Hiking in Harlem Valley

When I get the chance, I sometimes watch House Hunters or House Hunters International and I’ve been noting the number of “buyers” who are looking for places close to a hiking trail. Since Hilltop House is so close to the formerly called Harlem Valley Rail Trail, I have been doing a bit of research.

cows grazing in distance on a summer day. Green fields, blue sky with clouds

View from one of the overpasses on the Harlem Valley Recreational (Rail) Trail

Seems that a year ago in June of 2014, the National Parks Service, which runs the rail trail, changed its formal name to ” Harlem Valley National Recreation Trail,” adding in the process, 452 odd miles in 11 states to a growing network of these trails. Their stated modus operandi was to get people connected with nature, but it surely must have a lot to do with getting us off our tooshes (how do you spell tooshes?) so we can get in shape end this obesity crisis in America.  Enough on that–I run a bed and breakfast and I love to bake, never mind eat!

So a little on hiking: I found a great website called hikingwebsite.com which posed all the basic issues, i.e. benefits of hiking, difference between a walk and a hike, what you have to think of in advance of hiking, so it was a nice simple way to acquaint yourself with getting into the go of it. One of the benefits they stress (though stress is something hiking alleviates) is being prepared–if it’s hot, taking water–if it’s going to get cold when later in the day, bringing a jacket–anticipating the time you’ll need, and bringing food along–or in the case of our Rec Trail that leads into Millerton, a town with a range of tasty eateries and great antiques, you might want to bring some money along.

Walking to Millerton (about 7 miles) will require a cabride back. But as the National Parks and Hiking website both tout, the road to Millerton connects the hiker with nature. It’s a truly beautiful tromp by dairy farms, cornfields, back woods, and wetlands. You might need bug spray. If you take our bikes–free to the first come first serve–you’ll get to and from Millerton, and have time enough to catch a bite too.

From a bite to a bit about our branch: In 1845 the railroad was voted by the NY legislature to be built from the thriving suburb of Harlem north to reach 125 miles into Chatham NY. The “Harlem Valley” as it was nicknamed, was chosen over the more precipitous Hudson River path, but the more affluent cities on the Hudson, including Poughkeepsie, raised private funds to build the Hudson River line. It was completed about the same time as the Harlem Valley line, and it became more popular.

The late 60s brought more highways, and after changes in rail ownership, the Harlem line from Chatham to Millerton was eliminated in 1976. Further cutbacks took the terminus back to Wassaic–then to Dover Plains–then reinstating it to Wassaic again. For all of the time we have been at Hilltop House, Wassaic has been the end of the Harlem line. In Dutchess County, The Rail Trail as it was known, and is still referred to, began where the rails ceased to be, right there in Wassaic, into our neck of the woods, Amenia, then on to Millerton.  When the trail pases into Columbia County where the Taconic State Park gains possession of where the rail beds were, then picks up briefly in Copake.

But we recommend getting out while you’re here at the bed and breakfast. There’s that great, short hike to Stone Church we’ve written about before, and even the walk to town to eat or antique can involve a nice hilly loop around so you don’t have to see things twice!

Come on up and Take a Hike!


How a Handy-dandy Weed-wacker Keeps Bears at Bay

A friend of Hilltop House Bed and Breakfast, a private gardener over in Litchfield County, works for a family on their estate. It was Friday, and her day for weed-wacking the pond. Now, in her several years of gardening there, she’d seen a number of singleton bears off in the treeline, or wandering the grounds; so when she spotted one last Friday, she didn’t think much of it and went about her early morning chores. Then out of the corner of her eye, another—a big male—joined the first mama bear, still, armed with her trusty heavy duty weed-wacker, our brave friend thought all would be fine.

That is until the line drawing of bear fuzzy duo began to circle the pond, or as our friend saw from her perspective—CIRCLE HER—she got a little more worried. Let it be said that our friend doesn’t carry a cell phone, she’s one of those who just won’t, and with the reception in the Litchfield Hills, who can blame her? She often totes a camera, but this day she didn’t, and after two complete circles –or should we say, being circled, she looked for that moment when she could inch herself over to the nearby vegetable garden, (somewhat) protected by a fence.

