The true believer


Photo by Lauren Thomas
Photo by Lauren Thomas

The oldest remedies often turn out to be the best. Take, for example, “Thieves,” a blend of clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils used by grave-robbers during the bubonic plague, which decimated much of Europe and Asian in the 14th century, wiping out almost entire populations. “Thieves” allowed the grave-robbers to secure the wealth of deceased victims without contacting the disease themselves. They were protected so well that courts would order them to provide their secret weapon: nature’s oils.

Given our modern pharmaceutical enterprises, that tale could sound foolish — the stuff of legend. But when I was introduced to essential oils almost six years ago by my mother, a veteran counselor and workshop leader, I took her advice to heart. She had many ties in the traditional and not-so-traditional worlds of therapeutics. She had workshops and certifications. And she had accumulated a vast network of alternative-healthy, life-loving friends. Her clients were astounded that what she swore by was “hot water and lemon,” via Deepak Chopra and essential oils.

Besides, she’s my mother. How could it hurt if I followed her advice?

So I used lemongrass to offset the onslaught of bugs during the recreational baseball season, and basil to help cure the itch of bug bites and poison ivy. Prone to panic, I found that lavender essential oil, placed on my temples, sternum and palms of my hand, helped me sleep and relax.

Tending to three active children who are usually running cross-country or swimming when they’re not doing homework kept me busy. It was a full-time chore for me just to keep them fed, not to say vitamin-sufficient.

Subscribing to the age-old remedy of essential oils, every night I would anoint my children every night with Thieves, purification and alternate amino-power. The result? No one got sick. The strep throat which had plagued our swim-family abated. Though we avoided the flu shot, there were no sicknesses.

Warmed to the core


Photo by Lauren Thomas

Sometimes the perfect activity finds you. In the case of Dale Montelione Grust, who runs the Center for Therapeutic Massage in New Paltz, a cutting-edge massage tool, CoreStones, found her.

“A couple of things happened coincidentally,” said Grust, who has been a practicing licensed massage therapist in New York since 1983. “My friend, also a massage therapist, had a badly broken leg, and the pain was intense.”

Her friend Jessica Jones lives in Virginia directly adjacent to a soapstone quarry. She happened to pick up a discarded piece of a soapstone core sample left in the quarry, heated it up and, due to its ability to retain heat as well as its soft yet larger surface, she was able to roll it along her broken leg and get immediate relief.

It was a Eureka moment.

When Grust visited her friend, they took a visit to this quarry and found two and a half tons of core soapstone samples that had been left behind. It was a timely find. Soapstone is nature’s most efficient thermal conductor. “It holds heat and cold longer than any other stone,” said Grust.

CoreStones come in several different sizes. Some look like mini-rolling pins. Other circular pieces resembling Pac-Men can go between toes or reach other places that are otherwise difficult to access. “The broad, flat surface is ideal for myofascial release, and turned on end they can be used as a trigger-point tool,” Grust explained, demonstrating.

Crucial mutations


Dr. Andrew Ashikari.

A simple blood test could change the outcome of a future cancer patient’s life. In the 1990s, a test was developed to identify those that had genetic mutations known as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 (breast and ovarian cancer gene.)

Recent studies have suggest that those carrying the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutation have a 50 to 80 percent greater risk of getting breast cancer and a 40 percent greater chance of ovarian cancer than those without the gene. These inherited genes have a greater chance of showing up in someone of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage (Central and Eastern Europe.)

According to Sharsheret (an organization that supports young Jewish women and families facing breast and ovarian cancer —, one in 40 people of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage are at risk, compared to one in 345 of non-Ashkenazi individuals.

To this end, women and men who have a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer from either their maternal or paternal side are encouraged to get tested for the gene, particularly if those cancers came on at a young age in their relative or relatives. If someone had a familial history of breast and/or ovarian cancer are of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, that risk is greatly compounded.

If BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genetic mutations are discovered during a blood test, depending on family history and ethnic heritage, surgical interventions are available that those with the gene may want to consider, or at the least understand.

In light of the predisposition to breast and ovarian cancers in Eastern and Central European Jewish women and men, the Jewish Congregation of the New Paltz Community Center (JCNP) has invited Dr. Andrew Ashikari, a prominent surgeon and pioneer in the research of genetic ovarian and breast cancers, as well as a founder with his father of the renowned Ashikari Breast Cancer Center in Westchester, to speak on this topic on Monday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at the JCNP at 30 N. Chestnut St.

Merly Klaus, who helped organize the event, said she was inspired to do so because of knowing people within the local Jewish community that had the BRCA 1 and 2 gene — some of whom were tested and took preventative action and some who were not informed of the test and are battling breast or ovarian cancer.

