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Trail system is a great idea

Trail system is a great idea

The trail is great but it's underused.

It's easy to be cynical about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's state-of-the-state address.

There's the relentlessly upbeat tone, the constant messaging about how great the state is doing. There's the declaration that "upstate matters," which sounds like something the Saturday Night Live character Stuart Smalley might have proclaimed in one of his Daily Affirmations. There's the call for ethics reform - a call we hear at least once or twice a year - but little discussion of the scandals that make reform so urgent and necessary.

This year there's a subtext to the state of the state.

The governor's most notable proposals - free college tuition, lower prescription drug prices, a plan to require state agencies and authorities to buy domestic products and services - have fueled speculation that he intends to run for president in four years.

He would make a terrible candidate - try as I might, I just can't imagine him winning Democratic primaries in crucial states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina - and I hope he decides against it. 

But we shouldn't let Cuomo's national ambitions obscure the fact that his state-of-the-state address actually contains some good ideas.

The one I'm most enthusiastic about is his proposal to create a statewide trail system.

Much of this trail system already exists, but Cuomo's proposal would improve and expand it.

It would close the gaps in the Erie Canalway Trail, which runs from Albany to Buffalo, complete the Hudson River Valley Greenway from Manhattan to Lake George and extend the Greenway from Lake George through the Adirondacks to the Canadian border.

I spent a week biking the Erie Canalway Trail last June, and I had a great time.

But there's definitely room for improvement.

The gaps in the trail force bikers and pedestrians onto local roads, and some of them are scary; my least favorite part of the trip sent us down a busy commercial strip in the Oneida County city of Rome, and there were a few frightening moments where I thought I might crash into a car and die. Long sections of trail are unpaved, and paved surfaces make for more comfortable biking. Closing the gaps, paving the trail and installing better signage would make the Erie Canalway Trail easier to access and more family friendly.

In his speech, Cuomo touted the trail system he is proposing as a major draw for tourists and a boon for economic development.

One of my pet peeves is the over-emphasis state and local officials place on tourism.

Tourism helps drive economic development, but the real reason to build trails and promote recreation is because it's good for the people who actually live here, not because it might benefit some hypothetical visitors. If the trail system actually comes to fruition, it would be an amenity that New Yorkers could use and enjoy for years to come.

With good promotion and word of mouth, it might also become more of a tourist draw. 

My husband and I biked the Erie Canalway Trail by ourselves, and one of our observations was that the trail is underused - not just by tourists, but by New Yorkers.

We had expected to meet more cyclists biking from one end of the trail to the other, but we only met a handful of people who were doing what we were doing. Biking 350 miles isn't everybody's cup of tea, but neither is hiking the 2,000-mile plus Appalachian Trail, and thousands of people do that every single year.

The Erie Canalway Trail has yet to realize its full potential, and Cuomo's push to fill those gaps and build a statewide network of connected trails will help it do so.

The trail proposal carries a $200 million price tag, which isn't cheap.

But it's a longterm investment that will pay off for decades to come. I've already biked from Buffalo to Albany, and now I'm looking forward to one day being able to bike from Canada to New York City.

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.


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