In photo: Officials cut the ribbon on 40 miles of repaved Erie Canalway Trail on Tuesday morning. Pictured is Matthew L. Ossenfort, Montgomery County Executive, cutting the ribbon for the opening. Others around him are Sen. George Amadore, NYS Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton, Dylan Carey, Parks & Trails of NY, Andrew Beers, Empire State Trail executive director, and Alane Ball Chinian, regional director, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Nature and cycling enthusiasts looking to burn off a few pounds after Thanksgiving dinner will have 40 newly paved miles of Erie Canalway Trail to work with.
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort and the Montgomery County Business Development Center hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly refurbished and completed trail Tuesday at the Canalway Bike Parking Lot, located between Erie Street and Broad Street. State Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, and New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton attended the opening as well as other county officials.
Montgomery County Business Development Center CEO Ken Rose explained the importance of Montgomery County's part of the Erie Canalway Trail.
“Today, places where people want to go in their free time are quickly becoming places employers want to be, not vice versa," Rose said. "Research is showing that a new generation of workers, especially Millennials, are increasingly seeking out convenient access to green spaces for hiking, biking, kayaking and exercising as part of their home and employment search. Montgomery County offers recreation resources like this one and so many others without the high costs of other areas. This newly refurbished Trailway and these other natural resources also send a message to businesses that Montgomery County cares about workforce recruitment, development and retention.”
The Erie Canalway Trail runs 360 miles across 14 counties between Albany and Buffalo. Montgomery County officials say they believe Montgomery County is the first county to completely pave its entire portion of the trail at a cost of approximately $673,951 plus $150,000 worth of in-kind services provided by county DPW employees.
State funding for the project, which Ossenfort said included both repaving and new pavement in some areas, was provided by three grants: $225,000 secured by Amedore, $200,000 from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and $100,000 from the State Canal Corporation.
Rose said the State Canal Corporation grant required a $100,000 in-kind services match in the form of paving and prep work done by county personnel and the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation grant also required a $50,000 local contribution of in-kind services
Amedore praised the project for enhancing recreational opportunities for Montgomery County residents as well as tourism.
“I was happy to support this project to help make trail upkeep easier and ensure a more enjoyable experience for the bikers, walkers, and runners who are making use of the trail," he said.
Ossenfort said several factors came together to enable Montgomery County to finish paving its entire portion of the Erie Canalway Trail, including a mistake. He said Montgomery County's DPW purchased a paving machine that county officials had thought would be reimbursed through funding for the trail project, but it wasn't. Ossenfort said approximately $60,000 of the state grants was set aside to repay the cost of the paver, but when that didn't happen Montgomery County was left with about $62,470.67 left unspent. He said there was about 2.5 miles of the trail left that had not been paved, in part due to rising asphalt costs. He said county officials decided to use the remaining money from the grants to finish the entire trail, but an additional $86,481 was needed for the cost of finishing the final 2.5 miles, which cost a total of $148,951.
Ossenfort said Barbara Spraker, who died in 2014, was part of why he decided the county should help fund the repaving of the final 2.5 miles. Spraker was the former Montgomery County Commissioner for the N.Y. Heritage Corridor. Starting in 1992 after she broke her ankle and was advised to walk more by her doctor, Spraker had advocated for the creation of a bike path in Montgomery County that was away from the activity and danger of the highways. According to her obituary, Spraker worked with elected officials starting with then assemblyman and now U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko to help create the trail.
Ossenfort said he remembers Spraker working with Amedore's office when Ossenfort was a member of Amedore's assembly staff. He said the Erie Canal Trail has a special place in his heart due to Spraker.
"We certainly went above and beyond here to improve, what I believe is one of our best recreational assets in the county," Ossenfort said. "Would the trail have been fine just the way it is, and could we have just focused on maintenance, cutting the trees back and things of that nature? Yes, but we really felt that it would tremendously improve the asset by moving forward [to complete the trail].
Ossenfort said Montgomery County DPW Commissioner Eric Mead was able to find $86,481 in Montgomery County's construction and maintenance budget and that money was used to complete the trail. The Montgomery County Legislature approved the funds transfer 8-1 Tuesday night with District 8 Legislator Joe Isabel absent, which counts as a no vote.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, was not at the ribbon cutting ceremony, but he issued a statement expressing his support for the project and his vote for the funding in the Assembly. Santabarbara serves as chair of the New York State Assembly’s Commission on Rural Resources.
Santabarbara said the State Fiscal Year 2017-18 Budget included Gov. Andrew Cuomo's push for a $200 million investment in the Empire State Trail, which includes the Canalway Trail. The Cuomo administration's plan is to create a continuous 750-mile bicycle and recreation path that will run the length of the state, both east-west and north-south. Cuomo's goal in 2018 was to complete the trail system by 2020.
“With the Montgomery County section of the Erie Canalway complete, local families and visitors can safely enjoy some of the amazing views unique to our area of upstate New York,” Santabarbara said. “Whether it’s walking, riding a bike or simply exploring the beauty of our region, today’s exciting trail opening connects our community and brings more opportunities to enjoy all we have to offer.”