Already blessed with a number of terrific individual destination rail-trails, the mid-Hudson Valley area of New York is working to enhance the value of those trails by connecting them to each other.
The result is that this region is not only becoming one of the most popular places in the northeast for trail users to visit, it's also drawing new residents and businesses, attracted by the highly-desired lifestyle asset that a trail system represents.
This past Saturday locals celebrated the opening of the Rosendale trestle bridge connecting the northern and southern sections of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, as well as a new, 11-mile extension of that trail to the north. (A note from the Wallkill Valley Land Trust this morning informs us that essential work to improve this section is continuing. Contact the WVLT for the latest info and trail updates). The 24-mile trail now runs from the southern border of Gardiner to the Kingston city line. The plan is to extend this popular and heavily-used rail-trail south to the Village of Walden in Orange County.
But as local advocates and leaders understand, the biggest bang for your buck is earned when you can turn trails into trail systems, and plans are being considered to link the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail through New Paltz to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail in Highland, theWalkway Over the Hudson rail trail and the Dutchess Rail Trail.
By linking trails through short, strategic sections, 5- or 10-mile trail excursions can be converted into 50 or 60 mile round trips, at which point visitors are more likely to stay longer and make a night of it. These overnight stays are where local economies benefit from the full impact of expenditure on accommodation, food and other tourist spending. A variety of connected trails also encourages a return visit.
To the east, work is nearing completion on connecting the Dutchess to the Walkway Over the Hudson, which attracts about 500,000 visitors a year and which itself connects to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail on the west side of the Hudson River.
The region is dreaming big. Everywhere you look trail connections are being made and the communities and their economies and benefiting as a result.
"Success hasn't come all at once but, rather, one segment at a time," wrote the Poughkeepsie Journal in a recent editorial. "The area must continue to capitalize on the growing strength of its trail system."