Fall Drives 2009
The leaves are changing, the air is crisp, the nights are getting longer — it’s the ideal time to hit the road. Check out our local action-packed fall foliage routes
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Foliage Drive #1: Taconic State Parkway
The parkway’s Columbia County stretch offers lush views, outdoor activities, and the picturesque village of Chatham
By Polly Sparling
The northern Taconic State Parkway — specifically the 32-mile section through Columbia County — will prove a pleasant surprise to drivers whose only knowledge of the roadway is the oft-crowded branch south of Poughkeepsie. Bracketed by the Berkshires to the east, and the Hudson River and Catskills to the west, the parkway’s route was mapped out in the 1920s by a young Franklin Roosevelt. Purposely avoiding towns and villages — but incorporating state parks, abundant farmland, and a wide center median bursting with colorful foliage — the road seems custom-made for fall leaf-peeping. And with only about 10,000 cars (no trucks) traveling this stretch daily — compared to two-and-a-half times as many in Dutchess/Putnam counties — there’s rarely any traffic problems.
Even if you never leave your car, the views along this route are spectacular. Be sure to take advantage of the parkway’s two scenic overlooks, located near Gallatin and Ghent, which provide 360-degree views of the mountains and river in the distance. On a clear day, they offer some of the best vistas anywhere in the Valley.
You can also get a dose of culture from the Taconic Sculpture Park in Spencertown (see sidebar at right).
Opportunities for outdoor fun are just a parking lot away at Lake Taghkanic State Park, whose entrance is adjacent to the TSP in Ancram. With two beach areas, the park is often jammed with swimmers in summer; come fall, visitors can still enjoy eight miles of hiking and biking trails (lined with Appalachian oak and other colorful tree varieties); camping and picnicking areas; and paddle-boating and fishing on the 150-plus-acre lake. And be sure to keep an eye out for deer, rabbits, beaver — even coyotes — within the park’s confines.
A few miles east of the parkway on Route 23, you’ll find the newly opened Catamount Adventure Park. The name might lead you to think that you’ll be riding Ferris wheels and roller-coasters — not so. This adjunct to the popular ski area offers eight forest rope courses. Participants use rope “bridges,” cables, and zip lines to move among a series of platforms installed in the treetops; what better way to get a bird’s-eye view of the fall colors? On the way back to the parkway, stop for a snack at the Martindale Chief Diner, a 1958 stainless-steel landmark known for its giant neon sign.
End your Taconic tour in the village of Chatham, a quaint but lively spot with interesting architecture and good entertainment, shopping, and dining choices. Vestiges of the 19th century — including an 1872 pendulum clock tower, the 1887 Union Rail station (now a bank), and the well-preserved brick storefronts that line Main Street — give the village its Victorian flavor. But the area also has plenty to do. Catch a current movie (and check out the vintage marquee) for just $5 at the Crandell Theatre. The nearby Mac-Hadyn Theatre closes its season this month with Footloose; the Ghent Playhouse gets rolling on Oct. 9 with Mark Dunn’s comedy Belles. Browsers will want to check out the pewter flower-of-the-month bracelets at R.H. Van Alstyne Fine Jewelry, cute knit baby clothes at the Warm Ewe, and everything from refrigerator magnets to Le Creuset cookware at American Pie.
When hunger strikes, head to Blue Plate on Kinderhook Street. This American bistro uses vegetables grown at Chatham’s organic CSA farm, and cheese from Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. Owner Judy Grunberg keeps her customers happy with beef ribeye, grilled trout, and their “famous” meatloaf. (And happy they are — we’ve received several letters from Chatham locals that sing the praises of Blue Plate’s menu and service.)
Drivers looking to spend the night in the area should check out the Inn at Green River, just north of Hillsdale near the Massachusetts border. Innkeeper Deborah Bowen is renowned for creating a romantic atmosphere for her guests: Special room “add-ons” include fresh flowers and chocolates, or an in-room supper for late arrivals. And her sumptuous breakfasts (lemon-ricotta pancakes and fresh-baked scones are staples) have been lauded by writers in the New York Times and elsewhere.
The theater is housed in the former Ghent Town Hall, which was built over 100 years ago.
Taconic Sculpture Park
Artist Ray Kanwit’s 19-foot-high cement head of a woman is a can’t-miss-it sight for drivers on the northbound side of the parkway, and one of more than 40 stone and concrete creations at the park (which offers tours daily by appointment).
The Inn at Green River
This circa 1830 farmhouse B&B has seven guest rooms — some with fireplaces, whirlpools, and deep-soaking tubs — that are decorated with paintings, sculptures, and antiques.
Lake Taghkanic State Park
Ancram; 518-851-3631 or www.nysparks.state.ny.us
Catamount Adventure Park
Hillsdale; 518-325-3200 or www.catamounttrees.com
Martindale Chief Diner
Chatham; 518-392-3331 or http://crandelltheatre.com
Chatham; 518-392-9292 or www.machaydntheatre.org
R.H. Van Alstyne Fine Jewelry
Chatham; 518-392-7718 or http://vanalstynejewelry.com
Chatham; 518-392-2929 or www.warmewe.com
Blue Plate Restaurant
Chatham; 518-392-7711 or www.chathamblueplate.net