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We’re on a roll ’round this river: the awards keep on comin’

The Kelder's Farm Gnome overlooked by the Shawangunk Mountains

The Kelder’s Farm Gnome was named the Worlds Largest Garden Gnome in the Guinness Book of World Records 2009

Winning raves is nothing new around here. Hardly a year goes by without some form of attention being paid, whether it’s our state university branch getting notorious in High Times as a top ten countercultural college or ranking on the U.S. News and World Report’s 2012 America’s Best Colleges guide as a great regional university, some hip travel publication waxing ecstatic about the delights of Phoenicia, or the young mayor of New Paltz being proclaimed one of the sexiest men alive in the wake of his 2004 arrest. We’re forever being rediscovered: Woodstock as the un-Hamptons! Rosendale as the New Brooklyn!

Stay by the waterfall in the Catskills

Beautiful Two-bedroom, two-bath “Waterfall” house in Palenville, N.Y., in Greene County, near Woodstock

But lately it’s gotten almost embarrassing. In rapid succession, we’ve been “discovered” by the AARP as a “great quirky place to retire,” lauded by Lonely Planet, and had one of our highways singled out by Jesse McKinley of the New York Times as “beautiful and powerful, an open secret known to locals and those willing to take the long way around.”

There are more, but you get the idea. My home town- Ulster County, the Hudson River Valley and Catskill Mountains of New York- is one fantastic place to visit and/or live. Well, a lot of us knew that. It’s nice to hear, though, and the citizenry have responded by continuing to up the ante. Just last week, 2,569 of my neighbors got together and broke the world record for the world’s largest line dance.

Alright, so it was a “simple four step variation” on the Hokey Pokey that bested the record from Estonia, not a ballet or even the Electric Slide. You might think, well, that certainly established the quirky part if nothing else. Further investigation, though, reveals that this feat was accomplished atop the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge. Oh, and on June 30 they’re having a fine art auction.

Not, mind you, that we locals wander around in a constant state of euphoric self-congratulation. This is New York State, U.S.A., 2012, and we struggle with the socioeconomic and daily life stuff just like anybody anywhere. It’s easy for some travel writer to pop in, catch a hot jam at some music venue, maybe play a round of miniature golf under the gigantic garden gnome (see top photo), eyeball some scenery or a gallery and think they’ve got the picture.

Folks, it ain’t that great.

Rosendale peace sign

It’s better. From the first capitol of New York State, burnt to the ground by the British in the Revolutionary War (General Burgoyne considered it a nest of vipers and scoundrels) and now home to an awesome arts festival full of grass roots health care activism and a thriving social club/business alliance for creative techies, to the mountain dell where tiny, frequently-flooded Phoenicia hosts world-class opera, from our assorted downtowns full of businesses as unique as thumb prints to the apex of the cliff faces National Geographic raves about in naming New Paltz a top adventure town, we got it going on.

This is not to deny that Burgoyne had a point. In the cradle of United States history, corruption and infamy are as practiced as any other art. We have property tax battles, noisy arguments and police blotters full of sadness and silliness like anywhere else.

Drawn not least by the nature, the Woodstock music festival, and the quirky people, waves of counter-cultural youth discover the Hudson Valley each year.

But if I had to reach for one main thing that singles out my little corner of the world, it would be the way we work together. Everybody’s heard of the 1969 Woodstock Festival, which famously did not happen in Woodstock. What did happen in Woodstock was that about eight zillion young longhairs showed up looking for the festival. A lot of places would have dug a moat and manned the barricades, beefed up law enforcement, and squashed that right quick.

But this was the settled arts colony of Woodstock, New York, and the grownups opened their hearts and wallets and in some cases homes, and the impromptu network that resulted has grown into a comprehensive human services organization that offers help with “any problem under the sun” and comes through on it. (Bethel, where the festival actually took place, can have the museum, although I hear it’s very nice.)

I could go on and on about our foodies and farms and wineries, our festivities and cleverness, but I am hoping this gives you a taste. The recipe for award winning takes in all of the above, but the secret ingredient would have to be the spirit of collaboration. For most folks around here, it’s not about “We’ve got a problem; who can we blame?” It’s “We’ve got a problem? What kind of a solution can we create together?”

Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge in New York State

Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park was the scene of the Guinness Book of World Record with 2,500 people dancing the Hokey Pokey in a line for five minutes

This in turn creates an atmosphere in which every species of creative dream, be it a business, an event, a political endeavor, a giant line dance or what have you, can thrive and does. Our hills are as high and our river as deep as your dreams. And if you’re looking for a journey that will stimulate and satisfy, or a home where you can be absolutely whoever you really are, you are hereby invited to venture up the river from Manhattan and see for yourself.

Do you live in a world class place? Tell me about it! I’m bragging, I confess. But in the spirit of my Hudson Valley home, I have been educated to maintain an open mind.

****

For more great information about the Hudson Valley, check out the excellent local publications and websites below:

Chronogram magazine
http://www.chronogram.com
Chronogram’s Community Pages offer town-by-town guides to the region
Ulster Publishing Almanac
http://www.hudsonvalleyalmanacweekly.com
Ulster Publishing’s Almanac, a guide to arts, events and entertainment
Watershed Post
http://www.watershedpost.com
The Watershed Post features news and events from the Catskills
Visit Vortex
http://www.visitvortex.com
“Your guide to the great people and places of the Hudson Valley.” Video tours of area attractions.
Hudson Valley Weddings
http://www.hudsonvalleyweddings.com
All about wedding planning in the HV. Hey, it was good enough for Chelsea Clinton
Historic Hudson Valley
http://www.hudsonvalley.org
Tour our great estates and historic attractions
Ulster County Tourism
http://www.ulstertourism.info
Ulster County’s official tourism website

****

Anne Pyburn Craig has lived all over the area she describes, from the banks of the mighty Hudson to the Catskills High Peaks. She is a writer and mother of three wise children.

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