Tag Archives: new york

Rip Van Winkle Never Imagined Living So Well!

16 Jan

Emerson Resort and Spa. (Photo courtesy of the Emerson.)

The Catskill Mountain gnomes who Rip Van Winkle encountered were fond of bowling and magical brews. These days they’re hanging out in hot tubs and getting massages after dining in style…of course, still while imbibing magical Catskill brews.

Winter’s the perfect time in the Catskills to indulge yourself in both active and therapeutic recreation. You’ll find luxurious Catskills escapes come in many guises. I was fortunate to spend nights at the serene Emerson Resort and Spa and the funky-chic Roxbury Motel. Each is family friendly yet also a sophisticated anomaly in this charming old Dutch colonial haven.

The burbling Esopus River and East Branch Delaware River and rounded mountains are extraordinarily calming. The entire Ulster and Delaware county region is laced with streams and rail beds, many of which carry antique trains or have been converted to trails. These flows continue the formation of the Catskills, which aren’t mountains in the usual sense but rather are remnants of a carved plateau. That’s why so many of these green mounds have nearly uniform height.

Esopus River running past the Emerson. (Photo courtesy of the Emerson.)

The beautiful view from the bed of our duplex suite, as it appeared in Autumn. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

At its core, the Emerson is an ayurvedic retreat. “I thought I’d have to travel back to India to find a space like that,” said my travel companion, who hails from that nation.

Behind the imported, ancient Indian hand-carved gate at New York’s first Mobil Four-Star Spa you’ll discover ten treatment rooms adorned with antique fixtures and sculptures of deities and a striking raw stone sculpture centerpiece. Guests can stroll between these private sessions and steam showers, saunas, a fitness room, relaxation lounge, and outdoor hot tub. To take healthy wisdom home with you, there are Yoga classes too.

The Country Store with a silo converted into the world's largest kaleidoscope. (Photo courtesy of the Emerson.)

When you’re ready for more fanciful fare, dizzy yourself with the world’s largest kaleidoscope at the Country Store just yards away. But steady yourself on your feet for serious shopping — the Country Store is stocked with distinctive jewelry, gourmet delights, glassware, antiques, women’s apparel, furnishings, accessories, and more.

The Emerson's road sign, complete with glowing eyes. (Photo Courtesy of the Emerson.)

Ol' Red Eyes at the Catamount. (Photo by Erik Baard)

At the Emerson’s restaurants it’s as pleasurable to fill your belly as it is to fill your luggage and spirit. The glowing red mountain lion eyes of the Catamount’s imposing sign announce “carnivores welcome.” But vegetarians and vegans will find very satifying choices. I had the pleasure of feasting on a tofu and veggie stir fry while I enjoyed the company of Lisa Berger of Ulster County Tourism, who had sauteed Atlantic salmon.

Catamount stir fry. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

Catamount trout. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

Over at the Roxbury Motel, in Delaware County, each room is a unique and elegant work of art, reflecting a broad palate of periods and influences. If you’re a more playful sort, a sleepover can transport you to an ancient cave, the helm of a starship, or into a coconut cream pie one can imagine was whipped up by Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island.”

The Roxbury cheerfully greets the night. (Photo Courtesy of the Roxbury Motel.)

Mary Ann's coconut cream pie. (Photo Courtesy of the Roxbury Motel.)

A starship for the night. Uhura not included. (Photo Courtesy of the Roxbury Motel.)

The Noir Boudoir. (Photo Courtesy of the Roxbury Motel.)

Bride of Amadeus suite. (Photo Courtesy of the Roxbury Motel.)

The decor reflects the engaging and fun personalities of its delightful owners, Gregory Henderson and Joseph Massa. The two met through New York City’s theater life and so it’s no surprise that they brought stagecraft to create shared dreams into which they personally welcome each guest.

But this dynamic duo is in touch with the rooted tranquility all around them too. This past weekend they were moved to post this little video of the East Branch Delaware River running past the Roxbury Motel:

 

 

Just contemplate that snowy stream for now, until you too can head up for a spa retreat in the Catskills!

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Kids in New York Apple Country!

20 Oct

Despite regional flood damage from Hurricane Irene, New York apple country is thriving and our charming villages are greatly recovered. 

