Aug 08 2018 08:08 | Updated Jan 02 2021 04:01
The story is inspiring and it is about how Mike Offner displayed doggedness and determination in his quest to save an icon among Catskills resorts, Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, from extinction.
Once known as Schloss’ Pine Grove -- part of the old-school, Kosher-style hotels that decades ago thrived in Sullivan and Ulster counties -- this all-season attraction faced closure following the accidental death of owner David O’Halloran in May 2017.
The family could no longer operate the ranch and the bank took possession. The business included 34 horses, all of which were taken from the stable and transported to a Sullivan County auction house, with the probability that the horses -- that were fixtures at the ranch known for its extensive riding programs -- were destined for slaughterhouses.
His love for those horses and for the ranch he had visited as a child (and later worked in as barn manager), 38-year old Mike Offner, a native of Westchester County, set about saving the horses and the ranch. Offner raised more than $10,000 to buy 16 of the 34 horses. Another six horses went to a rescuer in Vermont, while the rest were settled safely, at private homes.
Since then, he has boosted the herd to 40, buying 25 additional horses, including two Clydesdales, a Percheron, Haflinger and more Quarter Horses. Old ranch favorites such as Jazzy, Nemo and Hunter are back and prepped for the resort's reopening in spring.
Offner also has bought the 150-acre property from Sterling National Bank with the help of private investors.
Offner’s plan included reviving the ranch as an attraction among Catskills resorts, is one that takes shape very well and includes improving the rundown facilities that included 126 rooms, a lodge, tavern and nightclub.
The renovation plan included modernizing the guest rooms with new bedding, flooring and bathrooms and replaced roofing and siding throughout the resort, the dining room, kitchen, Silver Dollar Bar and Bull Room Nightclub and a giving a new look to the pool, barn and grounds.
Improvements to dining included a new head chef Jeremy Hughes from Saugerties; Hughes has gourmet twists on the ranch's traditional home-cooked meals and now includes those with special dietary restrictions. A ranch-grown organic garden is an important talking point.
Offner has rehired many of the 80 employees who lost their jobs when the ranch closed. He expects to add more staff in the months ahead.
"We did all of this in six weeks, " Offner said. "Guests who have been coming back all these years will be astounded by all the improvements. The ranch was iconic. This was one of those legendary Catskills resorts dating back to when this area was booming with tourists. It goes back to the days of Kutsher's, the Granite and the Nevele. This was the place to be. Our ranch is one of the last-standing places, and we are proud of what we have to offer our returning guests. To me, that's the essence of what this place is all about. Families meet other families and plan a vacation here together next year,” Offner said.
The revival of Pine Ridge Dude Ranch echoes the revival of Catskills resorts at large. According to several media reports, investors are taking notice of the area. The Catskills has 35 high peaks and nearly 6,000 square miles—which include waterfalls, ice caves, rocky cliffs, and fly-fishing spots. Once a famous and sought after destination--with glitzy Catskills resorts in the mid-1900s (the “Catskills golden age”)--the area of late became synonymous with derelict hotels that kindle images of fallen lounge chairs by empty swimming pools.
And now, in what is probably a grand revival of the area, many of the grand Catskills resorts have been revamped and about to be reopened.
Roberta Byron-Lockwood, president of the Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association was recently quoted in Curbed as saying that Catskills resorts “...are experiencing an incredible renaissance in the travel and tourism market.” The report states that the major Catskills counties—Ulster, Delaware, Sullivan and Greene—have seen increases in tourism.
Offner’s vision for Pine Ridge Dude Ranch includes teaming up with other Catskills resorts owners to offer guest-excursion packages to Hudson Valley wineries and breweries, Catskill ski slopes, the Resorts World Catskills casino in Sullivan County and nearby Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Offner said he plans to purchase a 40-passenger bus to make that happen.
Offner expects the ranch's rebirth will once again bring guests back to Ulster County, particularly, the agriculturally rich hamlet of Kerhonkson. In its glory days, the old Pinegrove was the second-largest employer in the town of Rochester and a huge tourist draw, most notably for city dwellers looking for an outdoor escape.
As a part of this vision, Offner expects to further plug and grow the area on the outskirts of what was once known as the borscht belt.
Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, which had its soft opening on April 2, 2018 and grand reopening on Memorial Day weekend, has hosted hundreds of families this summer—many of them with nostalgic memories of the legendary Catskills resort.
"As we were taking reservations, our staff spent 20 minutes on the phone with guests, who were happy that we're back and wanted to talk about their experiences. This is a very unique place with a lot of things to do," he said.
Offner said Pine Ridge is an affordable family destination. He encourages kids to put their smartphones down and get active outdoors in the foothills of the Catskills.