After launching its Growing Greenways plan last year, which focuses on creating 250 miles of connecting trail systems on the west side of the Hudson River, the Open Space Institute (OSI) has already completed the first round of projects earmarked as high priority on its vision list. A few of these include the restoration of the High Point Carriageway that runs between Sam’s Point and Minnewaska State Park, along with a fully renovated five-mile section of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail (WVRT) between New Paltz and Gardiner.
Most recently, OSI has acquired another 2.4 miles of the old O&W railbed, which puts the land trust on track to have purchased, improved and restored more than 12 miles of that railbed, turning it into a linear, multi-use, non-motorized greenway for the public to enjoy. This most recent addition to the project begins near the corner of Old Mountain Road and Lewis Road in Spring Glen and runs south towards Ellenville. This section of the trail borders thousands of acres of State Forest land that include a stunning waterfall, formally called Buttermilk Falls, but known locally as Horseshoe Mine Falls.
Right now, the trail is what one would imagine it to be: broken-down remnants of an old railbed that has sinkholes in some places, poor drainage, bridges in complete disrepair and an overgrown, somewhat abandoned look to it. However, for those involved in land preservation and outdoor recreation, this piece of linear property is a treasure.
Three representatives from OSI – land project manager Matt Decker, design/capital projects manager Annie Bergelin and vice president/senior counsel Bob Anderberg – gave Hudson Valley One a tour of the old railbed, which runs next to and at various times crosses over the Sandburg Creek. “It’s part of a plan to create this ribbon of wilderness for people to enjoy from Ellenville all the way to Accord,” said Anderberg, who has helped oversee numerous projects and acquisitions that help shape the very landscape residents enjoy today (including the River-to-Ridge Trail, Sam’s Point Park Preserve, the Rosendale Trestle and vast tracts of the Shawangunk ridgeline that were threatened by development and private ownership.)
Anderberg noted that the O&W railbed “was once a thriving historic rail spur and part of the D&H Canal.” He said that as you walk the trail, it’s like walking through the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The entire area is steeped in both natural and industrial history, with old stone buttresses of the canal and railway bed now on the edge of a growing forest or an enlarging beaver pond. “Much of the D&H Canal has been preserved. There’s part of an old lock right there.”
The O&W Railway ran until about the mid-1950s. “It was one of the first railroads to go bankrupt,” said Anderberg. The D&H Canal stopped transporting loads of coal to New York City in 1902.
This section of the railway cost OSI $175,000. The three representatives explained that funding for these projects is generated by grants, private endowments and donations. A large part of the funding for the rail-trail projects came from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which awarded OSI $1.2 million towards its rails-to-trails vision for Ulster, Sullivan and Orange Counties.
Already, OSI has restored 3.2 miles of old railway bed from Accord to Kerhonkson, and is just putting on the final finishing touches of a 2.1-mile stretch of the O&W in Ellenville off Berme Road to Napanoch. As this section is easily accessed from the center of downtown Ellenville, on the day of our visit, this section was being utilized by residents who were running, dog-walking and taking a stroll in the early morning hours as OSI representatives pointed out the new subsurface, pruning and bridge that had been put in.
“One of the last things we need to do is to put signage up, and a kiosk by the sewer plant, so that people know it’s here and that they can use it,” said Bergelin, who worked closely on the design and development of this section of the trail. She proudly pointed to the newly completed bridge installed by P. E. Colucci Excavating of Gardiner, which is a 56-foot-long and 15-foot-wide prefabricated steel span with wooden decking and fencing. “We used the same vernacular that we’ve been utilizing along all of our rail-trail projects,” she said.
Prior to the bridge being installed, people crossed the convergence of the Sandburg and Shingle Gully Creeks by use of an old flatbed truck that someone had put in as a makeshift crossing. “It worked,” said Bergelin. “But it’s nice to know that there’s now a sturdy, more permanent way to traverse this section.” This is also a popular fishing area during the summer, as the two converging streams become torrents during heavy rainfall.
Bollards are in place to warn ATVs and other off-road vehicles that they’re not permitted. One resident, who was on his daily walk, stopped when he recognized Bergelin, saying that the ATVs had not been adhering to the rules and suggesting that OSI put up signage to make it clear. Bergelin thanked him for being the “eyes and ears” on the trail.
Shortly after this gentleman passed, a woman jogging with her dog recognized Bergelin and stopped to chat as well. “I’m on the Recreation Committee,” she said, introducing herself as Elena Santogade, along with her dog Seeger. “I knew the improvements would be good, but this is incredible. I run here almost every day!”
“I have nothing but total praise and gratitude,” Santogade said to HV1 about the rail-trail restoration.
There is ample parking at the water-treatment plant, and they were talking about ways that they could connect the rail trail to Berme Park. “This is what rail trails are all about,” mused Anderberg. “They’ve become like a village green where you see people and greet people and talk to one another. This is what’s been happening for years on the WVRT, but it’s also happening now on the section we restored between Accord and Kerhonkson. It’s used every day by all kinds of people, walking, biking, pushing baby carriages. It’s wonderful.”
That 3.2-mile section in Accord is another large piece toward putting this entire 17-mile railroad spur into one long linear trail. One of the trickiest sections is the one that crosses the former Nevele Hotel property, which was recently acquired for redevelopment by an investment group led by Keith Rubenstein. “We’re working on it,” said Decker. “We’re trying to build partnerships wherever we can, because a rail-trail benefits everyone.”
In fact, all three OSI colleagues talked about the partnerships they’ve been building with the six different communities that are part of this 17-mile stretch they’re attempting to connect. “We work closely with all of the municipalities, and many of them have become such great partners helping us to make these projects happen,” said Bergelin.
Ultimately, there are 57 miles of rail trail that OSI would like to preserve to reconnect the City of Kingston to Port Jervis. When asked why they’re putting so much of their effort behind this section of rail trail in Sullivan County, Anderberg said, “Because Ellenville is an underserved population that has so much wonderful infrastructure. We want to be part of their revitalization, and creating parks and recreation opportunities is a huge part of that.”
“Rail trails are great for social connection,” said Bergelin. “You actually greet the person you are passing. On sidewalks, you don’t really do that. People run into each other, or they meet up to go for a walk on a rail trail. It’s a more sustainable form of transport, and people can use rail trails to commute. It’s also just great for overall health and wellness to be outdoors and exercising in the fresh air. So many good things come from trails.”
To learn more about OSI’s growing trail network and land conservation projects that span from the Hudson River to the Shawangunks and into the Catskill Forest Reserve, go to the organization’s website, www.openspaceinstitute.org, or its newly created interactive story map about the Growing Greenways Plan at https://storymaps.arcgis.com.