By Tod Westlake
America is still a car-loving country. And since we spend so much time in our cars, it only goes to follow that we should have something pretty to look at. The New York State Scenic Byways Program is designed to do just that. With dozens of different highways and roads from which to choose, this program offers drivers a number of delightful excursions.
But there hasn't been a scenic route within the Hudson Valley and the adjacent Shawangunk Ridge until very recently. Thanks to Al Wegener, and the Shawangunk Mountains Regional Partnership, this has changed. After much effort, the partnership finally convinced the state that this region was worthy of its own special designation.
Map provided by the Shawangunk Mountain Scenic Byway
Hence, the Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway was born. This 88-mile route, which begins in the hamlet of Bullville in the south and connects up with two different scenic loops as you head north, frames the northern portion of the Shawangunk Ridge.
"I've been working on this for nine years," Wegener says in regard to the project.
The southern loop of the byway follows Route 52 from the Village of Ellenville in the west, to the Hamlet of Wallkill in the east. Along the way it passes through Walker Valley and Pine Bush, before turning north on Route 208. The loop continues west again when you get to Routes 44/55, though some may choose to continue north to the Village of New Paltz before heading west on Route 299. Either route eventually takes you across the Shawangunk Ridge on Routes 44/55, one of the most scenic drives in the area. This road also takes you past several entrances to Minnewaska State Park Preserve, as well as the Mohonk Preserve.
After crossing the ridge you will encounter Route 209, giving you the option of heading south (back to Ellenville), or north toward the picturesque hamlet of Stone Ridge. If you head north, you won't want to miss another delightful hamlet, High Falls, home of the famed Depuy Canal House Restaurant, as well as many other fine eating establishments. Simply turn right when you get to Route 213; or, better yet, take Lucas Turnpike, another scenic road that takes you through a less-traveled section of the Rondout Valley.
The Town of Rosendale is the northernmost point on the byway. Rosendale also has a number of fine restaurants, as well as a many interesting shops and boutiques that are worth exploring. Take County Route 7 south after you leave Rosendale (rather than the heavily-traveled Route 32), and you will eventually find yourself back in the Village of New Paltz, with all of its convenient shops and restaurants, as well as an entrance to the New York State Thruway.
In fact, if you're so inclined, you can stay on County Route 7 and eventually you will find yourself back on Route 52 in the south. This drive will take you along the eastern side of the Shawangunk Ridge, and offers some dramatic scenery. Passing through pastureland, and a number of different horse farms, County Route 7 allows motorists to witness and enjoy the mass of white cliffs that define the lee-side of the ridge.
The Shawangunk Mountains Regional Partnership has recently put together a detailed website that offers visitors a chance to familiarize themselves with the route the byway follows.
"We're very proud of the web site," Wegener says.
The website, which can be accessed at www.mtnscenicbyway.org, also has detailed maps of the various hamlets and villages along the byway, as well as information on hiking and biking in the area.
Wegener also stresses the fact that the website — and the byway — aren't just for visitors.
"People who live here should check it out. I think they'll gain an even greater appreciation for their town, the towns around them, the towns on the 'other side' of the mountains, and for the entire Shawangunk Mountains Region," he says.
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