If someone asked you to picture a single iconic image that captures the essence of Rosendale, the way the outline of Skytop with its tower symbolizes New Paltz, what would spring to mind? For many if not most, it would be the old Wallkill Valley Railroad trestle soaring high above the Rondout Creek and merging with the rocky sentinel of the Joppenbergh. Thirty-six years have passed since a freight train rumbled across that turn-of-the-century steel structure, but the time of its reclamation for public use is finally near at hand.
“Our goal is to open the trestle in June,” says Christine DeBoer, who has been executive director of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT) for nearly four years. She has been shepherding the trestle restoration project since just after the 11 ½-mile stretch of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail that extends from the New Paltz/Rosendale town line to the Williams Lake property in Binnewater was acquired by WVLT in a tax sale in August 2009.
The process has been fraught with delays from adverse weather and backordered materials, so DeBoer has learned from experience to be vague about the exact date for the grand opening of the refurbished railroad bridge. But it’s safe to say that hikers, joggers, cyclists, horseback riders, dog-walkers and stroller-pushers can look forward to being able to cross the trestle by sometime in the summer of 2013.
That’s good news to town supervisor Jeanne Walsh, who sees the renovated trestle as Rosendale’s answer to the Walkway Over the Hudson, attracting tourists — and tourism dollars — to the town from all over. Walsh envisions a network of pathways from either side of the structure that will make it easy for rail trail users to pop into town for a meal, a drink, a browse in the Main Street shops or a dunk in the pool at the Rosendale Recreation Center.
To translate that vision to reality, the town government was recently awarded a $60,000 New York State Department of Transportation grant through the Ulster County Transportation Council to conduct a Circulation Study. The deliverables of the grant are to include “design sketches and detailed cost estimates for recommended actions to improve circulation and pedestrian safety.” These improvements to connectivity will likely consist of such measures as sidewalk, crosswalk and streetscape enhancements as well as “shared lane markings for bicyclists.”
Another piece of the puzzle soon to fall into place is the designation of parking areas to serve visitors who want to launch their rail trail experience near the trestle. Partnering with the Open Space Institute and the Shawangunk Conservancy, WVLT was recently able to acquire the Joppenbergh itself; the parcel includes Willow Kiln Park and the adjacent town parking area to the north of the Rosendale Theatre’s parking lot. WVLT will continue to lease that lot to the Town of Rosendale, says DeBoer, and plans are in the works to create pathways linking it to the Joppenbergh trail system. Another spot convenient to the north end of the trestle is a flat area between the entrance to the Iron Mountain underground storage facilities on Binnewater Road and the soon-to-be-decommissioned Binnewater Dam. DeBoer sees the acreage currently covered by the reservoir behind the dam as ideal for expansion of the existing parking area.