A Schenectady hotel will receive the first bicycle-friendly business designation in the city Tuesday as state officials and trail advocates kick off their effort to boost tourism on the trail network being expanded across the state.
There are other businesses in the city that make similar efforts and are in line for the certification, but the Stockade Inn was chosen to be first because it was an early booster of bicycle-based tourism, offering riders secure storage for their bikes while they explore the area on foot, seeking food, drink and entertainment.
“A few years we were approached about advertising in one of the statewide publications,” owner Jeff McDonald said. “We took a chance on it, never realized how much tourism cycling creates statewide.”
Greg Francese of Parks & Trails New York said business participation is important in building the trail system as a travel destination.
Schenectady is particularly suited for this, as the trail brings people close to to a walkable downtown where there are things to do and places to eat — as well as places to sit and do nothing after a long day’s ride.
Parks & Trails New York, the state Canal Corp. and local business leaders will head Tuesday morning to the Stockade Inn to award it the Bike Friendly New York certification and sign.
The move comes amid a major effort to boost the trail system.
The 2017-18 state budget includes $200 million to create the Empire State Trail, a 750-mile trail bike and walking pathway from New York City to Canada and from Albany to Buffalo. It will incorporate the largely completed Erie Canalway and the partially completed Hudson River Valley Greenway to become a network that is 70 percent off-road. Much of the money and effort will involve connecting segments and filling gaps in trails.
The interest to trail users and their advocates is that the trail becomes a better and more enjoyable path to travel as it is developed.
The interest to economic developers is that those visitors, particularly bicyclists, support businesses along the trail.
Francese said a frequently cited 2014 Parks & Trails New York study found there were 1.4 million visits a year to the Canalway trail alone, and that they spent $253 million, which supported 3,440 jobs. By the most conservative estimate, 97.5 percent of trail users are residents of the 35 counties adjoining the trail. But that other 2.5 percent accounts for a disproportionately high share of economic impact, making $55.8 million in purchases, the study said.
“I’ve witnessed it personally with the Canalway trail ride that happens each year,” Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said. “It brings people from outside the area to the heart of Montgomery County.”
Montgomery County presents a landscape different from Schenectady’s larger-city downtown — small historic canal towns.
“Those are things that we are trying to boost,” Ossenfort said.
For that reason, he said, Montgomery County this year is undertaking a $700,000 project to pave all unpaved portions and resurface all paved parts of the trail. It is a key quality-of-life asset for residents as well as a draw for non-residents.
Ray Gillen, leader of development efforts for Schenectady County, said the current trail brings a stream of visitors into the area that will only increase as the trail improves. One piece of the puzzle already being put in place is the Alco Heritage Trail, which will connect to the Mohawk-Hudson Bikeway at Maxon Road Extension and run through Mohawk Harbor to Riverside Park in the Stockade neighborhood.
Another piece that Gillen is optimistic can be addressed with part of the $200 million is the large gap in Rotterdam Junction, where train tracks block the trail.
“We’re hopeful that we can get that blockage in the trail fixed,” he said. “Then we’ll have the whole county basically connected.”
He added: “These new trail connections should bring even more visitors to Schenectady’s revitalized downtown as well as our new riverfront destination.”
Steven Gosset, a spokesman for the New York Power Authority, which operates the Canal Corp., said the Empire State Trail project is ambitious: A lot has to be done to connect what are essentially, in some places, 200-year-old towpaths to a modern trail network. Bridges and other aspects of the project may present engineering challenges but it all should be doable, he said.
Gosset said Gov. Andrew Cuomo pressed for approval of the Empire State Trail funding in part because of the economic impact it would have. The $253 million cited by the 2014 Parks & Trails report will be multiplied if the Canalway is tied into the Greenway as part of a 750-mile network.
“We have long recognized this as a vital resource that needs to be maintained and improved,” he said.
Beyond the dollars, the trail itself is a special place, he said.
“You can have that kind of away-from-civilization experience but at the same time, if you need civilization, it’s not too far away.”
Schenectady is one of the places where civilization is at hand right near the trail.
For that reason, it is one of the places where bicycle-based tourism has been promoted. Francese recalled a well-attended two-day workshop that Parks & Trails ran in 2015 at Proctors, showing civic and business leaders ways to attract and benefit from visitors arriving on two wheels.
The Stockade Inn has seen a steady and growing stream of them in warmer months.
“It’s a small percentage of our guests, but it’s growing rapidly from five years ago to what it is today,” McDonald said.