Ulster County, N.Y. - Small Towns and the Great Outdoors

By Sally Martino, Hartford Courant

New York’s Ulster County calls itself “a four-season playground.” The sports enthusiast can indulge in winter sports such as skiing, snowshoeing and ice-skating, and return in fair weather for horseback riding, golf, boating and swimming. The history buff, the shopper and the spa-goer will find the mid-state area a destination that caters to their interests.

“There are all kinds of recreational offerings,” says Richard J. Remsnyder, Ulster County Tourism director.  “If you like to bike, hike or fish, there are myriad opportunities. But if you just want to hang out or go shopping or antiquing, we have some exceptional towns such as New Paltz, Woodstock and Kingston. There are a lot of things to see and do.”

The outdoors fan can indulge in intense sports such as rock climbing, hang gliding and skydiving. Travelers who believe that relaxation is the key to a successful getaway can find far less strenuous activities and pampering accommodations. “One thing [the county] is known for is a slower pace of life and beautiful surroundings,” Remsnyder says. “Our hospitality is outstanding, and our properties and accommodations are used to making guests feel comfortable.”

Tourism and agriculture are two important industries in Ulster County, giving rise to a variety of agri-tourism destinations such as farm-to-table restaurants, farmers’ markets, pick-your-own and farm tours.

Some of the small towns in Ulster County have become popular with out-of-towners, Remsnyder says. One example is Phoenicia, a tiny hamlet of about 300 residents that sits at the gateway to the Catskill Forest Preserve. The town is near Hunter and Belleayre mountain ski areas and has become known for the Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice, which takes place in August. “It’s been called one of ‘the coolest towns’ in New York by a few publications,” Remsnyder says.

The kitschy Phoenicia Diner draws movie stars, musicians and “common” folk alike, while The Graham and Co., a rustic boutique hotel of only 20 rooms, “has really caught on,” he says. The hotel sits at the foot of Hunter Mountain and is within walking distance of Phoenicia’s Main Street. A swimming pool, hammocks for lounging and bicycles for exploring are among the amenities The Graham offers its guests.

A new addition to the food and shopping scene returns this year after a successful launch in 2016. “Smorgasburg” comes on May 20 to the Hutton Brickyards complex on the Hudson River in Kingston. Patterned after the huge flea market of the same name in Brooklyn, the upstate version welcomes food purveyors, chefs and craft brewers. The New York Times called the original Brooklyn Smorgasburg, “The Woodstock of Eating," and Smorgasburg upstate lives up to the moniker.

The bazaar also includes a flea market of vintage clothing, children’s toys, ceramics, jewelry and more. Family-friendly music and children’s activities keep the kids happy while their parents shop.

“The brickyard was abandoned, but [the developers] have done a great job of refurbishing it,” Remsnyder says. “It’s right on the waterfront, and there is lots of space for vendors.”  The market is open the third weekend of the month through October.

The brickyards also will be the site of a Bob Dylan concert on June 24. “Dylan was a Woodstock resident for a long time, but it’s the first time he’s performed in Kingston,” Remsnyder says. The concert venue will be more intimate than the mega-arenas that have become the norm. Seating will be limited to about 3,500 guests, he says.

The county has always drawn hikers, cyclists and strollers to its trail system. Fifty miles of rail trails, which should be completed in a few years, will connect the Walkway Over the Hudson to the village of New Paltz, north to the city of Kingston and beyond to the Ashokan Reservoir and the town of Phoenicia.

In the meantime, a new addition to the rail system will open this summer, courtesy of a company called Rail Explorers. The company has developed non-motorized “bikes” that ride the rails. Available in either two- or four-seat versions, these rail explorers require pedal power to propel them along the rail tracks but they are easy for riders of any age to maneuver. “What they are doing is pedaling along the existing rails from the Catskill Mountain Railroad,” Remsnyder says. “It’s a beautiful scenic ride that takes about 90 minutes.”

A new event sponsored by the Hudson River Maritime Museum takes advantage of Kingston’s access to the river. A boat-building challenge will pit construction teams against one another. The teams will have four hours to build a 12-foot rowing skiff and then compete against each other in a rowing contest. “This is something new that will draw a lot of people [to the event],” Remsnyder says. The competition will be part of the Hudson River Day events on June 24.

Read the story at the Hartford Courant at www.courant.com.