The Open Space Institute (OSI), a major land preservation organization that got its start in the Hudson Valley and now works in 15 states, has more big plans for the Towns of Gardiner and New Paltz. The land trust has already protected thousands of acres of open space in both communities over the years, more than doubling the size of Minnewaska State Park and most recently creating the River-to-Ridge Trail and securing more than $3 million toward the construction of the Lake Minnewaska Visitor Center.
Bob Anderberg, OSI’s senior vice president and general counsel, reminded the Gardiner Town Board of that “long and productive partnership” as he introduced a presentation by Peter Karis, OSI vice president for Parks and Stewardship, at its October 5 meeting. A former Gardiner resident, Anderberg praised the town as the home of “some of the most spectacular scenery in New York State,” and cited OSI’s role in helping to save legacy agricultural properties including the Hess Farm.
Next on the organization’s agenda, according to Anderberg and Karis: sprucing up the southern section of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, whose more northerly components already owe a great deal to OSI’s intervention. In 2009, OSI acquired 11.5 miles of the rail trail between New Paltz and Kingston, including the Rondout Trestle in Rosendale, for whose rehabilitation it raised $1.1 million.
What still remains unimproved is the New Paltz-to-Wallkill segment, which remains under the stewardship of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust – an organization with dreams much bigger than its budget. Karis explained that OSI wants to step in with an infusion of cash in partnership with Ulster County, which has money to spend on tourism amenities thanks to ARPA funding from the federal government.
The section of trail now due for improvements is the 5.45 miles from Sojourner Truth Park in New Paltz south to the Gardiner Library trailhead on Farmers’ Turnpike. The southernmost portion, ending in the Town of Wallkill, is currently off the table on account of the complication of part of it passing through the Wallkill Correctional Facility. “We’re going to be approaching the Department of Corrections about that,” Karis promised.
The PowerPoint presentation highlighted the larger concept of the rail-trail network in Ulster, Orange and Sullivan Counties, envisioned as the “largest Greenway Trails segment system feeding into the New York State Empire State Trail.” Along with the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, this network incorporates seven corridors: the O & W, Sullivan O & W, Catskill Mountain and Schunnemunk Rail Trails, as well as the Orange Heritage Trail and the carriage road system of the Shawangunk Ridge.
Fixing up the Wallkill Valley corridor is one of the last missing pieces in this grand plan. Karis noted that the southern section includes seven at-grade road crossings and two bridges, one of which, spanning Forest Glen Road in Gardiner, was recently rehabilitated. The other is the bridge at Boppy’s Lane south of downtown New Paltz, whose commanding vista of the Ridge overlooking Plattekill Gorge, with its grazing livestock and a magnificent solitary sycamore that often serves as a perch for a resident bald eagle, may well be the most stunning viewshed on the entire trail.
Karis said that the work needed to rebuild the Boppy’s Lane bridge will require a closure of three to four weeks, as well as an estimated $800,000 pricetag that he hopes will attract county support. “We could have it completed by late summer of 2022,” he said.
Other work needed to improve the 5.45-mile trail segment, according to the presentation, includes widening and leveling, vegetation and tree removal, drainage fixes, safety improvements to trail intersections, resurfacing with stone dust and installation of wooden fencing and guiderails. In a later phase, OSI’s wish list includes kiosks, wayfinding signage and benches.
All that’s holding up the start of the project, according to Karis, is a green light on the allocation of grant funding from Ulster County. “I want to be done by Labor Day,” he reiterated.