Tag Archives: field experiences hudson valley

Ferncliff Forest

Located in Rhinebeck, NY, Ferncliff Forest is a 200-acre nature preserve that offers the opportunity for a brief walk in the woods culminating in a view of the entire region from atop a fire tower. The preserve offers hiking and camping for all ages, and leashed dogs and horses are allowed on the trails.

View from Ferncliff's fire tower.

View from Ferncliff’s fire tower.


Ferncliff Forest is currently owned by the Rhinebeck Rotary, but prior to that it was owned by members of the Astor family. The Astor family was prominent in business and politics in the 19th and 20th century, and thus became social icons of America’s affluent class during that time. Ferncliff Forest was created by William Backhouse Astor purchasing several small farms in the area in 1853. From that point on, subsequent family members continued to purchase nearby properties to create what would become a 2,800 acre plot by 1940. During this time, the land served as the site of farming colonies and other agricultural purposes. When John Jacob Astor died in the Titanic disaster in 1912, the Ferncliff property as well as all of Astor’s wealth, was inherited by his eighteen year old son Vincent Astor. Upon Vincent’s death in 1959, ownership of the property passed to his wife Brooke Russell Astor. She then donated the 200 acre plot to the Rhinebeck Rotary. The nature preserve as it can be seen today was established by Homer Staley, the forest’s first park ranger, in 1964. The history of the forest is intriguing in itself, but it also benefits visitors. Since the land was donated to the Rhinebeck Rotary, a private organization, the trails have been made open to the public, free of charge.

The Hike

The trail is well-marked and the walk itself is not very strenuous; it is the fire tower that poses the biggest challenge (especially if you are afraid of heights). The tower can hold around 6 people comfortably, and offers a fantastic panoramic view of the Hudson Valley. There is hardly any climbing on the walk, so it can be puzzling to think that it will somehow end in a spectacular panoramic view, but once you see how tall the firetower is, it all makes sense. Climbing the stairs to the top of the tower certainly gets your blood pumping, but it is manageable for people of all ages.


Hello from halfway up the tower!

Fortunately for our class, we took this trip to Ferncliff Forest at the height of the fall foliage period. The walk was full of wonderful views of trees with leaves of different shades of red, orange, and yellow. There are several ponds along the trails, all of which served as excellent reflecting pools of the brightly colored trees behind them. One of the ponds is currently under construction. A sign informed us that the forest has received a grant to turn the current gravel and weeds into a meadow, which would be a welcome change for both visitors and wildlife. As of October 1st, Ferncliff Forest still needs $12,000 in order to finish the project, and anyone can donate to this worthy cause on Ferncliff Forest’s website.


Reflections of fall.

Although 200 acres may seem small for a nature preserve, Ferncliff Forest is teeming with wildlife. While walking on the trails, we spotted several frogs, along with an astonishing amount of salamanders. This close proximity to nature as well as the stunning views and relaxing hike is especially appealing to city folk who crave interaction with nature but may not have had many opportunities to experience it.


A salamander friend!


After the hike, our class spent some time in nearby downtown Rhinebeck. This is highly recommended, as the hike is short enough that it won’t consume most of the day, but long enough that afterwards you will feel that you earned some more relaxing downtime, such as getting a coffee, grabbing a knick knack at the 5 and Dime, and walking around Rhinebeck’s beautiful downtown.

The class relaxes with some coffee at Bread Alone Bakery in Rhinebeck.

The class relaxes with some coffee at Bread Alone Bakery in Rhinebeck.

Click here for more information on visiting Ferncliff Forest!


ENST 291Goes To Woodstock

We met Lori Majewski at Bearsville Theatre. Lori is a freelance writer and has co-written a book with Jonathan Bernstein titled Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s.

