Fighting Fracking in the Hudson Valley With Actor Mark Ruffalo


It was a movie-worthy scene. In July of last year, a New Paltz-based coalition named Frack Action stood before the New York Legislature in Albany. Its mission? To protest the expansion of gas companies into the Catskills in order to begin horizontal hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as fracking), a highly controversial process used to extract natural gas from shale deposits deep below the ground.

Joined by other grass roots organizations, representatives from Frack Action had made the journey up the Thruway from towns all over Orange and Sullivan counties; their numbers were strong and the placards they carried were colorful and clever. The representatives from the gas companies, wearing suits and carrying briefcases, sat in another part of the auditorium. But the activists had been here before and had failed to gain any kind of foothold. So what would be different about today?

Suddenly, from out of the crowd emerged a man holding a clear jar filled with a murky, colored liquid. He looked to be in his early forties, of medium height, handsome in a ruddy and accidental way. At first, he spoke in the apologetic syntax of the Rockwellian farmer standing up in the town hall. “I went to Dimock, Pennsylvania, and I got this out of a family’s well that’s been poisoned by a frack well that’s within 200 yards of their home. Who here, who here in New York, would like to take a sip of that? Who here in New York would like to wake up in the morning and bathe in this? For crying out loud! Have we lost our collective minds?” he demanded. “This is a fighting matter for me and a lot of people.”

» Click here to view the trailer of HBO’s Gasland (opens in new window)



mark ruffaloStar power: Actor Mark Ruffalo shows his true colors at a fly-fishing event in Roscoe, Sullivan County, last spring. Ruffalo — who lives nearby — has been a vocal opponent to fracking, a process which he and other activists claim causes air and water pollution (among other problems)

Photograph courtesy of

It seemed to take members of the legislature the length of a double take before they could place his identity. Wasn’t he Terry, the wayward brother in You Can Count on Me? Isn’t he the sperm donor motorcycle dude in The Kids Are Alright? They were right. But this time actor Mark Ruffalo had not traveled to Albany to promote his latest film. He was there as a citizen of the Catskills, where he has lived with his wife and three children on the banks of the Delaware River for the last decade. It was his first time in front of the legislature; it has not been his last. Although Ruffalo insists he’s “really no different from so many others,” he is putting his star power to use and emerging as a vocal leader in the local anti-fracking movement. The tables are starting to turn. Less than five months after this appearance, then Governor David Patterson issued Executive Order 41, which requires the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to assess the hazards of high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing. During that process, expected to take about three years, a de facto fracking moratorium is in place, making New York the first state in the nation to place a formal time-out on the practice.

As recently as three years ago, few in the Hudson Valley had even heard of fracking. But it has quickly become the environmental issue du jour, both in the state and nationwide. In an effort to reduce dependence on foreign oil, gas companies began drilling underground in parts of the country decades ago. To date, close to a half million active natural gas wells exist in 34 states. Proponents argue that it is a cash cow, supplying thousands of jobs; they also point to the recent nuclear power plant scare in Japan and the rising fuel pump prices as reasons to drill. Opponents say that the many chemicals used in the process are dangerous and quickly pollute both the drinking water and the air. They point out that on the state level, there has not been one piece of legislation passed to regulate high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

“He’s superhuman,” adds Clare Donohue, a volunteer for, says of Ruffalo. “He’s like, ‘Just let me know what you need me to do, and I’ll do it.’ ”

Stuck squarely in the middle are the region’s farmers, who are having a difficult time making a living and are being offered gobs of money from the gas companies for the right to drill on their land.

Nearby Pennsylvania is a hot spot for natural gas — and fracking. The state is riddled with about 71,000 natural gas wells. But it wasn’t until about 2003 that the drilling industry discovered a vast amount of gas stored in the rich Marcellus Shale, a 400 million-year-old natural gas field that has its southern-most tip in West Virginia and reaches 29 New York counties, including Delaware, Greene, Sullivan, and Ulster. About a mile underground in most places, it is the largest continuous shale compound in the U.S., and is thought to have enough natural gas to provide at least 10 years’ worth of fuel for the entire nation. Companies have raced to the depths, drilling 2,359 wells in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus from 2007 through 2010. Down there, hydraulic fracking is king. Last year’s Gasland, the HBO-produced documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox, highlighted the happenings in the tiny town of Dimock, where fracking has — apparently — wreaked havoc on the locals’ quality of life. A now infamous scene, played repeatedly on YouTube, shows a kitchen faucet bursting into flames. (Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, which is the largest natural gas producer in the U.S., recently told shareholders that studies have not confirmed that fracking causes well-water contamination. Rather, he said, such cases are the result of poor drilling practices 60 to 80 years ago.)

» Click here to view the trailer of HBO’s Gasland (opens in new window)



bruce ferguson and jill weinerNot on our watch: Anti-fracking activists Jill Weiner and Bruce Ferguson stand in a Sullivan County farm field. Gas companies have offered Pennsylvania farmers an average of $5,000 per acre for drilling rights on their land — a sum many cash-strapped growers find difficult to turn down. Farmhearts, an organization in which Ferguson and Mark Ruffalo are both active, is working to help New York farmers keep their land for agricultural purposes

Photograph by Michael Nelson

From actor to activist

Before Ruffalo began filming You Can Count on Me in Delaware County 16 years ago, he was a restless 27-year-old actor living in Los Angeles, on the heels of a stellar New York stage performance of Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth. He was good-looking, and life in the big cities was as fast as the rise of his career. As filming of the movie progressed, however, he quickly became enamored of the rolling hills and crystal clear streams of the lower Catskills. It reminded him of his childhood spent in Wisconsin and Virginia.

With the $5,000 he had in the bank, Ruffalo purchased a cabin in Sullivan County; several years ago, when he and his wife, actress Sunrise Coigney, had become the parents of three small children, they moved to a 47-acre dairy farm just a quick ride up the hill from Callicoon (population 222 as of 2007). He drives his kids to school. He frequents places like the Café Devine for morning coffee. He knows farmers by their first names. When Sunrise broke her leg a few years ago, his neighbors suddenly appeared at the front door with food.

It was a simple e-mail he received three years ago from Bruce Ferguson, a member of the Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, that changed everything for Ruffalo. “I’d read that Bruce was protesting a zoning law to allow fracking in the area,” he says. “Naturally, I wanted to know if it was headed to Delaware Valley, then was it safe?” So he set about educating himself. He read a 2004 online report by the Environmental Protection Agency concluding that there was little chance hydraulic fracking could contaminate drinking water, a study Ruffalo calls “bogus.” He continued flying through the Internet: there was a story about a woman in Wisconsin who was suffering from lesions on her brain, which he believes may have been caused by her living close to a fracking well. He wrote an impassioned letter to State Senator John J. Bonacic, representative for District 42. “It was the first time I’d ever written to a politician in my life,” Ruffalo said.

fracking processDiagram by Al Granberg/courtesy of ProPublica

Then he was asked to take a one-day journey. On a sweltering afternoon in late June of last year, Ruffalo joined New York State-based environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on a road trip to Dimock. There, he inspected contaminated drinking wells. He saw the aftermath of exploding wells and chemical spills. He spoke with townspeople, whose stories of decreased property values and health concerns seemed to support the claim that Cabot Oil and Gas, the company responsible for the drilling, had denied responsibility for the environmental mess, and further, that state regulators were slow to enforce regulations. On the very same day as Ruffalo’s visit, a blowout at another Pennsylvania natural gas well shot a mixture of gas and polluted water 75 feet into the air.

“I swear, the residents we spoke to out there looked at Robert Kennedy, Jr. as Moses leading them to the Promised Land,” Ruffalo says. “These people had no one supporting them. The EPA had no power, and every safeguard to protect them was gone. I kept thinking to myself, ‘This is America. Things like this should not be happening.’ ”

During his three-hour ride back to Callicoon, Ruffalo thought of his children. He thought about the impact that a similar catastrophe would have on his community. He envisioned the gas companies continuing their eastward march over the Delaware River like an encroaching plague. “I just thought, ‘Man, this is real, it’s here now, and it’s coming to my home,’ ” he said. “The only thing that’s different is that I have a voice that happens to reach a little farther than the others who are passionate about this.”

Ruffalo has gone back to Albany five more times to lobby with several anti-fracking groups. He has visited college campuses. He has screened the controversial Gasland, which served as the first alert of the issue for millions of Americans. A week before the Academy Awards, when he should have been campaigning on talk shows for his Oscar-nominated role in The Kids Are Alright, he went to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to close oil and gas industry loopholes.

“He is perfectly willing to become the face of this movement, and he makes himself very available. He is really just like any other neighbor, except that people know who he is,” says Bruce Ferguson.

“He’s superhuman,” adds Clare Donohue, a volunteer for “He’s like, ‘Just let me know what you need me to do, and I’ll do it.’ ”

» Click here to view the trailer of HBO’s Gasland (opens in new window)



Getting the word out

There is a long wooden table in the Old North Branch Inn in North Branch, where over coffee and danish, owner Victoria Lesser and her fellow representatives from Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy meet frequently throughout the year, plotting e-mail blasts, special events, and ways to raise public awareness.

From this table and many others like it throughout the Valley, small victories are being won. In addition to influencing the decision to place the ban, organizations have enlisted the support of New York politicians, including Congressman Maurice Hinchey and assembly member Aileen Gunther, who represents the Sullivan County constituency. E-mail lists are exploding in numbers. A crowd of 600 turned up for a potluck fund-raiser in Callicoon last fall that was organized by Ruffalo and his wife.

The number of New Yorkers who have been alerted to the fracking controversy “has grown from zero three years ago to more than eight million today,” says Ferguson, largely through the work of grass roots action committees. “Education is the number one priority, because once you know half the facts, you’re horrified enough.

“The gas industry’s goal is to get in the ground before anyone knows what’s going on,” Ferguson adds. “They’ve never had to deal with an educated public before. People I’ve spoken to out west who are now living through gas drilling told us that no one knew anything, but since it’s moved eastward, it’s gained attention.”