Rail trails on the run

The Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association will host a 5K race and walk celebrating National Trail Running Day on October 8. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Several communities in Ulster County have turned old railbeds into multi-use linear public parks. Residents walk, bike, jog, horseback ride, ski and travel sans vehicle from place to place. Ulster County is blessed with a number of old railbeds, and now there’s even talk of connecting them with each other.

The Hudson Valley Rail Trail (the HVRT, the abandoned part of the New York, New Haven & Hartford line that includes 2.5 miles of paved railbed from the hamlet of Lloyd to Tony Williams Park) will connect through another 1.2 miles of rail-trail acquired by Lloyd to the Walkway Over the Hudson, the state historic park that spans the Hudson River on a renovated railroad bridge 212 feet tall and 1.28 miles long. This historic landmark opened to the public in October 2009. And the HVRT Association is working to connect the rail-trail in Lloyd westward towards the Wallkill Valley Rail-trail in New Paltz — another 2.5 miles.

Meanwhile, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail (WVRT) is poised to double in length and by early fall will connect Gardiner and New Paltz to Rosendale, Ulster and Kingston via the 940-foot-long Rosendale Rrailroad trestle, perched 150 feet over the Rondout Creek in Rosendale.

According to Alan Bowdery, vice president of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT), a not-for-profit organization that partnered with the Open Space Institute (OSI) to purchase 11.5 miles of rail-trail in 2009 and 65 additional acres, “The work on the trestle has begun and is expected to be completed by August 13,” Bowdery told the WVLT annual meeting.

The approximately $1.2-million project involves repairing the 114-year-old bridge’s steel infrastructure, installing wooden decks and railings, and doing drainage work. “If they don’t finish on time, it costs them $1300 a day,” said Bowdery. “So there is great impetus to stick to the deadline.”

You may have noticed new fencing and workers on the Rosendale railroad trestle. The bidding process for the fabrication and installation of new railings for the trestle is complete. Work has begun!

The railings are made of Cor-ten Steel, a natural weathering steel that will have a weathered look and still be durable. In preparation for the installation of the railings, existing railroad ties will be turned 90 degrees, and ties that are deteriorated will be removed. The new orientation of the ties will provide a larger surface area upon which to install the decking. Once all the ties are flipped, the railings will be installed in sections and attached directly to the steel of the trestle.

The Rosendale railroad trestle. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Future maintenance will be simplified. Because the decking timbers will be installed after the railings, replacement of weathered boards will be simple. The railings will remain in place to protect the safety of anyone working on the decking.

On Friday, April 13, a small fire popped up among the existing railroad ties after the construction company had left for the day. Thanks to the quick work of the Rosendale and Tillson fire departments, the fire was quickly addressed.

The Wallkill Valley Land Trust is working closely with the fire departments and the project engineer to establish additional fire prevention measures as this project continues. With unseasonably dry conditions, appropriate precautions are being taken.

Work is also needed on the recently acquired miles of old railbed trails, including re-grading and widening. Rail-trail users will then be able to go from the hamlet of Gardiner north through New Paltz, Tillson, Rosendale and Ulster into the City of Kingston without having to get off the linear trail. The route is varied and interesting, passing through scenic woodlands, open fields and farmlands along the Wallkill River, over the Rondout Creek and past Rosendale’s old cement mines and Binnewater lakes.

WVLT and OSI have been working to secure easements along portions of the trail. “North of Williams Lake, there was a property owner who is a big rail-trail fan and user who gave us an easement without hesitation,” reported Bowdery. But another property owner just north of the Thruway wanted to put in a swimming pool and shed along the easement. “We’ve just filed a lawsuit, and they’ve yet to respond,” he added.

Ruth Elwell, longtime president of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail Association, said her group was hoping to partner with the various municipalities along the new section of the rail-trail, just as it has further south. The group agrees to care for and maintain the trail through volunteer labor and donations, and the various municipalities provide assistance in maintaining the trails.

Bowdery said that WVLT’s goal was to have the trestle and the 11.5 miles of trail “ready and open for the public by early fall.” The partnership has raised approximately $750,000 towards the $1.2-million project.

To learn more about this effort, follow its progress, or make a donation, go to

Two other significant old railbeds should also be mentioned. Ulster County government owns 38 miles of Ulster & Delaware Railroad right-of-way from the shores of the Hudson River in Kingston west to Highmount in the northwestern tip of the county. And much of the former Ontario & Western Railroad roadbed from Kingston down the Esopus and Rondout valleys are now in use as rail-trails. Finally, portions of the former route of the nineteenth-century Delaware & Hudson Canal, including some of the historic locks, are used for recreational purposes.

