Support the rail-trail compromise

To the editor:

As Ulster County officials review bids for future extended rail operations and begin to plan for trail construction in two sections of the Ulster & Delaware Corridor, we enter a new phase of shared access to this valuable public asset.

As we go forward, several principles should govern both rail and trail activities: 1) Ulster County should ensure that the entire corridor is preserved, restored and used well; 2) accountability is paramount in terms of finances, safety, and environmental stewardship – neither trail activities nor tourism rail activities should be exempted from standards that are designed to protect the health and well-being of Ulster County residents; 3) aspirations are not the same as resources, capacity, and ability (for example, the Catskill Mountain Railroad Company, holding what amounted to a sole-use lease for the past 25 years, restored and hosted public rides on barely a quarter of the available corridor, leaving the remainder very poorly maintained); 4) leadership is needed from both rail operators and trail organizations to insure that restoration and use of the corridor is cooperative and to maximize the complementary benefits of what could become a sustained, collaborative revival of a valuable rail heritage and the inauguration of a unique multi-purpose trail, including an urban linear park, for both residents and tourists; and 5) all activities in the corridor should recognize, respect, and preserve the inherent ecological integrity of the corridor and the lands and waters it adjoins, while promoting other goals such as health, transportation, recreation, and economic benefit.

As has been evident during planning discussions and forums over the past decade, many trail supporters, like many rail supporters, believed they should be granted sole access to the entire publicly owned corridor. After 10 years of review, including a year and a half of debate and extensive investigations in 2014 and 2015, professional planners (with expertise in both trail and in rail uses), along with the Ulster County Legislature, and Ulster County’s Executive, Mike Hein, have seen the necessity and the merit in establishing a new era of complementary shared use of the corridor. What we collectively make of this opportunity, including its ultimate success, is now up to us – both rail and trail projects will clearly thrive best the more deeply and fully we embrace our respective projects, as well as collective opportunities for synergy and collaboration.

The hard-wrought compromise that now preserves and extends rail operations and introduces multi-purpose trail uses through a segmented approach in the U&D Corridor has been endorsed by the Catskill Mountain Railroad, the Friends of the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail, the Ulster County Executive, and a unanimous vote of Ulster County’s legislature. Efforts by both rail and trail supporters should now be directed to supporting the compromise rather than promoting an all-or-nothing approach that “saves” only conflict.


Kathy Nolan and Kevin Smith
Co-Chairs, Friends of the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail
FB: Friends of the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail