Running for Art’s Sake Part 2

Another take on last Sunday’s Hudson River School Art Run, this one by  Steve Cangemi of the Onteora Runners Club. Thanks Steve, it’s a good excuse to print more photos! And a great piece, too.

Sunday, May 23 was the fourth running of the Hudson River School Art Trail.  Has it really been that long?  In 2007, while visiting Barry Hopkins, Stewart Dutfield proposed that we run the Art Trail from Olana to North Lake, a distance of nearly thirty miles.  It sounded like such a stupid idea to Barry that he loved it.

The Hudson River School Art Trail is a tour of sites relevant to Thomas Cole, Frederic Church and other artists of the so called Hudson River School of Painters.  To create this trail, a person who knew the art and artists and the forests, streams and trails that inspired them was needed.  That person was the late Barry Hopkins, artist, educator, naturalist, runner.


The Art Trail is based at Cedar Grove in Catskill, the home of Thomas Cole.  So that we can reach all sites in a logical, east to west direction, we start at Olana, the only Art Trail site east of the Hudson River.  Olana is the eclectic, Moorish inspired house built by Frederic Church, and its surrounding grounds.  Runners, family and friends meet shortly after eight, for the eight o’clock start.  We pause for a group photograph in front of Barry’s tree.  The first two years we started from the front steps of Olana.  In the fall of 2008 a tree was planted in Barry’s honor.  Of course this has become the start of the run.

By my count, we had eleven runners starting, with three runners who would join us later.    This year, in addition to the usual assortment of runners, rapscallions and history buffs, Greene County historian Ted Hilscher ran with us.  After crossing the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, the first stop is, well the first stop is the facilities on the Greene County side of the bridge.  We had our coffee, and now we must lose some of that coffee.  From here we run to Cedar Grove.  Cole’s front porch offers an excellent view of the Catskill Mountains, our ultimate destination, in the distance.  The next stop, though not on maps of the Art Trail, is the Catskill Cemetery and the Thomas Cole gravesite.  Cole had an amazingly productive 47 years on this planet.  The next few sites in the Village of Catskill are also not on the Art Trail map.  We run past a parking lot where a church designed by Cole once stood.  We run past Cus D’Amato’s gym where Mike Tyson, Vinny Pazienza and Floyd Patterson trained and a house where Barry and Dick Vincent once lived.  A gazebo on the grounds of Tatiana’s Restaurant offers a view of the Catskill Creek that Cole, Church and other Hudson River artists visited to paint when they needed a reliable paycheck.

IMG_5048The view from the front porch of Cedar Grove. The Catskills loom in the background; they’re our final destination.

A turn onto West Main Street brings us away from the hurly burly of the Village into the countryside.  Ashley and Kathleen have called it a day, but the rest of us continue.  There are some excellent view of the Kaaterskill creek with its rapids, and old mill sites.  We run past some beautiful farms.  A long climb brings us to a stunning vista.  Down the hill, our next stop is a similarly pretty location.  Lisa and Ted are done for the day.  There goes one of my possible rides home.  How far will I run?  We’ve run about ten miles, which sorry to say exceeds my recent long runs.  Job pressures, schoolwork, other interests and insomnia have conspired to make running a low priority in my current life.  It occurs to me that there is little reason not to keep running.  If I strain something and can’t run for a while, what have I surrendered?  Feeling guilty for not getting out during lunchtime?  Deciding whether to run or cycle on a weekend day?  I think I can risk this and run for as long as I can. The immediate goal is to make it to Palenville.  To continue west, we take the Mountain Turnpike, which for part of the way is trail.  I’m glad Jean and Joe know the turns, because I sure don’t.

The view from the gazebo at Tatiana’s Restaurant in Catskill. It’s understandable why this would have been so popular with painters past and present.

After the Mountain Turnpike, we follow Bogart Road into Palenville.  A few more miles and I’ve made it to the Palenville Library.  We usually spend time here eating and taking pictures.  I can’t believe all the potato chips and pretzels the others eat.  My stomach can’t handle that, and I stick with the peanut butter and honey sandwiches I packed.  Last year I used molasses instead of honey for the additional potassium.  I should remember that.  Kathleen and her grandson Maximilian are at the library to meet us.  Dick, Liz and Leo are ready to join us and start running, Joe and Drew are done for now.  I’ll run a little longer so that I can run with Dick, Liz and Leo for a while.  The next section is really neat.  We cross a swing bridge across the creek, and run on a section of road that I have no idea how it connects to any other part of the planet.

The swing bridge in question. I thought this was “neat,” too.