Lori is one of the many people who have spent their lives in the New York metropolitan area but have decided to purchase a getaway home in the Hudson Valley. While she loves the hustle and bustle of New York City and all it has to offer for her career and social life, she savors her peaceful weekends in Woodstock, New York. The tranquility, she says, is something that still surprises her. To wake up and not hear police sirens or people shouting is a luxury for city dwellers like Lori who are accustomed to a more hectic lifestyle. “They say your most creative moments are when you first wake up,” Lori tells us. Her ideal morning consists of waking up, enjoying the scenery, and writing. She warned us, “Don’t use your cell phone!” when we first get out of bed.

For Lori, Woodstock has truly become her home. After a few years of living here, she says that she feels like a local. She participates in community events, meets new people, and keeps a finger on the pulse of Woodstock’s art and music scene. One of her favorite aspects of Woodstock is the affordable concerts. At Woodstock, she says, one can expect to hear quality music without breaking the bank. That allows for her to explore more, and find new artists. During our conversation, Lori reflects on her adolescent music taste and admits that she was once quite snooty about different genres. But now she is at a different stage in her life – one in which she can enjoy the folksiness of Woodstock and get away from New York City and its distractions.


Lori Majewski speaking to our class outside the historic Bearsville Theater

Our class began to stumble along to a grassy lawn boarded by stream. The water was clear and cool and immediately diverted all attention away from the theatre. There we began to climb about and wander what we would later learn was a small priced of the Sawkill. Our next insight into Woodstock, Joshua Colow found us there, climbing and fiddling it the stream bed. He grew up by the Sawkill and the town of Woodstock during its beginnings as a haven for music and creativity. Colow went to a local cooperative school in the area after living on a small farm his parents had renovated into an art studio. The home was by the Sawkill and after his introductions, he lead us on a hike up the road to an old mill who used to function under the pressure of the stream. His home and the mill have turned into second homes and airbnb destinations in support of the growing tourist industry of Woodstock. But back to the creative aspect of Woodstock…

A portion of the Sawkill that runs by Colow’s childhood home


The old Sawkill mill

The old Sawkill mill

“Yeah the migration of artists to Woodstock has been going on since the early 20th century,” Colow told us (remarking on the general cultural atmosphere of the area), “it grew up as an art community before any industry came to town.” The influence of artistic and creative minds is hard to miss in this town. Whether it’s the numerous not-so-subtle allusions to the Woodstock Music Festival on the flyers stapled to every lamppost and corkboard or the multitude of galleries lining the streets, the influence of Woodstock’s artistic heritage is hard to miss. Maybe it’s the rolling hills, verdant open fields, and crystalline streams that attract artists like a magnet, it certainly couldn’t be prettier around here. Colow mentioned the Byrdcliffe Art Colony while conversing with our class, and although we never visited there on our field trip, I just had to look it up. The first sentence of its mission statement pretty much fit perfectly with what I expected: “The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild provides a vibrant center for excellence in the arts and crafts in the beautiful and unique rural community of Woodstock, New York, while preserving the historic and natural environment of one of the earliest utopian art colonies in America”(http://www.woodstockguild.org/about-byrdcliffe/). So, to all you artists of the world, if you’re looking for a new muse, I highly suggest Woodstock, New York.

A collection of Woodstock characters

A collection of Woodstock characters


Why Barton Orchards Exemplifies All That Is Pleasant in The Hudson Valley


Barton Orchards 2

A short, twenty minute, drive from Vassar College, Barton Orchards is set in a lovely rural area of Poughaug, New York. Cars pull up onto their grass to form a temporary parking lot for the unending line of visitors eager to explore this autumn staple.

Among the the masses were church groups, nuclear families, couples, and the general local populace. Although people seemed to be pouring in through the entrance way throughout the day, (in fact, the line only increased in length as the day progressed), I never felt crowded at any point.

There was so much space and so many different offerings that the crowd was very widely dispersed and frankly invisible most of the time. Admission was reasonable, just over ten dollars for access to all that the property has to offer or three dollars for general admission, making it a prime attraction for individuals and families on a budget.

