Route 97: Traveling the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway
Text | Nancy Dymond
The Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, a 71-mile stretch of New York State Route 97 that runs from Port Jervis to Hancock along the Upper Delaware River, is a spellbinding combination of nature and history. It unwinds before you, offering vista after vista of views along the river, which itself has federal status as part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers system.
One hundred and fifty highways in 46 states are recognized as National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads. The program, established in 1991 by the Federal Highway Administration, selects qualifying roads on the basis of six intrinsic qualities: archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic. Thanks to the grassroots efforts of individuals and organizations from Sullivan, Orange and Delaware counties, a section of NYS Route 97 was officially granted the designation in 2002.
Your tour of the Scenic Byway begins at its southernmost point in Port Jervis. Originally known as Mahackamack, Port Jervis was an important trading and transportation center in the developing years of the Industrial Revolution. Renamed in 1827 to honor John B. Jervis, chief engineer for the Delaware & Hudson Canal, the town was a stop on the Old Mine Road, the first 100-mile road in America, later becoming a booming port on the D & H Canal. The D & H Canal (1828-1898), portions of which have been restored, stretched for 108 miles and contained 108 locks. It was built to carry anthracite coal on barges from the minefields of Pennsylvania to port markets along the Hudson.
While in town, grab a coffee at Port Java and head on down to the Minisink Valley Historical Society at Fort Decker the start of the six-mile-long Delaware & Hudson Heritage Trail. The end of the trail is marked by the Tri-State Monument, which is set at the juncture of three states: New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. (Your kids will love twisting their bodies to be in all three states at once.) Port Jervis is also the home of Gillinder Glass.Next, claim your reward for skillfully navigating the twisting curves of the Scenic Byway’s ascent up the mountainside—a breathtaking panoramic vista of the Delaware River and the surrounding river valley. The Hawk’s Nest derived its name from the native raptors that can frequently be seen soaring gracefully in the warm air currents. There is a pullover spot for sightseeing and picture taking.
Pond Eddy is known for great shad fishing, canoeing and rafting. It’s interesting to note that American shad migrate from the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean up the fresh water of the Delaware River to spawn in the spring. Whether you’re sojourning on water or on land be sure to stop by the Millbrook Inn for their great beer selection and German/American cuisine.
Barryville was built on the strength of the logging industry. Today’s Barryville, surrounded by canoe liveries, bald eagle observation spots, antique emporiums and art galleries, is a summer haven for artists and second-home owners. Fuel up and order lunch at the family-owned River Market which prides itself on its friendly reputation. Other favorite eateries are Il Castello Restaurant, known for its pizza and Italian specialties, and The Carriage House which has great food and rents out cozy cottages with a river view. On Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. beginning the second week in June, the Barryville Farmers Market and Artisan Fair bustles with folks selling and seeking the best in local produce and artisan goods. At the Minisink Battleground Park, peruse historical materials and walk the grounds where one of the last battles of the American Revolution was fought. Another popular attraction is the Delaware Aqueduct, also known as the Roebling Bridge. Designed by John A. Roebling of Brooklyn Bridge fame, it is the oldest existing wire suspension bridge in the U.S. and was built during the canal era.
The vibrant hamlet of Narrowsburg, positioned at the narrowest and deepest point of the Delaware River, invites you to browse art galleries, artisan shops, antique stores and tempting eateries. In January, Eaglefest celebrates the annual arrival of migrating bald eagles. RiverFest, another exuberant annual celebration, is held in July to focus attention on preserving the natural environment and the lively local art scene. Narrowsburg is also the home of The River Reporter Newspaper.
Dine al fresco at the Main Street Café , overlooking The Big Eddy, and enjoy a Cafe Cubano across the street at Narrowsburg Roasters. Check out the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance and it’s trendy Alliance Gallery, and before leaving be sure to search for bald eagles through the viewing scope on Main Street’s observation deck. Continuing a short distance north on the Scenic Byway, you’ll see Fort Delaware (845/252-6660), a living history reconstruction of a colonial stockade where actors demonstrate village crafts of the day. If you need a river fix, be sure to tour Skinners Falls, several miles beyond Fort Delaware. Here you can swim and sunbath on fantastic rocks overlooking Upper Delaware rapids, or plan your own float trip with tubes and boats from Lou’s Tubes and Landers River Trips
Callicoon is a charming river town steeped in history. Walking the hilly Upper and Lower Main Streets is great exercise as well as an opportunity to browse antique galleries, specialty gift shops and healthy produce. At The Good Earth you can buy pastured poultry and eggs, maple syrup and organic vegetables, all locally grown. Have a cup of tea at Cafe Devine or a glass of wine at Matthews on Main.
If you’re in the mood for a movie, why not find out what’s playing at the historic, 380-seat Callicoon Theater? And on Sundays from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., May through November, visit the Callicoon Farmers Market in Callicoon Creek Park.Journey’s end Canoers, kayakers and rafting enthusiasts “run the rapids” to points south from the village of Hancock, the true beginning of the Upper Delaware. Here the East and West branches of the Delaware combine to create an environment teeming with brook and brown trout, perch, bass, bullhead and eel. The Bluestone Grill on Main Street is an excellent choice for lunch or dinner, with menus created with fresh, local, organic ingredients.