Letters to the Editor: Rail trail offers a unique window of opportunity

To the Editor

I have begun to educate myself about the proposed Catskill Mountain Rail Trail and I think there are some very important issues people raise. First of all, there is confusion about what will happen to the existing railroad, which many people, including me, are fond of. I have looked at the County Executive’s proposal and the Planning Board’s documents and it is quite clear that the trail supports the continuation of the railroad where it is currently operating successfully in the western part of the county. In the 22 years the railroad group has had a lease on the corridor, it has created a route from Boiceville to Phoenicia that operates seasonally and serves three quarters of its annual ridership. Large sections along the rest of the route, which goes from Kingston to Pine Hill, are in a deteriorated condition with bridges and trestles that cannot be repaired.

I also wondered why there couldn’t be both rail and trail together. There are a number of reasons it turns out, but the simplest is that the rail is only a single track and putting a trail next to it would be impossible in many places. The engineering and construction would be too expensive and the resulting trail would offer some challenging terrain for users. And then again, to rebuild the railroad would be even more costly and segments are damaged beyond repair for rail use.

The multi-use trail that is being proposed will not only bring more visitors to the railroad, it will bring more people to the entire corridor and connect to other rail trails in the region. Long trails become destinations where people who bike and walk know they can spend more than just a few hours. We rode the 400 mile Erie Canal Bike Route a few years ago and it was a terrific experience of NY State history. 400 riders of all ages and abilities take the group trip every year.

I have decided to join with other residents working in support of the proposed rail trail. This is a unique window of opportunity for our area and one which comes with considerable funding. Our county executive has made a strong proposal and New York State is holding $2 million for the project.

It is true that our mountains have some of the world’s best hiking trails, but for many, those trails are daunting. The Catskill Mountain Rail Trail will be open 365 days a year for recreating and for bicycle transportation. It will be available for seniors and for children, for getting to work and for teaching children about wilderness and our history, and it will be fully handicapped accessible along its almost 40 mile length.

I urge you to examine this proposal for yourselves. Visit the Ulster County Planning Department’s website which has a feature on the rail trail proposal http://www.ulstercountyny.gov/planning/cmrt.html. Ask them for an informational presentation in your area. Get involved!

Susan Goldman