In certain circles, mentioning cycling in the Hudson Valley conjures up many different pictures depending on your chosen ride. If you’re into asphalt and skinny tires, you’ll likely be able to name a few of the many cycling clubs or shop rides in the area, (with Mid Hudson Cycling Club being one of the first mentioned). If you’re into getting muddy with big knobby tires, you’ll probably hear about Fats in the Cats, followed by a few of the more well-known spots: The 909, Jockey Hill, Overlook Mountain, Tymoor, and the ubiquitous crown jewel in the Hudson Valley’s dirt, the Stewart Buffer Zone.
The Buffer Zone is a 5,600-acre State Park MUA (Multiple Use Area) surrounding the regional Stewart Airport. Formerly farmland and developed as residential property, in the late 70’s the state seized approximately 7500 acres of land to the west of the actual airfield under an eminent domain claim. It was not quite that easy, however, and in order to appease many of the landowners, the airports developers promised to maintain any land outside the proposed airport facilities as open space. In the late 80’s control of the undeveloped land was passed to the DEC, and following that, development rights were awarded for all lands east of Drury Lane, while preserving the 5,600 acres to the west. Since the late 80’s dirtbikers, mountain bikers, horsemen, ATV riders, and hikers have made what is now Stewart State Forest a premiere spot for recreation.
A few weekends ago, during a rare early March heat wave (if you call 60 degrees and sunny a heat wave), I had the privilege of riding Stewart with a few buddies. I’d been there numerous times before, but never this early in the season and it was prime time to take note of everything.
Before you consider Stewart, make sure you’ve got a few necessities such as a nice full hydration pack, your multi tool, spare tubes, some energy bars or shots, proper clothing (full finger gloves are a MUST) etc etc. There is a LOT of trails out there, and I’d highly suggest riding with someone who’s familiar with the area at least a few times.
With all that said, Stewart is an unbelievable adventure. We got out on the trails at around 10:30 in the morning after a Cliff Bar breakfast, and before even saddling up, met about half a dozen more riders heading out for a ride. Parking along Baron Road is generally the easiest access (right off 17k, north of SR84), and will lead you very quickly to some excellent singletrack. We avoided the lower areas due to the substantial mud that would be present in the low lying trails, and stuck to the ridge wherever possible. We encountered mud, but nothing too dramatic considering the thaw and rains that had just passed us by. We cruised along smooth singletrack, untouched by bikes for nearly 5 months (Stewart closes October to March for hunting season), flew off small drops and outcroppings, and slogged up scree laden climbs. There are some excellent photo opportunities for the photo-monkeys among us. If you happen to run across it, you can get some excellent photos while rolling down a huge 15-foot high 60-degree slope of solid exposed shale. Additionally, there are plenty of chances for good shots of riders flying off impromptu jumps constructed from old stone walls and riding along the top of the ridge with a 40 foot drop just inches to one side.
As a biking destination, Stewart has a little bit of something for everyone. There are plenty of decaying paved roads from the forgotten development and loads of double track fire roads for beginners, fast, twitchy and brutally slippery singletrack for racers, and of course a fair share of hucks, drops and tabletops for freeriders. There are several hundred miles of trails out there, so either find someone who knows it well or grab a brand new GPS based map from Darkhorse Cycles (right down the road) to find your way through. Terrain is generally hardpack to loose gravel with lots of exposed shale outcroppings. Singletrack comes anywhere from rooty and rocky to incredibly smooth and fast, so you’ll never be short of choices. You’ll scream through everything from evergreen forests to low lying wetlands (watch the sides of the trail for beavers) and on through deciduous forests that have been untouched for years and years.
Perhaps the greatest point Stewart has to offer is this: on a nice sunny weekend day, you’ll find people from all walks of life and all riding abilities gearing up at their cars, or hanging out and chatting at trail intersections. They will generally be a great group of people, dedicated riders just out having a great time like you are. We even heard a “A PAIR OF KONAS! ROCK!” from one group we buzzed passed on our way back to the car. And unsurprisingly, we met them out at the car and spent a good 20 minutes just chatting away about biking, trail conditions and life in general (Kona owners tend to be like some kind of cult or something). You may even end up heading to nearby Sweeny’s Pub for a beer and a burger after your ride.
There’s a lot more to say, but I think it’s time to close it up. If you want more information, check out the following:
Wikipedia Stewart Info
Dirtworld review of Stewart
Hudson Valley Stewart Info
Or, alternatively, check out our Forums, drop me a line, and I’ll share what I can with you. Maybe we’ll get lucky and run into you on the trail someday. Just look for the guy with the huge grin on his face and mud all over his jersey. You’ll know me when you see me.
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