By Kevin Smith and Kathy Nolan
The Ulster County Legislature is poised to pass a forward-looking policy next Tuesday, Aug. 19 at 7 p.m. on the sixth floor of the County Office Building. This is a critical moment — we urge Ulster County residents to attend the meeting and contact their legislators and ask them to support Resolution 275. R-275 calls for a future of segmented trail and continued tourist rail west of Boiceville in the Ulster & Delaware Corridor, with the trail connecting in the City of Kingston to the proposed Kingston Greenline and Ulster County’s growing interconnected trail network.
To ground a deliberate and comprehensive debate on R-275, we believe we must focus on issues of fairness that form the basis for our enthusiastic support for R-275.
First, Ulster County legislators and the Ulster County executive must be fair to our community by preserving the valuable public asset of the U&D Corridor itself, which is deserving of our best possible care, investment and stewardship for the future. The preservation, restoration and most feasible utilization of the corridor and addressing now well-documented deterioration and fragmentation of the U&D Right Of Way must be our immediate focus — while there’s still time.
Municipal officials, local residents and business owners in Midtown and Uptown Kingston and in the seven communities along the U&D Corridor and Route 28 deserve to be treated fairly when considering the highest and best economic activities that can feasibly take place in the corridor. We need well-grounded and comprehensive plans to restore and use a corridor that runs through these communities that, as recently noted by the town supervisor of Olive, has provided little to no economic benefits to the local community and businesses there for over 22 years.
Within the City of Kingston, Ulster County’s future policy and actions in the corridor should be fair to residents in Midtown neighborhoods whose houses or apartments adjoin the rail corridor, and Uptown residents in complexes like the Dutch Village apartments. Many of these people have lived for decades with diesel fumes, house-rattling vibrations and noise, as well the adverse effects on their property values of an often-poorly maintained, little-used corridor that has attracted harmful activities. Fairness requires that decision-makers take into consideration the many impacts of both planned and proposed theme activities of the Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR) on businesses and residents along the corridor and on Washington Avenue. What justifies asking these communities to tolerate 63 planned train round-trips (126 passages of the train by residents’ apartments and across Washington Avenue) during just two weekends in September?
Moreover, approximately 10 percent of the adult population in the City of Kingston does not own a car (there are also similarly large percentages of children). This makes it a basic question of fairness to consider the highest and best use of a linear corridor that could provide safe, free, convenient and enjoyable connectivity for neighborhoods. A use that would link people to work and shopping, children to their schools (for example, Kingston High School is located very close to the future convergence of three rail trails), and families to places of recreation.
The same considerations should hold in communities along the U&D Corridor and along the Wallkill Valley, Hurley and Marbletown rail trails where, along with many people enjoying the trails for recreation, increasing numbers of people, including those of limited means, walk or use a bicycle for essential travel between home and work. Scarce dollars that do not have to be spent on cars, buses and taxis mean financial resources available for other important needs.
Likewise, people within the City of Kingston deserve safe, convenient access to open spaces and the many beautiful places of natural beauty and high quality recreation only a stone’s throw from the city within the Catskill Park — DEC day-use facilities at Onteora Lake (connected to miles of forested trails in the Bluestone Wild Forest), and 11 and a half miles of planned multi-purpose trail along the Ashokan Reservoir.
In the era of climate change, it is also a matter of fundamental fairness for Ulster County to adopt a policy, years in the making, which help implement goals of the 2008 non-motorized plan. Such plans, when embraced elsewhere, have significantly lowered greenhouse-gas emissions by providing safe, attractive, convenient non-motorized transportation corridors within and between communities as alternatives to automobile use. Better, safer, connectivity equals more users for more purposes.
Further, this ADA-compliant trail will likely have the salutary effect of improving public health and reducing disease by promoting active lifestyles — reducing future health care costs borne by taxpayers in the process — and further narrowing income disparity.
Promoting public health through wise investment in a public open-space asset like the U&D Corridor can also be viewed as a fundamental issue of fairness.
Does the CMRR deserve to be treated fairly? Absolutely. R-275 will continue to protect for future train operations on almost all of the track that the railroad has used over the past nearly 30 years. The new policy would simply require them to consolidate their future plans and proposals west of the Ashokan Reservoir, where most of their ridership has been focused in the past.
Despite three decades of exclusive control over the corridor, the CMRR has had a decidedly mixed record of performance, despite their very best efforts. But the wishes and desires of CMRR’s shareholders and officers must no longer be given priority to the detriment of Ulster County’s interests and the health and prosperity of our communities. And the fact that many millions of dollars in trail funding commitments have already been secured, including a landmark $3.5 million agreement with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, should be given utmost consideration in light of the CMRR’s inability to attract the level of capital investment necessary to restore and maintain the corridor between Kingston and Phoenicia and return it to active tourist rail operations.
It is certainly only fair that proposals by train company officials be subjected to the same accepted professional planning and engineering standards that Ulster County and local municipalities are required to employ.
Our hope is for CMRR to begin to work with Ulster’s elected officials to embrace the greater good: the pursuit of the earliest, most economical restoration and combined use of as much of the U&D Corridor as possible. That’s a hookup to the Kingston Greenline and Ulster County’s interconnected trail system — including revitalized tourist rail west of the Ashokan Reservoir — and the myriad benefits these will bring to Ulster County residents, businesses and visitors.
Please contact your legislator and request they vote “yes” on R-275, and come out to support R-275 on Tuesday, Aug. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Ulster County Building on Fair Street in Kingston. Let’s build these trails!
The authors are co-chairs of the Friends of the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail — visit www.facebook.com/FriendsOfTheCatskillMountainRailTrail and catskillmountainrailtrail.org for more information.