» Click here to view the trailer of HBO’s Gasland (opens in new window)



Rallying cry

One day last year, Victoria Lesser maneuvered her white SUV along the winding roads between North Branch and Roscoe. She points to a 400-acre farm outside of Jeffersonville. It is a century old. “They’re looking to lease their land to the gas companies for drilling,” she says. Within an hour, she has driven by a half dozen other farms; each of them, she says, are contemplating doing the same thing. The payoff is immediate and lucrative; she says farmers in Pennsylvania have received an average of $5,000 an acre from the gas industry for the right to drill on their property, as well as potential profits for what may be found. That’s big money for small farmers, such as those in Sullivan County who are the victims of an upsurge in corporate farming and continue to pay mortgages on under-performing enterprises.

At a Delaware River Basin Commission meeting in 2010, Ruffalo told the farmers in attendance, “I think it’s criminal that the farmers in this country have got to rely on something like this in order to keep their farms.” In response, Ruffalo is spearheading Farmhearts, a new organization aimed at helping farmers stay in the agricultural business and out of the gas business. Recently, the group gave $12,000 to Sonia Janiszewski Persichilli, to support her work in establishing programs for farmers in the Catskill region. “As we saw farmers forced to sign lease contracts, we felt we would like to help them with better opportunities to sell their products, to put the focus on locally grown food,” said Ferguson, a Farmhearts board member.

Fracking proponents argue that it is a cash cow, supplying thousands of jobs. Opponents say that the many chemicals used in the process pollute both the drinking water and the air

After more than a year spent on the front lines of the fracking issue, Ruffalo has returned to his day job. Currently, he’s filming The Avengers with Robert Downey, Jr. Because of his film obligations, he was unable to join the hundreds of New Yorkers who descended on Albany last April to meet with more than 180 lawmakers, urging them to consider the DEC’s environmental review, which includes revised guidelines to determine the future of fracking in the state. During their visit, they called for the passage of a state bill that would govern industrial gas drilling under home-rule zoning rules in addition to statewide regulations, as well as legislation that would close the hazardous waste loophole in current state law and require better transport and treatment of hazardous wastes produced by oil or gas facilities.

» Click here to view the trailer of HBO’s Gasland (opens in new window)



fracking processDiagram by Al Granberg/courtesy of ProPublica

On a Saturday in April at the Mountain View Manor in Glen Spey, Ruffalo attended a screening of Frack! The Movie, a new documentary by David Morris. He was joined by 400 others, many of whom had brought Tupperware bowls of food for a potluck supper. In between bites of lentil salad, Ruffalo was asked about what he has learned about a movement that is now reaching millions. “I see hope in seemingly disparate places of our community from people who share the same space, townspeople and city people. This is a leaderless revolution.

“I’m really no different than so many others, who want to get on with the rest of their lives,” he added. “I understand that for many, they don’t want to cause waves, and feel that the law will ultimately take care of them. But what I’ve learned in being involved in this fight is that there are many like me who are declaring who they are and fighting for what’s important, and doing it in a demonstrative way.”

The film ended. Ruffalo joined Ferguson and others at the front of the room for questions. From the far corner a woman said, “I have wells all around me. Let me tell you, the gas companies are coming. I know we have a moratorium, but what about after it’s lifted?”

Ruffalo stepped forward. At first, his voice was unsure, like it was running on ice. He took a breath, paused, and began again. “If you’ve given up hope, it’s because you’re not doing enough,” he told the woman. “Each step you take gives you something. We can all choose to walk out of here tonight and give up, or we can all choose to go home and pound our keyboards.”

He continued to speak, the volume of his speech rising with each sentence. “We stopped this! We put a moratorium on this! They told us for three years, ‘You can’t win,’ and then we went to Albany and then they said to us, ‘My God, there are a hundred of you here. This must be serious!’ ”

The overflow audience that had been respectful all evening — muted, one might say — surrendered their politeness. Ruffalo had tossed fuel on the bottled-up fury they’d been keeping inside for so long. The thunderous noise they made continued as Ruffalo — their good neighbor — retreated back into the anonymous thicket of the crowd.

marcellus shaleMap design by Arlene So

Marcellus Shale

Geologists have long known of the natural gas held in the tar-black Marcellus Shale formation. Named after a distinctive outcropping near Marcellus, New York, the formation is deep — a mile down in some places — and the shale isn’t very permeable so natural gas doesn’t easily flow through it. For those reasons, drilling companies largely ignored it until 2004, when Fort Worth-based Range Resources sank a well into the Marcellus in southwest Pennsylvania. The company discovered a surprising amount of natural gas and began experimenting with new methods of extraction.
It was then that high-pressure, horizontal hydraulic fracturing was born. Ranging from 200 to 890 feet, the Marcellus is at its thickest in its eastern section — which is near New York City and heavily populated parts of New Jersey. The formation is estimated to hold between 168 and 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. By comparison, New York State burns about 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year.

» Click here to view the trailer of HBO’s Gasland (opens in new window)

Celebrity Golfers in the Hudson Valley: Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Wang, and More


The next time you tee it up at one of Westchester’s country clubs, don’t be surprised if you spot a celebrity or two on the course with you. Just remember to wait until after they sink that knee-knocker putt to ask for an autograph.

The famous (and infamous) practically have their own wing in the locker room at Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff. Chief among them is former Commander in Chief Bill Clinton, aka the president of the United States (his handicap is a state secret, as are his tee times).

The Donald himself not only belongs to the club but owns it, of course, and carries a 3.7 handicap index — for real! Other denizens of the Trump locker room include former Yankees manager Joe Torre (we diehard fans refuse to recognize that other job he recently held), as well as actors Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood, although they’re usually seen on courses on the other coast.

The most successful writer on the planet, James Patterson, calls Sleepy Hollow his home during the warmer months. You’ll find Caddyshack’s Carl Spackler — er, Bill Murray — there, too.

New York’s Mayor Mike (Bloomberg, that is) occasionally can be found at the Golf Club of Purchase when he’s not playing with President Barack Obama on Martha’s Vineyard.

As you might expect, several New York-based sportscasters play their pasture pool on Westchester courses. Nearly fanatic golfer Bryant Gumbel, host of HBO’s Real Sports, belongs to both Whippoorwill and Hudson National. NBC’s Jimmy Roberts can be found at Westchester Country Club when he’s not covering the PGA Tour (among other great assignments), while WNBC sports anchor Bruce Beck tees it up at Fenway.

Looking for stars of the big and small screens? Entourage headliner Kevin Dillon belongs to Winged Foot, carrying on a devotion to the game he got from his father, Paul Dillon, whose contributions to golf were recognized with the 2010 MGA Distinguished Service Award.

Chris O’Donnell, star of CBS’s NCIS-Los Angeles, is a member at Westchester Country Club.

Plenty of celebs chase the little white ball around the Hudson Valley, too. Among them: The Fighter’s Mark Wahlberg and NFL star and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad, both members at Manhattan Woods; actor Aidan Quinn can be found at Rockland Country Club.

It’s not all famous men and boys out there on the links, either. Fashion diva Vera Wang often plays at Pound Ridge Golf Club, the Pete Dye masterpiece her brother opened in 2008.

Golfer Profiles: Forever Foursomes at Westchester Hills, Leewood, and Sprain Lake Golf Courses


Westchester Hills

Pete Canepa, Manhattan; Victor Nolletti, White Plains; Jim Bilotta, Sr., Mamaroneck; Vito Iezzi, Harrison

One of the longest-running matches in county golf takes place Wednesday mornings at Westchester Hills in White Plains. That’s when Jim Bilotta, Sr., and Vic Nolletti (79 and 74 years old, respectively) tee it up against Vito Iezzi and Pete Canepa (69 and 60, respectively). Three of the four have been playing together at the club for nearly 40 years. Canepa, the youngster in the group, took his place in the foursome about 15 years ago. They often play weekends together, too.

The usual game is a five-way, three-dollar Nassau, but you’d think thousands of bucks were on the line if you heard the trash talk during the round. “Just when you think you’ve got the hole won,” Canepa says, “Vic or Jim will drop a putt and start laughing. They’re always complaining about how old they are, but, at the end of the round, I always seem to be giving them money.”
Nolletti responds, “It’s all friendly, but you still try to beat the other guys’ heads in.”

Regardless of the rivalry, Iezzi says, “These are good people — on and off the golf course.”


Mary Schoner, New Rochelle; Ann Persico, Scarsdale; Geri Bertolini, Crestwood; Linda Arnone, Yonkers

“We laugh, we cry, we just enjoy a good round of golf,” says Mary Schoner, who has been playing for about 10 years, most of them with three friends she met at Leewood Country Club in Eastchester. Linda Arnone and Geri Bertolini are 20-plus-year golf vets, while Ann Persico took up the sport about 12 years ago. The group plays Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays as a regular foursome, but gets together other times, too.

All four say they’re pretty serious about their game, but, Persico adds, “When we play, we have the best of times.” When Schoner holed out a pitch shot on the seventh hole one day, according to Arnone, Persico flopped down into the fairway with her legs waving in the air shouting, “I give up!”

Handicaps ranging from 15 to 30 even out the matches and make dollar skins an exciting wager. But the real action takes place between shots, when the four socialize as they stroll down the fairway. Arnone, who is the reigning women’s champion at Leewood, explains, “We chitchat about the game, our husbands, and where we’re going to have our next cocktail.”

Sprain Lake

Larry Dais, Mount Vernon; Mel Williams, Bronxville; Ralph Dawson, New Rochelle; Craig Foster, Yonkers

Long-term friendships not only start on the golf course, they often migrate there as well. Ralph Dawson went to Yale with Craig Foster, then went to Columbia University where he met Larry Dais, who was friends with Mel Williams. That all happened more than 30 years before the four men set aside time from their hectic lives as management consultants, college administrators, lawyers, and talent representatives to take up golf.

They found the game not only strengthened the already-tight bonds of friendship, but helped in other ways, too. “This is a great group of guys for helping you ‘reset’ after a tough week,” says Dawson, a 62-year-old attorney. The foursome reserves a time every Saturday morning at Sprain Lake Golf Course in Yonkers. It’s a congenial group, but that doesn’t mean some serious ragging doesn’t occur. Dais, 65, who recently retired as an assistant vice president at Columbia, says with a smile, “Some of these guys are mathematically challenged. We have to audit some of the scores frequently.”

Williams, 68, and Foster, 63, say scores don’t count for much, despite the ribbing. “We all shoot around one hundred, but we have a good time,” Williams says. •

Dan Berger writes about golf and other sports from his home in Rye Brook.

