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2021 Awards of Distinction Finalist Spotlight: Accessible Hospitality

Date Published: September 8, 2021

Congratulations to the Accessible Hospitality Award of Distinction Finalists!

Dutchess County Parks
Village of Rhinebeck
Walkway Over the Hudson, Poughkeepsie

Accessible Hospitality Award of Distinction Finalists Dutchess County Parks Rhinebeck Walkway Over the Hudson


The Accessible Hospitality Award of Distinction is awarded to a lodging property, restaurant, attraction or event that goes above and beyond standard Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance to create accessible, supportive, and inclusive environments for travelers of all abilities. Join Dutchess Tourism in celebrating all the honorees at the 8th annual Dutchess Tourism Awards of Distinction on Thursday, November 4, 2021, at Locust Grove Estate in Poughkeepsie. Read more about the event here.

We chatted with Dutchess County Parks Director Sandy Washburn, Village of Rhinebeck Mayor Gary Bassett and Walkway Over the Hudson Executive Director Elizabeth Waldstein to learn more about each finalist.

What about your business/organization inspires you?

Sandy Washburn, Dutchess County Parks: I am constantly inspired by the lasting mark we make on people who visit our parks. Whether for family gatherings, to find solace on our trails, to build health through fitness, or to take in the sights and sounds, every day we have the opportunity to enhance the quality of life for our patrons and that is very powerful and inspiring.

Mayor Gary Bassett, Village of Rhinebeck: The original inspiration came from wanting to do something for the individuals and families who struggle with the daily challenges of Autism Spectrum Disorder. In partnership with the Anderson Center for Autism, we were the first municipality in the Hudson Valley to become an Autism Supportive Community. We knew we were breaking new ground when we began this project, but we have been so inspired to see the response from people, businesses, and organizations. The Village Autism Supportive Community Committee made up of stakeholders from this community, dedicated itself to making the Village of Rhinebeck a safe and welcoming place for these families by providing quiet spaces, sensory kits, lower light and
music in some areas, reduced wait times and advance ordering. It has been incredible to see the number of businesses, first responders, and Village staff who have pledged to “Do the Right Thing,” taken the training, and made changes to accommodate those with disabilities. It has made us a stronger community.

Elizabeth Waldstein, Walkway Over the Hudson: The Walkway Over the Hudson of today is the fulfillment of a vision of a small group of dedicated community members that put in decades of hard work to bring the park to fruition. The benefits that it provides to the mid-Hudson Valley – a vehicle-free place to exercise, one-of-a-kind views, a magnet for tourism, a driver of the local economy, a point of pride for the region, and so much more – all exist because of the tireless efforts of so many all working in concert to achieve a lofty goal.

What has this past year dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic taught you about the resiliency of your business/organization and staff?

Sandy Washburn, Dutchess County Parks: Dealing with COVID-19 has shown us the very important role that parks play to people and the community. As we navigated through rising numbers of users, we were reminded that what we offer truly matters. From a staff standpoint, the parks team rose to every challenge and made sure that parks were open and usable. We shifted and adapted to every change that came and was greatly committed to our service to the public.

Mayor Gary Bassett, Village of Rhinebeck: Keeping our residents safe, and our businesses and community organizations thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been a huge challenge. But the dedicated members of the ASC Committee remained committed, and so did our businesses and community organizations. This community showed how resilient it is, and how committed to the pledge to provide for those dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This was an enormous accomplishment, given the multiple challenges we all faced during this unprecedented pandemic.

Elizabeth Waldstein, Walkway Over the Hudson: Because of the hard work and dedication of our New York State Parks team, Walkway Over the Hudson never closed for a single day during the pandemic. This meant that when many other places were shutting down and our friends and neighbors had little opportunity for recreation, the Walkway was there to provide peace, respite, and a connection with nature during trying times. The effort to ensure the park was open was tremendous and speaks to the mission-driven character of all involved.

What are your hopes for the future of travel in Dutchess County?

Sandy Washburn, Dutchess County Parks: My hope is that we continue to welcome visitors with pride and genuine happiness for the experiences we can offer in the Hudson Valley. I also hope that our new users who discovered us during the pandemic continue to visit and share the story and the passion that exists in our region.

Mayor Gary Bassett, Village of Rhinebeck: I believe that what we have accomplished by becoming an Autism Safe Community is to make the Village of Rhinebeck even more welcoming to visitors, as well as residents. Some families have traveled here to allow a child who is on the Autism spectrum to watch a parade for the first time from a safe place. It sends a message that we are a welcoming and supportive community. From the start, the ASC Committee has developed the model with the idea of sharing it with other municipalities. It is our fervent hope that we can share the work we have done with others, including the history of the project, information, and training protocols for local government, businesses and community organizations. The Committee has found that having this program in place gives visitors yet another reason to come, and sends an important message about who we are as a community.

Elizabeth Waldstein, Walkway Over the Hudson: That people continue to discover all there is to see and do here. Beyond headline attractions like the Walkway, Dutchess County offers so much more, from outdoor activities to historical sites to shopping, dining, culture, and everything in between.  There’s a hidden gem around nearly every corner, and it’s our mission to ensure the Walkway is the point that connects them all.


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