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Trailblazing: River-to-Ridge Trail

Known for protecting significant and at-risk landscapes, the Open Space Institute also promotes safe, inviting, and sustainable recreational access to public lands. In New York’s Ulster County, these mutual OSI objectives are at the heart of two new projects that will better connect people with the incomparable treasures OSI has protected on the Shawangunk Ridge over the last 30 years.  

A new “River-to-Ridge Trail,” will connect the Village of New Paltz and the Walkill Valley Rail Trail to the foothills of the Mohonk Preserve.  Further up the Ridge, OSI is restoring portions of the historic Smiley and High Point carriage roads, improving the connection between lower Minnewaska State Park Preserve and Sam’s Point.

When the Smiley Road is reconstruction and the River to Ridge trail completed, OSI envisions a unified trail network surrounding and crossing the Shawangunk Ridge that will total 116 miles in length.  

Accomplished with lead support from the Butler Conservation Fund, these projects will deepen the public’s connection with stunning landscapes and create a world-class network of interconnected trails.

“The land conservation work OSI and our partners have achieved over the past four decades has permanently protected this marvelous Ridge and surrounding landscapes.  These new endeavors will expand the public’s recreational opportunities and further connect us to one of the region’s main population centers,” said Kim Elliman, OSI’s president and CEO.

The flats looking west from Rt. 299
The flats looking west from Rt. 299

Joining the River to the Ridge

Its name tells only a piece of the story. Although River-to-Ridge will indeed provide a direct link between the Walkill River and the Shawangunk Ridge, the gateway trail’s connections and benefits will reach far beyond the trailhead.

For years, pedestrians and cyclists from New Paltz and the Walkill Valley Rail Trail wishing to reach the Shawangunk Ridge have been forced to navigate a narrow shoulder on busy State Route 299. Seeing a need, OSI kicked off a series of specific land preservation transactions in the New Paltz flats, concluding with the Watchtower property in February 2015. The River-to-Ridge Trail will provide the sorely needed safe and scenic link to the 90 miles of trails and protected open spaces atop the ‘Gunks.

True to its name, the new trail will also establish a six-mile loop, accessible free of charge, featuring wide paths of gravel and grass that meander through farm fields and over gently rolling hills, ultimately connecting to a second OSI project: restoring key portions of the Shawangunk’s Victorian-era carriage roads.

OSI restored the Hamilton Point Carriage Road in Minnewaska State Park
OSI restored the Hamilton Point Carriage Road in Minnewaska State Park
Photo Credit: Peter Nelson

Connecting Minnewaska to Sam’s Point

Among OSI’s greatest preservation accomplishments is Minnewaska State Park. Through steadfast commitment and dozens of transactions, OSI has played a leading role in more than doubling the size of this spectacular destination. 

Building on the successful restoration of the park’s Hamilton Point and Castle Point carriage roads through its Alliance for New York State Parks program, OSI now turns to the ambitions tasks of rebuilding the High Point carriage road and a section of the Smiley carriage road.

The ongoing carriage road restoration work will connect the newly added Sam’s Point Preserve to the main portion of Minnewaska State Park Preserve. 

Once complete, the River-to-Ridge Trail and Minnewaska carriage road restoration projects will add critical pieces a destination trail network stretching the length and width of Ulster County, and connecting far beyond.

The River-to-Ridge Trail will run from New Paltz to the top of the Ridge. View map larger
The River-to-Ridge Trail will run from New Paltz to the top of the Ridge. View map larger

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