Rock climbers have flocked to the crags and cliffs of the Shawangunk Ridge near Gardiner, for decades. But since the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, the number of visitors to the Gunks, and the Hudson Valley at large, has exploded.
Deyano Manco, a cyclist and businessman born and bred in New Paltz, has watched the stampede to the region with fascination. “Upstate is the new Hamptons,” Manco says. “It’s not Rip Van Winkle anymore.”
In early May, Manco will open BaseCamp, an “adventure outpost” where visitors can grab supplies, plan a day on the ridge, and hang out afterwards with a glass of local ale, cider or wine. Sitting in the shadow of Millbrook Mountain on Route 44/55, BaseCamp will be a “gathering spot” for guests of all kinds—from serious triathletes to daytrippers passing through for the first time.
"We welcome everyone,” Manco says. “From a local coming in for a cup of coffee who might never have been on the ridge to professional athletes and everyone in between, especially young people who we really want to get involved in the outdoors.”
The concept for BaseCamp, something akin to a ski lodge for other sports, exists elsewhere. Manco took inspiration from his many trips to Vermont. “Resort towns like Stowe, Burlington, and Waterbury have recreation hubs that support visitors to the area,” he says. “Gardiner has become an adventure town, but it doesn’t have the infrastructure to support it. It doesn’t make any sense. So I decided I’m going to bring some sense to it.”
With his thatch of dark hair, neatly trimmed beard, and compact build, Manco looks younger than his 49 years. Hailing from a family of artists and masons (his father and Italian-born grandfather worked on the Tappan Zee Bridge), he studied graphic design in Boston and eventually moved into business management, working for experiential learning company EF. In 2014, he moved permanently to Gardiner, while working his way up to VP of North America for a division of EF before being laid off during the pandemic. That gave him the push to finally start BaseCamp, a place he envisioned years ago, but was, at last, urgently needed.
“It’s amazing how many people were coming here and going on the trails without water or a map,” he says. “We want to support responsible recreation, and help everyone create a great experience on the ridge.”
With help from his Norwegian girlfriend, Kristin Hjeltnes, 44, Manco has turned the seven-and-a-half-acre property into an adult playground of fire pits and custom-designed Adirondack chairs, where guests can kick back after a day outdoors. Inside, Manco has created a rustic and welcoming space filled with warm and natural woods, including a main counter carved from the limb of a 400-year-old sycamore tree.
Manco plans to offer four types of craft beers on tap (including local brands like Sloop and Arrowood) as well as their own special coffee blend, “Gunks Day Break.” Sourced from farms in South America and Africa, the beans will be shipped in every four days and ground and brewed on the premises. Seasonal salads, soups, wraps, pretzels, power bars, sandwiches and smoothies will also be available, along with bottled water, maps, sunscreen, insect repellent, and other provisions.
Manco and Hjeltnes are both athletes deeply connected to the local outdoor scene. Manco founded the Shawangunk Biking Association in 2019 and usually rides about 25 to 30 miles four to five times a week. Hjeltnes, a hairstylist at Suite 124 Salon in New Paltz, is training for the SOS Triathlon in September, and her father, Knut, competed at the Olympics in the shot put and discus events.
Though his hands are already full, Manco has even more plans for BaseCamp. Eventually he hopes to offer a shuttle service to the ridge as well as guided hikes, outdoor clinics for kids and, by 2024, four or five cabins on the property where people can stay overnight.
“The vision for BaseCamp is to be an actual camp, not just a retail store,” Manco explains. “We will be a concierge service, where people can reach out before their trip and craft a full weekend experience. We can work as a tourist support system, creating a kit for guests with all the essentials, figure out their hikes, and even refer them to local restaurants and breweries.”
Manco predicts that the area will see a lot of change over the next five years, and he envisions BaseCamp as part of the infrastructure to support and absorb the shifts. “We are already seeing it and feeling it with the sheer volume of people coming here,” he says. He points to nearby Wildflower Farms, being launched by Auberge Resorts as a luxury getaway later this year, which will only add to the surge.
For now, BaseCamp will be open from 7am to 8 or 9pm Friday through Sunday, 7am to 3pm on weekdays and closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Guests can reserve a fire pit for a price or just turn up, grab a seat, and make new friends.
“I have always been drawn to casual places,” Manco says. “The pandemic has changed human nature. People want to grab a drink, bring their dog. You can’t do that in a restaurant. This isn’t a cafe. It’s a network of outdoorsy people who just want to come here and hang out.”