About 100 miles north of New York City, Columbia County has long offered a great selection of fun riding roads and some interesting destinations. Among those destinations are three venues for modern outdoor sculpture – sometimes on a grand scale. The ambitious rider could visit each of these unique collections in a single day of touring. A better plan might include an overnight stay in the region so that the works of art get their just share of your attention, plenty of miles are covered on the lightly travelled roadways, and some of the areas fun eateries can be enjoyed.
By far the largest tract of land devoted to big scale modern sculpture is OMI (pronounce “oh my”) International Arts Center – Fields Sculpture Park on county route 22 in Ghent, NY (NOT the better known state Route 22).
The park was created by Francis Greenburger, entrepreneur and art lover to provide for the display of large-scale outdoor sculpture. Situated on over 300 acres are more than 80 examples of the sculptural use of natural and man-made materials. You’re free to wander the grounds after checking in at the visitor’s center where there is no admission fee other than a voluntary donation of any amount you wish.
The rolling countryside provides a perfect backdrop for the diverse collection. A favorite is the “Helmsley Building” (230 Park Ave., NYC). A faithful reproduction of the famous Manhattan skyscraper – with one important modification. The immense stainless steel structure is very representative of the real thing, except it has been rolled into a 25’ diameter circle. The detail is impressive and the effect is stunning.
While in Ghent, be sure to stop at Kozel’s Restaurant on Route 9H. This place is largely unchanged from its opening day in 1936. They feature good old-fashioned American comfort food at its best. Beef for the excellent hamburgers is ground on site and french fries are cut from fresh potatoes. They roast their own turkeys and bake their own pies. No haute cuisine here, just the real deal.
Just east of the Chatham/Route 203 exit of the Taconic Parkway, you’ll find the Taconic Sculpture Park on Stever Hill Rd. – a dead end street off of Route 203 in Spencertown. The property is the home and outdoor collection of Roy Kanwit, sculptor extraordinaire. Situated around the acreage are a whole cast of interesting characters – many made of concrete.
Perhaps the crowning achievement is represented by the massive head that rests on the highest point of the property, overlooking the Taconic Parkway in the distance. In fact, the 20-foot-tall head can be spotted from the north bound lanes of the parkway just before you reach the exit. You can even enter the interior of the head through a door below the right ear and climb up a wooden ladder. At the top of the ladder you can poke your head out for a panoramic view. Climbing out on the head is strictly verboten!
After touring the grounds, head west on Route 203 to nearby Chatham for a bite. Arguably the best spot in town is the Blue Plate (dinner only) at the end of Kinderhook St. A creative menu awaits, so allow some time to savor the delicious house specialties. Or enjoy a simpler meal at Bengable Savories.
Rounding out our tour of Columbia County outdoor sculpture collections is the Circle Museum Sculpture Park on state Route 22 in Hillsdale. Another eclectic gathering of unique pieces that are mostly fabricated from found and cast-off materials like old car parts and various industrial fittings. Most intriguing are the rusty old propane tanks that have taken on a new life in the form of whimsical characters from another universe.
While not nearly as large as the OMI Sculpture Park, the diversity and multiplicity of the items scattered about the property make for some interesting viewing. Again, a donation box is at the entrance for a display of your generosity and appreciation.
Dining options are mostly limited to heading south on state Route 22 to Hillsdale proper where you’ll find the Crossroads Food Shop on Route 23. Better yet, take a 12 mile detour east to try some of the fun restaurants in Great Barrington, MA like Baba Louie’s (pizza and ethnic eats) or Naji’s for Lebanese goodies.
Just about any road you choose in Columbia County will provide you with some enjoyable riding. If you choose to access the area via the Taconic Parkway, mind the 55 mph speed limit and remember that this is one of the most aggressively patrolled roads in the area – radar speed traps abound!