On an overcast September day, undeterred by the weather, more than 300 people gathered in New Paltz, New York for the grand opening of the Open Space Institute’s River-to-Ridge Trail. Bikers and walkers, couples and families, young and old turned out to celebrate the new community gathering place.
Since then, the River-to-Ridge Trail has quickly become a popular spot, welcoming scores of visitors drawn to the six-mile trail by its easy access and sweeping views. In this community, known for its nearly limitless recreational opportunities, the new OSI trail has far surpassed local expectations.
“OSI’s River-to-Ridge Trail has been open less than a year and it is already a go-to resource for the community,” says OSI’s Peter Karis. “The trail is extremely popular on weekends, but it’s also well used in the middle of the week — even on rainy days. It’s incredible to see people out on the land — experiencing first-hand the benefits of conservation.”
Neil Bettez, the supervisor of the town of New Paltz, concurs, “The River-to-Ridge Trail has galvanized local support for park and trail conservation projects that are expanding public access to the outdoors. It is connecting people to the land and helping visitors develop an appreciation of the landscape with an ease that is unprecedented. Our community has always enjoyed the sweeping views of the breathtaking Shawangunk Ridge but walking along the River-to- Ridge Trail is an unparalleled experience.”
In creating the recreational hub for the community, OSI also employed a range of strategies to sustainably manage the trail, which is bordered by the Wallkill River and active agricultural land.
“Given our conservation history and ethos, it makes perfect sense to integrate ‘best practices’ to promote water quality and healthy habitat for wildlife,” explains Karis.
Improving water quality and reducing runoff were chief among OSI’s goals. This is being achieved by expanding the planted buffer corridors between the river and the active farm fields. In addition, OSI is emphasizing the use of organic compounds for use on nearby hay fields; and installed drainage culverts and bridges to carry the trail over sensitive wetlands. In addition to protecting the wetlands, the culverts are providing safe wildlife pathways.
Created in partnership with Mohonk Preserve, and with funding from the Butler Conservation Fund, the trail traverses the 360 acres of the River-to- Ridge Preserve and connects people to one of OSI’s most successful conservation landscapes — the Shawangunk Ridge.
Over the past 40 years, OSI has protected nearly 33,000 acres on and along the Ridge, and now sets its sights on further connecting people to land it has protected and improved — from restoring 12 miles of Victorian carriage roads, to the creation of a new Visitor Center at Minnewaska State Park Preserve. In downtown New Paltz and on the River-to-Ridge Trail, OSI’s commitment is already having an impact.
“From opening day people have engaged in outdoor experiences provided by the River-to-Ridge Trail,” says Rich Gottlieb, owner of Rock and Snow, a local outdoor sports equipment store near the trail. “A door has been opened for the community to access breathtaking landscapes on the River-to-Ridge Trail. Thanks to OSI, New Paltz truly is the gateway to the exquisite Shawangunk Ridge.”
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