While many people know West Point as a military academy of historical significance from the Revolutionary War, there are many more reasons why it is one of the most popular tourist sites in New York and the most visited place in the Valley. Located in the town of Highland Falls, the former fortress is home to the U.S. Military Academy — a four-year, coed school which didn’t admit women until 1976. But the grounds also feature live performances and concerts at the Eisenhower Hall Theatre, exciting football games with the Army Black Knights, and serve as a beautiful wedding reception venue in the Thayer Hotel. In addition, it’s got one of the finest Fourth of July fireworks displays in the Valley, with live music by the USMA Concert Band and the Hudson River as a backdrop.
The Columbia County city of Hudson has gone through quite a colorful past to become the shopping, arts, and dining epicenter it is today, specifically on busy Warren Street. Hudson — once known as a thriving red light district — has become almost synonymous with antiquing, and now creative eateries, unique boutiques (including everything from quirky clothing stores to bookshop-bars), and community festivities can be seen up and down Warren. The city’s revitalization from a mid-1900s riverfront ghetto to a bustling commercial and cultural community paved the way for other Valley city makeovers — Beacon, Poughkeepsie, and Newburgh’s historic district included — but this decades-in-the-making Cinderella story was the first.
Stewart International Airport
What is now known as Stewart International Airport was originally a flight training facility for the Army and the Air Force; the airport offered exclusive space for military purposes — including the 1981 return of the 52 American hostages detained in Iran — for nearly five decades. Heated debate over how to best utilize the space raged until 1990, when an American Airlines jet took off on Stewart’s first commercial flight. Attempts to privatize the airport were made throughout the ’90s, but were not successful until 2000. The venture proved short-lived, however, as the Port Authority took over in 2007. Today, that agency continues to operate passenger planes with the goal of cementing Stewart as “New York’s fourth airport.”
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
On August 15, 1969, the sleepy Sullivan County community of Bethel marked its place in history as a mecca for love, peace, and music during the Woodstock Festival. On the site where the famous music and art fest took place now sits the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. The outdoor center opened in 2006, followed by a museum (2008) dedicated to the fest and the era surrounding it — including the war, the culture, and the counterculture. Since then, various performers ranging from the local Hudson Valley Philharmonic to international superstars have graced its stage. Keep an eye out this summer for folk-jam band Furthur (July 15), 1990s hit-makers Everclear (with Sugar Ray and the Gin Blossoms, July 20), and Joe Cocker (Aug. 5).
Opening of the Walkway Over the Hudson 2009
It took more than a decade’s worth of planning, fund-raising, and political maneuvering, but in 2009 the 121-year-old Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge was rechristened as the world’s longest pedestrian park. Besides offering an outdoor recreational spot with drop-dead views of the Highlands and the Catskills, the Walkway has proven to be an impressive engine for the local economy. According to an economic analysis issued in February, the site averages close to 500,000 yearly visitors, about half of whom hail from outside our region. These tourists spend close to $24 million each year in restaurants, B&Bs, and other businesses in Dutchess and Ulster counties — which in turn creates 383 jobs.
You’ve heard the tale: A European sea captain, seeking a passageway across the world, bumps into a continent and calls it a discovery. No, not Christopher Columbus; the Englishman Henry Hudson, who found and named the Hudson River during a misrouted voyage that brought him to this abundant valley. In 1609, Hudson was hired by the Dutch East India Company to find an eastern waterway from Amsterdam to Asia aboard the Dutch ship Halve Maen (or Half Moon). Fast-forward to the celebration of 2009’s quadricentennial, and after all the changes our dear river has endured — from steamboat route to toxic waste site to family-friendly beach — it’s still a source of discovery and beauty.
Empire State Plaza 1976
While Manhattan may be New York’s most famous skyline, the Empire State Plaza’s towering structures made Albany recognizable in its own right. Conceptualized by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in 1959, the plaza did not officially operate at full capacity until 1976, when the final installment — the famously controversial Egg — opened its doors. The 10 buildings rest atop a six-story marble platform around a series of reflecting pools. A pedestrian bridge connects the main area to the Times Union Center, and a large tunnel provides access to the New York State Capitol. Cultural attractions like war memorials, an ice skating rink, and an extensive art collection are sprinkled throughout the grounds, drawing tourists and natives alike.
You may know them as the Sha-wan-gunks, the Shawn-guns, or even the SHON-gums (yes, with an “M”) — but if you just call them the Gunks everyone will know exactly what you are talking about. The stunning Shawangunk Ridge, about 47 miles long and standing 2,289 feet high at its tallest point, looms majestically over New Paltz and has morphed into a world-renowned mecca for rock climbers. Approximately 50,000 climbers visit each year to see the Gunk’s hidden treasures: Awosting Falls in Minnewaska State Park Preserve, the ice caves in Ellenville’s Sam’s Point Preserve, and cliffs of white Shawangunk conglomerate containing natural milky quartz, for starters. But the land is so beautiful that hikers, campers — and pretty much everyone else — are also fiercely protective of our one-of-a-kind Gunks.