As all my readers know, I am an avid hiker, and especially enjoy hiking the mountains of lower New York State. One of my favorite areas to hike is the Shawangunk Mountains, particularly the Mohonk and Minnewaska areas. This area affords breathtaking scenery with exceptional hikes, challenging scrambles, and ice cave exploring.
Since I visit the area frequently, I decided to support the Mohonk Preserve and become a member in December 2015. I purchased my membership from the Spring Farm entrance, on my way to a hike around the Bonticou Crag area. I was told by the attendant at the toll booth that parking at the Mohonk Mountain House would be available for Preserve members on quiet days.
I arrived on June 26 at the toll booth early in the day, with the hope of being able to drive up to the Mountain House area for a hike on one of the great scrambles. I understood that even though I arrived early, since it was a summer weekend, the attendants might not allow me to park at the Mountain House as it might fill up later. I would have respected that had I been told that. But instead, I was told by the attendant that the policies have changed and they no longer allow Preserve members to drive up to the Mountain House parking area - even on quiet weekdays. She also informed me, rather rudely I might say, that the shuttle to the picnic area is also no longer operating, permanently. These new policies now require all day hikers - even Preserve members - to park their cars far down out of the way, and severely limits the usage of the area.
I was very upset about this, and wrote an email of complaint to Mohonk's public relations department. I received a reply from Eric Gullikson, Vice President & General Manager at the Mohonk Mountain House, as well as a Mohonk Preserve board member. Eric had asked for my phone number so that we could chat on the phone. We ended up having a very good conversation, where Eric apologized for the behavior of the Mountain House toll booth attendant, and then told me he understands my concerns and will work on addressing the matter.
Fast forward several months, to November 6. I had planned a late-foliage autumn hike to the Mohohk area, starting at the Mountain House tollgate area, and going through Rock Rift Crevice onward to the Giants Workshop and Cathedral Path. It was a brisk fall day, and was surprisingly quiet in the parking lot despite there being lots of sunshine.
I pulled up to the tollgate and gave the attendant my credit card and member pass to charge me the additional $12 fee to park at the Mountain House tollgate area. He came back to me and told me that I would have pay the full $27 fee - because it's fall. This was quite a surprise to me that Preserve members still have to pay full price in the fall. I told him I was not aware of this; and clearly there should have been better communication to Preserve members about this. Although this hefty price is clearly worth it to hike the area, I felt wronged and could not accept this in good faith. I told the attendant I travelled a distance to get here and the parking lot is rather empty, and asked if he could make an exception. Once again, this attendant, too, was also apathetic and rigid.
Very upset, I turned my car around and headed down the mountain on Mountain Rest Road, towards the Klein Kill parking area at the Duck Pond area. Thankfully, I know the area well, and at least was able to plan an alternative hike to the area I wanted to visit. Parking here was plentiful, and I was able to hike up to some of the scramble areas I had originally intended to traverse. I took the situation in good spirits and really enjoyed myself, having an exceptional hike overall.
However, I will not forgot that the Mountain House is being increasingly hostile toward legitimate day hikers, including Preserve members. I do understand and respect that there are day-use visitors who abuse their privileges and enter the Mountain House and spoil the atmosphere for hotel guests. However, the vast majority of visitors - especially Preserve members - respect the rules and understand why they are necessary. The recent difficulties placed on hikers and Preserve members to restrict their visitation of the area and keep them out is upsetting.
I am sharing my experiences with the hope that my concerns are heard and shared by others, and perhaps a positive change will be made by the staff of the Mountain House and Preserve to be friendlier to the hiking community, especially Preserve members.
For the time-being, I will not be renewing my membership for 2017.