I was thrilled to take 20 kids from Hour Children apple picking at Wilklow Orchards, in an historic area of the Hudson Valley under two hours north of New York City. Thanks to a sponsorship from super-chic Z Hotel in NYC and the orchard’s discount, the kids enjoyed a hay ride, hay jump, a greenhouse filled with crafts and inflated bouncy play rooms, farm fresh snacks and carried home bags of apples that they picked themselves! Wilklow is not only kid friendly, but welcomes leashed dogs too!

The time is still right to pick apples in New York State, our nation’s second largest grower of this more beloved fruit. Click here to learn where to come pick your own apples!  And every orchard is surrounded by other delightful attractions.

You can skip the crowds by visiting a farm on a weekday. Wilklow Orchards, for example, is open for picking from Labor day weekend to Halloween, October 31st, 9-5 daily. You’ll find a great assortment of apples, including Macintosh, Gala, Cortland, Jonamac, Empire, Jonagold, Mutsu, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Rome. I saved room in my bag for  gourmet Winesap! For an authentic taste of New York heritage, seek out the Northern Spy. Chefs love this crisp and tasty apple with an uber-cool name and you will too. It originated in New York more than two hundred years ago.

Many orchards will supply you with a pre-priced bag to fill with apples and a “picker pole” to reach high branches, but most trees are grafted to dwarf rootstock. Alexander the Great, who was a wee bit on the short side, is credited with introducing this innovation to Europe from Turkey and Central Asia.

Apples love slopes because water drains well of them. I’ve been planting apple trees on berms in New York City through the Newtown Pippin Restoration and Celebration. Though in Highland, NY, Wilklow Orchards gave me a little hint of what it might be like to visit the ancestral apple forest, which still grows in the lower Tian Shan (“cellestial” or “heavenly”) mountain range of Kazakhstan. At Wilklow Orchards, two apple rich slopes meet in a quiet and clear valley stream.

Running down into the fruitful valley of Wilklow Orchards. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Winesaps and other apple trees hugged the clear valley stream bisecting Wilklow Orchards. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Jonagold, which has deep New York ancestry, and Golden Delicious were hits with the kids. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Even very young trees were in full fruit. (Photo by Erik Baard)

One of the funnier moments in our day was when I deduced the source of the kids’ shared wave of concern that the orchard might be full of snakes. It turns out they associated snakes with fruit trees from the story of the Garden of Eden. Imagine that each of of the hundreds of fruit trees before them might be home to its own snake and you’ll understand the dark anxiety that manifested itself on a bright day. A few minutes of explanation and the kids were raring to get back to apple picking!  🙂

Fresh from the tree! Hour Children kids learned about real food and ecology. (Photo by Erik Baard)

The start of a balanced diet. (Photo by Erik Baard)

The kids made a pact to bring snacks and apples for others in their families and at Hour Children to share, and to each contribute an apple for making apple sauce. Their yield was a bit dented, however, when they met some very friendly, curious and hungry goats! If goats are anything like sheep, however, at least the kids will be fondly remembered.

Some apples never made it past the goats. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Next the kids burned off some apple energy by romping in the activity greenhouse, which features carnival “bounce rooms” and in the hay jump. The hay jump’s surrounded by pumpkins, inspiring a yearning to see pumpkin patches! The farm’s hay ride furthered their explorations.

The hay jump! A frame, a mattress and hay = FUN. (Photo by Erik Baard)

Hay ride to the pumpkin patch! (Photo by Erik Baard)


Autumnal beauty: a pumpkin patch snug in the Catskill Mountains. (Photo by Erik Baard)

I’m grateful to the Green Heart NY program of I LOVE NEW YORK , the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the New York Apple Association for such a doubly special day — I got to share wonderful places with kids who need these experiences  while promoting local farms to boot.

There's so much more to see in the Catskills, but there's a good chance you'll wear your kid out. 🙂 (Photo by Erik Baard)

See your Way to the Seaway and Harborfest!

21 Sep

The heart of North America is linked to the wild north Atlantic by the Great Lakes, canals and the St. Lawrence Seaway, nearly all accessible from the Thousand Islands-Seaway, Finger Lakes, Greater Niagara and Chautauqua-Allegheny regions of New York. A 518-mile Seaway Trail takes hikers, bikers and motorists alongside it from Lake Erie and out past the Thousand Islands. Dotting the way are historic homes, forts and battle fields, the incomparable Niagara Falls, quaint villages, universities and cultural centers, museums, wilderness refuges and a seemingly endless choice of ice creams!

