Now that the summerlong “Tugboat Trail” has ended – the installation of 25 artful model tugboats along Route 9W in Esopus – the tugs will be auctioned off at “Tugfest” on Saturday, September 12. The grounds at the Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses venue in Ulster Park will open at 12 noon for visitors, free of charge. The tugboats will be artfully arranged in the gardens at the site for previewing awaiting their 3 p.m. auction, but visitors who arrive earlier will enjoy the soulful vocals and blues guitar of Murali Coryell and wine-tasting with Ulster Park-based El Paso Winery from just down the road. Local restaurants (as well as a few fire departments) will compete in the Meatball Rivalry Cook-off, with samples available at nominal charge and additional food available for purchase. The rain date is Sunday, September 13.
Radio talk show hosts Tony Marmo, Rich Mathews, Lew Kirschner and Nina Postupack will serve as auctioneers for the event, which promises some lively bidding starting at $300. In this fifth annual model tugboat auction, there has never been a “leftover” yet when all was said and done, says Lois DeKoskie, co-creator of the Tugboat Trail.
The whole thing started with what amounted to simple community pride. “It was really just to show a little improvement in town, but it’s gotten big,” says DeKoskie.
A few years back, she and Bernice McNierney, two civic-minded residents of Port Ewen, were pleased that the hamlet in Esopus had recently acquired sidewalks. Wouldn’t it be nice, Bernice said to Lois, if we couldn’t do something to raise some money and put some flowers out? So with the year being 2011, the bicentennial of the Town of Esopus, a Tugboat Committee was formed by the two women, and the Town of Esopus launched the Tugboat Trail to commemorate its pride in being a 200-year-old Hudson River port town.
Artists (or any community members so inclined) were invited to Town Hall to pick up a durable molded plastic model of a tugboat some 40 inches long, unadorned and ready for embellishment and reimagining. The first year there were 12 model tugboats mounted on the Trail, each fanciful small-scale vessel painted or otherwise embellished with a unique theme. The auctioning off of the boats was held at Town Hall the first year, but by last year the popularity of the event had grown to such a degree that it was moved to the Headless Horseman venue in Ulster Park, whose owners offered the site for the auction since they don’t start their fall events until the following weekend.
This year there were 25 model tugs “anchored” alongside Route 9W all summer. Two artists working together recreated the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, complete with a Blue Meanie painted on the side of the boat. Another person transformed the tugboat into a seagoing John Deere tractor, with others paying tribute to the State Troopers and the historic John J. Harvey fireboat. “We’re very impressed with the whole fleet of boats this year,” says DeKoskie.
Some are purchased at the auction by local residents, who display them year-round on their property. Others end up “setting sail,” as the committee puts it, for further destinations. “We had one go to Florida,” DeKoskie notes, “and another to Syracuse. And one went to an apartment in New York City to hang above their bar.”
Proceeds from the auction go back into buying more tugboat forms for next year’s event and into continuing beautification projects along Route 9W in Port Ewen. And those flowers that the money was initially raised for? Well, they did put some flowers around town, says DeKoskie, but they didn’t last long. The committee is looking to other towns for advice now on how to make the next round of plantings longer-lived; but in the meantime, the tugboats have turned out to be a beautification project for the hamlet with no end in sight – and the tugs don’t need watering.
Tugfest, Saturday, September 12, 12 noon, free, auction, 3 p.m., $300+, Headless Horseman Hayrides & Haunted Houses, 778 Broadway (Route 9W), Ulster Park; (845) 338-6486, https://www.facebook.com/tugboattrail.