By Erica Paige Schumacher
A “Legacy” is something that is passed on from one generation to another. A Legacy Business is similar. Quite a few Gen Xers living in the Hudson Valley have decided in these risky and uncertain times to invest in local businesses that have existed as social magnets for residents prior—but needed new life or ideas and financial investment—to bring them back into the community in a robust form. In that sense, Gen Xers are functioning characteristically as a bridge to gap a fundamental need in the community for wholeness and connection. They also recognize an economic need to revitalize the vision of former business and community landmarks as vital and vibrant meeting places—and have agreed to carry them on in time—as places re-imagined where they can invest in themselves, their own families, and in the local community at large.
Sometimes dreams take the shape of a cloud, a beloved childhood memory, or of a loved herd of imperiled horses.
For Mike Offner, a GenXer who embarked on a mission with others in the community to save the horses at the Pine Grove Dude Ranch in Kerhonkson (now the Pine Ridge Dude Ranch)—as a family would save its own members from being split up, exploited by people who may not be friendly for profit, or worse, sent to the slaughter house—his efforts had a certain life urgency.
In September 2017, The Pine Grove Dude Ranch went out of business after its prior owner passed away. As a result of many compounding forces, it fell into a state of neglect and disrepair. Prior to that, it had been in decline. When the ranch was about to close, and all the horses were going to be auctioned off, Offner and other friends here made a decision to save the herd who had been living together as a family for years. They raised money through a GoFundMe campaign and worked with rescue organizations, community members, and partners to buy back 31 of 34 horses. Some were retired at safe-haven stables in Vermont with horse-friendly families or at Oak Tree Farm in Rifton. The remainder of the herd who were young enough stayed here at the ranch in Kerhonkson, and now offer the community a renewed vision for the future, via horseback, beautiful accommodations, and gorgeous mountain vistas.
Offner had vacationed at the Ranch as a child for joyous family reunions and grew to care deeply for horses, even though he was initially frightened to ride them. “I grew up coming here with my family. This was the first place I rode a horse. I was seven years old,” he states. “I started riding here, and at first didn’t like it—I was scared of how strong they were.”
Dreams often start out that way. They are invitational, but also provide a personal challenge for learning. At Arrowhead Ranch and Retreat in Sullivan County, Offner was later matched with a horse he could learn from. “They matched me up with an abused horse. I brushed her and groomed her” and he learned from a wise teacher that “She’s more afraid of you than you are of her.” Eventually, Offner realized the horse was very special. “Horses are very deep animals with their emotions.”
While we cannot often predict the future or preserve the past—and we are all affected by the turbulent winds of history, time, and change—we can build something here and now that serves the wider community, and hence, the world, while honoring where we’ve been, our deepest values, and potentially, where we are all going. The tides of history roll in and they roll out, and everyone is affected and transformed. But people still need to congregate, rely on one another, eat, make money, and share their provisions and wisdom—in order to survive. These values are often shared by Gen Xers who find something new in the old, and honor the old while building something tangible and sustaining in a down-to-earth way that serves the wider community and crosses generational bounds, or simply makes these distinctions—quietly or frankly—irrelevant.
Offner worked with the horses at the Pine Grove Ranch as a barn manager from 1996 to 2015 while he attended high school and during his summers. As an adult he and his partners wanted to save the Ranch as he envisioned it could be. “At first, personally, the only decision was to try to save the horses, and open the place back up.” But doing that involved an incredible amount of financial investment and risk, as the Ranch had to be renovated extensively on many systemic levels, and prior to the repurchase of it, many local residents were informed by Offner himself that he and his partners were trying to work out a deal and to sit tight. “The community lost almost 100 jobs” with the initial closing of the Ranch. When Offner and his partners came to open the place back up, “All but one of the managers came back,” and with that spirit of renewal and trust, The Pine Ridge Dude Ranch was back in the saddle with a whole community of love and support holding the reigns. The Ranch reopened after its purchase in 2018, with one million dollars worth of mammoth renovations.
If you walk into the ranch today, extensive improvements by local craftsmen have transformed it back into its original glory, and then some. Beautiful wooden Indian totems, original murals of horses stampeding as a herd, and sculptures adorn the main lodge entry room, where guests mingle outside of their rooms. Vacationers’ children play bingo and attend numerous activities on the grounds. Some climb the Rock Wall, while others mount wooden horses smiling for photos in the lobby, shoot hoops, play tennis, or swim in the beautiful indoor or outdoor pools. The lodge itself was painstakingly restored by Country Homes, local contractors.
Most importantly, all ages and phases of life can take rides on the horse trails that meander through the 150-acre property. It is easy to feel that one is in a wonderful paradise while walking around with Offner, as he texts staff about things that need attention for beautifying the grounds, or other matters that make this community gem a compassionate testament to the dream of revitalizing a soulful place for people, animals, and staff.
Offner takes pride in the fact that The Pine Ridge Dude Ranch is a place that allows family, friends, employees, and residents to enjoy the beauty of nature and animals, away from the wider conflicted world. In addition to the horses, goats, chickens, and restaurants, there is Happy Hour at The Silver Dollar Saloon, Starbucks coffee at Trails End Cafe, archery, a Poolside Bar, spa services, day passes and overnight packages, a guest shop (The Pine Ridge Country Store), a petting zoo, mini-golf, paddle boats, laser tag, paintball, local musicians who play at the Ranch, and a day camp for children of vacationing parents.
When Offner and his partners purchased the ranch back, it was not winterized, and many things needed updating and repair. “The amount of work we got done just to open was nothing short of a miracle,” Offner stated. Eventually, he and his partners would like to offer the ranch for weddings. Currently the ranch is fully equipped to host numerous celebratory events for families, vacationers, and residents. It is also a place where beginners and others can find the simple pleasure of horseback riding at sunset with some wine and some friends, while learning to build deeper emotional bonds and respect for horses.
When he thinks about his role as a Gen Xer living in the community, Offner states, “I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to take care of each other. This is its own little world, a fun family place, where people can get away from the wider world.” He states he feels passionately about making the Ranch a place where his employees feel valued and happy, and his guests feel welcomed and at home. “I always believed life is too short” to avoid taking risks for what matters. “I want people to come here and enjoy themselves. This place is an escape from the world for the workers, and for the guests. It’s important to be community oriented—it’s our world, and we need to take care of it.”
Gen Xers are as complex and as diverse as the era in which we live, and typically do not like being stereotyped or defined, but if one had to characterize what Gen X Legacy Business owners have in common it might be OK to momentarily refer to the past…while we may not have the inclination or the means to wile away the hours with a good book in a tree fort built for one or two, we can still build tangible outposts of imagination for our communities that function as a quiet resistance to postmodernism’s view that the universe is a meaningless place and that human beings are disposable commodities like computer parts. We can create meaning and share that vision with those who want the feeling of being in time with others, or who want to leave whatever venue that they have visited enhanced and more connected, with memories or joyous experiences to share or bring back out into the world.
The Pine Ridge Dude Ranch currently has 84 rooms of accommodations for guests, and is actively renovating more rooms for the future. It is located at 30 Cherrytown Road in Kerhonkson. Reservations can be made at pineridgeduderanch.com. (Summer weekends, kids stay for free).