Indeed, a very worthy endeavor for dairy lovers who want to earn their treats as they go would be an ice cream bike tour across northern New York! Naturally, you’ll want to include a regional specialty, frozen custard. Vegans can munch their way across the trail as well, especially during the height of autumn harvest season (see events calendar). Just plan to sleep in and not drive or ride if you opt for the wine tastings!

My introduction to the Seaway was a rollicking citywide party,  Oswego Harborfest! Bare Naked Ladies headlined the rock stage, while countless other musicians sharing other genres filled the air around every corner. Crafts and foods kept festive visitors, students and families out strolling and discovering deep into the night. The fest is free for all and lasts four days.

The 2012 Oswego Harborfest will be the 25th (of July), so expect an even bigger celebration. That also happens to be the War of 1812 bicentennial, so keep an eye out for special programs and the occasional redcoat.

A hub of this unique touring area is the Seaway Trail Discovery Center in far mellower nearby Sackets Harbor. I stopped in with my travel buddy, Ed Hancox to learn more about the region from Seaway Trail, Inc. President and CEO Theresa Mitchell.

The Seaway Trail Discovery Center is focused yet eclectic, teaching visitors about this region’s central role in the War of 1812 (more about that in a future post), it’s industrial heyday and continuing agricultural vitality. Kids will love two animatronic figures that neatly capture the Center’s range: Ulysses Grant and a talking cow.

Seaway Trail Discovery Center. (Photo by Erik Baard)

The Seaway region offers ice cream at nearly every turn. Erik loves the cows, live or animatronic. (Photo by Ed Hancox)

The area's agricultural heritage is everywhere, on farms both bustling and sleepy. (Photo by Erik Baard)

After the fun kid stuff, we took a more sophisticated turn by dining with Theresa at Tin Pan Galley. This elegant and intimate, tree-shaded and ivy-covered restaurant features live music, often played by its multi-instrumentalist owner.

Tin Pan Galley's greenery, music and arts fused.

Another informal highlight of the Seaway Trail is the antiquing and flea market bargain hunting one can do along the way. Old industrial row houses and farms yield everyday items from another era — medicine and milk bottles, postcards, glasses, tins and kitchenware and other curios.

A turtle shell estimated to be 200 years old at a roadside flea market near Sandy Creek, NY. (Photo by Erik Baard)

The Waters of Eden: Lakeview Wildlife Management Area

11 Aug

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the 1000 Islands-Seaway region of upstate New York.  Housed within this special region is a unique ecosystem full of hidden treasures, water adventures, and extraordinary wildlife.

Collectively, the Great Lakes boast the largest freshwater coastal dunes on Earth, and the lion’s share of New York’s barrier beach system lies within the Lakeview Wildlife Management Area. The dunes shelter a special ecosystem but are fragile themselves.

This rare habitat off Lake Ontario is stewarded by the Department of Environmental Conservation. It’s home to a fantastic diversity of species. Trout, bass, salmon, pike and perch fill its creeks, ponds and streams. The air is alive with bitterns, terns, harriers, swallows and other birds. Woody areas and brush conceal foxes, rabbits and coyotes, while deer and turkeys hug the edges. More adventurous explorers will find mink, muskrat and beaver.

Paddling out to Lake Ontario on South Sandy Creek. (Photo by Ed Hancox.)

The DEC advises that it’s best to see the preserve by paddling, so a small group of us launched from a soft edge along the inner reaches of South Sandy Creek. There was a small rock ledge to keep one’s butt out of mud. Just as I was getting into an excellent kayak kindly provided by Cornell’s Pedal & Paddle, a butterfly (perhaps a kind of metalmark) alighted on the stone’s edge. The good omen was worth a minute or two wait until our friend was off again on a nectar quest.

Butterfly at the launch rock of South Sandy Creek. A good omen. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

Our group was led by the Oswego County Kayaking Club through Janet Clerkin, Oswego County Tourism and Public Information Coordinator. Janet’s husband, Kevin, joined us and the club was represented by Dick and Naneen Drosse. My travel buddy, Ed Hancox, is a fresh river guy from New Jersey and was delighted by the clarity and peacefulness of the Sandy Creek. As founder of the Long Island City Community Boathouse on NYC’s salty and turbulent East River, I relished the contrast between the two locales.

