Rail trails on the run

The Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association will host a 5K race and walk celebrating National Trail Running Day on October 8. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Several communities in Ulster County have turned old railbeds into multi-use linear public parks. Residents walk, bike, jog, horseback ride, ski and travel sans vehicle from place to place. Ulster County is blessed with a number of old railbeds, and now there’s even talk of connecting them with each other.

The Hudson Valley Rail Trail (the HVRT, the abandoned part of the New York, New Haven & Hartford line that includes 2.5 miles of paved railbed from the hamlet of Lloyd to Tony Williams Park) will connect through another 1.2 miles of rail-trail acquired by Lloyd to the Walkway Over the Hudson, the state historic park that spans the Hudson River on a renovated railroad bridge 212 feet tall and 1.28 miles long. This historic landmark opened to the public in October 2009. And the HVRT Association is working to connect the rail-trail in Lloyd westward towards the Wallkill Valley Rail-trail in New Paltz — another 2.5 miles.

Meanwhile, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail (WVRT) is poised to double in length and by early fall will connect Gardiner and New Paltz to Rosendale, Ulster and Kingston via the 940-foot-long Rosendale Rrailroad trestle, perched 150 feet over the Rondout Creek in Rosendale.

According to Alan Bowdery, vice president of the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT), a not-for-profit organization that partnered with the Open Space Institute (OSI) to purchase 11.5 miles of rail-trail in 2009 and 65 additional acres, “The work on the trestle has begun and is expected to be completed by August 13,” Bowdery told the WVLT annual meeting.

The approximately $1.2-million project involves repairing the 114-year-old bridge’s steel infrastructure, installing wooden decks and railings, and doing drainage work. “If they don’t finish on time, it costs them $1300 a day,” said Bowdery. “So there is great impetus to stick to the deadline.”

You may have noticed new fencing and workers on the Rosendale railroad trestle. The bidding process for the fabrication and installation of new railings for the trestle is complete. Work has begun!

The railings are made of Cor-ten Steel, a natural weathering steel that will have a weathered look and still be durable. In preparation for the installation of the railings, existing railroad ties will be turned 90 degrees, and ties that are deteriorated will be removed. The new orientation of the ties will provide a larger surface area upon which to install the decking. Once all the ties are flipped, the railings will be installed in sections and attached directly to the steel of the trestle.

The Rosendale railroad trestle. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Future maintenance will be simplified. Because the decking timbers will be installed after the railings, replacement of weathered boards will be simple. The railings will remain in place to protect the safety of anyone working on the decking.

On Friday, April 13, a small fire popped up among the existing railroad ties after the construction company had left for the day. Thanks to the quick work of the Rosendale and Tillson fire departments, the fire was quickly addressed.

The Wallkill Valley Land Trust is working closely with the fire departments and the project engineer to establish additional fire prevention measures as this project continues. With unseasonably dry conditions, appropriate precautions are being taken.

Work is also needed on the recently acquired miles of old railbed trails, including re-grading and widening. Rail-trail users will then be able to go from the hamlet of Gardiner north through New Paltz, Tillson, Rosendale and Ulster into the City of Kingston without having to get off the linear trail. The route is varied and interesting, passing through scenic woodlands, open fields and farmlands along the Wallkill River, over the Rondout Creek and past Rosendale’s old cement mines and Binnewater lakes.

WVLT and OSI have been working to secure easements along portions of the trail. “North of Williams Lake, there was a property owner who is a big rail-trail fan and user who gave us an easement without hesitation,” reported Bowdery. But another property owner just north of the Thruway wanted to put in a swimming pool and shed along the easement. “We’ve just filed a lawsuit, and they’ve yet to respond,” he added.

Ruth Elwell, longtime president of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail Association, said her group was hoping to partner with the various municipalities along the new section of the rail-trail, just as it has further south. The group agrees to care for and maintain the trail through volunteer labor and donations, and the various municipalities provide assistance in maintaining the trails.

Bowdery said that WVLT’s goal was to have the trestle and the 11.5 miles of trail “ready and open for the public by early fall.” The partnership has raised approximately $750,000 towards the $1.2-million project.

To learn more about this effort, follow its progress, or make a donation, go to www.trackthetrestle.org.

Two other significant old railbeds should also be mentioned. Ulster County government owns 38 miles of Ulster & Delaware Railroad right-of-way from the shores of the Hudson River in Kingston west to Highmount in the northwestern tip of the county. And much of the former Ontario & Western Railroad roadbed from Kingston down the Esopus and Rondout valleys are now in use as rail-trails. Finally, portions of the former route of the nineteenth-century Delaware & Hudson Canal, including some of the historic locks, are used for recreational purposes.

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