The Hopewell Junction Depot parking area was empty when I pulled in at 10 am on Monday, March 29th. Shortly after I arrived, my riding partner for the day, Benny Zaken pulled in with his wife, my cousin Grace. Benny and Grace live just down the road in East Fishkill. He’s a regular on this stretch of the Empire State Trail, often riding from Hopewell Junction to Brewster and back in an afternoon. The perfect guy to join me on this blue sky, windy spring day.
Riding north we were in the woods most of the way, passing marshes and streams. The trail from Hopewell to Poughkeepsie has a gradual rise; it’s in prime condition, well maintained, lightly used by bikers.
This part of the trail seems to have replaced the railway tracks, with several small retired train stations, cabooses, and crossing signs indicating bygone days. With a trail cut into the landscape over a hundred years earlier for a completely different purpose, it strikes me as a wonderful example of repurposing for society’s benefit.
One of the things I’m loving about the Empire State Trail is the way it sneaks into one town after another, Poughkeepsie is no different. Just as the old train tracks of the past were designed for, the trail borders large commercial properties that must have needed access to the rail bed, the next phase of commercial use seems to be warehouses followed by what appears to be multi-family housing. Then the trail opens up into a larger public parking space followed by a visitors center which offers a variety of services including restrooms, an information center, and a coffee shop (under construction).
Crossing the footbridge is one of the great privileges a New Yorker can enjoy on a day off.
It’s been paid for and maintained by our tax dollars and worth every effort it takes to walk, or ride across the bridge during one’s day off. Standing in the center of this old railway bridge, I found myself looking out onto the huge expanse of the river below and wondering just what it might have been like for those who built the bridge to share commerce in our state’s early days.
Riding off of the bridge and on to New Paltz involves a more gradual rise. A spring creek flows gently on the side of the trail, hosting an abundance of watercress. I was tempted to grab a handful but realized that foraging for an afternoon meal wasn’t in the cards for this day, perhaps another chef will bring a handful to his family’s table.
After the bridge parking area, the trail follows more marshes and woodland, for about 6 miles until it reaches the outskirts of New Paltz where the trail transitions to local roads. New Paltz is like an oasis for day-trippers and students, pubs, coffee shops, and small restaurants abound.
We turned down one side street that hosted 2 chocolate shops and 2 book stores, a little further down a hidden gem called Huckleberry, a small cafe with a private patio. I’d forgotten my mask and the man in the order window gently reminded me to stay at our high-top table near the entrance. Benny ordered 2 vegetarian Rubens, they were delicious.
Riding back to Hopewell Junction was a breeze. The wind, which continued to blow at about 25 knots, was now at our backs and the morning’s gradual rise was now on our side, we peddled easily all the way back to the parking lot at the depot where we’d started 4 hours earlier, a 47-mile round trip.