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Tourism guru on consolidating the future of river cities

Burns Patterson, Executive Director, Historic Hudson River Towns. Photo by Mark Liflander

Burns Pattersona tourism and public relations specialist with strong ties to the region, was recently appointed executive director of Hudson River Historic Towns.

HHRT is a consortium of waterfront municipalities on both sides of the Hudson focused on promoting tourism, community advocacy, waterfront redevelopment and downtown revitalization.

Patterson replaces Nancy Gold who retired after leading the nonprofit since its founding in 1995.

The New York native moved to Ossining over 25 years ago and now lives with his wife, Ruth Riordan, in Sleepy hollow.

Here’s a Q&A with Patterson on what the future holds for attracting visitors to river towns.

River Log: Can you share any plans you have in mind to promote tourism here?

Paterson: We want to expand and improve the excellent relationship we have with the New York State Thruway Authority regarding free audio tours of the bike and walking paths of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridgeas well as free tours of the “landing communities” deck at Irvington, TarryvilleDrowsy hollow, Piermont and Nyack. We developed these tours in conjunction with the Thruway Authority and app developer TravelStorys.

Our team members will be on the way to the bridge and in local communities on selected dates to demonstrate the audio tours. Your readers can download the app at or learn more on our website at

We plan to add a “Living in the Rivertowns” section to, which will be a helpful resource for future homeowners and renters.

We are exploring a program that can offer discounted installation of electric car charging stations to encourage communities to augment existing stations. Sustainable tourism is the direction we all need to take.

River Log: What are the main attractions in the communities your organization represents?

Paterson: Rockefeller State Park Preserve in mount pleasant and the Cuomo Bridge Shared Use Path topped the list. Before the pandemic, the reserve received around 400,000 visitors a year. By 2021, that volume had surpassed 600,000 visitors – an astonishing 50% increase, and the numbers don’t seem to be falling. The Cuomo Bridge Bike and Walking Trail has had over 400,000 visitors since 2020. I believe these numbers will continue to rise as more people experience the breathtaking views on the trail and its lookout points.

Other “indoor” venues have suffered during the pandemic, but we’re excited to see venues like Kykuit, The Rockefeller Estate, reopen for Summer and Fall 2022 after a two-year hiatus.

River Log: Can you share a few of your personal favorites that aren’t listed in the top attractions?

Paterson: When I was a kid, an inexpensive way to get out on the water was to take the round-trip ferry from Staten Island. The NY Waterway Ferry enters Ossining and Haverpaille operates weekdays during morning and evening shuttle hours, but it’s not just for commuters! The ferry crosses a beautiful section of the Hudson and offers a great “mini-cruise” if taken round trip, or provides access to great restaurants at either landing site .

In Haverstraw, another hidden gem should be the Haverstraw Brick Museum. In Westchester I would add the Armour-Stiner Octagon House in Irvington as a ‘hidden gem’, Untermyer Gardens in Yonkersand even the Ancient Croton Aqueduct.

River Log: Malls and retailers are battling online sellers and turning to must-see destinations instead of shopping. What do you and HHRT believe are the key factors to ensure the long-term growth and sustainability of our small town centres?

Paterson: Keeping the ‘river’ in mind in ‘river towns’ is one of the most important aspects of the long-term growth of these town centres. This means continuing to expand public access to the waterfront and connecting existing Riverwalks. This means being creative with mixed-use development of former industrial sites that can provide public access while activating the waterfront. This means encouraging safe walking or cycling access for visitors and local residents . It also means protecting the Hudson River itself, whether through increased investment in storm sewers and sanitation infrastructure or in other ways.

I also think it is vital to increase hotel capacity in the area, hopefully with the addition of hotels along the seafront – which has been lacking for years. Several development projects along the river strive to include investment in hospitality.

River Log: Where do visitors to river towns come from and how much do they spend? Where does HHRT get this data?

Paterson: We are dependent on Visit Westchester and Visit Rockland for data. Visit Westchester’s most recent data, even accounting for reduced travel during the pandemic, highlights more than $1.15 billion in 2020 visitor spending in the county. It is important to note that after years of growth, however, this figure is down almost 43% from its peak in 2019. So all of us in the tourism community have our work cut out to replenish the number. of visitors.

The Rockland Office of Economic Development and Tourism relayed data from Empire State Development, noting that the Hudson Valley region ranks third among all regions in the state, behind New York and Long Island. , in terms of visitor spending.

Visitors from New York and the Tri-State area make up the lion’s share of visitors and we must continue to cultivate this market.

However, I’m also struck by the fact that within Westchester, people from the Sound Shore don’t always explore the River Towns (and the same the other way around). Even from village to village, on both sides of the river, residents are not always aware of nearby amenities. I think there is an opportunity to encourage local residents to explore their own neighboring communities.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Visit for more information on HHRT.