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Mid-Hudson’s attractions and beauty bringing in more visitors
Bright note in economy: Local tourism on the rise
By James Walsh
Published: 2:00 AM – 09/10/12
Summer tourism appeared on the upswing throughout much of the mid-Hudson region, as fairs, farmers markets and assorted outdoor activities drew crowds of out-of-towners.
While most figures highlighting tourist spending — tourism is a $1 billion industry in the mid-Hudson and Catskills, and a $50 billion one statewide — won’t be tabulated until next year, some numbers indicate more 2012 visitors compared to last year.
Visits to 18 New York state parks and historic sites in the region rose 12 percent in the first eight months of the year compared to the same period in 2011. That’s more than 2.9 million people, up from 2.6 million.
Local tourism officials and some business owners suspect they’ll also see higher numbers from a year ago.
“The summer was very strong for us,” said Michael Johndrow, executive director of the Warwick Valley Chamber of Commerce, citing farmers markets and promotions sponsored by merchants.
Susan Hawvermale, Orange County’s tourism director, has seen demand for her agency’s travel guide exceeding last year’s, as well as increased visits to its website.
The Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen has more or less matched last year’s number of visitors, operations manager John Mayo said. Two-thirds of this year’s 9,382 visitors came from beyond Orange County.
The Hambletonian event at the Meadowlands draws visitors, including Europeans and Australians, to the museum in late July and early August. “They’ll come here in the morning,” Mayo said, “then go to Monticello for afternoon racing.”
Walking over the river
Ulster County hosted more than 43,000 visitors to the Woodstock-New Paltz Crafts Fair, which county Tourism Director Rick Remsnyder said was one of its best showings.
“We draw a lot of visitors from Connecticut and New Jersey, and of course from the city,” Remsnyder said of the overall tourist trade.
The Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park may be Ulster’s premier tourism success story. The former railroad bridge-turned-promenade has drawn more than 1.5 million visitors in three years. The first eight months of this year saw 311,186 people make the 2.5 mile round-trip stroll, up 11 percent from 280,446 in the same period a year ago.
Businesses on both the Highland and Poughkeepsie sides of the bridge likely benefit from the park, said Elizabeth Waldstein-Hart, executive director of the not-for-profit group that created the walkway.
Fishing, but no Phish
Roscoe Chamber of Commerce President Elaine Fettig saw business improving. Long known as “Trout Town USA,” Roscoe won the title of the “Ultimate Fishing Town — USA” last year in a competition against 300 other angling towns.
The Sullivan County Visitors Association marketed the hamlet and surrounding environs this year with Virgin Atlantic Airways and THG Holidays, a tour operator that distributed brochures in the United Kingdom touting Catskills attractions.
“A lot of the longstanding stores have indicated that they’ve been having one of the best seasons they’ve ever had,” Fettig said.
There are others who’ve found the going tough in an uncertain economy, particularly on weekdays when their trade depends heavily on vacationers, not just day-trippers.
Scott Samuelson, owner of the Bradstan Country Hotel in White Lake, described the summer as “status quo,” with a mix of returning guests and new ones.
“Our weekends were filled, our weekdays were challenging,” said Samuelson, who’s also the Sullivan County Legislature’s chairman. “I would certainly love to see more stuff going on midweek.”
Sullivan County sustained a summer without Phish, the jam band that drew 20,000 fans during last year’s Memorial Day weekend. They spent as much as $9 million, the visitors association estimated.
A Phish-less summer “really hurt,” said Rick Lander, owner of Lander’s River Trips livery. He predicts a 10 percent to 15 percent drop in trade because visitors have been spending less.
“People don’t have the money,” Lander said.
Fun continues as summer fades
In Chester, the Castle Fun Center’s expansion to an event center drew several thousand people to a newly opened outdoor pavilion for barbecues and games of boccie, horseshoes, and volleyball, said owner Brian Leentjes. The business also includes an indoor arcade, comedy club, rides, miniature golf and batting cages.
It regularly attracts visitors from Rockland, Westchester, New Jersey and beyond. About 700 children, for example, were brought there for two summer days by the New York City Housing Authority.
Business people and tourism officials emphasize the first brisk days of autumn don’t slam the door on visitors. Farmers markets and festivals abound, followed by the possibility of skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling throughout the region.
These days, for instance, find Warwick merchants getting ready for the 24th annual Applefest, scheduled this year for Oct. 14. The event routinely draws 30,000 people.
“Summer’s not our big season,” Hawvermale said. “Fall is our biggest time of year. People come for the leaf season, the apple picking, the pumpkin picking. Corn mazes are huge attractions.”
Staff writers Leonard Sparks and Jeremiah Horrigan contributed to this report.