Alas, Mama and Papa Bear moved their beary-go-round of the garden enclosure. “Great, now they can have meat and vegetables,” she said feeling a little less vulnerable, enough to find her sense of humor. There wasn’t a great deal of protection, but our friend had rationed her gas in the weed-wacker and felt a bit safer within the pickets.

In all, it was a long two-hour standoff before the hairy duo lumbered away for some more accessible dining. Our friend, exhausted, left the garden, weed-wacker in hand and brought the story to us at hour b’n’b–(bear and another bear???). Mama and Papa went home and told Baby Bear of the one that got away. “She was about this big.” “No, she wasn’t; she was this big.”


Color Choices for Bed and Breakfast ! Vote now!

We need to paint the exterior of Hilltop House Bed and Breakfast, a daunting task, starting with what colors! I picked up some paint samples to try on the house. Getting away from the yellow. I love the yellow color of the house, but somehow feel it is too happy for this house. Maybe with the big maple gone, no longer casting her long beautiful leaf motifs on the shingles she’s changed her personality.         

hilltophouse_exteriorI was leaning towards some tone of green, but as I drove around Dutchess County or over to Litchfield County in Connecticut, I couldn’t really find any green houses that spoke to me.

I was lucky enough to catch a short consultation with a NYC architect who gave me some color suggestions, so I went to the hardware store today and picked up small cans of 6 different colors in the grey family—greenish, brownish, and warm greys. I feel I have to go with warm colors because the roof is brown.

Before we paint there are some repairs to rotted wood to be taken care of or replaced. We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Next year there will be NO big projects to take care of. (Knock on wood.) Not even medium-sized projects. Woohoo! We will basically be done and that’s a good thing. Still not an easy decision. paint1                                        Maybe our blog readers should vote? Personally, I’m leaning towards the darker colors. Of course every time I look at the swatches on the house, I change my mind. My garden designer likes the top color (1) which has a slight purple undertone. (2) has more of a brown undertone and (4) has a green undertone. Now that they’re up, (3) and (5) might be a little too cool and light for the house. I need to get the trim colors and door color on there too so I can see them together.

I wish I had more confidence in my choices, but running a bed and breakfast, one has to don the caps of many professions–cook, gardener, master cleaner, bookkeeper, bottle-washer, antique refinisher, and now interior/exterior designer. It’s another lesson for those who dream of becoming an inn keeper. It keeps me running.



Affects of Snow on Maple Syrup Production

All the snow that’s been piling up in the woods here in and around Amenia has added to the maple sugar farmers’ workload. Over the past decade or so, they’ve been tubing the trees; running lengths of clear tubing from one tree to another all to collect in big tanks at the terminus.

a winter forest with snow on ground. Trees are connected with tubes to collect syrup. There is snow on the ground

The tube collection method of syrup collection

But this year with snow remaining three or more feet high, there’s no way to get into the woods to set the systems up, or adjust them. Some of our local sugar farmers are resorting to the old spike and pail method–snowshoeing their way in, drilling, spiking and hanging them good ole sap pails. We’ve even heard the maple is overflowing. Sugar farming is very unpredictable, like the weather–ha, ha, and comes with its own window that opens then closes shut.

Most local sugar farmers are just starting to boil now, mid March; one said it was the latest start he’d ever witnessed. Usually up here in the Oblong Valley the sap flows from January and ends about March, but when the maple flow starts late, generally it ends late. A frozen layer on the ground can insulate the tree and prevent the buds from forming which is the clear signal to stop drawing sap. That buddiness is what detracts from the taste of the maple syrup. Cold never bothered those old maples–it’s the rain that will hamper the flow. I take that back about the cold–What they need to emit an abundant harvest–after all you need 30 gallons of sap to make  a gallon of finished maple syrup–is the weather we have right now, the freezing nights of about 20 degrees F and warmish days of about 40. For the sake of the maple syrup we cherish in our B’n B, let’s keep the cold going for a while. (Though I’ve just about had it with these freezing nights!)

