Walkers, cyclists and Nordic skiers, rejoice! The Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT) has announced that work will commence this week to improve a scenic 5.45-mile stretch of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, which connects New Paltz to Gardiner and affords expansive views of the Shawangunk Ridge along the way. WVLT is working in partnership with the Open Space Institute (OSI) and New York State to upgrade and widen this missing link in the Empire State Trail. According to WVLT’s press release, “Improvement work will begin this Monday, September 19 in Gardiner and move gradually north to a terminus at Sojourner Truth Park in New Paltz.”
Much of the New Paltz-to-Gardiner segment of the Rail Trail has long been in need of remediation for drainage issues, with numerous persistent large puddles. As reported in HV1 (https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2021/10/21/rail-trails-missing-piece-eyed-by-land-preservationists), OSI gave a presentation last autumn to the Gardiner Town Board describing the proposed improvements as including 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. Kiosks, wayfinding signage and benches may come later, if funding can be secured for such amenities.
Gardiner Town supervisor Marybeth Majestic told HV1 that OSI had awarded the contract for the trail improvements to P. E. Colucci Excavating. According to Majestic, “Work is scheduled to begin this Monday moving south to north from Farmers’ Turnpike to the New Paltz Town line. He is supposed to start this week and be finished by December!”
“The project is scheduled to be completed this season, weather permitting. All the drainage issues will be improved to promote positive runoff. The final surface will be the same as the north section, which was completed last year. Stone dust is the material used as the final surface,” affirmed Paul Colucci, the principal of the excavation company, who also serves as chair of the Gardiner Planning Board. “All trees will be trimmed and all dead or diseased trees will be removed. We plan to start Monday, September 19 in Gardiner, proceeding north. Our contract ends at Plains Road in New Paltz, where the northern section of the trail contract ended.”
Renovation of the southernmost portion of the Rail Trail, 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. Sources at WVLT have suggested that Department of Corrections officials may be concerned about the possibility of an improved trail nearby being used as a staging area for drone flights carrying small contraband items over the prison’s fences to inmates.
The section of the trail due for improvement this autumn includes seven at-grade road crossings and two bridges, one of which, spanning Forest Glen Road in Gardiner, was rehabilitated in 2020. 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 bald eagle, is a popular candidate for the most visually striking viewshed on the entire trail.
Last October, Peter Karis, OSI vice president for Parks and Stewardship, told Gardiner officials that the work needed to rebuild the Boppy’s Lane bridge would require a closure of three to four weeks, with an estimated $800,000 pricetag, and that the organization hoped to complete the project during the 2022 building season. That piece of the project is not yet on Colucci’s drawing board, he said: “The bridge is going to have a new surface; the schedule for the bridge depends on several factors not yet worked out.”
Meanwhile, by the time you read this, repair work should be underway. WVLT warned that users may encounter equipment and heavy machinery along the trail between Sojourner Truth Park and the Gardiner Library throughout the autumn. “Expect short-term trail closures on some weekdays from now into the fall to accommodate construction; no trail closures will occur on Saturdays, Sundays or holidays,” the group’s announcement read. “This new project is expected to improve overall public access to the Rail Trail, establishing additional safety and experience advancements for residents and visitors, and reinforce the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail’s inclusion as part of the Empire State Trail.”