A new section of the Hudson Valley Rail Trail has opened in Highland as part of a project to connect New York City to Canada in 2020.
The Hudson Valley Rail Trail is part of the Empire State Trail, which was started in 2017. This trail was created with intent to connect New York City to Canada and Buffalo to Albany. Eventually spanning 750 miles, this trail will be the longest state trail in the nation
The trail is currently 400 miles of disconnected parts, one of which is in Highland. The trail offers outdoor recreation for many non-motorized activities including hiking, biking, running and will also be ploved and open during the winters.
According to Deputy Director the Ulster County Planning Department, Christopher White, the project was funded 80 percent by federal transportation funds, which the County was awarded through a competitive grant round, and just under 20 percent from County funds. Ulster County also recieved a $50,000 grant from the state through the late Assemblyman Frank Skartados. Overall the project should cost roughly $2 million.
“If [the trail] wasn’t here we’d probably be a ghost town,” said Highland Supervisor Paul Hansut. “It will have a positive impact on our economy and recreation, bringing people from all over the state into our community.”
The trails offer a place for residents to get out and exercise without fear of having to navigate around busy roadways and potentially dangerous proximity to cars.
“The trail is not just for recreational but is also a much needed no motorized transportation corridor for people who want to bike or walk rather than get in their cars,” White said. “It is also a common sense investment in improving public health by making it easier and safer for people to walk, bike, run and live more active lives
According to www.ny.gov, “The trail surface and associated improvement will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, providing accessibility to users with mobility challenges and older visitors. [The goal is to] connect New Yorkers and visitors to the natural, historic, and cultural splendor of the Empire State, emphasizing we are ‘one New York.’”
An estimated 8.6 million visitors walk the rail trail every year, bringing traffic to many historic New York towns.
“One of the biggest impacts of the trail has been the partnerships formed between the local governments and organizations,” Hansut said. “ We all put aside our political differences to see the completion of the trail through.” The town of Highland welcomes a new, 12-foot-wide paved segment of the rail trail along Route 299 that connects to the trail at Old New Paltz Road. This section is currently 1.25-mile and will eventually be a part of the entire Empire State Trail.
Hansut shared a story about a professor from NYC who moved into Highland because of the significantly lower cost of living. Now he takes the trail to the train station to get to work in the morning.
“We have people moving into Highland because they love the recreational aspect of the town,” Hansut said.
The Hudson Valley segment of the Empire State Trail will run through Kingston, Gardiner, New Paltz, Highland, Rosendale and many towns in between.
Funding was just approved for two new segments of the rail trail which are expected to open by the Ashokan Reservoir and in Kingston.