For more information on Maple Syrup, see our Blog from March 27, 2014. And if you read this early enough, you can still catch the Sharon Audubon’s Maple Fest going on this Saturday March 21st Adults $6 and children $4–can catch a guided tour leaving every hour or so, that finishes up at the boil room. I’ve done it myself and I learned a lot about maple sugaring. It’s just across the border into Connecticut, about 15 minutes away. They suggest you call ahead to see if they’ll be boiling…Go to their website at sharonaudubon.org


Silo Ridge Brings Newness in 2015

First of all, Happy New Year. I know we’re already done the first week of the new year, and I haven’t posted my promised story on Silo Ridge yet. The cold snap swooped in here, and sometimes all I want to do is bundle up, light the fireplace, and snuggle with the grand-daughters. (They are getting too big!) But there is cause of excitement–the new restaurant, Monte’s, and as we hinted, the advancing Silo Ridge development.

Perhaps you’ll remember from these pictures, when we were covering our Red Chair event, of the valley seen from the hairpin turn up Rte 44 towards Millbrook. This is the view east we captured (including the Red Chair); it is the vista that the proposed Silo Ridge denizens will call their own. Rte44BlogThe Millbrook Independent covered the news, and I paraphrase:

“Silo Ridge, the (embryo stage) Amenia golf course closed for four years, (it was never truly open) announced …a deal with Discovery Land Company of Scottsdale, Arizona for the development of the golf course and the adjoining land into a resort community.” (!!!!!!!!) (You recall my recent post on the fame of Amenia’s resort status–if not check it out under “Triple Scoops” posted Dec. 13th)

Silo Ridge is proposed to encompass a 20 room lodge, 246 vacation residential properties and… a “world class golf course designed by Tom Fazio to replace the existing one (barely there anyway).” According to wikipedia, “Fazio has designed more than 120 courses and has more courses ranked among the top 100 in the U.S. than anyone else in the business.” He also has designed a number of Discovery’s courses in their roster of Silo-Ridge-like properties.

In their recently issued press release, chairman and CEO of Discovery Land Company, Michael Melman averred, “Preservation of the natural environment and creating contiguous open space has been and will continue to be critical to the execution of the project.”

The same release touted Silo Ridge’s offerings: a children’s program, an activity barn, a giaganto field house with indoor pool, track and field, lacrosse and baseball facilities along with a wide variety of classic games, outdoor experiences and educational opportunities, including arts and crafts, bowling, a movie theater, and video game arcade.”

I guess, in the coming months, Hilltop House Bed and Breakfast might gain some business with the comings and goings up here. That would be great. I think of us as that little find of a place–and many of you agree–a niche of comfort in the Oblong Valley. Silo Ridge will be so enormously (no kidding) different from what are all about. It will transform that side of Route 22 and bring a populace quite different from the people who live in Amenia. Still, it is in keeping with the elite boarding schools that surround us–Kildonan and Maplebrook here, the Kent School to the south, Hotchkiss–the slew of them are listed on our map accessed through our home page. And many of Hilltop’s guests stay with us on their visits to those campuses.

No doubt, it will take time, the transformation of Amenia. The Silo Ridge that was to be never materialized after its round of hype waned to whispers of what was to be that wasn’t. Those acres lay fallow for a long, long time; only so many hay bales will be foresaken in their conversion to sculpted lawns leading up to country homes for the well-to-do. Here, in the bucolic Hudson Valley the newcomers will find not only an inspiring vista, but a certain bounty in our gardens and our pastures, where sustenance farming has oft been the key to survival. It will give those providers a broader market, our families job opportunities, our churches more parishioners, our businesses more customers…and in the trade off, we too may be transformed.

