Driving west over the Shawangunk Ridge on Route 44/55, the rock formations and forestscapes open up and fall away and you can suddenly see for miles over rolling acres speckled with civilization, straight on to the majestic Catskills standing guard to the north. You’re looking at the Rondout Valley
—come take a closer look. High Tale-in It
That the Rondout Valley’s fertile farmlands, mountain backdrops, and historical wealth remain largely unspoiled is no accident. The courage and savvy of the early farming families led to an inheritance of open spaces that current residents know they can’t take for granted; working together with the Open Space Institute, they’ve made sure that their birthright of beauty will welcome their grandchildren and yours.
Some efforts, like the Three Farms Project, focus on preserving the lush growing land while making sure that farmers can survive while resisting development pressure. Others, like the acquisition of Sam’s Point and the addition of the Frederick W. I. Lundy estate to the Sundown Wild Forest, preserve natural ecosystems and open up stunning natural playgrounds.
Throughout most of the nineteenth century, the Delaware & Hudson Canal shaped local lives, carrying coal from Pennsylvania up to the mouth of the Rondout Creek at the Hudson River. The Five Locks Walk, maintained by the D&H Canal Society in High Falls and open to visitors year round, is a wonderful place to get a feel for the days when bucolic Accord was bustling Port Jackson and captains of industry depended on Rondout Valley canawlers to make it all work. Local history buffs are tireless, preserving a one-room schoolhouse here and a historic train depot there. Come see. Bring your camera. You’ll be glad you did.
Good Soil Worked by Good People
Jen Redmond relocated to the Rondout Valley in 2003. “I fell in love with everything about it here,” she says. A real estate agent for Prudential Nutshell and purveyor of fine beverages at Stone Ridge Wine and Spirits in between her volunteer service to the Rondout Valley Growers Association (RVGA) and involvement in local animal rescue efforts, Redmond says a drive along the Route 209 corridor is one of her favorite ways to spend a free afternoon. “That corridor is some of the most fertile farmland in the country, and local farmers do magic with it,” she says. “I like to wander the different farms—Barthel’s has about six different kinds of local cider, Kelder’s has that giant garden gnome, Davenport’s has amazing baked goods. These are old farming families, and they know all kinds of local lore and stories.” All through the valley, you’ll find herbalists and equestrians, maple syrup gatherers and free-range meats, fresh baked goods, and fruit smoothies. The RVGA website offers the latest on what’s available when; meats, grains, herbs, and dairy are available year round. If you plan on looking for a holiday tree, the Rondout Valley offers five options: Barthel’s Farm Market, Bell’s Christmas Trees, Kelder’s Farm, Marshall’s Tree Farm, and Stover’s Christmas Tree Farm. “Farm stands offer all kinds of gift basket possibilities, and when you buy there you’re helping to ensure that the amazing gift of open space and fresh food remain available to all of us,” Redmond points out.
At the southern end of the valley is Ellenville, quirky and indomitable. Ever wonder where they make pogo sticks? Ellenville. It’s the premiere hang gliding center in the northeastern United States and home to the Shadowland Theatre, producing top-quality plays in a refurbished vaudeville hall. Up the mountain, you’ll find Sam’s Point Preserve; at over 2,200 feet, it’s the highest spot in the Shawangunk range and home to a surrealistic micro-ecosystem of dwarf pines. Down in the valley below, Aroma Thyme Bistro serves Zagat-rated and much-loved organic eats. Stop at Cohen’s Bakery for a loaf of the outstanding raisin pumpernickel they’ve been perfecting for nearly a century.
Heading north, you’ll find yourself in the hamlet of Kerhonkson among more quirky treasures: Barra and Trumbore, stone fabricators who can create just about anything, and Helena’s Specialty Pierogies, considered addictive by those in the know. Stop at the Outpost Barbecue for succulent pulled pork or brisket, or venture a little way up the mountainside for “contemporary country” fare at Oscar.
This part of the countryside was once the northeastern-most corner of the Borscht Belt, and the Granit Hotel of Accord its glittering outpost. There’s not a lot of Borsch Belt left, but the Granit is reborn as the Hudson Valley Resort and Spa, where you can go grab a workout, a swim, and a Jacuzzi-soak for a reasonable price. Accord is home to Skate Time 209, a roller rink and indoor skateboard park that radiates exuberance: Teens love the Battles of the Bands, little ones and parents love the birthday parties, and everybody loves the way the owners, the Bernardos, treat them like guests in a giant living room that just happens to have very eccentric furnishings.