Next is route 23A, up and through Kaaterskill Clove.  Maybe Joe and Drew had the right idea when they stopped.  At times the sun comes out and it becomes scorching.  Sunny or shady, the road is relentlessly uphill.  Several antique cars pass us, more able to make the climb than I am though given their age this wouldn’t be a given.  Finally we get to Bastion Falls and the trailhead to Kaaterskill Falls.  The Art Trail of course would not be complete without a detour to Kaaterskill Falls.  Kaaterskill Falls, with its long, dual cascade, is as beautiful and frequently sketched, painted and photographed a waterfall as one finds anywhere.  It is also one of the most heavily used hiking trails in the Catskills, but on this fine day in May the trail is surprisingly not overburdened.  Runners are ahead of me and behind me, but I hike the trail by myself.  Hike is the right word.  I make no pretense to jogging this rocky stretch of trail.  The trail is less than a mile, and the payoff is spectacular.  The runners ahead of me are ready to leave by the time I get there, but the runners behind have just about caught up, so I linger a while.

IMG_5096 Four of us pose beneath the Kaaterskill Falls.

We hike back and up the road a bit to the parking area.  Drew’s car is here.  Twenty miles is enough for me, so I get into the car with Drew.  The runners continue up 23A, while Drew drives to the next stop at the convenience store at the bottom of North Lake Road.  This is usually a long stop, as runners get ice cream and other unthinkable runtime food.

The run up to North Lake is never much fun.  The drive isn’t either, but I survive.  At North Lake State Park, we need to spend some time running on boring park road.  We take a detour down a steep hill (and subsequently back up) to see the site where Cole painted “Lake with Dead Trees”.  I rejoin the runners for this section.  Much has changed at this site due to the hands of humans and the teeth of beavers.  It is still a good view.

The “Lake with Dead Trees.” North and South Lakes have been combined into one since Thomas Cole’s day.

There is one more important site.  The run, amble, mosey concludes at Sunset Rock near the Escarpment Trail.  There are two choices of how to get there.  Stewart leads Tony, Marie and Steve Sansola up the Mary’s Glen Trail to the Escarpment Trail so they can reach Sunset Rock from the North.  Drew and Joe join this group, so I drive Drew’s car to the North Lake Parking area.  Mary’s Glen is always wet, and not the most pleasant trail in the Catskills.  I hike it once a year and this isn’t the day.  Jean, Liz, Dick and I hike the Escarpment Trail to Sunset Rock.  This will be an out and back hike, but given the length of the day’s activity, we are not looking to add distance.  The pace is gentle, and the hike pleasant.  Native Azaleas are blooming, pink and fragrant.  There are of course wonderful views from Sunset Rock, but the best views of the day’s activity can be seen from Artist’s Rock.  We see the woods and farms of the Hudson Valley. We see the river and the highlands beyond where Olana sits.  On this day, it all belongs to us.

Sunset Rock. “It’s all downhill from here.” Steve Cangemi, author of this account, manages to sit upright. North South Lake, our previous and final destination, looms in the background.

The Mary’s Glen group maintained a good pace, or we maintained a glacial pace, so we don’t have to wait long for them to arrive at Sunset Rock.  This is another opportunity for group pictures and recapitulation.  We might stay longer, but there are families to see, bodies to clean and sitters to relieve and pay.  We hike back to North Lake, some taking the official trail, and some scrambling down a shortcut.

Back at North Lake, we are not quite finished, as we have to figure out who has cars where, and how we all get back to where we need to be.  Dinner is pizza at Stewart and Jean’s, complements of Dick and Liz.  Several of us are able to stay and eat.  Having left our company hours ago, Ashley is able to rejoin us for dinner.  It would be nice for this day to last forever, but after spending this many hours with family in the large sense it is time to get back to our patient, legally defined families.

But first we have to scramble down the Escarpment Trail from Sunset Rock. On the last Sunday of July, this will be the “home stretch” of the 30k Escarpment Run.

This makes four years that we have run the Art Trail, so a little more than three years since Barry died.  As Barry lives on in the tree planted at Olana, he lives on in this trail driven by tourists and once a year run by a small group of knuckleheads.  Of course this is about more than Barry.  It’s about the region he loved, we love.  It is a day when time stands still, much like our running pace.  Ashley has a blog called “A Sense of Place

If there is one thing that links this group beyond the enduring enjoyment of putting one foot in front of the other, it is this sense of place.

There will always be Sundays in May.  For the foreseeable future on one of those Sundays between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day weekend, a small group of runners will be meeting at an oak tree at Olana to run to Sunset Rock, with many stops along the way.

Thanks again, Steve. For links to the art trail maps and markers, please see my own brief post on this wonderful run.

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