Ulster County’s trail use is going through a transformation, providing a great opportunity for Woodstock to link with a newly formed system. That was the message from Kevin Smith and Carl Beard of the Ulster County Trails Advisory Committee. The county opened 20 miles of new trail in 2019 and 2020.
“Some of the things that happened in those couple years were unimaginable 20 years before,” Beard said. “For example, the Ashokan Rail Trail. You’ve all seen it. We opened that area for the first time to the general public in 100 years.”
The connections are there, said Smith. “One of the amazing opportunities that Woodstock has,” he said, “is that from the center part, say 212 in the Bearsville-Woodstock corridor, it’s about 15 minutes equidistant to any of the three major trailheads — at Woodstock dike in West Hurley at the east end of the trail, the Ashokan station trailhead in the center, and the Boiceville trailhead at the western terminus of the trail.”
Complete Street Committee member Grace Murphy noted the group has a path and trail subcommittee which is working with the county and town for a solution to connect Woodstock to the rail trail network.
“I’ve shared with a number of people over the last couple of years my dream of doing an affordable housing project out there on Zena Road just down from Stewart’s,” Supervisor Bill McKenna said. “And Kevin, I know I’ve shared with you how nice it would be, how easy it would be to put a trail in through there from the Bluestone Preserve through the community and right out onto 28 and onto the rail trail.”
Beard said Kingston is looking at the Ashokan Rail Trail as a model for trails there, with an idea of connecting places where people live to where they need to go. “And I invite people in Woodstock to think about Complete Streets and other means of connecting where you live to the Ashokan Rail Trail and to Kingston, and to points beyond.”
Beard said there are four main rail corridors in the area that have been converted to trails, the Ulster and Delaware, the Ontario and Western that goes toward Ellenville and the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. The Hudson Valley Rail Trail connects New Paltz to Highland and the Walkway over the Hudson. “We have good records that Ulster County rail trails received over 600,000 visitors in 2019,” Beard said. “We actually think this is a conservative number. It’s closer to 800,000. And this is pre-COVID.”
Trail use brought in about $10 million in direct spending in 2019, he said.
“If you and I went out on a trail, we’d spend somewhere between $3 and $13 per day per person. That spending goes up depending on where you come from. If you come from farther away, you spend more here because you’re probably buying gas, things like that, maybe lunch,” he said. “And if you stay overnight, the number goes up again, for every day by the amount of that hotel stay. So it’s good for local users, keeps local dollars circulating locally, and it’s good importing dollars from other communities.”
And there are health benefits as well. One study shows for every $1 spent on trails, it results in $3 in avoided medical costs.
“Why is that? It’s because proximity counts. The closer you live to a trail, the more likely you are to meet the exercise standards of every major health organization in the country,” Beard said.
“One of the goals here is that people have convenient access to the trails no matter where they live, or no matter what their socio-economic background is that they have convenient, free access to trails,” Smith said. “This is one of the reasons for that. It’s an equity issue.”
“You shouldn’t always have to get into a car to go for a walk. You should be able to start walking where you are, and walk or bicycle,” Beard said. “During COVID, we did a lot of hard learning. We had enormous surges in trail usages, and the trails really prove themselves as what I call essential public infrastructure…I really argue that they’re as important to public health as any hospital, any clinic, any gym or YMCA. They’re that important to a community’s health.”