Back to the Garden

Decades after Woodstock, Bethel is a popular second-home town and good place to hunt frogs.

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By ELSA BRENNER
Published: September 21, 2007

IN August 1969, Bethel, N.Y., was a once-in-a-lifetime weekend getaway for some 400,000 people who swarmed Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm for the Woodstock Music & Art Fair to hear rock acts like the Who, Jimi Hendrix and Country Joe McDonald.

These days, Bethel is among the fastest-growing towns in Sullivan County, town officials say, and has a thriving second-home community; its full-time population of just over 4,500 expands to about 10,000 in late spring, summer and early fall. Second-home owners are drawn because it’s only about a hundred miles from Manhattan and because of its many lakes and ponds and the availability of land for development.

The rural town includes the hamlets of White Lake, Kauneonga Lake, Smallwood, Bethel, Mongaup Valley, Briscoe and parts of Swan Lake. And while Woodstock patted itself on the back as three days of peace and music, most of those heading to Bethel today care much more about the peace (and quiet) and not quite as much about buzz saw electric guitars.

Suzanne and Stuart Novy, for instance, spend most of the week trying to block out the din of Jersey City. But on Fridays, they pack up to head north to their second home on Black Lake.

At their custom-built, three-bedroom house on six wooded acres, which they have owned since 1999, nothing much louder than the swish of a canoe paddle is heard. “All week we listen to traffic screaming down the highways and people talking at each other,” said Ms. Novy, who lives with her husband in a busy condominium complex in the Port Liberté development in Jersey City. “What we need more than anything else on Saturday and Sunday is silence.”

Mr. Novy, who owns a moving business, whiles away much of the weekend in a rowboat, smoking a cigar and fishing for bass. Ms. Novy, an instructor in an X-ray technician school, says she is content “talking to the rocks” and otherwise communing with nature.

Come evening, she said, they “say good night to the world” by breaking open a bottle of red wine on their dock and watching the beavers build dams.

The Yasgur dairy farm today forms the backdrop for the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which opened in 2006. A sprawling complex, the center has parking for 10,000 cars and this summer featured performers like Bob Dylan, the country singer Brad Paisley and Little Anthony and the Imperials.

Prompted by an “onslaught of new development proposals” in the last year, partly spurred by the performing arts center, said Harold Russell, the town supervisor, Bethel has placed a temporary moratorium on subdivisions over five lots. “We’re a small town that needs to catch our breath,” he said.

The Scene

Part-time residents like Eileen Grossman, a retired United Airlines flight attendant who owns a second home there with her husband, Stephen Rubin, a lawyer, said that when going out for dinner or an evening’s entertainment, she rarely puts on more than blue jeans, a T-shirt and lipstick.

Residents of Scarsdale, N.Y., Ms. Grossman and Mr. Rubin are now empty nesters. Several years ago, anticipating visits from children and grandchildren, Ms. Grossman said, they built a rustic one-story, four-bedroom, six-bathroom house with four fireplaces on five acres in Chapin Estate. Chapin is Bethel’s most upscale community, and its 2,500 acres sit on the Toronto and Swinging Bridge Reservoirs, where swimming and boating are allowed.

Blending farmland with new residential and commercial development, Bethel is also home to the Sullivan County airport on a 600-acre hilltop five miles from Monticello, and the Sullivan County Industrial Park, a 750-acre site owned by the county and its industrial development agency. Monticello Gaming & Raceway, which has year-round harness racing and video gaming machines, is in the neighboring town of Thompson.

In addition to playing host to children and friends, Ms. Grossman and Mr. Rubin spend long weekends exploring on foot, monitoring the progress of bald eagles that have similarly nested in Bethel and are awaiting the arrival of future generations. At night, they share dinners with other second-home owners or visit the Bradstan Country Hotel, for cabaret entertainment.

Pros

Many houses are clustered around lakes and have spectacular views. Sullivan County’s many waterways — Lake Superior, Toronto Reservoir, White Lake, Silver Lake, Sicans Pond, Chestnut Ridge Pond, Woods Pond and Filippini Pond — offer a broad range of fishing and boating. In addition, Bethel is just 20 miles from the Delaware River.

Cons

Carolyn Ledwith, who owns a second home in Bethel with her husband, Henry Sladek, said she has had to stock up at a supermarket in Monticello on her way to their weekend house near Lake Superior. As the summer population has grown, though, new shops and restaurants, like Benji & Jakes, which specializes in brick-oven pizzas, have sprung up near old standbys like the Front Porch Cafe. And don’t expect to get anywhere fast; those back roads wind endlessly through the countryside.

The Real Estate Market

The region offers a wide range of prices for second-home buyers.

Ms. Ledwith, who runs a cleaning service in Manhattan, and Mr. Sladek, an emergency preparedness officer for the Justice Department, were cramped in their New York studio apartment. Unable to afford a larger home in Manhattan, they bought a three-bedroom, one-bathroom Cape on an acre near Lake Superior State Park in Bethel three years ago for about $150,000 that’s now worth $200,000, according to Darren Wiseman, an agent at McKean Real Estate in White Lake.

The houses where Ms. Grossman and Mr. Rubin live represent the market’s high end. At the gated Chapin Estate, houses start at 2,000 square feet and reach as high as 15,000. The average 4,000-square-foot house would cost about $1 million, not including the land, said Scott Samuelson, director of sales for Chapin Estate. Along the water, a five-acre lot might sell for $600,000 and an eight-acre lot for $1.3 million. In July, a five-acre lot sold for $800,000. “Our market includes buyers who might have been attracted to the Adirondacks,” Mr. Samuelson said, “but don’t want to travel that far to their second home.”

At Black Lake Estates, a three-bedroom house with three bathrooms on five lakefront acres recently sold for $925,000, said Linda McKean, an owner of McKean Real Estate. It was on the market for five months. In other lake communities, many cabins are being torn down and replaced with larger, year-round houses. “But anything going for under $150,000,” she said, “would be a seasonal home or a handyman special.”

LAY OF THE LAND

POPULATION 4,522, according to a 2006 estimate by the Census Bureau.

SIZE 90 square miles, according to the Census.

LOCATION The Bethel area is just under 100 miles northwest of New York City.

WHO’S BUYING “Lots of empty nesters from Manhattan, New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut and Westchester,” said Linda McKean, a broker at McKean Realty in White Lake, one of Bethel’s hamlets.

GETTING THERE The trip from Manhattan takes about two hours. Connect to Interstate 87 north and take Exit 16 (Harriman), then follow Route 17 west. Just past the center of Monticello, take Route 17B and continue west into the Bethel area.

WHILE YOU’RE LOOKING Bradstan Country Hotel (1561 Route 17B, White Lake; 845-583-4114; www.bradstancountryhotel.com) has rooms, suites and cottages for $175 to $200 a night from June through October and $140 to $165 the rest of the year.

Correction: September 28, 2007

The Havens column last Friday about Bethel, N.Y., wrongly included two hiking trails. The trails, Mount Will and Androscoggin River, are near Bethel, Me., not Bethel, N.Y. The writer added the information using an online source but without sufficient research.

http://travel.nytimes.com

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