Golfing and Swinging Tips for Slice-Free Golf


Slice got you down? Don’t feel alone. About 90 percent of all amateur golfers send the ball sailing foul when they’re trying to smash it down the middle of the fairway, making the slice the most common swing problem in the game.

As a long-time PGA professional, I’ve helped hundreds of golfers straighten out their banana ball. Over the years, I’ve prescribed some simple drills that will teach your body to bring the club on an inside-out swing path to make square contact and send the ball where it’s supposed to go — down the middle of the fairway.

Brian Crowell, PGA, is the head golf professional at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills and a golf analyst/broadcaster. He’s also the author of Slice Free Golf! For more tips, follow him on Twitter @bcrowellpro or at

Cold Shoulder
This drill will help synchronize your upper body with the rest of you to produce a powerful new “draw” swing. The left shoulder of many slicers spins dramatically left early in the downswing, sending the club outside the target line and across the ball to produce a slice. This drill forces that left shoulder to be more patient.

• Take your address position, then support your left arm straight out on a vertical hybrid or fairway wood.
• In your right hand, grip a shorter iron or wedge, and gently make some very relaxed half-swings. You’ll feel your chest moving slower, yet your club will still release. Stay centered, relaxed, and let the club swing freely with small swings.
• You can also create this same feeling by simply making some mini swings under your extended left arm.

Uphill Battle
For those who slice, golf can certainly be an uphill battle. Ironically, that same hill can help you banish the banana ball. Most slicers have a downswing that travels from outside the target line and across the ball in a steep, chopping motion. The Uphill Battle drill lets you feel a shallow approach to the ball that keeps the club inside during the downswing.

• Find a hill or a slope that elevates the ball at least a few inches above your feet.
• From your address position, take a few practice swings and feel how the elevated ground requires your swing to be flatter and the club to go more around your body. The club head should rotate naturally as you take what will feel more like a baseball swing around a stable center. If possible, hit some balls from this position.
• For an even more exaggerated flat-swing sensation, try making a driver swing from your knees. Drastic? Perhaps, but this drill really works!

Elbow Room
A good golf swing has a natural and proper release where the body and forearms rotate comfortably. Watch the pros and you’ll notice that this swing leaves their elbows fairly close together after impact. With the slicer, the elbows often resemble a just-divorced couple coming out of the courthouse — they don’t want to be anywhere near each other. The Elbow Room drill may not save your marriage, but it will help cure your slice.

• To make it work, take your address position and place a soft ball about the size of a volleyball in the gap between your elbows. Take some small, relaxed swings, taking care to keep the ball in place. Try to keep your arms relaxed and only take half-swings or less.
• Be sure to stay centered, turn properly, and utilize your normal wrist hinge and forearm rotation. You can even tee up a ball and try some little chips and pitches with this motion.
• If your elbows spread, the ball will drop — a clear indication that you need to keep drilling! •

Shopping for Great Golf Gear


The Eyes Have It
Sunglasses can be problematic on the golf course, but Fairway Transitions SOLFX lenses change all that in the blink of an eye. “They actually improve depth perception,” says Raymond Optician’s Ray Kolkmann. “The exclusive amber tint enhances colors and contrasts.” What’s more, the lenses automatically adjust to all outdoor sun conditions, and block 100 percent of those nasty UV rays. Available in prescription and nonprescription glasses.

Stay Dry and Let It Fly
Every indomitable golfer needs a rain suit. And not some leaky, lunky, binding, plastic hoodie, either. The real deal is the ClimaProof Storm Ultimate Jacket and Pants by Adidas. Modeled after the rain suit worn by the caddies at Bandon Dunes (where rain is as common as bogeys), this suit incorporates lightweight, reinforced double-layer shoulder inserts, four-way mechanical stretch for easy movement and comfort, fully seam-sealed waterproof zippers, waterproof protection to 20,000 mm, and tremendous breathability. It comes in one color — black — and carries a three-year waterproof warranty. Suggested retail prices: jacket $275, pants $225.

Foolproof Putting
Missed any putts lately? If so, it’s highly likely you’ve got an alignment problem. You think you’re aimed at the hole, but you’re off by just enough to send the ball sliding past. The solution? A SeeMore putter like the one used by 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson. SeeMore putters feature a patented alignment system that helps you set up your putter perfectly each and every time by lining up the bottom portion of the shaft between two white lines and covering a signature red dot on the heel of the top line. If you can’t see the red dot, you’re good to go! It’s foolproof and available in a wide range of styles and sizes to fit every golfer. Prices start at $180.

The Essential Golf Bag
Your caddy — or your own lower back — will thank you for trading in that massive monster and stepping up to the Nike Collegiate Carry Bag. Inspired and tested by top-ranked college players who tote their own, the bag has a nine-inch oval top; a five-way, two full-length divider system; a lightweight fiberglass stand; and six functional pockets including a waterproof fleece-lined valuables pocket, roomy apparel pocket, and dual mesh water-bottle sleeves. It also uses the Nike Woven Double-Single Quick Click strap system that allows fast conversion for one- or two-shoulder carries. Available in silver/black, black/anthracite, or navy/anthracite. Suggested retail price: $150.

Required Golf Reading
Slice Free Golf by Brian Crowell
The head pro at Bedford Hills’s GlenArbor Golf Club (and NBC golf commentator) wants to banish your banana ball. This easy-to-follow guide to the no-slice golf swing takes the mystery out of hitting ’em straight — and the misery out of your scores.

The Golf Links of Scotland by George Peper and Iain Lowe
You won’t find this one on the remainder table at your neighborhood bookstore. This ultimate hole-by-hole tour of the Old Course at St. Andrews is an ultra-deluxe, hand-tooled leather-bound tome by long-time Sleepy Hollow Country Club member George Peper. It’s a very limited edition that sells for a mere $5,000.

Golf’s Dream 18s by David Barrett
White Plains golf writer David Barrett has imagined some of the most fabulous courses made up of the greatest holes — not just from Westchester, but from all over the world (although you’ll recognize several of the holes from local courses). Appropriately enough, there are 18 to fantasize about.

Golf Fitness Programs: Testing Your Golf-Ability


Golf fitness for everyday players took a major leap forward when the Titleist Performance Institute applied its database of thousands of swing measurements (used to help tour pros hone their game) into an integrated program of analysis, exercise, and instruction delivered by PGA pros, physical trainers, and medical professionals. With the TPI approach, you learn to adapt your swing to your physical capabilities, rather than try to force your body to perform a perfect (and perfectly unachievable) golf swing.

The entire process begins with a 20-minute assessment of your body’s strength, flexibility, and balance as it relates to your ability to hit the ball with a golf club. Phil Striano, a Dobbs Ferry chiropractor, scratch golfer, and TPI-certified medical professional, showed us six of the 11 TPI measurements and explained how they affect your ability to shoot par. Helping were Ardsley Country Club assistant PGA professionals Pete Stefanchik and Joe Gothmann.

These tests also serve as good exercises for improving your on-course performance. A good benchmark is to hold each final position for 15 seconds, then repeat. If you try these yourself, don’t forget to warm up first, and if you start feeling any pain, stop.

Single Leg Balance
Balance is the most underrated component of a good golf swing. If you can’t stay centered over the ball while your shoulders are turning, your torso is twisting, your weight is shifting, and your club is whipping through the ball, it’s almost impossible to hit one down the middle. To develop better balance, stand on one leg with the other raised so your thigh is parallel to the ground. Extend both arms. Easy, huh? Now close your eyes and try to balance on each leg in turn for a minimum of 15 seconds.

Shoulder Abduction and External Rotation
Many of the bad things that can happen at the top of your backswing are due to a lack of flexibility and stability in your shoulders. To increase yours, extend your arm to the side and raise your hand as if you’re getting ready to wave at someone so that your arm forms an “L.” Place a club behind your arm with the head in your raised hand and the grip pointing down. Now pull the grip forward with your other hand, using the club as a lever to pull the club head back and torquing your arm at the shoulder.

Bridge with Leg Extension
Power in the golf swing comes from your gluteal muscles — your butt — and its connections to your legs and back, your hamstrings, and hips. To test yours, lie on your back with your knees raised and lift your midsection until only your feet and shoulders support your body. Then straighten one leg at a time and see how long you can hold the position. For an extra test, point to the sky with your arms while you do it.

Seated Trunk Rotation
We all know a strong core is essential to a solid, pain-free swing. Flexibility is important, too. To test yours, sit on an exercise ball (or even a chair), place a club behind your back, and turn your shoulders. Without moving your hips, you should be able to twist and hold your upper body at least 45 degrees.

Overhead Deep Squat
Stretching your shoulders and latissimus dorsi (the strongest muscle in your back) while building strength in your legs will help both ends of your golf swing — and just about everything in between. Start with a club held straight overhead. Hold it there while you squat as far as you can while keeping both feet flat on the floor. You’ll build balance this way, too.

Pelvic Rotation
Some of the best exercises give you a little bit of everything — strength, flexibility, and balance. This one works your core and legs while increasing your ability to rotate with power. Giving yourself plenty of room, hold a club (or exercise ball) in front of you at arm’s length. Lunge forward on one leg until the thigh is parallel to the floor, then turn your shoulders as far as you can, first in one direction, then the other. •

Summer Fun in the Hudson Valley 2011


Summer’s almost here, so whether you’re looking for the thrill of high-speed racing or to chill on a relaxing river cruise; to let the kids splish and splash at a local water park or to lose yourself in thought at an outdoor sculpture park; the Valley is chock full of ways to celebrate the season.


monticello racewayThe 4.1-mile track at the Monticello Race Club sits on 175 wooded acres

Spin Your Wheels

If your idea of a nice Sunday drive is ripping down I-684 at twice the legal speed limit, take the money you’d have had to shell out on speeding tickets and head instead to the Monticello Motor Club, where (for a pretty penny) you’ll be able to drive high-end exotic cars on a world-class racetrack at speeds up to 140 miles per hour. Although the exclusive members-only club (which boasts Jeff Gordon as one of their own) is closed to the public, it does offer guest programs for motor-sports enthusiasts who just want a little taste of life in the fast lane. “It’s an absolutely unforgettable experience,” says club president and cofounder Ari Straus.