There are lots of artistic and green-thinking residents shaken and stirred into the mix, but the Rondout Valley hasn’t become gentrified into homogenization. Organic CSAs and artists’ studios flourish amidst old-school gin mills and Friday night dirt track racing at the Accord Speedway. It’s real here, and aiming to stay that way. “Passionate, eclectic, creative, kind, artistic, community-minded souls choose to make Rondout Valley their home,” says longtime transplant Pamela Longley, an artist and paralegal. “Some have long-standing roots, others take root—and the combination creates a diverse patchwork of genuine folks who deeply love and appreciate where we live. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with your neighbors.” Accord-Kerhonkson.com, the unofficial guide to the hamlets, lists contact info for three dozen area artists, a dandy resource if you’d like to combine online browsing, local shopping, and unique gifts: Barbara Klar’s sparkling Clear Metals jewelry, hand-forged iron from Jonathan Nedbor’s smithy, exquisite ceramics, oils, and photographs that capture the Rondout Valley’s mind-stroking beauties.
Off 209, up in the hills of Krumville, the Country Inn has been serving a vast variety of brews for decades; Draft magazine has called them one of the best hundred beer bars in America, but hey, they knew that. They’ve got free live music on Friday nights, and a outdoor fire pit to gather ‘round when the band’s on break.
Another unique Rondout Valley enterprise, the Catskill Native Nursery, is an 1860s homestead turned font of great gardening ideas. They’ve got over 600 species of plants: So many great things grow here, after all, some of which become medicinal magic at the Accord Acupuncture and Herb Shoppe.
Great Things Grow Here
The hamlet of High Falls is a laid-back community where artistry thrives. There’s the Egg’s Nest, famous for addictive burgers and quesadillas and quirky décor, and the High Falls Café— more great food and some of the jamminist live performances around. At The Last Bite, you’ll find soups, sandwiches, and flights of fancy with a Goth twist.
High Falls has unique shops: Lounge, whose furniture selection has been elevated to a fine art aimed at a custom fit, and Linger, an apothecary of fragrant bath and body products and soothing gifts. Nectar, a mix of Fair Trade imports from around the world and right around the corner, reflects owner Jenny Wonderling’s philosophy: “Behind each object, there should be a story or a visceral memory, and not merely a purchase.” Across the street from Nectar, the High Falls Food Cooperative meets the sustainable eating needs of nearly 500 members and the local public. “It feels good just to walk in the door,” says an online reviewer. The versatile folk at the Northern Spy Café take equal pride in their duck comfit, their “free-range” tofu wings, and their hospitality. “What I love is, there could be five people at the bar from all over, who’ve never met,” says Redmond, who also happens to be a Northern Spy mixologist extraordinaire, “and by the end of the evening everyone’s in the conversation, we’re solving all kinds of problems.”
Chance conversations among friends lead to art exhibits, inventive good works, epic poems and new recipes. Over cold microbrews at HopHeads, Jane Simos’s cozy WiFi café where you can also enjoy espresso and French pastry, local lads Jeff Martino and Brian Clogg discovered a shared passion for handcrafting artisanal beverage and created an original organic wine from local berries, cinnamon, and mint; eventually, they hope to market it and their Shawangunk Mountain Mead.
In the next hamlet north, Stone Ridge. Marbletown Multi Arts (MaMa) hosts the Nowist Society, outstanding live performances, and life-changing lessons. Stone Ridge doesn’t have just any old hardware store or computer shop; it has a Rock-n-Roll Hardware Store and Alan’s Affordable Computers, where the owner’s on a long-term mission to make sure that needy folk don’t get technologically left behind. Jack and Luna’s Café, a Hudson Valley magazine “Best Of” winner for coffee and soup, hosts top-shelf live jazz. Stone Ridge has no shortage of good eats: The Momiji Sushi Bar, Ming Moon Chinese, Bodacious Bagels, and Benny’s Pizzeria are all local favorites.
Many of the wonders of the Rondout Valley aren’t on any map or for sale for any price. The area is laced with waterfalls and caves, tiny historic cemeteries, secret swimming holes, and afterhours jam sessions. Becoming familiar with local café society may lead to an introduction to these mysteries, but be warned: They won’t be judging you on style, but by the smile in your eyes.
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