Our guides paddle in the shade of the dense foliage along South Sandy Creek. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

The tranquility of South Sandy Creek allows a paddler to reach what’s called “mindfulness” in Eastern traditions. There are moments when the smallest detail catches your eye, while you also sense a transcendent connection to the world through water.  Here I was, starting the day psyched to see the largest lake in my 43 years and discovering that among the most memorable sights were tiny things — a purple milkweed seedling blossoming from a huge dead tree and countless northern bluet damselflies that looked like Navajo jewelry.

Damselflies are smaller and more delicate than their dragonfly cousins and can fold their wings in. Like dragonflies, damselflies can operate their two sets of wings separately, but are not nearly as strong fliers. They flit near the water surface and rest frequently. I spotted a yellow leaf and waited there for a landing, knowing it would the best color contrast for my photo subject.

A single milkweed flower growing from a massive tree that fell into South Sandy Creek. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

Purple milkweed just where it likes to be, between a small wood and a stream. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

The air just above the creek glinted with bluet damselflies, which frequently came to rest on vegetation. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

South Sandy Creek is banked by dense zones of cattails,  a native that’s nonetheless crowding out other important species, explained Gerry Smith, president of the North Country Bird Club. Human control of water levels for shipping and hydroelectricity disrupts natural fire cycles. Other species are no longer able to seed into burnt clearings, according to Smith and a number of regional ecologists. Since the hydro projects were completed 50 years ago, Smith said, cattail-eating muskrats are less populous, exacerbating the problem.

One of the greatest concerns Smith and the DEC hold regarding this habitat change is that overgrown cattails eliminate sedge meadows, which are black tern nesting areas. Black tern numbers have plummeted in recent decades.

Rising over the cat grass in the photo below is a kind of hogweed called cow parsnip, which looks like tall Queen Anne’s lace. Despite the usefulness American Indians found in properly handled cow parsnip, one might almost wish that the cattails crowded it out. As our guides cautioned, touching this plant can severely injure skin (some people can be blinded by hogweed). Cow parsnip is the only indigenous North American hogweed, endangered in some regions while considered a nuisance in others. It contains a phototoxin, a poison activated by ultraviolent light and water — not perfect for a sunny paddling day. The DEC has issued warnings and seeks to eliminate invasive Central Asian hogweed, especially in areas where people are likely to come into contact with it.

Cats, cows and hogs along South Sandy Creek. That is, cattails and cow parsnip, a kind of hogweed. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

One friendly family did well to avoid hogweed and sun alike, in style.

A mellow family outing on South Sandy Creek. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

It was oddly intriguing to be bounded by thickets of blistering hogweed, as if we were herded, corralled. Surely the creek wasn’t that eager for us to stay on the true path to a lake, as magnificent as it might be. What else? It was then that Clerkin, who doesn’t engage in much idle chatter, said, “Some believe that this place was ‘Eden’ for an Iroquois nation.”

When moments later we glided into an expanse of white lilies on Floodwood Pond, I could share that vision of Eden.

White lilies and purple loosetrife in Floodwood Pond. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

Yellow lily in Floodwood Pond. (Photo by Ed Hancox.)

The resemblance of the waterlily and lotus is superficial compared to their genetic distinction, but both inspire spiritual reflection. I can’t revere one without feeling resonance from the other.

Returning to this place, I will be reminded of the lotus, believed in ancient India to be the first creation and a divine womb. According to the vanished Iroquois nation of Attawandaron, Ji-gon-sa-seh (the Mother of Nations) was created between Sandy Creek and South Sandy Creek. The Attawandaron (“Neutral Nation” to the French and “Strange-speaking People” to the Hurons) were last recorded as a living people in 1671. Other Iroquois carried their oral traditions forward.

But we’re long out of Eden. That beautiful spray of purple loosestrife behind the white waterlily above is a threat to the Lakeview Wildlife Management Area. Each one of these Eurasian invasive plants can produce a million hardy seeds. Indeed, some ecologists believe purple loosetrife seeds arrived in the ballast water of the very ships for which lake levels are now controlled. “Purple loosestrife degrades wetlands. It’s really something. It’s in the top 20 list of nasty invasive species in the state,” Smith said. Even muskrats avoid purple loostrife areas.

