The community leaders of Ulster County in New York have set some of the nation's most ambitious rail-trail planning goals. And they are determined to make them a reality.
Ulster County Executive Mike Hein left nothing to the imagination in unveiling his 2013 executive budget for the county, stating that continued regional rail-trail development was a key part of his vision "of creating the healthiest county in New York State." And he knows exactly where that rail-trail will go.
Ulster County owns a portion of the Ulster and Delaware Line, also known as the Catskill Mountain Branch, which includes more than 32 miles of disused corridor between the city of Kingston and the county line. In the 2013 budget announcement, Hein said he plans on turning this rail line into a premier rail-trail, leaving intact the existing tourism railroad attraction operated by the Catskill Mountain Railroad that utilizes an active portion of the corridor.
"By adding to the tourism magnet that is the Walkway Over the Hudson, an interconnected U&D corridor with the O&W corridor which runs along State Route 209, as well as the Hudson Valley Rail Trail (right) and the Walkill Valley Rail Trail (below), Ulster County will be well on our way to creating the single largest interconnected rail-trail network in the state of New York," Hein told the Daily Freeman. "This vision will result in a tremendous new, world-class tourism asset to add to our already long list of world class tourism attractions."
This new project supports Hein's goal of creating the healthiest county in the state, and would allow the county to sell existing steel on the line, the value of which is estimated at approximately $650,000.
Though support for utilizing the unused sections of railroad is widespread, the plan is being opposed by the operators of the Catskill Mountain Railroad. Following Hein's announcement, they responded that they have being trying to create a single scenic rail line running from Kingston to Phoenicia for the past 29 years, a plan which has not progressed in that time.
In a recent op-ed in the Daily Freeman, members of the local Woodstock Land Conservancy said research indicated there was widespread support in the area for a Catskill Mountain Rail Trail, but that it was important for local residents and businesses to convey that support to local decision makers.
"Hein's proposal encourages the for-profit Catskill Mountain Railroad tourist ride to continue operations where it has for years, in conjunction with a rail trail on the segments of the corridor that have been inactive for decades," the members wrote. "This will collectively attract a larger, diverse array of both trail and train enthusiasts to our region. Rail-trails have a well-documented history of providing multiple year-round benefits, including enhancing the health of individuals; connecting children safely with physical activity and the outdoors; providing enriching educational and spiritual experiences; helping to drive economic development by supporting local businesses; and protecting the environment."