The brand-new facility was built in 2008 at the 175-acre former site of the Monticello airport. “It’s just like a country club, like a private golf course with concierge services, a pro shop, food, family, storage, etc. Except instead of links we have a four-point-one mile curvy racetrack,” explains Straus. “Going fast in a straight line is a quick thrill that passes quickly.” The track — said to be one of the best in the world — was designed by famed race champion Brian Redman and track architect Bruce Hawkins. With some of the longest straights in North America, 450 feet of elevation changes, and more than 20 turns, Monticello’s circuit offers everyone from the professional race car driver to the weekend warrior a fulfilling and exhilarating experience.

While membership in the club is over-the-top expensive (a lifetime “gold” membership costs $125,000, plus annual dues of $9,925), novice speed demons can get in the door with one of two guest options. “Both programs are designed with the beginner in mind, no track experience is necessary,” says Straus. “What you learn is that it’s not about speed, it’s about car control. We put a huge premium on safety.” In the High Performance Driving Experience ($1,350), a one-day group class led by club instructors, students spend some time in the classroom and then put their new skill set to work on the track in a 556-horsepower Cadillac CTS-V Coupe. The more comprehensive Taste of the Track program (starting at $1,500) allows guests to live life as a club member for the day, with access to a private instructor, meals, and the club’s fleet of high-end cars — for an additional fee, of course.

Related links:

Monticello Raceway (Monticello)
Lime Rock Park (Lakeville, Conn.) is a smooth-terrain motorsport racing venue where you can catch a race, take lessons or even cruise the track in your own car on special days.
The Orange County Speedway (Middletown) is celebrating its 62nd year of dirt-track racing with weekly events every Saturday this month.

pool toy

Super Soaker

While many adults prefer to beat the summer heat with a quick dip in a pool or a swim at the beach, kids just wanna have fun. Luckily, our area water parks offer a safe place where they can cool off and have an adventure — twisting through giant water slides, getting sprayed by colorful fountains, and consuming all the kid-favorite snacks that mom and dad can afford.

Splashdown Beach in Fishkill has seen enormous growth over the years, appealing to both thrill-seekers (one watery attraction towers four stories tall), and chill-seekers, who would rather float gently down a lazy river.

While there are still plenty of things for older kids and teens to do, this year, the younger set will love the new Bob the Builder Splash Works spray-and-play area (opening May 28). This colorful attraction contains more than 50 interactive features, including two slides, surprising geysers, and Bob the Builder meet-and-greets.

Further north, Zoom Flume Water Park in East Durham keeps the Catskills cool with water slides that drop hundreds of feet; a splash area for little ones; and the new Riptide Cove wave pool, where you can catch a crest, jump through a wave, or stand in the shallows and let the water lap your legs.

catskill mountain railroad

Ride the Rails

For a unique way to see the upper Valley, consider hopping aboard the Catskill Mountain Railroad. Staffed and maintained by an all-volunteer group of rail enthusiasts, this train follows the former Delaware and Ulster line — which at one time ferried bluestone, fresh milk, and other products into New York City, and brought back hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Catskill Mountain House and other luxury hotels. The “Esopus Scenic Train” travels between Phoenicia and Boiceville, offering stunning views of the mountains, the Esopus Creek, and local wildlife. The 12-mile round-trip excursions take about 90 minutes, and run from Memorial Day weekend through Oct. 30. Two “Twilight Limited” rides (offered on July 9 and Aug. 20) feature live music, refreshments, and a nighttime journey along the route. During the trip, be sure to stop off at the Empire State Railway Museum in Phoenicia. Housed in the circa 1900 railroad depot, the site details the history of steam travel in the region from the latter part of the 19th century through the 1940s.


tennisPhotograph by T-Design/Shutterstock

Tennis Anyone?

Want to work on your fitness, hand-eye coordination, and suntan all at the same time? Then hit one of the Valley’s many public outdoor tennis courts — no whites or costly membership fees required. Many towns and counties have tennis courts and offer summer programs for the whole family. For instance, at Cronomer Hill Park in Newburgh, there are six lighted courts available to the public for free, on a first-come, first-serve basis. During the month of July, the Town of Newburgh offers four-day tennis clinics for kids. Check with your local recreation department to see what programs are offered in your area.

Though joining a club means shelling out some dough, you get what you pay for. At Rhinebeck Tennis Club, for instance, that means a pro-shop, a teaching staff of USPTA registered tennis pros, a service for finding partners, and more. Some, like the Poughkeepsie Tennis Club or Cross Court Tennis in Wappingers, also have pools for member use; Cross Court charges just $25 for the day, which includes court and pool access. Explains Rhinebeck Tennis owner Bob Myerson: “The main difference between a park tennis facility and a club is the ambience. A club is more relaxed and private, quiet and serene. There’s a clubhouse, you can get lunch and sit in the garden. There won’t be bunches of kids running all over the place.” Different strokes for different folks.

Ulster County
Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex (Saugerties)
Four lighted outdoor courts, available for group permit use or first-come, first-serve.

Orange County
Cronomer Hill Park Sports Complex (Newburgh), 845-615-3830
Six lighted tennis courts. Available for group permit use or first-come, first-serve.

Thomas Bull Memorial Park (Montgomery), 845-457-4916
Six Har-Tru outdoor courts. Open Memorial Day-Labor Day, 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Call for fee information.

Dutchess County
Lakeside Park (Pawling), 845-855-1131
Twelve clay courts located on the outskirts of Green Mountain Lake. Open June 11-Labor Day. Individual and family park memberships available.


crabbingPhotograph by Feng Yu/Shutterstock

Grab A Crab

When you think of fun activities on the Hudson River, many things spring to mind — kayaking, river cruises, fishing, among them. But one of the more often overlooked seasonal satisfactions is crabbing. There are bountiful blue crabs — the exact same kind that creep around the Chesapeake Bay — in our river, and yes, they are edible.

The young crabs are born at the mouth of the Hudson. At that point, “they look like little space aliens,” says Frances Dunwell, the Hudson River Estuary Coordinator for the DEC. Within two months they start to resemble crabs, although they are still not much bigger than a fingernail. Eventually, they’ll reach five to six inches across the back, not including their claws (which are blue when they are alive, but turn orange when cooked). There is no official crabbing season — they live in the estuary all year long — but they do tend to head south in the winter to the saltier waters of New York Bay. Come the warmer months they return to the mid-Hudson region.

“It’s great for kids because it is really easy to catch them,” says Dunwell. “You don’t need a hook. All you need is a string and a chicken drumstick or a rotten chicken neck. They’ll eat fresh food, they’ll eat rotten food, they’ll eat sea grasses. They’ll even eat each other, they’re not picky. You just throw the food onto a muddy bottom, wait a while and pull it in. If you see a crab trailing along you scoop it up with a net.”

So where are the hot spots? “You’ll have the most success in Cornwall Bay or farther south,” says Dunwell. Popular spots, according to Dunwell, include Bear Mountain, Iona island, and the Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point in New Windsor.

If you happen to catch a tagged crab you should return it and call the DEC. (The agency tags them to track their seasonal movement; they may travel as much as 150 miles in a year.) “People love it, it’s like winning the lottery,” says Dunwell. “They can’t wait to report it because they get a special hat. All they have to do is tell us the basic information about the size of the crab and where they caught it.” In return, the DEC will give you a little bio on your crab. Dunwell notes that you should also never take a “she” crab with eggs. These mamas-to-be, referred to as sponge crabs, are highly visible because the eggs are orange and resemble a sponge.

“The personality of the crab is what makes it so fun,” says Dunwell. “When you catch one, they stare you down, their eyes pop out, their claws go up, they’re ready for a fight. They do something we call a crab dance: they click their pincers and snap their claws above their head.” In addition, you don’t need a license to catch these crustaceans, although there is a limit of 50 crabs per day. “That is another great thing about it,” says Dunwell. “It’s one of the few things in life that is free.”

crab cracker tool

Cracking Your Crabs
So what’s the best way to eat your catch? Steaming them with Old Bay Seasoning is “still the tried and true way,” says Dunwell. But take note: the New York State Department of Health recommends that people eat no more than six blue crabs a month. Women of childbearing age and children should not eat any.


drive-in moviePhotograph by Megan Cannistraro

Cinema à La Car

Sure, you can hop over to the Imax in Nyack if you want to catch a movie on an enormous screen, but at one of our nostalgic, area drive-ins, you can set up a lawn chair, throw around a Frisbee before the show, and in some places, even bring the family pet along. Whether you’re looking for a romantic date-night idea (just remember there’s a movie going on, too), or you want to bring the entire family, nothing says “summer nights” like the drive-in.

Billed as one of the state’s largest, the 60-year-old Hi-Way Drive-In boasts four big-screens showing different double features through the season (which runs until October). Even with recent renovations to the snack bar and restrooms, the cinema still maintains its classic atmosphere. Admission is $8, $3 children 3-11.

The Hollywood Drive-In has offered a family-friendly place to “watch stars under the stars” for almost 70 years. Catch a double feature and grab a bite from the concession stand; snacks include pizza, nachos, grilled goodies, and all the typical sugary treats to keep you awake through the late showing (double check those popcorn holders — the staff places free movie passes in randomly selected boxes). Listen for announcements between movies for fun trivia questions; you could win free sodas, snacks, or season passes. Admission is $8, $4 children 5-11.

Middletown’s Fair Oaks Drive-In features two screens (one larger than the other) and holds up to 800 cars. Double features run nightly during mid-summer, but only on weekends through September. Admission is $7, $4 children 5-11, free under age four. Thursdays are bargain nights: $5, $3 children.

Why would an outdoor movie theater need Wi-Fi? We’re not sure either, but it’s free at the Warwick Drive-In (845-986-4440). This classic cinema stretches along five rolling acres with three screens showing double features through October. The gate opens 90 minutes before shows start, so there’s plenty of time to kick back and have a snack from the concession. Admission is $8, $5 seniors and children 4-11, free under age four.

Although the Overlook Drive-In can accommodate up to 750 cars, it’s not uncommon to find many people lounging in the grassy field below the massive screen towering about six stories overhead. Pack a blanket, grab an Angus burger from the snack bar, and enjoy a double feature. Admission is $7, $4 children 5-11, free under age four. Monday night adult admission is reduced to $5.