The entire stretch we’ve just shared wouldn’t exist if not for the region’s precious and finite resource — sand. Oceans produce sand constantly, but in the Great Lakes, “What you see is what you get,” explained Smith, left over from glaciers and floods eons ago. The Ontario Dune Coalition strives to preserve the dunes through management and plantings. Two vital plants for stabilizing dunes and kick-starting viable habitat are wormwood and beach grass, seen below.

Beach grass and wordwood (spiking up at center), the first two protective colonizers of dunes. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

“The sand is finite, but that’s not to say it doesn’t move around,” explained Smith. “Some sand will move on shore in the winter and fall during storms and with heavy waves.”

Sand also naturally converges through water movement into the Lakeview Wildlife Management Area and nearby Sandy Island Island Beach State Park, he said. For some species, that sand movement is critical. High water can sometimes collapse part of a dune. One the lee side of a dune, the wind can’t smooth and sculpt, so a sheer bluff remains. Here you’ll find nesting bank swallow nests, pictured below. “Bank swallows burrow in and live there from May through mid-June or July. They collapse in winter and the next year they redo it again,” Smith said.

Bank swallow burrows on the lee side of dunes collapsed by high water. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

Just past the bank swallow summer timeshare there’s a great set of beaches and a swing rope hanging from a tree for horsing around. The water is crystalline.  Only a stripe of zebra mussel shells on the beach indicates that this pleasure has nefarious origins. We relaxed and swam in and out of the gateway between Lake Ontario and the inland ecosystem, marked by a small hook of sand.

Our gateway, the creek system mouth. (Photo by Ed Hancox.)

Successfully rehabilitated Lake Ontario dunes on Sandy Island Beach State Park. (Photo by Ed Hancox.)

Sandbars form in the calmer wave conditions of summer. For a paddler, this adds to the enjoyment of Lake Ontario. A calm channel carved by the creek outlet leads out into the lake, flanked by waves breaking over sandbars. One can opt to play at the deeper edges of the sandbars, or stay on the “blue carpet.”

Ed is thrilled to reach sight of the white crests of Lake Ontario sand bar waves. (Photo by Erik Baard.)

From here, the Great Lakes Seaway, St. Lawrence River and a water world to explore! But your romance or family time might benefit from the quietude of a few hours enjoying and honoring a forgotten Eden.

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HOW TO GET THERE: Amtrak to Syracuse and rental car to the coast or flight to Watertown International Airport. GREEN HEART NEW YORK, NY ECO-TOURISM INFORMATION

Thanks for Sharing the 2011 Green New York Adventure!

3 Aug

Greetings from the St. Lawrence River as seen from Boldt Yacht House on Wellesley Island. (Photo by Gary DeYoung, 1000 Islands International Tourism Council.)

I’m honored to serve my fellow New Yorkers and visitors this year by promoting our natural, outdoor recreational and agricultural riches. For many outside the state, “New York” might be synonymous with big city bustle. I LOVE NEW YORK is proud of the premier city our state offers the world, and there’s so much more to share from our harbors to highlands! The Green Heart NY travel guide is a great way to start, and I hope to augment that wonderful program.

Through this blog we’ll thrust ourselves into adventures, descending together into the deep canyon of Letchworth State Park, biking the Catskill Scenic Trail, whitewater rafting on the Black River, kayaking on Lake Ontario and its tributaries and stand-up paddle boarding on the French Creek. We’ll lace through the Thousand Islands and slip into the Boldt Castle before public hours for a behind-the-scenes tour.

We’ll also delve into history and science (and have lots of fun) with visits to the Seaway Trail Discovery Center, War of 1812 reenactors’ camps, Sandy Island Beach State Park, Fort Ontario, orchards and nurseries, wildlife and agricultural research stations, Niagara Falls State Park, and much more!

We’re very fortunate to have amazing natural resources and farms near a world cultural center. As an urbanite, I hope to learn much from naturalists, historians and rural and small town residents, and to then share those lessons with you. I also hope to promote the positive lessons of life in a dense metropolis, such as the clear advantages of mass transit systems and routines centered on walking and biking.

Upstate and Downstate, we can gain a lot of wisdom and receive a lot of joy from each other!

— Erik Baard, 2011 “Greenest NYer”

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