Gives one pause and a reason to look ahead. And that can’t be bad.




Amenia’s Restaurant Renovation … Yea!

We saw it all abuzz down the street, the re-renovation of the corner restaurant. The previous restaurant rendition had not made it long, and Amenia was ready for something snappy to come our way. So along with the good news about Silo Ridge–which we’ll do next time, not this one–we got our own green and red Christmas present in the form of Monte’s Local Kitchen and Tap Room.


Monte'sBarNot a half mile away, down the hill (of Hilltop House) where Depot Hill abutts to Rte. 343; it’s very easy to walk to from our Bed and Breakfast. So now our guests without vehicles have someplace to go for dinner meals!

As merchants in town, with  a following, we were graciously invited to Monte’s opening party, which was filled with lots of city folk friends. (Their other restaurant is in Montauk at the trendy end of Long Island)  Utilizing as much local produce and meat as possible, they serve “Garden” Plates and “Small Plate” offerings. There was a fair amount of seafood too!!  It seemed to us that maybe this would be a great place to park ourselves for a little holiday table. We wish our new neighbors a roaring success. Welcome to the Webatuck Line terminus and the Oblong Valley!!!

Oh yes, they post their menu on line–Open Wed-Sun 5 to 10PM. “Brought to you by the Monte Family and Executive Chef Dafna Mizrahi.”




Triple Scoops (and we’re not talking Ice Cream)

Big News!!!! In case you haven’t heard, we have lots going on in this neck of the woods (Amenia, our home town)! We seem to be coming out of the doldrums of economic tailspin, and this eastern side of the Hudson Valley is going to be hopping in no time. We hope, knock on wood, etc., etc., etc.

For a long time now, Silo Ridge, was a dream of a golf course and resort center that didn’t come true. It lay fallow on the side of the ridge that is topped off by Rte. 44 leaving town and goes up and over west to Millbrook. Every so often a maintenance crew would trim the long grass, or baling occasionally but that was what it was, maintenance. And all of the Amenia-ites were heartened at first, then came to shaking their heads collectively when they drove by.

Let’s go for the history aspect: The old inhabitants hoped Silo Ridge would be a revival for the town. You see, Amenia once was a famous vacation spot—with city folk coming up for their summers—until the dam burst (literally) and the topography around the resort community was changed for good.

According to sources, the old turn to the nineteenth century resort period of Amenia saw crowded streets—how crowed was it? (cymbal crash) Why it was so bad that there wasn’t room for every one to walk. The DeLaverge Farms Hotel was a grand spectacle of a place, and that same said ridge of Rte 44 went by the name of the DeLaverge Hill. Then in the early 20s Lake Amenia—when there was a lake, came and went away, don’t ask me, go to this site for the whole scoop, well researched and with pictures; http://forward.com/articles/209093/searching-for-amenia-new-yorks-lost-jewish-vacatio/?p=all Lake Amenia was developed, and around it other competing developments sprung up. Subsequently, the 1955 Hurricane named Diane, poured the burgeoning lake water out of the unmanaged dam and all over Wassaic and Amenia. Widespread destruction. People left. Jump ahead; more stuff happened. The movie house burned down, merchants closed up shop, enrollment fell in the school system, the myriad hotels are no more.

Maybe the only good thing in those many calamitous years was that Metro North put the terminus to the commuter train line thru to our Southern border in Wassaic. It’s a good place for us, since many folks come up to visit on the train from New York City. And I think there’ll be a few more people coming–stay tuned for this 3 part story! (And don’t let the season get you down. It’s meant to be joyful, so if it’s bugging you, find a way to be happy in spite of others’ expectations.)

Next segment: The New Silo Ridge Plan—see you in a couple.


Tree Cutting: I Think That I Shall Never See….

