Where the Country Begins

Putnam County
Written by Claire Suttles

Putnam County is known as ‘where the country begins.’ Located along the picturesque banks of the Hudson River, just fifty miles north of New York City, the community delivers the first views of unspoiled countryside as people escape the urban hustle and bustle.
Tourists and commuters can reach the county’s peace and solitude via several major roadways, including Interstate Highways 84 and 684 and the scenic Taconic State Parkway, as well as by train. Commuter rail service departs hourly from Grand Central Terminal.

With such a convenient location – and plenty of green space – Putnam County enjoys a steady flow of tourist traffic. “Tourism is a vital industry in the area,” says Jill Varricchio, President of the Putnam County Economic Development Corporation. “You can take a train out of Grand Central, head north and get off in Cold Springs, walk around and enjoy the shops. You can take a boat ride on the Hudson. We are right next to the Fjord Trail, where you can climb the mountain and walk along the mountain ridge. There is something here for everybody.”

Forty percent of the county’s properties are undeveloped, making the community a haven for nature lovers. Multiple hiking and biking trails crisscross the region, including a leg of the Appalachian Trail. The popular Breakneck Ridge trail was rated by Newsweek as one of the top 10 day hikes in America. Three State Parks, five State Forests, and three Wildlife Management Areas provide thousands of acres of wilderness ideal for birding, hunting, trapping, camping, geocaching, horseback riding, and picnicking.

In addition to the scenic Hudson River, Putnam County residents and tourists enjoy access to lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, making kayaking, boating, swimming, and fishing all popular pastimes. During the cold and snowy winter months there is downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating to enjoy.

People also come to Putnam County to take in the area’s history. The community is dotted with historic homes and gardens as well as 200 mysterious stone chambers cut into local hillsides, many of which are aligned with equinox and solstice sunrises. From ancient Celts to Irish monks, theories abound regarding who is responsible for these strange, granite slab structures.

Art and culture aficionados enjoy browsing the county’s six art galleries, touring the local museums, or taking in a Shakespearean play. Founded in 1987, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival hosts 12 weeks of performances each summer at Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison. Each season, more than 35,000 people attend performances at the spectacular open-air theater tent, with lovely views of the Hudson Highlands as a backdrop.

Golfers can choose from seven different courses in Putnam County, while shoppers enjoy browsing the antique shops that line quaint village streets. Sports enthusiasts can take in a professional hockey game at the Brewster Ice Arena. Putnam County just welcomed the Brewster Bulldogs to town – the community’s first professional hockey team and the newest franchise to join the Federal Hockey League. The Brewster Ice Arena is also open to the public for ice skating, private lessons, and skate parties.

Putnam County also boasts a variety of vibrant farmers’ markets and farm stands supplied by small local farms. Agriculture here is a diverse, multimillion-dollar industry that includes equine and livestock operations, orchards, nurseries, and greenhouses, as well as maple syrup, hay and corn production. In total, the community is home to approximately 11,309 farmland acres, with individual farms ranging in size from 1.25 acres to 1,200 acres.

Healthcare is another major local industry and Putnam County boasts a hospital, medical offices, and laboratory facilities. “Our geography provides easy access,” Ms. Varricchio points out. “When you look at a reach from Manhattan north, we become a midway point. Our sites allow for laboratories to be set up midway between here and there, which makes it very affordable for the businesses to thrive.” Manufacturers also choose Putnam County for the convenient location and lower cost of doing business. “We have manufacturing clusters that are growing, even though other manufacturers nationwide [are struggling].” The film industry has also discovered Putnam County, eager to take advantage of the community’s conveniently located scenic landscapes and charming villages.

A significant portion of the county’s 97,000 residents work in neighboring communities, but choose to live in Putnam County. “The commuters choose this county to live in because it is quick and easy to get to by train,” Ms. Varricchio says. They can easily take advantage of the opportunities and higher incomes New York City has to offer, while coming home to the serenity of rural countryside. “They are able to afford homes that are well positioned near lakes, streams, and ponds. They feel like they are really in the country, but they are really not that far north when you look at the map. They can enjoy a heightened quality of life with the topography, the hiking, the biking and all the things that come with living in a community with lots of greenery.”

While many residents are commuters, Putnam County is anything but a generic bedroom community. The county’s villages are rich in character and full of independent businesses. “Our towns are flourishing with regards to the small businesses,” Ms. Varricchio says, and many of the residents who work within the county’s borders own and operate their own enterprises. “Those who stay here during the day are providing a real model of small business.”

With so much to offer residents and visitors, the county is working hard to develop responsibly. “A lot of energy and time has been spent studying the revitalization plans that have been created for the municipalities that are here.” The focus is on creating community-centered plans that maintain the county’s charms. “Our approach is really thoughtful development,” Ms. Varricchio says of the Putnam County Economic Development Corporation’s efforts. “As an organization, we are going to each municipality and really reevaluating, going through the options and [making] a wish list. Getting an understanding of what each municipality is targeting will give us our own master plan as to how and what to market. Our goal in the next three months is to really get a handle on the direction we are going to be headed based on the input from each of the municipalities.”

The Putnam County Economic Development Corporation is already marketing several shovel ready sites to manufacturers. “They are looking to come into Putnam County because of the labor force and because of the geography,” Ms. Varricchio explains. The county is also eager to attract hotels to accommodate the tourists. A small hotel has recently made the decision to open in Putnam County and is currently completing the permitting process. Ms. Varricchio hopes that this will be the first of several such ventures. “We are looking to attract more hospitality. The Hudson River is a main attraction and we would like to enhance the experience here by bringing in [another] hotel. We do have shovel ready sites so we would like to bring in boutique hotels initially, but some of the branded hotels would be great.”

Putnam County’s charm is tied to its undeveloped land, so future development will be kept to a sustainable level. “We are changing just a little bit; we don’t want to be radical. We are not going to blacktop the world.” The end game is simple. “Our goal is to really make this a place where people want to stay, work, play, and live.”



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