What many hope will be the last of the sultry weather of the summer of 2018 came to an end just in time for outdoor enthusiasts to christen, via boot soles and bicycle tires, the new River-to-Ridge Trail. Last Saturday morning, the Open Space Institute (OSI) hosted an official opening ceremony for the six-mile trail, which connects the Carmine Liberta Bridge to Butterville Road. The Mohonk Preserve is working on securing permits for the 2.3-mile Foothills Loop section of the Trail, which will link the route from the Village of New Paltz and the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail to the Preserve’s carriage road network via Lenape Lane and Pine Road; that final phase is projected for completion early next summer.
A squad of local mountain bikers led by OSI’s “Mr. Gunks,” Bob Anderberg, headed the pack of hikers let loose on the new Trail upon cutting of the ribbon by the presiding dignitaries – although, as OSI president/CEO Kim Elliman observed in his Grand Opening speech, more than a few cyclists had already “illegally” tested out the route. “We applaud your civil disobedience,” Elliman joked.
On hand to deliver official remarks, along with Elliman and emcee Erik Kulleseid of OSI, were Mohonk Preserve president/CEO Glenn Hoagland, Ulster County executive Mike Hein, New York State Assembly representative Kevin Cahill and Town of New Paltz supervisor Neil Bettez. A choir of boys from the Woodcrest Bruderhof kicked things off with a spirited rendition of “This Land Is Your Land,” followed by enthusiastic expressions of appreciation for the many individuals, agencies and organizations whose collaborative efforts had brought the new off-road bike/pedestrian pathway into being.
High on every speaker’s list of people being thanked was philanthropist Gilbert Butler, whose Butler Conservation Fund provided much of the financial support that enabled OSI to construct the trail. “Had OSI not purchased this land about five years ago, we could be looking at about 75 homes here instead,” noted Elliman.
The $1.7 million project includes improvements to an existing parking lot on Springtown Road, which serves as the project’s trailhead, as well as construction of the six-mile loop trail. The trail traverses 360 acres of land, all protected by OSI over four years. “This has been a long time coming,” exulted OSI’s vice president for communications, Eileen Larrabee. “The Shawangunks are one of our legacy landscapes, where we’ve been doing land conservation for 40 years. OSI has protected 33,000 acres here: double the size of Minnewaska State Park, and twice the size of Manhattan.”
Citing the “generations to come that will benefit from this trail,” Mike Hein emphasized its importance as a link in the larger network of rail trails that has been developing in the mid-Hudson region with growing momentum since the opening of the Walkway over the Hudson. Noting that tourism represents a $580 million share of Ulster County’s economy, he praised the trail as the appropriate follow-up to the recent replacement of the Carmine Liberta Bridge, which he said “created a waterfront in New Paltz for probably the first time since the 1600s.”
Assemblyman Cahill called the new trail “a demonstration of the partnership that OSI has with communities all across the state,” and praised the organization as New York’s “premier advocate for the Environmental Protection Fund.” He ended his remarks with a call for the crowd to fall silent for a moment to listen to the crickets and appreciate the setting: “That silence, that quiet nature noise is one of the reasons we do this project.”
Gesturing toward Mohonk, Supervisor Bettez noted “how important that view is to the character of our community.” Without partnerships, he said, “It’s really hard for us to do big transformative projects like that.”
As the speeches came to an end and the ribbon was cut, some attendees took off to explore the trail, while others gathered under a canopy to enjoy a continental breakfast, including cookies festively decorated with the trail’s R2R logo, donated by Saunderskill Farms. Noting that he plans to use the new trail “all the time,” excavation and construction contractor Paul Colucci said that it was more than just a regular work project: “I’ve got to believe when I leave this Earth, this’ll be part of my legacy.”
President and CEO of the Open Space Institute Christopher “Kim” Elliman speaks
Nearby, George Sifre of the Red Devil Bike Club demonstrated how to use the bicycle repair stand that the Club has installed in the Springtown Road trailhead’s ample new parking area. The weatherproof, permanent workstand, manufactured by Bike Fixation, includes a built-in tire pump and an array of hand tools attached to lengths of cable, plus a scannable QR barcode that links the user’s cellphone to an app providing repair instructions. Sifre said that it was the second of three such stands that the Club is donating for the use of the local cycling community, with one already in place on the rail trail near La Stazione and a third planned for the Mohonk Preserve’s Trapps Parking Area.
Rental bikes will now be available in season at the River-to-Ridge parking lot, through a partnership between OSI and New Paltz Biking. The concession at the Springtown Road trailhead also provides a free hydration station to fill water bottles, as well as a dog waste station with bags and refuse receptacles.
For more on the new River-to-Ridge Trail, including a downloadable map, visit www.openspaceinstitute.org.