CAPITAL REGION -- To the excitement of hikers, bikers and cross-country skiers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday proposed extending the state's off-road trail system to span the state, from Buffalo to New York City and New York City to the Canadian border.
While large parts of the proposed Empire State Trail system already exist -- including the Erie Canalway Trail running from Albany west along the Mohawk River -- the proposal will bring new focus to efforts to close gaps that remain in the trail, including one in the Rotterdam Junction area. The Champlain Canal from Waterford north through Saratoga County has been in development -- piece by piece -- for years, but it still has large gaps.
Local officials see major benefits to completing the trails.
"The Erie Canalway Trail is one of the best recreational assets in Schenectady County," said Tony Jasenski, chairman of the Schenectady County Legislature. "This would be a major boost for our effort to complete the trail section in Rotterdam Junction. We look forward to working with the state to finish this last section of the trail in Schenectady County, making this trail an even better resource for county residents and visitors alike."
In Rotterdam, there is a 1-mile gap between the Montgomery County line and Rotterdam Junction that can be completed by riding Route 5S, and there also needs to be an underpass below railroad tracks at Scafford Lane. A trail link to Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady is already scheduled for construction this year.
Montgomery County has already planned to carry out a $700,000 state-funded repaving of the 40 miles of canal trail through that county, including permanently paving several miles of trail that now have a stone dust surface.
“To pave the trail and complete it from one end to the other will make for a better and safer experience for residents and travelers who use the trail and will help showcase the outdoor recreational opportunities that Montgomery County has to offer," Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said over the summer.
Cuomo, during another of his State of the State presentations, proposed a system that would include 750 miles of trail, often running along old canal, trolley and railroad beds. Cuomo said the trail system could be a major draw for visitors, bringing an economic impact to communities along the trails.
"The scenic natural beauty that spans every corner of the state is key to our prosperity, vital to our future and part of who we are as New Yorkers," Cuomo said.
He added that the 360-mile Erie Canalway from Buffalo to Albany is about 80 percent complete. Even with its gap, though, Cuomo said 1.5 million people use part of it each year, bringing an estimated economic impact of $253 million.
The proposal also calls for completion of the Hudson River Valley Greenway from Manhattan to Lake George, and extending the trail from Lake George through the Adirondacks to the Canadian border. The trail, which generally parallels Route 9, is about 50 percent complete.
Cuomo's office has put a roughly $200 million price tag on the project, which he wants to see completed by 2020.
"Tens of thousands of people already use the canal trail year-round for hiking, biking, jogging and cross-country skiing," said state Canal Corp. Director Brian Stratton. "I'm beyond thrilled that Governor Cuomo has proposed completing the trail along the entire length of the Erie Canal."
This year will mark the bicentennial of the state of the historic canal's construction.
Parks & Trails New York, an advocacy group, praised the plan. "The Erie Canal Trail is such a unique asset for New York state and, once connected to the Hudson River Valley Greenway as the Empire State Trail, seals New York's position as a leader in outdoor recreation," said Robin Dropkin, Parks & Trails New York's executive director.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, email@example.com or @gazettesteve on Twitter.