Hunter, NY: Full Circle

  |  November 28, 2023

Maggie’s Krooked Cafe at the golden hour.

Hunter has a knack for reinvention. This 90-square-mile town has been a tourist destination as far back as late 19th and early 20th centuries. As the Catskill Archive recounts, by the time passenger line the Ulster and Delaware Railroad arrived on the mountain in 1882, “from the village of Hunter to Tannersville to Haines Falls, hotels and boarding houses lined the turnpike to the top of Kaaterskill Clove. Private parks in the town provided summer homes to New York City’s elite.”

By the 1920s, tourism nosedived, only for the town to once again become a winter hotspot in the 1960s after locals built a ski resort on Hunter Mountain. Over the years, a combination of ski slopes, picturesque landscapes, and vibrant nightlife brought in slews of metropolitan tourists and seasonal second-homers to its villages. However, the one-season allure posed a challenge as Hunter’s popularity began to fade. Since then, the town has undergone a multitude of revitalization and branding efforts, including painting Tannersville’s buildings in a palette of pastels in the late aughts, earning it the moniker of “Painted Village in the Sky.”

In the past few years, Hunter has expanded beyond winter charm as the other seasons have asserted their dominance thanks to nature’s year-round recreational offerings and the expanded hospitality scene. The pandemic saw Kaaterskill Clove and North-South Lake Campground become go-to spots for recreation, and natural feats like Kaaterskill Falls, along with the Devil’s Path and Escarpment trails, have turned the town into a four-season haven for hikers. Bear & Fox Provisions and Fellow Mountain Cafe have added to Hunter’s morning appeal with killer lattes and breakfast fare, while spots like Tabla, The Notch, and Nat’s Mountain House cater to an apres-ski/work and dinner crowd. New hotels like Bluebird and Hotel Lillien have added guest beds while building on the already-sterling hospitality of resorts and destinations like Deer Mountain Inn, Scribner’s Catskill Lodge, and Eastwind Hotel.

The Kaaterskill Trolley

“The summer has become maybe as busy, or even busier, than winter,” notes Hunter town supervisor Sean Mahoney. “When I talk to restaurant owners, there are weekends in the summertime that are their busiest all year long. Things like hiking, mountain biking, and recreating outdoors have really come full circle.”

Hunter thrives on this tourism, but its small-town status makes handling the attention challenging. “The pandemic really pronounced a number of issues,” says Mahoney.  “One is that everything became more expensive. That’s tough, because we do have people of varying incomes living here.” Rising inflation has been especially detrimental to the housing situation in Hunter. “A lot of the homes within our town turned over, and many became short-term rentals,” says Mahoney. “Most of the homes in our town are priced very high. It’s next to impossible for somebody just starting out in life to get a home.” Workforce housing is an especially pressing concern, and the scarcity extends to crucial roles like EMTs for the 24/7 paid ambulance service.

Tanner’s Boathouse

However, steps have been taken to improve the situation. The Hunter Foundation, a nonprofit organization where Mahoney serves as executive director, has played a key role. The foundation seeks to improve the town’s economic wellbeing and has assisted in rehabilitating over 100 homes and 35 businesses in Hunter and surrounding towns for resale and rental. “I feel lucky and blessed to be able to lead the town’s efforts in navigating some challenging times,” says Mahoney. “With rising inflation and everything becoming more expensive, keeping costs down and ensuring essential services is tough. But I enjoy the job, and I enjoy working with the people I do.”

In response to the housing challenge, The Hunter Foundation led the successful application for a $10 million grant from the state of New York, known as the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI). Much of that grant money will be allocated toward increasing housing. One cornerstone of the DRI funding is RUPCO, who has proposed building a 56-unit affordable workforce housing development on the site of the former Coldspring Hotel.

Maggie’s Krooked Cafe

DRI funds will also be allocated toward improving the Orpheum Performing Arts Center in Tannersville and The Mountain Cinema in Hunter. The Orpheum currently lacks a lighting and sound system, meaning that it must rent one for every production. Through the grant, they’re set to install permanent lighting and speakers and to build a new rehearsal space.

Although these changes are on the horizon, they’re going to take some time.

“It’s a process,” says Tannersville mayor David Schneider. “Prior to myself taking office, the funds were already awarded and allocated. I’m hoping that all these projects will be seen to fruition and that those involved will follow through. It’ll be great for the village of Tannersville.” Schneider also has his own hopes. “One of the biggest things I want to try and do is create some kind of community center,” he says. “Maybe a gym, or a place for people to go to attend classes. Something like what Arkville did [with the Catskill Recreation Center], that would bring back more events to the village.”

The view from Bluebird Hunter Lodge

Entrepreneur Ryan Chadwick, responsible for food and drink establishments like Tanners Boathouse and Fred’s Coffee & Donuts, is adding further support. With the launch of Kaaterskill Trolley Company two years ago, Chadwick has dedicated himself to addressing local challenges associated with local tourism like parking and foot traffic to businesses. The old-school trolleys, which were bought in Maine and shipped to the mountains, add both to the picturesqueness and accessibility of the area with a nine-stop line that runs from Palenville to Tannersville. “We’re trying to help with traffic flow and to push more people into Tannersville so that the shops can be open seven days a week,” explains Chadwick. “Two hundred thousand visitors come to see Kaaterskill Falls every year, and a lot of people don’t ever make it here. They come up, park, look at the waterfall, and drive right back to the city. I thought it’d help a lot to capture some of those daytrippers.”

To address seasonal staffing challenges, Chadwick initiated an internship program at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, his alma mater. “My biggest problem was staff retention,” says Chadwick. “For me, it was all about housing, and providing employees a safe, clean place to live. So, I started the internship program, bought some employee housing units, and actually put them up. We teach students about entrepreneurship and starting their own business. I’ve been able to pull a lot of kids who end up staying, which is nice—turning a summer internship program into a full-time residency.” With dedicated housing comprising a six-bedroom and a three-bedroom house, Chadwick accommodates up to nine interns during any given season.

The exterior of the newly opened Hotel Lilien in Tannersville. Photo by Daniel Schwartz

Running a business in a small mountain village requires adaptability. One of Hunter’s long-time residentsMaggie Landis provides a glimpse into her pragmatic approach. “If there’s a snowstorm, you make a little path,” says Landis. “If there’s a beautiful day where everyone is up on the slopes, then you stay open a little later.” The owner of Maggie’s Krooked Cafe & Juice Bar in Tannersville, housed in an c.1870 building, Landis can highlight a multitude of examples of accommodation and flexibility in her business, from letting people sit and work to serving treats and water to patrons’s pets.

“Educators have meetings here all the time,” says Landis. “People wait for one another as their oil is getting changed by the nearby mechanic. Sometimes a kid will hurt themselves at the town park, and they’ll come here for a band aid knowing I’ll take care of them. There’s a hotel behind me, and I would welcome their snowboarders and skiers in the morning. I’ve even had millionaire kids who sat in here and closed deals because they didn’t have good reception at their Airbnbs.”

As Hunter faces economic and housing challenges, the community spirit remains resilient. “It’s a genuine place,” says Landis. “You’ll often see that the people who visit here are a little stressed, bringing their anxiety up from the city. Once you get up here, it’s a lot more joyful. It’s nice to have so many people come here as tourists and become part of a place where they discover things about themselves. I hope I get to stay here for many more years.”

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