The State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation this week released a draft Statewide Greenway Trails Plan for review and public comment — a plan with the goal of bringing more long-range thinking and coordination to the state’s planning for recreation trails and public access to them.
Draft goals include expanding greenway trails in underserved communities and building more regional and local trail networks off the backbone of the Empire State Trail, the 750-mile interconnected trail system being built across the state.
The $200 million Empire State Trail incorporates the existing Erie Canalway, Champlain Canalway and other trails and fills in gaps between them in an effort to link the state both east-west from Albany to Buffalo, and north-south from New York City to the Canadian border.
The original goal was to complete the work by the end of 2020, but construction remains underway filling “gaps” in the system, including two sections of the Erie Canalway in Schenectady County, in the Rotterdam Junction and Pattersonville areas of Rotterdam.
On Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced another gap has been filled: Work has been completion on a 2.4-mile section of off-road trail filling a gap in Herkimer County, between Little Falls and Fort Herkimer.
“New York State is leading the nation in creating multi-use recreational trails, most notably through the development of the 750-mile Empire State Trail crossing the state, but also through the construction of many new regional and local trails and key connection projects,” state Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said in releasing the draft master plan and accompanying draft generic environmental impact statement.
The draft plan doesn’t recommend specific new trail projects, but mentions a few: It notes that the 34-mile, state-funded Adirondack rail trail from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake is expected to start construction in 2021. It also references the idea — discussed but not adopted by any governmental sponsors — of converting the 90-mile unused railroad corridor from Saratoga Springs to Newcomb into another Adirondack rail trail.
The draft has been developed over the last year, after the state Legislature in 2019 adopted a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, calling for creation of a statewide plan.
“The Draft Statewide Greenway Trails plan creates a framework to build on this success and create new trails where they are needed most. It promotes the existing trail network, advocates for new connections in new areas, and establishes goals and recommendations that will help partners and stakeholders expand the state’s greenway trail network,” Kulleseid said.
The draft plan identifies seven key goals, including prioritizing new trails in underserved communities, collection of data on trail use and needs, expansion of the existing system, pursuing additional funding for trails, and promoting the state trail system for tourism, healthy recreation, and active lifestyles.
“A well-connected network of greenways linking smaller communities to popular destinations enhances outdoor recreation, community vitality, and tourism development,” wrote Parks & Trails New York, a non-profit group that helped survey the public and develop the plan. “In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, New Yorkers are more motivated than ever to spend time outdoors, helping to improve their physical and mental well-being.”
The draft plan and associated trail inventory is available for review at: parks.ny.gov/inside-our-agency/master-plans.aspx.
Physical copies of the document may be requested by contacting the agency via the email or phone number listed below. Written comments on the Draft Plan/Draft GEIS will be accepted until Jan. 19, 2021. Comments should be submitted to [email protected].gov or mailed to the contact address below.
State Parks will hold an online public hearing to receive comments on the Draft Plan and Draft GEIS at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6, before an administrative law judge from the state Department of Environmental Conservation via electronic webinar.
Following the public hearing and public comment period, OPRHP will prepare and post a final plan for public review, officials said.