The Hyde Park Drive-In, which has been running continuously for 52 years, shows double features on one large screen through September. Grab a bite of your favorite fried foods (mozzarella sticks, French fries) and other goodies from the snack bar, or load up on ice cream from Dairy Queen just down the road. Admission is $7, $4 children 5-11, children under four free. Tuesdays are bargain nights; adult admission is only $5.

» Read more about these drive-ins
» Poptional Reading blog’s favorite Valley drive-ins
» Drive-ins named one of the top 25 things every Valleyite must do
» Read Summer Fun 2010


Thistle by Tim Prentice, Garrison Art Center

Sculpture Season

Experience art in the outdoors at one of several Valley locales. The region’s premier sculpture park, the 500-acre Storm King Art Center, features dozens of large-scale works by modern masters like Alexander Calder, Maya Lin, and David Smith set amidst the rolling hills of the Hudson Highlands. This summer, the site reprises its 2010 show, 5+5: New Perspectives, which spotlights recent works by 12 artists. Inside the visitor center you can see The View from Here: Storm King at Fifty, an exhibit that explores the art center’s 50-year history using video installations, photographs, maquettes, and archival documents. New this year: a gallery devoted to the works of noted sculptor Mark di Suvero.

Visitors to Boscobel can take in Current 2011, mounted by the Garrison Art Center. Works created by 11 contemporary artists — including a site-specific sculpture by Martha Posner — are on view throughout the grounds of the historic house museum from May 27 through Oct. 10. (Be sure to check it out especially if you’ve got tickets to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.) Posner’s work is also featured at the art center’s gallery at Garrison Landing.

Storm King Art Center (Mountainville)
Open Wed.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., through Nov. 5 (10 a.m.-5 p.m., Nov. 6-15)

Boscobel (Garrison)
Open daily, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., through Nov.

Other opportunities to view art outdoors:
Opus 40 (Saugerties)
Created from the remnants of a bluestone quarry, this six-acre site features fitted-stone terraces, ramps, and fountains hand-carved by sculptor Harvey Fite.

The Fields Sculpture Park at Omi International (Ghent)
Like Storm King, this 300-acre site is home to more than 60 contemporary sculptures by artists from around the globe.


Animal House

Although many Valley residents can peek out at their back yards and view a menagerie of different species, taking a stroll through one of our local zoos provides a relaxing, educational way to spend a day outdoors with the family.

The Catskill Animal Sanctuary (CAS) in Saugerties has provided refuge for nearly 2,000 abused and neglected animals over the course of a decade. The facility, which offers educational programs and tours of the site, allows you to visit the free-to-roam critters, including cows, pigs, horses, goats, geese, and more.

New this year, the CAS offers even more ways to prevent mistreatment on farms through its Compassionate Cuisine program. On-site cooking and organic gardening lessons, led by certified vegan chef Kevin Archer, are perfect for those who are considering a vegan lifestyle, but are clueless when it comes to making a tasty dish with meat- and dairy-free ingredients. Classes are $60; previous lessons have included vegan sauces, baking, breakfast dishes, and Indian dinners.

Related zoos:

Bear Mountain Zoo (Highland Falls)
This location is the temporary home to rescued wild, Valley-native critters while they’re being rehabilitated. Visit eagles, deer, foxes, a bear den, and others.

Trevor Zoo (Millbrook)
Located at the independent Millbrook School, the zoo is open to the public and features domestic animals and exotic creatures from around the world including a variety of endangered species.


billy joe's ribworksAre you ribbing me? No, it’s the real deal at Billy Joe’s Ribworks in Newburgh. Here, you can choose Baby Back Ribs, St. Louis-Cut Ribs, or Brontosaurus Beef Ribs. They are all served with the choice of two house-made sides and cornbread

Riverside Revelry

There is perhaps no place quite like the Newburgh waterfront for outdoor dining and nightlife. With all the charm of an old-fashioned boardwalk, yet the sophistication of South Beach, the waterfront is the ideal place for people-watching, putting away a few frou-frou cocktails, or indulging in a first-class meal at one of several different eateries.

This year, two new restaurants are upping the ante on summer fun. The Pizza Shop, the latest venture by the ever-successful Cosimo’s Restaurant Group, is just up the hill on South Water Street. But it is well worth the short walk; not only do you get a different (and stunning) view of the river, but architecture and history buffs can admire the beautifully renovated West Shore Train Station, which houses both the casual new eatery and the Railroad Playhouse. While pizza — especially their signature thin-crust Crispina-style, pan pizza — is the centerpiece of the menu, there are daily entrée specials, gourmet sandwiches, and even a coffee bar. Free Wi-Fi, a deck, and sidewalk dining make this a must-visit this season.

Billy Joe’s Ribworks, in the former 26 Front Street space, opened to much fanfare early this year. When you first enter this soaring space, which is chock full of kitschy Southern-style decorations (think of a very sophisticated Cracker Barrel), you’ll immediately notice the huge windows overlooking the Hudson. This is truly a bustling BBQ joint, from the action at the cool-looking bar to a group doing line dancing in one corner. Acoustic performances during the week, live bands on weekends, and an outdoor bar also pump up the party scene.

But, of course, the main attraction remains ribs, ribs, and more ribs. All the meats are hand-rubbed three times, and here, diehards will be happy to know they can chow down on beef ribs, in addition to the more standard pork fare. An extensive menu and family-friendly prices have already attracted a diverse crowd. Luckily, if you don’t have time to sit on down, a Billy Joe’s outpost will be opening on Route 9 in Wappingers Falls soon.

Of course, the spacious Shadows on the Hudson has already transformed what was once a rag-tag area of Poughkeepsie into the most talked about dining destination in the mid-Hudson Valley. And thankfully, now you don’t have to choose between Poughkeepsie and Newburgh for a night of fun. Why not hop on the colorful new Shadows One Boat — a 33-foot long water taxi that seats 14 passengers and cruises from Shadows down to Billy Joe’s — and back again, on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, starting at noon. The trip takes approximately 18 minutes (on flat water) and costs $30 roundtrip. Hailing a taxi has never been so much fun.

» Find more dining destinations here


Photograph by Jessica Friedlander

Getting Your Sea Legs

When it comes to navigating the high seas, there are two types of mariners: the windjammers and the motor-boaters. The first lot prefers the glorious wind to guide them; steering vessels in a furious squall or with the lightest puff of air is all part of the challenge, after all.

Thankfully, the Valley is home to several places where you can learn to set your sail.

Chelsea Yacht Club
Chelsea. 845-831-7245

Hudson Cove Yacht Club
West Haverstraw. 201-684-0065

Hudson Sailing
Kingston. 845-687-2440

Kingston Sailing Club

Nyack Boat Club
Nyack. 845-353-0395

Tivoli Sailing Company
Tivoli. 845-901-2697

For more information on yacht and sailing clubs, visit the Hudson River Boat and Yacht Club Association at

» Read our sailing adventure


Berry Nice

The supreme strawberry is in season in late May and early June. Picking them yourself — look for plump, firm berries — is one of the purest pleasures of summer.

» How, where, and when to pick the best strawberries
» Strawberry orchards in the Hudson Valley

Also check out these festivals:

Beacon Sloop Club Strawberry Festival
June 12, 12-5 p.m. At Beacon Riverfront Park

Klyne Esopus Museum Strawberry Social
June 19 in Ulster Park


hits on the hudsonPhotograph courtesy of HITS-on-the-Hudson

Horse Around

They are upping the ante again this year at HITS-on-the-Hudson (aka Horse Shows in the Sun), the equestrian center in Saugerties. Last summer, the facility introduced the Pfizer Million, a jumpers competition in which world-class riders vie for the grand prize of a cool mil.

This year, the hunter class gets into the act, with a $500,000 Hunter Final, the richest purse offered in that class of show jumping. Both the Pfizer Million and the Hunter Final take place during the weekend of Sept. 11-12; but beginning on May 25, HITS offers horse shows Wednesday-Sunday all summer long. For the $5 admission fee (charged only on weekends, and donated to the Family of Woodstock social services organization), spectators can watch riders of all ages and ability levels — from children and juniors up through the Grand Prix competitors.


m/v mystereThe M/V Mystère will take off from Poughkeepsie’s Waryas Park

Photograph courtesy of Empire Cruise Lines

Anchors Aweigh!

After three years of providing historical tours along the Erie Canal, Capt. Jeffrey Pyle, his wife, and his brother — who together own Empire Cruise Lines — began looking for a new home for their vessel, the 60-foot, refurbished M/V Mystère. Pyle sent out inquiries to dozens of ports and regions throughout New England and the Midwest, but without success. Eventually, he contacted City of Poughkeepsie Mayor John Tkazyik. “I heard back right away, which was refreshing after dealing with municipalities all along the Eastern Seaboard,” recalls Pyle, a Poughkeepsie native. “If you’d asked me a year ago, would we be in Poughkeepsie, I’d never have thought it.”

Though the boat hails from upstate, everything about Empire Cruise Lines is Hudson Valley-focused, down to the food and drink served onboard. “Whole local flavor is really what we’re going for,” says Pyle. What that means is seasonal, locally sourced brunch, lunch, and dinner menus from two popular Poughkeepsie restaurants, Lola’s Café and Crave — all prepared by Culinary Institute grads. “Food is the center of attention on Empire Cruise Lines, not an afterthought like on most tours,” says Pyle. “It took us four months to settle on menus.” In addition to the high-quality grub, the line will offer beers from Hyde Park Brewery and wines from several Valley wineries, including special blends just for the Mystère.

The boat sets out from Waryas Park, which is within walking distance from both the Poughkeepsie train station and the Walkway Over the Hudson. There are a number of options, including weekend dinner cruises, Sunday brunch cruises, and two-hour weekday afternoon sightseeing tours. The Mystère will also host a number of themed party cruises, starting off with a season-opening Cinco De Mayo fiesta; the boat is also available for private parties.

More cruising:

Hudson River Adventures
Cruises on the Pride of the Hudson from Newburgh to West Point; additional trips to Bannerman Island.

Hudson Highland Cruises, Inc.
The historic 1917 Commander departs from Peekskill, Haverstraw, and West Point and heads north to Garrison Landing.

Hudson River Cruises
The Rip Van Winkle launches from Kingston and heads south to the Hyde Park area. Check out the new $10 Hudson River water taxi service from Kingston to Rhinecliff, which includes a close-up look at the Rondout Lighthouse.