My heart is broken for the loss of our 100+ year old tree that the town of Amenia determined needed to be taken down. The big ole maple had split over the years and was cabled prior to our purchase of the Hilltop House Bed and Breakfast, and eventually discovered that there was a huge hole in the center where the split was.Tree tallI’m going to warn all of you tree-huggers out there that this is a sad post, so if your emotional content meter can’t take it, don’t read any further…….The town advised–putting it nicely–that it really should come down; it was only a matter of time before it fell. So sad that it happened in the fall, with all the festive fiery finery on its branches. The pictures tell the rest.

TreeHouseNow Hilltop House looks so empty and different without that beautiful tree out front. You would have never known by looking at it because that beautiful tree looked healthy and full of green leaves. Mature trees are a big part of what makes an older neighborhood so charming and desirable. Now I’m wondering what I’m going to do with the big stump left in it’s place.

For history buffs who follow us: You know we love servicemen and trees. Just a note on Joyce Kilmer who wrote the poem “Trees,” from whence we stole the title of this blog. While many found the poem he is most known for as simple, the man was not simple at all. A father of five; one of his children died of infantile paralysis or polio. Kilmer died in World War I at the age of 31 in 1918; he was a sergeant with the Fighting Sixty-Ninth! And while he could have accepted a promotion to a safer job, he turned it down to stay in the trenches, working finally in intelligence. Kilmer was buried in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery , near Fere-en-Tardenois, Aisne, Picardy, France.


Okay, So Maybe Teddy’s Your Man (Not FDR)

Sand.LionOrvis Sandanona is closeby to Hilltop House– about a 15-20 minute drive up and over Route 44 on the way to Hyde Park and Pougkeepsie. It’s the kind of place FDR’s (see previous blog) distant cousin and prior President, Teddy Roosevelt, would have wanted to visit but actually, according to Sandanona’s website, “is the oldest permitted shotgun shooting club in the country. The main lodge was built during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.”

So Presidential–without a doubt. And it being the mid-term election year, we need to include in our Roosevelt coverage,  the Republican point of view.

Our family recently attended Orvis Sandanona’s GAME FAIR, a chance to see displays, sporting merchandise and hear lectures on wild game and hunting. It was something the whole family got into and was refreshing to see: Another side of the conservation story.


With news coverage of a customer getting shot and killed in a Walmart because someone panicked when he was only holding a toy BB gun–STORE MERCH—in hand, it was an opportunity, Sand.BirdDisplaya slice of life we need to show our kids, that there are places in this great country of ours where people carry, and they’re not all BAD GUYS.

I recommend Sandanona –and suggest you check out their website to get a look and feel for their offerings–from clay shooting to private instruction, to this kind of an event. It’s the kind of unique offering the eastern arm of The Hudson Valley has to offer for sportsmen and others like me, looking to understand the full spectrum of life outside of the fast lane.

3047 Sharon Turnpike Road (New York Route 44)
Millbrook, NY 12545 | 845-677-9701
Email: sandanona@orvis.com
Open 7 Days a week   9am – 5pm


Water Feature: O, Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling…

GirlsJust Wanna Have

GirlsJust Wanna Have

Deep into the porch renovations, when we were planning the foundation plantings with the garden designer, I mentioned maybe putting in a water feature. She said why don’t you just put a small one on the porch? She didn’t mention it again, so the foundation planting went ahead without a water feature.
I love houzz.com, which had an article on how to make your own water fountain. While we may be a Bed and Breakfast off the beaten path (that’s a big part of the appeal, right?) in northern Dutchess County, the web keeps us connected to all the best of the best. We picked out a nice pot, got a fountain kit, followed the simple directions and built our own water feature. Which now sits nicely on our new stone porch cap. As you can see, we all love it! Especially the small ones, there’s something fascinating about water.
I think part of my job as an innkeep is to look for little ways to make our guests’ experiences as wonderful and relaxing as possible. We all know how soothing the sound of water can be. So now along with the pleasant experience of eating a homemade breakfast on the porch, our guests can also hear the soothing sound of our hand-crafted water feature in the background.