Now that the weather is starting to heat up, Ulster County residents are starting to feel that familiar itch springtime brings; the urge to wander through the multitudes of forest preserves. If your pleasure is hiking, biking, climbing, fishing, boating, swimming, riding, or even just good old-fashioned picnicking, there’s no better time to start. The parks are not very crowded in the spring (honestly, they're never over-run, but this time of year you can pretty much bank on solitude) and you can catch everything as it sprouts.
Many hikes and recreational areas in the Hudson Valley, Catskills and Rondout Valley have public parking and free admission. But, if you've exhausted those possibilities or just want full, no-holds barred access to nature you might want to pick up memberships to preserves that charge for access. Savvy hikers know that joining a local preserve as a member is the best way to save on recurring entry and parking fees. Plus, you can feel good knowing that the proceeds from memberships contribute to field research, land maintenance, the formation and continuation of great programs and activities, and general stewardship of the wonderful natural wonders found in our area. Getting your passes at the beginning of the season ensures that you don't go once, then decide to get a pass (oops! you wasted money), and it will probably motivate you to get out there more often.
Mohonk Preserve members can enjoy park admission and additional benefits like free programs and activities, extra day passes for friends, discounts at gift shops and local businesses. The New York State Empire Passport affords you free parking to hundreds of parks, in addition to loads of other great state amenities: golf courses, swimming pools, historic landmarks, marinas, campgrounds, beaches, you name it! They have memberships to fit every budget and discounts for seniors, military personnel and children.
The Empire Passport
The NY Empire Passport is a fantastic deal! For $65 you get a sticker that goes on your car which gets you free day-use of any NY State park and vehicle admission to many of them (so, free parking). You can also get a forever pass for $750. If you buy the forever pass you get a snazzy license plate that lets everyone know you are a huge supporter of NY's State Parks. The Empire State Passport gets you into these parks in our area: Minnewaska State Park, North/South Lake, Mine Kill State Park, Walkway Over The Hudson, Ogden Mills State Park. Just a note, if you are planning on fishing or hunting in a State Park you will still need to obtain the proper licenses.
Belleyare Lake Pass
Before you say to yourself, "yuck, lake swimming", let me explain. The lake at Belleayre Mountain is man-made, it's aerated so it's clean all season, and the bottom is not mushy and it sits in a little valley so the view is beautiful. If you have kids there's a playground and there are usually plenty of kids around to play with. A season's pass is $65 for your car. Load it up with as many people as is safe. There's a snack bar and sometimes there are even crafts workshops for kids.
Olana State Historic Site
If you are more of a saunterer than a hiker and you want to take in some breath-taking views on a regular basis you might want to purchase a membership to Olana. Hudson Valley School painter Frederick Church built a unique home that mixes elements of victorian architecture with middle-eastern style. If you've never been you should put a visit on your calendar, it's beautiful and fascinating. He surrounded the home with landscaping designed to frame the views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains in a way only a painter could invision. Strolling the grounds is a relaxing way to spend many an afternoon.
If you're not ready to commit to a membership yet, here are a few of my favorite free places to hike.
Rotary Point at Kingston Point: http://kingston-ny.gov/content/8401/10588/10622/default.aspx
Overlook Mountain and Fire Tower: http://hikethehudsonvalley.com/overlook-mountain/
Walkway Over The Hudson: http://www.walkway.org/
Sleightsburgh Park: http://www.scenichudson.org/parks/sleightsburgh