As popular as the Shawangunk Mountains are, they could be in the most underrated park in New York State. The case is strong; stellar hiking, bike trails, swimming holes, foraging, nordic skiing, and rock and ice climbing all find homes here. Even the wine is good.
On one hand, it’s hard for me to share beta. On the other, is my constant ‘pro’ argument: by sharing “the goods” perhaps more people will invest themselves in being good stewards of the land, or try to stay fit enough to enjoy it.
My quasi-populist desire to share hides my contradictory secret belief that the garbage-free, uncrowded shady paths are a direct result of the lack of camping options. I suppose I’m a hypocrite. The parks are perfect for me, and I sing their praises. Everyone should be able to see how amazing New York is, but like a picky Air-bnb host I can’t trust just anyone as a guest.
There were, and are, actually a few camping options. The beloved Camp Slime, practically roadside (and perhaps more importantly to climbers, cliffside) is now closed, but the DEC’s multi-use (abuse) area down the road still lives on. The multi-use has always treated me well, but evidence of high-school keggers is hardly commensurate with a world-class park.
Recently my thoughts have evolved. Maybe people can be trusted to preserve the ground they sleep on. When the American Alpine Club, in partnership with the Mohonk Preserve, opened large tract near the multi-use area, I had a chance to test my new, tentative optimism.
To see the Gunks adorned with a modern campsite, complete with amenities like proximity to climbing and showers certainly should benefit me. Maybe they’ll even help me convince my significant other to come along. The club has also put in previous good work around the country with lodges in the Tetons and at the New River Gorge, so I’m convinced the local campsite will not be a letdown.
When in a recent email, they hinted at an opportunity for members to volunteer to add some polish to the new site, I jumped at the chance. Having enrolled at the Winter Party at Brooklyn Boulders, I already knew that they liked to have a good time, and working outside, even shlepping wood and concrete parking dividers was a treat after sitting at a desk all week.
For our efforts, the club decided the work crew would be the first happy campers at the site. Not a bad trade off for the ability to sleep under the quartz that sings to so many worldwide.
The pride was clear in the volunteer’s efforts, we were building a home for future generations of enthusiasts. The downed limbs from the campsites made for an epic fire, but the hard work and promise of a full day in the morning put everyone to sleep early, except me. Sleep didn’t come easy to me, and on the chilly night I preferred to wait out the fire and watch the stars, immensely more visible just ninety minutes from my apartment.
Saying goodbye to ski season is never easy, and I know I missed some good spring skiing farther north. But the sweat equity will reward the community in all seasons.
Until then, happy climbing, biking and adventuring in the Gunks.