Dreams die hard. For Earl Pardini and a dedicated group who populate the dream of a restored Catskill Mountain Railroad line that could stretch from the Hudson to Highmount, it was a bad week as the county legislature passed and then the county executive signed a budget that calls for ripping up the tracks and selling the steel. It will rescind their lease on the rail corridor and eventually make the once upon a time Ulster-Delaware Railroad that wound up into the hills of Shandaken into a benign rail trail, a tourist attraction that will garner greater returns in a shorter amount of time.
The group has toiled steadily and put some $1.5 million that it has raised into its restoration project, has fixed track in Kingston westward and from Phoenicia eastward, sort of its own transcontinental project. Catskill Mountain Railroad, all volunteer, has put years into the project, has restored five miles of track, has some trains up and running, and still has two years left on its lease of the property.
The cruel reality, as some see it though, is that finishing the project will take way too much money for the group to raise, estimated as high as $50 million to really do it right. And as wonderful a job as has been done, that’s way more than can be expected to be raised, and the amount of labor to be conducted with volunteers, is enormous. Witness the excruciating slow process over the years.
The Ulster County Trails Advisory Committee believes that trail users deserve access, the Woodstock Land Conservancy is enthusiastic about the possibilities, and cold-eyed realists in the county see a better return on investment, not to mention $625,000 in revenue from the sale of the steel rails.
You can see where it’s going. It is, in a lot of ways, understandable. More people will have better, and faster access to a walking trail that stretches from the Walkway Over The Hudson on up into the mountains. This editorial is not to convince you otherwise. It is, instead, a lament for another lost dream, for preserving an earlier time, for the romance of the train…and for the clear eyed, idealists who poured heart, soul and expertise into the enterprise of saving a piece of ourselves and making a statement about the relationship between us and these mountains over the last 100 years.