As Seen In The  
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 June 23, 2005
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TRADING SPACES

The New Paltz Hostel draws visitors from around the world
It’s Saturday night at the New Paltz Hostel. Behind the small, lush garden, where Pan plays his pipes and Neptune wields his trident over a fountain, some of the staff is relaxing on the porch. A surprise visit from a reporter fazes them not in the least—but then—surprise visits are their stock in trade. Jason Hardy is happy to offer a guided tour. Inside, the eye is struck by a profusion of art, posters, photographs and notices. Classic poetry emblazoned on a wall across the hall from a photo mosaic of Darth Vader, next to which is the South Korean flag, reminiscent of the Yin/Yang symbol
Eclectic doesn’t begin to describe it.
“One really neat thing,” says Hardy as he stops to point out a photo, “is the friends you make. This is me in Colombia, visiting a person, I met here.... It becomes an incredible network.”
On one wall of a tidy, homey kitchen (“Everybody’s expected to, clean up their own mess, and they pretty much do,” Hardy remarks) is a map of the world, thick with pushpins. Not all guests bother, but many stop to stick a pin into the spot they hail from—besides the profusion of Europeans, there are pushpins from Russia and other former Soviet republics, Tierra del Fuego, Nigeria, Sri Lanka; New Paltz has apparently been sampled by folks from nearly everywhere.
There are rules—a quiet time, a midnight curfew, a daytime checkout during which guests are expected to find something to do and a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol on the premises. This is not Animal House. The longer-term renters upstairs—some college professors and students and the hostel staff—set a tone of mutual respect that is apparently. cherished by the drop-ins. “It really pretty much runs itself,” says co-host Sean Pellegrini.
Not perhaps what was expected from a place that owner Craig Sheppard remembers “jumping through hoops of fire to get a permit for. After a year of wrangling with village authorities, a special-use permit was granted conditional upon the amount of police and ambulance calls the place turned out to generate.
That first year, Sheppard recalls, there wasn’t one call; in the full four years the place has been open, there have been no more than a couple of the sort of medical calls that might transpire in any private home. Maybe that’s because New Paltz native Sheppard grew up hosteling his way around the globe, and has a clear vision of the hostel movement’s ideals and his role in upholding them.
“One thing that’s awkward,” says Hardy, “is that we still sometimes get a homeless person dropped off by the authorities. That’s tough because we would really, really love to help, but we’re just not equipped as a shelter.
And once in a while, somebody shows up thinking it’s a place to get drunk, but we help them figure out pretty quickly that they’re not in the right spot.”
 Despite the smooth functioning, the hosts tell me, there is still a sense that some in the village view the place with suspicion and would just as soon it didn’t exist And there are still the occasional tangles with the building department—most recently over an oversized sign. But one senses no responding resentment from the management. They’ll trim the sign—they just weren’t really thinking about it. Sometimes the advice is welcome. “We thought it would be neat to have a fountain, then the building inspector came along and reminded us we needed a ground fault interrupter box,” says Hardy. “Hey, okay, good idea.” Things just don’t get hostile at the hostel.
So what do guests do here, if carnality and libation are not the order of the day? The common room is stocked with Monopoly, Parcheesi, Stratego and Trivial Pursuit; there’s a bookshelf, a globe and a paint
set. Internet access is included in the price of a stay, but there’s no TV. “Craig’s vision is more about encouraging interaction, “Hardy explains. “And that really is what makes it such an experience—all these world travelers trading stories and getting to know each other.”
Guests have included a conservative Jewish group spending Rosh Hashanah, an organized group of city kids brought here for a fresh air experience and a fairly high-ranking Republican (He’s  actually a lot of fun, Hardy says.) The hallway wall is lined with thank-you notes from everywhere. “Thanks a lot from the Aussies who stayed/New Paltz is hoppin’, we was amazed!” reads one, while beside it, Demetrios expresses his thanks for providing him a roof while he readied for the Greek basketball season,. Occupancy is usually around 15—21 can be accommodated in a pinch, but it seldom fills all the way up. People reserve months in advance, and the hostel’s reputation has spread by word of mouth. “The New York Post wrote about places to stay in New Paltz last year and mentioned two places—Mohonk Mountain House and us,” says Hardy. “That was kinda neat.”
The newest employee, Jodi LaMarco, has been there a little over a month and says it hardly feels like work. “Sure, there are days when you’re cleaning toilets for a couple of solid hours—but then you come hang out on the porch with whoever, and it’s just the best,” she says. LaMarco is one of the many contributors to the multitude of murals on the walls; for Employee Appreciation Day, she received an inflatable flying sheep. “I guess it’s really not like anywhere else, but somehow it feels like home.”
That, all agree, is the essence, of hosteling —it’s about far more than traveling on the cheap. A wall placard discusses the philosophical aspects, reminding guests that they are expected to contribute in some way, “whether actual physical work performed in and around the hostel, or a thought, insight, or conversation....”
Flyers promote a diverse array of local attractions: the Farmers’ Market, Huguenot Street, Mohonk Preserve, Opus 40 and Community Playback Theatre, to name a few. There’s the phone number of the New Paltz Cinema and a thick stack of menus from local eateries.
Looking around me, I feel 20 years younger. I want to chuck it all and just come stay here and talk world affairs and psychology over Parcheesi games for a few weeks. I mention to the folks that the atmosphere reminds me of the reasons I picked New Paltz to live in as a late-teen wanderer.
“I think Craig kinda feels that way, like he’s preserving and nurturing something,” says Hardy. “There’s been a lot of change, and there’s a sense that downtown—well, the rents are so high, the property taxes are so high—there needs to be room for something that isn’t necessarily just about being up-market. At the same time, there’s a lot of anger among young people out there.... In here, we like to make it an oasis, where people can be themselves and really connect. People who aren’t necessarily from far away come here to get away from the city, to just relax and be themselves.”
Or, as another thank-you note on the wall says, “This was a port in a storm for me.
By Sheppard’s count, more than 2,500 individuals from 65 countries have experienced the hostel. This Saturday, June 25, he and the rest of the staff are inviting the public to an open house. Stop by between noon and 6 p.m. for a burger and a soda and a sample of some uniquely New Paltz hospitality.
For more information on the rules, rates and accommodations at the New Paltz Hostel, call 255-6676 or visit newpaltzhostel.com.

—Anne Pyburn

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