Give the trail 30 years

To the editor:

After 30 years of exclusive monopoly on the use of the U&D rail corridor by the Catskill Mountain Railroad, its long term lease has now expired. The citizens of the County, as represented by both Legislative and Executive branches,, have overwhelmingly decided that the optimal use of the corridor is for conversion into a world class rail trail, with possible train operations co-existent on segmented portions in Kingston and Shandaken.

Recently however, a small minority group of die-hard rail fans under the moniker Save the Rails, ignoring more than 3 years of exhaustive research and expert analysis, has mounted a concerted protest to that decision with signs, social media blitzes, rallies, and tying up the Legislature’s public comments time with ill-informed and unrealistic calls for a continuation of train operations for the entire corridor and no conversion of any part.

The public, and the County governing bodies, should not be fooled nor swayed by these belated and outsized clamors.

The data for the optimization of the use of the corridor by the citizens of the County as a key section of a world class county rail-trail system could not be more clear. Active tourism is a $345 billion industry growing at 65% a year, with multi-day spending of $947 per trip. The Erie Canalway Trail generates $55 million in non-local-visitor spending annually. The Great Alleghany Passage Rail Trail $24 million. The Walkway, already $24 million. The railroad-oriented Stone Consulting company, working for the County, concluded that the Ashokan section of the network will be one of the most stunning rail trails in the Northeast. $9 million in grant spending has already come into the county for trail construction alone.

In addition, the use of the U&D corridor by County and Kingston residents is projected to leap from the only 1,000-2,000 who rode the train annually in recent years, to more than 100,000 annual uses of the trail for health, recreation and transportation benefits.

Building the trail will produce enormously expanded benefits to the citizens of the county over the next 30 years. But in order to realize those benefits, the work on design, construction and utilization must go forward. The County must move into a new and exciting future, rather than being impeded by limited nostalgia for an era that has passed.

William Sheldon