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Reviving the ranch

Arrowhead Ranch, its history and potential, will not fade away

By VERONICA DAUB
Posted 11/14/19

PARKSVILLE, NY — Autumn has just freshly vanished as I follow Rose Barnett around a green field that squishes beneath our feet. With my back to the top of the hill that rolls down across the …

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Reviving the ranch

Arrowhead Ranch, its history and potential, will not fade away

Posted

PARKSVILLE, NY — Autumn has just freshly vanished as I follow Rose Barnett around a green field that squishes beneath our feet. With my back to the top of the hill that rolls down across the street and down to the pond at the bottom of the Arrowhead Ranch grounds, I can see the Catskills for miles, bare for winter. It was probably a colorful view just weeks ago. Just as a few decades ago, Arrowhead Ranch was more vibrant, more alive—not silent and barren as it is now, seemingly frozen in a winter of its own.

The ranch has seen better days, but in Barnett’s motivated eyes is a vision—a spark about to ignite. As she gestures to the dilapidated, sagging buildings of the ranch, memories pour from her mouth, followed by her plans of a revival—a coming spring after a years-long winter.

Barnett purchased the property back in 2017, two years after it was abandoned. The way Barnett tells it, the ranch had an interesting last few years. Some kid she met claimed he got his high school diploma there, though he couldn’t recall the name of the school. It was most recently a Hassidic camp, but before that, it was a swingers’ retreat at some point in the 2000s. But in its heyday, it was a music venue and a horse ranch: that’s the ranch she’s resurrecting.

“It’s just perfect. I just couldn’t stand seeing it vacant and I just kept driving by it,” she said. So, as a music- and horse-lover with a passion for renovating real estate and a history of promoting events, she dug into public records, found the owner and made him an offer.

The current plan of attack is to renovate the hotel building that shares the field with the stage area, hopefully by mid-summer 2020. By then, the barn also will be renovated for Arrowhead Ranch & Retreat’s sister non-profit company, Arrowhead Ranch Horse Rescue. Six horses are already awaiting their new home in the stables. The horse rescue will offer therapy sessions. While not well-known, equine-assisted therapy is a powerful treatment for a wide range of physical and mental diagnosis. Barnett experienced its success through her volunteer work at HorseAbility, based in Long Island, and she’s thrilled to bring it to Arrowhead.

“I decided if I can do that, if I can help people do that, it really makes a difference. Horses are old beings, old souls, I think.”

After a fire in 2015 took the main building, which held a lobby, restaurant, bar and 15 hotel rooms, all that remains are the walls of the foundation. While there isn’t a set plan for that space just yet, plans do include a restaurant, spa, floating dock for the pond, campgrounds and more hotel rooms.

Shots from the "heyday." Fred Reiter of The Underdogs playing his saxophone on the dock circa 1991. On the left is the main building which burned down in 2015. / Photos contributed by Rose Barnett

For Barnett, the place she envisions is far more than just a dream, as she lived the reality.

“I was coming here back when it was open… led here by a band I used to hang with on Long Island called the Underdogs, I loved.” The Underdogs became the ranch’s residential bar band, playing every weekend in the late ‘80s when the ranch was owned by a hardworking couple in their 20s, Kenny and Michelle Hoff.

The Hoffs purchased it from Alan “Whitey” Daniels, who owned the ranch since 1962, back when the Catskills “were still kinda booming,” as Barnett put it. Daniels ran it year-round on the weekends for clients who fell in love with the place and returned each year. “They had horses, trail-rides and 55 rooms. It was all inclusive.”

The Hoffs kept the hotel rooms and the horses, but they brought in the music. Somehow, the band Blues Traveler found out about Arrowhead Ranch and decided “they wanted to make it their regular home base,” Barnett explained in her rapid-fire history lesson, her joy and pride for the ranch’s history almost getting ahead of her words. “[Blues Traveler’s] manager was David Graham, son of the famous Bill Graham, who ran the Fillmore Auditoriums.” One of the biggest promoters in American history, Bill Graham, she explained, had worked at two different Catskill hotels throughout his college years, one of those being Liberty’s Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel. So Bill had a passion for the Catskills and, thrilled his son was in the music business, he came to the ranch to help. “He took it up a step… made it more professional,” Barnett said, pointing out the electric panel he installed so they no longer had to run wires to the stage from the closest set of hotel rooms.

The summer of 1991—the summer of Bill Graham’s influence—saw acts like Blues Traveler, Hot Tuna, Phish, The Band, Ziggy Marley and the Spin Doctors. Come the fall, Bill was killed in a helicopter crash, and everything fell apart. “[Bill’s] people pulled his affairs out of here, and… it was too much for the Hoffs to handle. They declared bankruptcy and backed out and never tried to come back.” Cue the mysterious school, swingers’ retreat and Hassidic camp.

Barnett and her friends in the community refuse to let the ranch crumble any further, and they’ve already made impressive progress. Since taking it over two years ago, the ranch has seen seven events, one of which is the annual Equinox fall festival—the ranch’s (so far) one weekend-camping event. This past summer saw the ranch’s first outside production, So Many Roads, a three-day Grateful Dead cover-band festival.

“I look at myself as a steward of this project. I was the one who couldn’t stand seeing it not happen, so I sparked it. Just like I guess any business, no one can run it by themselves,” Barnett said. “I think this place has a history for a lot of people; it touched a lot of hearts while it was open. We have a great team of people who have different skill sets, and the place just means something to them. It’s been a beautiful grassroots effort bringing this place back.”

For more information, to donate and to view next year’s schedule, visit www.arrowheadranch.org.

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