Sun ’n Sand

Belleayre Mountain might be best known as a ski haven in the winter, but sun-worshippers can flock to the hilly hot spot to cool off in the summer too. The sandy Belleayre Beach offers swimming (with lifeguards on duty), picnic areas, pedal- or rowboat and kayak rentals, fishing, and a recreational area.

Take your little ones for a swim lesson at the Belleayre Beach Aqua School, where they’ll learn water safety and age-appropriate skills; or brush up on your backstroke with workshops geared towards all ages.

Those who enjoy spending time at any New York State park (including the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation-owned Belleayre) might want to consider the Empire Passport. For $65, you’ll receive a pass (valid for one year) that provides unlimited day-use vehicle entry to 178 state parks, 55 forest preserve areas, and to certain boat launch sites, arboretums, and park preserves. Visit for more information.

Belleayre Beach
Highmount. 845-254-5202

Clarence Fahnestock State Park
Carmel. 845-225-7207
Swim in Canopus Lake or lounge upon its sandy shores. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy other activities including boating, hunting, fishing, bird-watching, organized hikes (on weekends), and camping alongside scenic ridges.

Harriman State Park
Bear Mountain. 845-786-2701
With 31 lakes and reservoirs (including three sandy beaches: Lakes Sebago, Tiorati, and Welch) and 200 miles of hiking trails, Harriman is the second largest of the New York State parks. Camping, boating, fishing, concessions, and plenty of vantage points for photo ops are also available.

Lake Taghkanic State Park
Ancram. 518-851-3631
This park offers two beaches, boat rentals, picnic areas, and a newly renovated recreation hall and showers, and more. Having too much fun to leave? Camping options include sites for tents, trailers, and RVs plus cottages and cabins to rent.

Dutchess County Wilcox Memorial Park
Milan. 845-758-6100
This family-friendly park offers a lifeguard-protected beach open from Memorial Day to Labor Day (except Tuesdays and Wednesdays), and another lake ideal for fishing. There are also pavilions for parties, a bathhouse, and a snack bar.

Greenwood Lake Beach
Greenwood Lake. 845-986-1124
This public beach offers two swimming areas with lifeguards, picnic spaces, recreational areas, and events — from mini arts festivals to food fêtes — throughout the summer.

On the Hudson:

Croton Point Park
Croton-on-Hudson. 914-862-5290

Kingston Point Beach
Kingston. 845-331-1682

Saugerties Village Beach
Saugerties. 845-246-2321, ext. 1
(Actually located on the Esopus Creek)

Ulster Landing County Park
Saugerties. 845-336-8484

 mini golf gnome chomsky

Mini-Golf, Big Fun

Sure, long drives with your nine-iron look cool, but who really wants to walk 150 yards to hit the next shot (or worse, dig through the ferns to see where the first one landed)? For those who prefer putt-putt to divots, we’ve got the answer: miniature golf. Not only are there tons of fun obstacles (fire-breathing dragons, aliens) for your neon-hued orb to bounce and bobble around, but every type of amenity — snack bars, arcades, the occasional 13-foot garden gnome — is well within reach. Is your swing a little sub-par, even for mini-golf? Not to fear: Some of these courses offer real golf tips from the pros, in case you’re determined to make it past the green (and the gnomes).

Castle Fun Center
Chester. 845-469-2116
The aforementioned fire-breathing “dragon” resides here, along with an alligator (not alive, no worries) as part of two 18-hole courses. It also boasts eateries, laser-tag, rock climbing, go-cart racing, and batting cages.

Fun Central
Wappingers Falls. 845-297-1010
The name says it all: This is the center of all things fun. After taking a stab at the 18-hole course, ride the bumper boats and try the virtual reality coaster; play at the arcade and batting cages; and nosh on some grub at the snack bar.

GloPutt Mini Golf
Blauvelt. 845-358-GAME
Glow-in-the-dark. ’Nuff said.

Kelder’s Farm & Homegrown Mini Golf
Kerhonkson. 845-626-7137
Dubbed “Gnome on the Grange” (featuring Gnome Chomsky, formerly the world’s largest garden gnome), this 10-hole farm-cum-golf course offers snacks right on the green; all fruits and veggies that grow alongside it are yours for the tasting.

Monster Mini-Golf
Middletown. 845-342-4653
Players yell “Boo!” instead of “Fore!” at this monstrous franchise, which showcases scary, out-of-this-world creatures as part of its décor. Participate in contests for “giant prizes” or party it up in one of the two recreation rooms.

Overlook Golf & Recreation
Poughkeepsie. 845-471-8515
Less mini-golf and more golfing-in-the-miniature, you’ll feel like you’re really playing at Sawgrass (only on a smaller scale). Check out the driving range and even take lessons.

Yummies Ice Cream & Mini Golf Café
Highland. 845-691-2645
All-around fun for the family, hit a few holes, challenge friends to a board game, or sing karaoke.

Chatting with Tobias Wolff


Storyteller extraordinaire Tobias Wolff, best-known for his masterful memoirs (including the 1989 best-seller This Boy’s Life) and his thought-provoking short stories, currently teaches at Stanford University. Wolff, 64, has garnered many accolades in his long career, including the prestigious O. Henry Award for short stories (which he won three times) and the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his novella The Barracks Thief. On April 1 he’ll give a lecture at SUNY New Paltz. Here, Wolff sounds off on writing programs, why you can’t spot a star, and the clever Kindle.You taught at Syracuse University for 17 years. Do you miss anything about living in upstate New York?Well of course the friends we had, the pace of life, it was just a little more relaxed and human. I can’t say that I miss being housebound seven months of the year. It was a very lovely place to live while we were there.Are you familiar with the Hudson Valley?I’ve been to Vassar a couple of times; the Hudson Valley is beautiful. One of my favorite things to do is take the train down into New York City along the Hudson River, especially in the winter, when there are big blocks of ice jammed up against the shore.You’ve been quoted as saying that you can’t teach writing. So what do you try to impart to your students?I try to encourage their love of reading. In any given class of undergraduates, very few, if any, are actually going to end up being writers. So you hope to make them aware of the extraordinary achievement of the writers that you introduce them to. They can acquire some objectivity about their own work. But basically, I use the writing course as something of a literature course.Are you honest with your students about how difficult it is to make a living writing?Oh, they’re quite canny about things like that. Most of them take the course because they love writing and they want to give it a shot. It is applicable in all types of ways. It has to do with clarity and expression; with the refinement of one’s ideas; with the ability to revisit an idea and make it better. It is a very helpful major in all sorts of ways.You started out as a reporter at the Washington Post. Did you like that?I did. I was low on the totem pole, I did the police beat, obituaries. But I was there during Watergate, it was very exciting. Carl Bernstein was a friend of mine.Can you tell when one of your students is going to go on and make it big?No.What about Alice Sebold, the author of the best-selling novel The Lovely Bones, who was one of your students at Syracuse?She was a really nice kid. But if you had asked me if I thought she was going to be a successful writer, let alone a best-seller, I wouldn’t have predicted it. But I wouldn’t have said no either. It has to do with how hard you are willing to work; it isn’t a question of an immediately apparent gift. When you are working and having to hold other jobs and you come home at night, you can either watch TV or you can write a little. That’s the kind of person that Alice was and that’s why she became such a wonderful writer. Very few people start off as wonderful writers. I see real glimpses of talent in some of my undergraduates, but I know most won’t find it a very appealing way to live and will do other things. And some will have a vocation for it and will produce work of real originality and substance.This Boy’s Life was made into a 1993 movie. I thought it was pretty well done. What did you think?On the whole I was very pleased with it. But since it had to do with real events in my life, it made it difficult to accept when they would change things. Something in me would say, “Hey — it didn’t happen that way.”It must be nerve-wracking to watch a movie about your life.Yes. I took my mother with me and that made it even more nerve-wracking, but she enjoyed it.Have you ever taught memoir writing?No, I don’t want to. I think it would be very hard for an 18-year-old to write a memoir. Give them a little time, let their experience ripen.What do you think of reading books on a Kindle?Well, I have a Kindle, but I don’t use it. It was a gift and I was very happy to get it. I downloaded some books onto it, but I reach for my real books all the time, just out of habit. But I think they are great instruments. The idea that some kid in a village in India can have a library of a thousand books is just wonderful.Tickets for Wolff’s lecture are $18. To order, visit or call 845-257-3972.

tobias wolffPhotograph by Elena Seibert

7 Hot Hometowns



From Mahopac to Catskill, these fast-growing spots are chock-full of character and ready for new residents



As rivers go, the Hudson isn’t particularly long (it’s 315 miles, by the way). But in its compact dimensions, the waterway spans worlds, from the wilderness of the Adirondacks to Westchester’s crowded suburbs to the fabled and frenetic Big Apple. That variety translates into an abundance of choices for people searching for a new hometown, especially in our neck of the woods. Urban-style lofts? Yep, we’ve got those here. How about 100-year-old farmhouses or spanking new housing developments? You can find all these options — and more — in the Valley. But despite the variety, most of our towns and villages have one thing in common: character. They’ve been around for a while — and many have also been around the block, enduring rough times and rebounding from them. The word patina — the appealing surface gloss that is a product of age and gentle use, rather than decay — is usually used to describe antiques. But many Valley communities have a certain patina as well, created by history and the natural surroundings. These communities aren’t suburbs, they have identities all their own. And just as important, they’re using creativity and commitment to help deal with rapid growth, the decline of downtown areas, and other challenges. Travel to any of these seven spots, and you’ll find a downtown that has a real sense of place. Will one of them become your new home? 



Beacon: An Arts-Fueled Transformation

This once-gritty community’s manufacturing past laid the foundation for its recent dramatic revival. From the late 1800s through the 1950s, Beacon was a bustling factory town (bricks and hats were the main exports), but it fell onto hard times in the late 1960s as manufacturing collapsed and Americans abandoned

Main Street

for the mall.


But in 2003, a 24,000-square-foot decaying Nabisco box factory was purchased by the Dia Foundation and eventually transformed into Dia:Beacon, one of the world’s largest museums of contemporary art. Beacon’s renaissance was on. While some local communities have flirted with creating an artists’ district, Beacon got the job done: artists’ lofts are available throughout town, galleries dot the main drag, and works by local artists hang on many restaurant and coffeehouse walls. Several years ago, a new generation of residents, many priced out of New York City, arrived in town, snatching up much of the large Victorian housing stock at bargain-basement prices. The Metro-North train line, which runs a packed 75-minute express into Grand Central several times a day, as well as Beacon’s proximity to Route 84 and Stewart International Airport, add to the city’s appeal.


