In an effort to move to the next step, adopting recommendations to upgrade and improve existing conditions on the 1.5-mile portion of the Wallkill Valley rail-trail (WVRT) in the Village of New Paltz, the community was invited this past Tuesday evening to attend a virtual meeting with the design team and various local and county officials.
This heavily utilized section of the WVRT stretches from the Sojourner Truth Park at Plains Road north of Huguenot Street to just before it intersects with Old Kingston Road. Because the rail-trail is included in the Empire State Trail, slated to run from Battery Park in Manhattan all the way to Niagara Falls and beyond, grants are available to municipalities whose plans bring their trails into conformance with the Empire State Trail. The WVRT received a planning grant through the Ulster County Transportation Council, which then retained landscape architecture experts Weintraub/Diaz to develop what they touted as a Community Opportunity Plan. This effort sought to identify existing conditions, to create a vision for remedying problematic or unsafe conditions, and to focus on places that they believe could have greater aesthetic components, as well as user-friendly signage, sitting areas and shade structures.
After two public meetings and working with an advisory committee that included mayor Tim Rogers, Rock and Snow building-owner Rich Gottlieb, representatives of the WVRT and Historic Huguenot Street, plus Dennis Doyle, Chris White and Brian Slack of the Ulster County Planning Board (UCPB), the draft plan was presented to the public – albeit virtually. The plan calls for this section of the rail-trail to be widened to approximately twelve feet, with crushed stone as the main surface material, raised crosswalks at every intersection, signage and wayfinding maps. The plan also proposes a shade structure, stone benches, amphitheater seating, a wooden fence, stools and tables, and landscaping around the area of the trail that borders the Water Street Market downtown.
One of the original founders and former president of the WVRT, Kitty Brown, was on the call. She had several questions, one of which asked whether any existing trees would be removed. She preferred trees providing natural shade to artificial structures. Chris White of the UCPB said that there were no plans to take down trees, unless they obstructed sightlines at an intersection where the pedestrian trail met with a street.
Someone asked whether the proposed plantings would consist of native species and ones that were pollinator-friendly. Landscape-firm representatives said that they hadn’t gotten into detail with the landscaping proposals. Both those ideas made a good deal of sense, they added.
David Gilmour asked if the design might take into consideration ways of having the rail-trail connect to the North Chestnut/Route 32 corridor via Boces, the Gateway building or the former Agway building and lot. That way, people wouldn’t have to walk so far on busy Route 32 to get to the pedestrian walkway.
White said that would scheme would involve cooperation with private propertyowners, and conversations between those landowners and local planning boards. Right now, the main objective was to leverage available state and federal funds for basic improvements to safety, signage and surface materials. Economic resources are limited.
The design team, advisory committee and county planners encouraged community members to submit comments, concerns or suggestions to them. Principal transportation planner Brian Slack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334-5590. For the draft recommendations, planning history and existing conditions report, go to https://ulstercountyny.gov/transportation-council/active-studies/wallkill-valley-rail. Comments must be received by July 24.