessible. The service must be revamped. Repeat visitors are our goal, and proper use of the trolleys can help bring them back.” Various locals have observed that the function, schedule, route — and even the number — of the village’s trolleys remain a mystery. Pataki “tried for months to get a schedule and couldn’t find one.”
Carinda Swann, executive director of the Garrison Art Center, sees the trolley service as a strong potential resource for carrying visitors — and locals — to and from historic, artistic and natural sites, but said, “Nobody I know could tell you what its loop actually is.”
Cold Spring Mayor Seth Gallagher points out that the village’s two trolleys are primarily federally funded and must adhere to fixed federal schedules. However, he said, there are plans to extend the trolley service to the Foundry Preserve, and possibly north to Breakneck Ridge. He adds that there is no reason why its route and schedule can’t be better publicized — a project best taken on, he said, by the Chamber of Commerce.
Andy Chmar, executive director of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, believes that the village’s two best assets for increasing tourism are Metro-North and the Hudson River. “Trains and boats make so much more sense, for the environment as well as the traffic situation, than hundreds of people getting in their cars.” There appears to be no disagreement, from government officials, merchants, or environmentalists.
Riding the rails
The ride on Metro-North’s Hudson Line from Grand Central Station to Cold Spring is short and convenient and offers spectacular views of the scenic west side of the river. Pataki is a strong proponent of train travel. “We have a tremendous railway system,” she said. “Our biggest strength is day trippers. It’s an ideal situation; they take the train here, spend tourist dollars in our shops and restaurants, and take the train back.”
Much of Barr’s kayaking and outfitting business “comes up on the train from New York City,” and Leonora Burton of the Country Goose said, “Foreign trade is good, thanks to Metro-North. It’s the only stop on the line where you get off the train, and you’re right in town.” Gallagher sees Metro-North as “distinctly pro-tourist. They put extra trains on during the fall foliage season and are always open to package deals. And it takes cars out of the loop.”
Pataki agreed. “I’ve developed a strong relationship with Metro-North. They do weekend getaway packages and are open to doing whatever we want. The question is, what can we do?”
Rolling on the river
Increasingly, the Hudson is being viewed as a rich potential source of visitors. Virtually every venue and activity — historic, artistic, commercial and environmental — can be better served by an increased presence of tour boats on the river. Chmar sees “a significant change in the last five or six years. There’s greater access to the river, especially at Cold Spring. The new rails at the dock feature gates, providing ease of access to private and commercial vessels.”
Gallagher has worked to change attitudes toward river traffic. “As a kid, I remember boats at the dock. People used to be open to boats here,” he said, “but a local law prevented them from docking here, on pain of an hourly fine. We changed the law, first to allow boats of historical interest to dock, and then to commercial vessels as well.”
Allowing commercial boats to dock at Cold Spring — for a mooring fee — provides a potentially significant source of revenue for the village. “This summer,” recalled Gallagher, “we realized $3,000 from one tour boat alone. The money went straight to the village — and the good news was, no cars!”
Various tour boats are now docking at Cold Spring, and there is talk of establishing a ferry service to and from West Point. “West Point is Upstate New York’s number 2 tourist attraction,” said David Lilburne, proprietor of Garrison’s Antipodean Books. “A visitor ferry service back and forth would be fantastic; I think Libby [Pataki] might just be able to pull it off.”
This summer, Bei was delighted when a tour boat from Manhattan’s Battery Park Pier dropped off 150 passengers. “Our restaurant was packed. And when they boarded the boat after spending time in the village, they were carrying tons of packages. That’s what people do — shop and eat!” Passenger boats will also convey hikers, bikers and kayakers, as well as visitors to the West Point Foundry Preserve, Constitution Island and Foundry Dock Park.
The lure of the outdoors
As Gallagher observed, “We’re a little village, surrounded by natural resources. There is no development around us, which makes Cold Spring special. People come here for that.”
A number of historic and environmental projects are currently underway that promise to significantly enhance the number of visitors. Environmental groups such as the Hudson Highlands Land Trust and Scenic Hudson are seeking to preserve as much natural land as possible and make it available to visitors. Chmar commented, “Here we are, less than 40 miles from New York City, and there are four state parks near where we’re sitting!”
He added, “Our mission is to preserve both national resources and community character. If we and other resource-conscious agencies do our jobs, the beauty of this place won’t change, and people will enjoy it for decades to come. There is a perfect correlation between our work and the attraction of visitors to the area.”
Outdoor events such as the Putnam Cycling Classic — formerly known as the Tour de Putnam — are designed to bring both competitors and spectators to the region. Pataki has moved the starting point of the bike race to Cold Spring, and — despite a somewhat rocky start in 2012 — sees it attracting an increasing number of visitors. Two of the more ambitious outdoor-oriented projects currently underway are the West Point Foundry Preserve and the Hudson Fjord Hike/Bike Trail.
The West Point Foundry Preserve
The West Point Foundry Preserve is currently undergoing a years-long multimillion-dollar program of preservation and interpretation. “Thus far,” said Director of Parks Rita Shaheen, “we’ve invested over $7 million in the project, from planning to construction. We’ve worked very closely with the village for a long time, and we’re very committed to bringing people here.”
Shaheen envisions a symbiotic relationship with the local Putnam County Museum, whereby visitors would tour the foundry site and then walk or take a trolley up the hill to the museum, to view its impressive permanent exhibit on the foundry.
“We plan to install a kiosk,” said Shaheen, “with a map that will cover not only the foundry but Main Street, as well as a number of other sites of interest.” With most of the foundry’s buildings gone, nature has reclaimed much of the preserve, so the site attracts hikers and birders as well as history buffs.
The Hudson Fjord Hike/Bike Trail
Another project sponsored in part by Scenic Hudson as well as the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, the Open Space Institute, Metro-North and various state parks, organizations and riverfront communities, is the Hudson Fjord Hike/Bike Trail. It has been in the works for some 15 years, and as the name indicates, it will be a multi-use trail, designed to run 10 miles along Route 9D from Constitution Island to the Beacon train station.
The stretch is a popular one among hikers and was named by Newsweek as one of the ten top hiking destinations in the nation; Trails.com designated the Breakneck Ridge trail the country’s number one day hike.
The specific objective in building the trail is, according to Scenic Hudson, “to transform a portion of state Route 9D … from a high-speed thoroughfare into a multi-use, user-friendly recreational, tourist-oriented parkway that provides people with a stronger visual and physical connection with the Hudson River.”
It is also designed to allow hikers, climbers and bikers a safer access to the trailheads and the various scenic spots along the route. Project Manager Mark Wildonger said, “The project is largely grant-reliant, but if all goes well, and the plan is funded and approved, we hope to break ground in February 2014.”