But Beacon is about far more than the arts. Situated at the northern end of the Hudson Highlands, the city is beautifully nestled between the river and its namesake mountain. Stunning 1,503-foot Mt. Beacon attracts locals and visitors who want to hike its steep trails, gaze at the ruins of an old hotel on the summit, and marvel at the remains of what was once the world’s steepest incline railway. Outdoor buffs can also wander around a variety of state parks, take a kayak on the river, or venture out for a free weeknight trip on the Woody Guthrie — a sailboat originally owned by folk artist (and longtime Beacon resident) Pete Seeger and now run by a local sloop club.


“I love living here. The proximity to the river, to the mountain — and still having the train to hop on to the city — is just wonderful,” says Debra Adamsons, owner of World’s End Books and a recent transplant to the area.


Beacon still has a way to go — we wouldn’t recommend walking down

Main Street

by yourself in the middle of the night — but the city is working hard to secure the resources that will make its renaissance permanent. A brand-new, state-of-the art high school opened in 2002, and a huge waterfront “green” hotel and conference center are in the works. Housing prices have risen dramatically in the last few years, before leveling off in 2006. Nonetheless, with median prices just around $300,000, Beacon remains among the most affordable towns in Dutchess County. And many residents treasure its “rough-around-the-edges-cum-quirky” appeal. “I love the funky aspect of the town,” says a two-year resident. “I feel like something is going on here.”



Catskill: On the Comeback Trail

The village of Catskill owes its existence to Mother Nature. With the eponymous mountains full of raw materials to the west, and access to the Hudson River (via the Catskill Creek) due east, the town grew rapidly in the 19th century as a center of commerce, shipping bluestone, leather and ice to burgeoning New York City. The natural beauty of the surroundings — celebrated by Hudson River School painter (and Catskill citizen) Thomas Cole — enticed the region’s earliest tourists to the Catskill Mountain House, the first Catskills hotel. Although the mountain house is gone, Cedar Grove — Cole’s home and studio, and a national historic site — still stands on Main Street, and now draws tourists of its own. (Interested hikers can venture to the site of the mountain house, which on a clear day offers a view of five states.)


Like many Valley towns, Catskill fell on hard times when shoppers abandoned downtown areas in favor of shopping malls. But the village has made a miraculous recovery over the last five years, thanks in large part to Greene County’s Main Street Revitalization and Small Grants programs. By offering matching grants and architectural assistance to business owners, these programs are helping to breathe new life into the village’s decaying Victorian buildings and storefronts. New businesses — antiques and home improvement stores, restaurants, lawyer’s offices — are moving in. Residential areas, which offer a collection of houses of myriad styles from Federal to Greek Revival to Gothic, are starting to see the influx of weekenders and second-home buyers.


Other Catskill attractions include the Catskill Gallery, which has changing exhibits of works by local artists; the Beattie Powers House, a Greek Revival mansion owned by the village; and Catskill Point, a sliver of land that juts into the river. A warehouse building on the site recalls the village’s shipping days, and the adjacent Catskill Point Restaurant is an area landmark.

With house prices still relatively low (the 2006 median price was $175,000), and economic development officials working hard to attract more businesses, the town seems poised to continue its upswing. Linda Overbaugh, executive director of the Heart of Catskill, the town’s Chamber of Commerce, sums it up: “Catskill has been to the very bottom, and Catskill is going to the very top.”



Cornwall on Hudson: A Tucked-Away Treasure

Nestled comfortably in some of the Hudson Valley’s most dramatic terrain, Cornwall on Hudson has a sense of self and identity few other places in the region can match. “I think the village is unique in that it’s probably the only one of the villages on the Hudson that’s sort of tucked away. It’s not on a through road, it’s not on a highway. It’s kept its village character,” says businessman Deke Hazirjian, president of the village’s Local Development Corporation.


Although only about six miles down Route 9W from some of Newburgh’s troubled neighborhoods, the village remains one of Orange County’s more affluent communities. But it’s more Norman Rockwell than country club chic. People jog through the village streets at all times of day, while Ring’s Pond serves as the spot for a popular fishing derby and ice-skating adventures in the winter. Always visible milling about town is a large contingent of students — public school kids as well as those from the two local private schools, the New York Military Academy and the Storm King School.  


Not to be overlooked is the stunning scenery. Take Route 218 (also called Storm King Mountain Road) south out of town toward West Point for one of the most spectacular (and challenging) drives in the Valley. If you can handle the dizzying twists and turns, the river views are simply unsurpassed. (But be aware that the road often closes due to bad weather and rock slides.) Dozens of hiking trails — both up in the Highlands and down by the river — provide more options to check out scene-stealing vistas. The area is also bursting with cultural offerings. The world-renowned Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre outdoor sculpture garden, is not far from the village, and the Museum of the Hudson Highlands is an integral part of the community, offering hands-on programs for both adults and children.


The small village bustles with energy these days. Painter’s Tavern, housed in the old Cornwall Inn and offering up an eclectic and affordable menu, has long been a neighborhood gathering spot. Recent additions to the dining scene include Nikki’s, the River Bank, and Pices. Of course, isolation has its challenges. Commuting to the city — or anywhere for that matter — can be difficult with no direct train access. And although the charming riverside park is often busy with picnicking families, there is no public launch for boats or kayaks. The village’s Riverfront Revitalization Committee hopes to change that. Work is also underway to develop an ecologically and economically appropriate business called Storm King Adventure Tours, which will provide customers with a chance to mountain bike, kayak or hike in this magnificent terrain.


Overall, many residents feel what they get — a place where community is paramount — is well worth it. “That’s been the greatest appeal to us, the family aspect of the town,” says one local resident. “I asked my son one time if he was misbehaving at all, and he said, ‘Mom, in a town this small, there’s no way you wouldn’t find out about it.’ ”

Cornwall on Hudson can actually provide a special challenge for potential homebuyers; people like the place so much that houses rarely come on the market. When they do, the median price is $356,000.



Highland: Close to its Rural Roots

Highland, NY loves being in the middle of things… and just out of the way at the same time. Poughkeepsie is right across the Hudson River, while New Paltz, Kingston and Newburgh are only a stone’s throw away. The compact village center is surrounded by natural areas, including the river and Chodikee Lake (a popular fishing and kayaking spot). Extensive development has occurred in both the town’s outskirts and in some of its neighborhoods. Single-family home construction went from 13 buildings in 2000 to 22 in 2002 to 33 in 2005. Local realtors say there have been numerous new developments, with others are waiting for approval.


“There have been a ridiculous number of new homes that have gone up in the Highland area in the last few years,” says Tim Woods, owner of the Highland Manor bed and breakfast. “It shows up Highland¹s attractiveness. Across the street from me there are three brand new houses that have gone up within the last year and a half,” he says.


Even with this building frenzy, Highland retains its small-town appeal. “It’s a beautiful area. It’s gorgeous everywhere,” Woods says.


A special new attraction is the Hudson Valley Rail Trail, which stretches from the Hudson River, through the entire town and reaches much of the way to neighboring New Paltz. The trail has become an especially attractive site for walkers and bikers.


The trail stretches 5 miles, from the old railroad bridge over the Hudson between Poughkeepsie and Highland, running through the hamlet of Highland then heading west to Route 299 to New Paltz.


Highland’s downtown is still coming back. A devastating fire destroyed numerous buildings years ago. That huge empty space on the town’s

Main Street

has now been filled by the Hudson Valley School of Massage Therapy, which is always looking for bodies to work on.


Exceptional water access is another part of life in Highland, with fishing and boating easily available. There are two local marinas and a state launch ramp at Rte 97 1.5 miles west of Barryville which allows for hand launching and has parking spaces for 40 cars.


Residents can also go to the Casa de Arte for poetry and painting classes.


Antique aficionados can find another resource in Highland: Vintage Village, a vast collective that includes a 4,800 square foot former sawmill along with a toy store, furniture barn, artists loft and a history display by the Town Of Lloyd Historical Preservation Society.


Another of Highland¹s attractions is the quality of its schools. They have a reputation for quality and in 2004 came close to matching or exceeding state averages at all grade levels.



Kinderhook: Hanging on to History

There are historic old towns in the Hudson Valley, and then there’s Kinderhook. Founded in 1609, the Columbia County village’s Dutch roots are echoed in its name (supposedly bestowed by Hendrick Hudson himself) which means “child’s corner.” Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Kinderhook boasts many Colonial era homes (all of which are well-maintained; a historic preservation ordinance has been in place since 1974). The village is home to the Columbia County Museum as well as two house museums: the Federal-style Vanderpoel House, and the Van Alen House, a Colonial Dutch farmstead.


America’s eighth president, Martin van Buren, was a Kinderhook native, and one of the town’s most beautiful attractions is Lindenwald, his 1797 family farm and home. Farming remains an integral part of life in the area. Roxbury Farm, a 225-acre community-supported farm, supplies organically grown fruits and vegetables to more than 1,000 families in the immediate area, as well as in Albany, Westchester, and Manhattan. And protecting open space is a high priority: the town’s comprehensive plan ensures that agricultural and scenic areas, as well as historic sites, are preserved.


Kinderhook has a variety of unusual stores, selling everything from antiques (Lindowen’s American Country) and books (Blackwood and Brouwer) to folk art prints and ceramics created by a local artist (Treasured Art). Natives say Carolina House — a log cabin-style restaurant — is a must for visitors. Unusual for a northern eatery, their menu includes Louisiana trout, fried chicken, baby back ribs, and other southern specialties.


Median home prices in Kinderhook were $297,000 in 2006. With its proximity to Albany — the state capitol is about 20 miles or so away — the town a commuter hub for its neighbors. The rising pace of new construction — the number of new buildings jumped from two in 1996 to 36 in 2005 — could be evidence of an upcoming trend.



Mahopac: A Lakefront Jewel

Thirty years ago, Putnam County’s southern reaches could still be called country. Now, “there’s still some open space, but it’s a lot more crowded than it was in ’65,” says longtime Mahopac resident Mark Fraser. “We’ve had a huge population growth.”