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Although primarily a recreational hot spot, Barton Orchards also has a store filled with local food to support the local economy, produce grown on the orchard itself, and general goods. Nonetheless, the storefront is definitely secondary to the rest of the Barton Orchards; it most assists local businesses by bringing visitors to Hudson Valley itself, which is quite a venture in of itself.

They boast many vegetables and fruit that visitors can pick their own of, a petting zoo, a playground, a “mining” set for younger visitors, a bakery, a haunted house, a tractor-pulled hay ride, and a corn maze.

The corn maze is based off of New York City street artist Matt Siren’s work. The maze has various stations that teach wanderers about graffiti art.  For more information, check out this post by a Brooklyn Street Art Group, http://www.brooklynstreetart.com/theblog/2013/07/28/matt-sirens-ghost-girl-maze-poughquag-new-york/ .

The iconic Ghost Girl connects this Hudson Valley attraction with the city that provides the most tourism to such rural attractions. A very great decision by Barton Orchard owners indeed.

Extremely scenic in a small-town type of way, Barton Orchards embodies what so many visitors to the Hudson Valley picture. The petting zoo has adorable llamas, pigs, chickens, ponies and miniature ponies, a mule, and goats. Many of the animals run right up to the fences, eager to eat fro the palms of giggling children and stone-faced adults, who are apt to crack a smile as furry noses tickle their hands.

Cups of fresh brewed apple cider appear in and out of sight as the noon sun reminds guests

Barton Orchards 9how pleasing fall drinks are to the palate. Even the buzzing of a chainsaw from a man cutting lumber in to bears and eagles rings soothingly in the ear.

The local charm is only further accentuated by the large apple orchard and pumpkin patch. The gloriously sweet and crisp apples and large, bright pumpkins exemplify what it means to be a Hudson Valley Resident in the autumn. People typically picture such benefits of fall as being beautiful, cracked leaves on the sidewalk and day trips to pick-your-own farms, and Barton Orchards certainly delivers on that expectation.

Overall, a visit to Barton Orchards makes for a memorable day trip that speaks wonders of Hudson Valleys local atmosphere and charm.

To find out more, visit Barton Orchards’ website: http://www.bartonorchards.com



Adoring Amazing, Albeit Antiquated, Amenia (Ah, Alliteration!)


As a relative newcomer to the Hudson Valley, I’ve found myself unmistakably enthralled by the particularly quaint town of Amenia. My joy for Amenia and its wonderful ice cream is quite palpable in the above picture. Raised in southern Connecticut, my experiences with farmer’s market’s had always been quite an unremarkable experience. The foodstuffs would be displayed lovingly while those selling their produce would remark with the regulars about such trivialities as weather as cars drove by meters away.

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What I discovered in Amenia during my trip with Vassar College’s Field Experiences of Hudson Valley course were very warm individuals offering, what were sometimes, their primary source of income with an incredible attention to detail. A few stands covered a lot right beside the town center.

What an outsider may not realize right away is that the intentionally dilapidated  antique storefront facing the multi-purpose store is the very center of Amenia. When one notices  that the main attraction for the town is quite beyond the, largely residential, center, it becomes ever more clear that Amenia exists very much thanks to it’s amenity-based economy. Visitors come for the cute store front lined with rusted wares and for the part drive-in-movie-theatre-part-ice-cream-shoppe.

Amenia Sep 6 Miranda Kay

The town’s inhabitants exhibit both pride and a subtle level of coy acceptance of their locations. I found one man working at the drive-in theatre quite pleased with the layout of modern furniture pieces placed beside an antiquated ice cream cone structure large enough to tower above the craned necks of children.

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Such wonderful experiences prevail in Amenia, where small flower arrangements adorn the the town center and small shoppes fill their shelves with local produce.Amenia Sep 6 Miranda Kay 2