It’s a hybrid

Chad Foti of the New Paltz Climbing Cooperative at 91 North Chestnut Street. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

New Paltz has taken rock climbing to even greater heights. The recently opened “climbing cooperative” occupies a 2000-square-foot post-industrial space in the heart of the village which was converted by climbing enthusiasts into a 24-hour indoor rock-climbing gym and community space.

Located in the back of Mike Rizza’s auto-body shop and car dealership at 91 North Chestnut Street, bordering the rail-trail and Huguenot Street, the New Paltz Climbing Cooperative has been a labor of love. It has surpassed the goals of its founder, Chad Foti, an active climber as well as a New Paltz High School teacher of earth science.

“It was a community effort,” said Foti, who refuses to take credit for the climbing gym. “So many people contributed. It blew my mind. All of the holds [rock-climbing holds that simulate rocks and crevices] were donated. All of the wood [to build the walls] was donated, the labor, the couches, the mats, this incredible art work,” he said. The walls are bursting with pop-art painted in a day by Paul St. Savage, a good friend who is a street artist in New York City. “I mentioned something to him,” said Foti, “and he came up and all I did was feed him and he did this in one day. It’s amazing.”

As Foti gives a tour of the gym, there are numerous people laboring up and down walls, hanging off of faux-overhangs, stretching, chatting on the comfortable couches, or utilizing the free weights and punching bag — all donated to the cooperative.

Their goal was hopefully to get 20 to 30 memberships the first couple of months and 50 by the year’s end. “But everyone came out of the woodwork to support us and be part of this cooperative,” said Foti. “We opened in December and met our goal within the first two months, we had 120 visitors our first month and now we’re up to 60 year-round memberships. I’m shocked and relieved and just excited. It’s such a great place and used by so many great people.”

A year-round membership, which gives the individual access (via a code key to the gym) every day of the year 24 hours a day, costs $350. A day pass is $10. Members can bring two guests free of charge and for liability’s sake members must be 18 years or older. “If a member wants to bring their children in for the day that’s fine,” noted Foti.

There are six walls, all of which are curved, bowed, some with steep angles, others with complicated overhangs and dozens of routes mapped out by color-coded tape — offering many beginner routes up to professional-level routes.

“We have a community night every Tuesday where people can map out their own routes,” he said. “We have movie nights, pot-lucks, parties … and it’s very local. Almost all of our members are from New Paltz, Gardiner and Rosendale.”

The idea was to create something that would cater to local climbers and those that wanted to learn to climb but who could not make it to the cliffs every day, and those who wanted to work out and keep their climbing skills sharp during the winter months, after work, during inclement weather.

“Who does it cater to?” Foti asked himself. “It caters to people who like to be on their own schedule, which rock climbers generally do. It caters to individuals, which climbers definitely are. And it caters to our community where we all want to play an integral role in and offer something healthy and organic. It’s part hang-outage and part working-outage. It’s a hybrid.”

Foti admitted that he felt very nervous when he began this endeavor. “I had some moments when I was like What am I doing? I’m going to be shackled to this.” Instead he discovered that people from all walks of life loved the community-cooperative aspect of it and put in sweat equity, donated, painted, created routes, brought in lights and tunes and helped turn those six walls into works of art with wild color schemes, challenging holds, and irregular forms.

“Even on an off day there could be seven or eight people here, or 30. Part of it provides a great workout, and the other part just allows people who enjoy climbing to get together and have fun.”

Foti said he could not have done it without Mike Rizza. “He was instrumental in making this happen,” said Foti. “Every time I ran into a stumbling block or needed something he was right there to help me out. He’s been so supportive as a landlord and as a wonderful New Paltz person.”

The people behind the enterprise are not in this for money. “Any bit of money we make beyond paying our rent and utilities will go right back into improving the gym, creating more climbing walls, purchasing necessary equipment,” said Foti. “We’re already designing a new wall that should be up in a few weeks.”

Foti is there three to four times a week to work out, see friends and manage the co-op. But the space largely runs itself. “This kind of thing keeps honest people honest,” he said. “They clean up, they tend to the books, they treat it like it’s their home, their space, which it is, and that’s what I love about it.”

To learn more go to their Facebook page at New Paltz Climbing Cooperative or go to or email [email protected]

“The best way to contact us is to just come by,” said Foti. “Every Tuesday night we have a community night from 6:30 to 9 p.m. and you can check out the space, talk with people and learn if this would be something you’d be interested in. We work out, but we also socialize and have a great time.”