DEP pledges $2.5 mil for Ashokan rail trail
By Jay Braman Jr.
Ulster County and the Catskill Mountain Railroad have found a rare piece of common ground in the form of an 11.5-mile strip of land that runs along the Ashokan Reservoir on property owned by the City of New York.
Both entities, while fighting one another over the railroad’s lease of the county-owned railway, have given a thumbs up to news last week that the City of New York has committed $2.5 million to the construction of a rail trail along the old Ulster/Delaware rail line that runs on city land from West Hurley to Boiceville.
On December 12, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein happily made the announcement along with New York City Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland.
Project in order
“Today’s agreement with the NYC DEP lays the groundwork to allow everyone unimpeded access to the breathtaking views along the entire north shore of the Ashokan Reservoir from the trail, without permit or fee for the first time since the reservoir was constructed more than a century ago, and ensures that this incredible recreational resource can be enjoyed by future generations,” said Hein. “Ulster County is committed to expanding and connecting the current rail-trail network throughout the county. NYC’s commitment to trail development along the Ashokan Reservoir is a key advancement towards this goal, which will provide an unprecedented boost to the $475 million tourism sector of Ulster County’s economy.”
Hein adds that the agreement will convert a portion of the county-owned Ulster & Delaware (U&D) Railroad corridor into a multi-use recreational rail trail, open for public use year round without permits or fees. He also said this concept is designed to concentrate and strengthen the historic railroad experience west of the Ashokan where CMRR now operates.
Getting off the ground
As part of the agreement, the City will contribute $2.5 million towards the county’s planning, design, and construction of the Ulster County Rail Trail Project along City lands bordering the Ashokan Reservoir. In addition to the $2.5 million commitment, the City will design, construct, maintain and operate multiple public access points, or trailheads, along with parking and trail support facilities. Plus, the county and the DEP will collaborate on a joint marketing effort to promote the trail.
In addition to the major provisions outlined in the agreement, NYC DEP will also improve non-motorized access to the reservoir area by providing space for pedestrian and bicycle use of the dividing weir bridge at the Ashokan Reservoir in the upcoming reconstruction project.
The Ulster County Rail Trail Project calls for the conversion of a portion of the county-owned U&D corridor into a multi-use recreational trail, allowing for walking, running, biking, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and other non-motorized uses, as well as dogs on leashes. It also includes the continuation and enhancement of CMRR’s tourism railroad operations along the U&D west of the Ashokan Reservoir.
The plan has also attracted a $2 million New York State Environmental Protection Fund grant, which was included by Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2013-2014 state budget.
The county and CMRR have been at odds for over a year as the former tries to have the latter booted off of the county-owned railroad tracks the railroad leases until 2016.
On Friday CMRR released a prepared statement in support of the City’s contribution, but also said that they want to be involved.
“The CMRR believes that 100 percent trail use of the 11.5 mile Ashokan Rail Trail is too exclusive and does not allow the full potential of the Ashokan Reservoir Rail Trail to be reached without rail access on either end,” CMRR’s release states. “By allowing the westernmost mile or so to remain a railroad, and to allow a rail and trail terminal at West Hurley on the eastern end, the county can maximize the benefits of open access to the Ashokan Reservoir to all. This is consistent with the county and DEP conceptual agreement, which encourages a variety of access methods to the reservoir.”
Last month State Supreme Court Justice Richard Mott issued an injunction against an attempt by Ulster County to evict the CMRR from the tracks of the Ulster/Delaware railway between Kingston and Highmount.