But one thing has remained the same: Mahopac’s focus on recreation.


Built on the shores of 17-acre Lake Mahopac, the hamlet was originally a summer haven for wealthy New Yorkers who came in droves in the mid-1800s to frolic in several bustling lakefront resorts. But by the 1950s, the grand hotels fell out of

A Reunion of Revolutionaries



A Reunion of Revolutionaries

Bard College Remembers



In the aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, close to 300 student refugees called Bard College home. This month, the college hosts a reunion of these courageous men and women.



Béla Liptak remembers the sound of blood dripping on the floor. In the shuddering silence after the Soviet shell had torn through the fragile Hungarian house, the noise was surprisingly loud.


It was the girl’s blood. She had been helping to carry basic supplies to Liptak and his fellow revolutionaries as they fired rifles at the Soviet tanks. The huge steel beasts had rumbled into Budapest to crush one of the most glorious moments of freedom in modern history. On October 23, 1956, Liptak had been part of a student group that led a successful nationwide rebellion against the Soviet-imposed Communist regime in Hungary. But the new democratic government was short-lived. The Soviets ultimately quashed the revolution, arresting 26,000 Hungarians, imprisoning 13,000 and executing 350. More than 200,000 citizens fled the country.

Liptak was one of them.


Within weeks, the 20-year-old found himself living in Dutchess County. He was one of almost 300 refugees taken in by Bard College while the school was closed for an extended winter break. For about three months, these students lived among the trees and mansions of this small liberal arts college on the Hudson River — organizing themselves, learning English, forging friendships, and gaining other skills needed to help launch their new lives in the U.S. “Bard’s initiative was unusual, if not extraordinary,” says Leon Botstein, Bard’s current president. On February 14-17, Bard hosts a special weekend reunion for the former student refugees (which includes a conference — open to the public — that will examine the impact and legacy of the Hungarian Revolution. For more information, see


“The situation at Bard gave us a new start in the U.S.,” says Liptak. “Before going to the American universities, we spoke no English. In no time at all, we taught the teachers Hungarian and learned very little English, but it was good enough to get started.”

Liptak’s involvement in the Revolution began when his student group planned protests against such banalities as poor cafeteria food, terrible living conditions, and incompetent professors. But the students’ conversations quickly focused on the underlying reason for their discontent: Soviet control of Hungary (which had begun in earnest in 1949).“We first started off with typical student demands, and by midnight we ended up with the demand for the Russian occupation forces to leave the country,” Liptak says.



Furious at the brutal political repression and frustrated by the country’s economic stagnation, other student groups also began agitating. A list of 16 proposals helped solidify the movement, and jolt the rebels from talk into action. On that fateful October evening in 1956, 200,000 people were shouting for change in the streets of Budapest. A 30-foot-tall statue of Stalin was toppled from its plinth, and Hungarian flags (ragged with huge holes where Communist emblems had been ripped off) flew from the boots that remained.



Soviet tanks rolled into the streets the next day. But the tanks were the older, more vulnerable models. “We destroyed their tanks with so-called Molotov cocktails,” Liptak says, speaking softly with a rich, rolling accent. “We threw them at the tanks and afterwards penetrated the gasoline tanks with small arms, and they burnt up.”



By the 28th, hostilities were almost over. “They were beaten. We had almost a week of freedom with a multiparty, democratic form of government,” Liptak says. But new orders came down from the Kremlin, and on November 3, Soviet tanks rolled towards Budapest again.

     “The Russians used more tanks in the second attack on Hungary than Hitler used to occupy France,” Liptak asserts. Nonetheless, it took a savage week of fighting before the Soviets defeated the determined Hungarian rebels. “It was a very bloody invasion,” he says.


And still, Liptak can’t forget the girl. “She had run back towards the front of the house to fetch a loaf of bread she had forgotten. We found her very badly wounded. And I remember as I put her down on the floor I saw her mouth moving. I didn’t even realize she was conscious. I put my ear to her mouth. She said, ‘There is some candy in my pocket. Take some.’ Then we were captured.” Drunken Soviet troops later allowed Liptak to escape. His father ordered him to leave the country. He went. He never found out what happened to the wounded girl.

            More than 20,000 Hungarian refugees made their way to the United States after the Revolution. Most wound up at New Jersey’s Camp Kimmel; many were then sent to colleges all over the country. The U.S. government had encouraged the Hungarian revolt: broadcasts on Radio Free Europe had assured the revolutionaries that help was on its way. Hungarians felt betrayed by America, and many in this country felt they had a point. It is said that President Eisenhower requested that major colleges offer scholarships to the refugees as a small way of making up for the nation’s inaction.

 Bard officials felt that hosting the students would be a superb way to express the school’s commitment to human rights and other core values. And the refugees knew a superb thing when they saw it. “By Christmastime we were at Bard,” says refugee Ferenc Novak (who had been prohibited from attending college in Soviet-run Hungary because he was from the despised “intellectual class”). “Looking back 50 years, it was the best thing that could have happened to us. We were welcomed there. We were made safe. We had a chance to deepen or start our English studies, and in general try and get ourselves embedded into the American surroundings.” Novak went on to work for over 30 years as a systems analyst and manager for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.



Although attendance at Bard was free, some refugees had to finagle a way to get there. Béla’s wife, Martha, aided the Revolution by carrying drugs and supplies to the fighters. Afterwards, she tried to flee to Vienna, but was detained at the border; she spent time in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S. Her first weeks here were drenched in culture shock. “We were driven through sections of the country where there was nothing but white clapboard houses with Christmas tree lights on. This did not line up with our idea of what America was like. We thought of America as New York City, instead there were little white houses with twinkling Christmas lights.”

Martha’s disorientation continued after friends found her a dead-end job as a janitor’s assistant. “I heard about Bard and the language courses, so I borrowed $10 and took the train up the Hudson.” She hid on the campus for three weeks, afraid to register because she had snuck in. When she finally revealed herself, she was welcomed. She went on to attend Skidmore, earn her master’s degree in English, and teach school for many years; today she is a respected ceramics artist. Besides her education, Martha also got something else from her stay at Bard: a husband. She and Béla were wed in December 1958. Three children and almost 50 years later, the couple credits the college with giving them the start to a very satisfying life. Béla attended New Jersey’s Stephens Institute of Technology, and has written several texts on computer controlled processes. His 2001 book, A Testament of Revolution (Texas A&M University Press), describes his experiences during the Revolution.

Because they were so focused on the future, many of the refugees have only vague memories of the campus. They remember wide-open spaces, lots of trees and beautiful buildings. Béla clearly recalls one detail: “The food in the cafeteria was fantastic!”

Béla’s eagerness to see his compatriots at this month’s reunion is tinged with a very Hungarian melancholy. “I’m looking forward to it,” he says. “But I was back in Hungary just this October for the 50th anniversary of the Revolution. I was meeting old friends and being amazed that those beautiful girls and handsome boys had become fat and bent old people.”

More important than classroom lessons, Bard gave the refugee students a feel for American life. “I learned how to talk to people and interact with them and to have some idea as to how society worked,” Novak says. “Bard was the first place where I experienced the magnanimity, goodness and openness of the American people.”

After Thoughts…


Pataki’s Peekskill Memories

Perhaps the Hudson Valley’s most famous Hungarian-American is George Pataki, who left Albany last month after 12 years as governor of New York State. Pataki, whose paternal grandparents were farmers in Hungary before emigrating to the U.S., has often spoken of his fond recollections of growing up in a predominantly Hungarian neighborhood in Peekskill.

While leading a presidential delegation to the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution in Budapest last October, Pataki made the following comments to students at the city’s Central European University:        

“I remember those events like it was yesterday. I was only 11 back on October 23 of 1956 but it’s a day and a week in that period of time I will never forget in my life… It was an enormously emotional time and I can remember back in upstate New York on our little farm my whole family gathering together in front of the television and having tears of joy when the Soviet tanks pulled out and it looked like the Hungarians would live in freedom for the first time in so long. Then those tears of joy became tears of sadness and sorrow eight days later when those tanks returned…

“There was a factory in my hometown, and hundreds of immigrants from northeastern Hungary came and settled in that town in upstate New York to work in that factory. So although my father was born in New York, he couldn’t speak any English, everyone spoke Hungarian. The church was on

Kossuth Street

, the church service was in Hungarian, everybody spoke Hungarian. It wasn’t until he went off to school that he learned English…

“We grew up in a very strong Hungarian community and in fact my grandfather, after he saved up enough in the factory, he bought a little farm, which was very much like the farm that he had and his family had in Szabolcs County [in northeastern Hungary]. As a kid I remember that farm. On that farm every Sunday in the summer we would have a szalonnasutes. And till this day, Sundays in the summer, my children and I “es az unokatestverem, mind a cslad,” have a szalonnasutes.”

And what — ask all you non-Hungarians — is this szalonnasutes that still delights the former governor and his family? It’s the traditional Hungarian bacon barbecue. Although there are many schools of thought on all the intricacies, the basics involve roasting the Hungarian bacon (szalonna) over an open flame and letting the drippings fall onto a piece of fresh bread, which is then garnished with such things as cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, and onions. 

Who knew?


Keeping the Faith


Forty years ago we had 80 to 100 active members,” says Rev. Alexander Forro about the Hungarian Reformed Church in Poughkeepsie. “Now we have about 30 or 35 members, and maybe 10 or 15 people coming to the service each Sunday.”

Founded in 1932, the church used to be the center of a bustling Hungarian community in Poughkeepsie. “This whole neighborhood used to be Hungarian,” says Forro, referring to the area surrounding the

Grove Street

church. “Hungarians started coming in large numbers after World War II. And then, of course, more came after the Revolution. Although the biggest grouping of Hungarians was in New Jersey, some came up here. But many of the older people here have died off and the younger ones intermarry, choose other churches, or move away.”

Currently, about 3,100 people in Dutchess County — or 1.1 percent of the population — claim Hungarian ancestry, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Still, up to three generations of families sometimes worship at the church — the only Hungarian church in the entire Hudson Valley. It is a member of the Hungarian Reformed Church of America, part of a network of Reformed churches which dates back to the time of the Reformation and still has congregations in Manhattan, Staten Island, Rochester and

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