KINGSTON, NY (March 16, 2022)— The Open Space Institute (OSI) and Ulster County have, once again, entered a partnership to improve and expand rail trails in Ulster County, this time on sections of the Wallkill Valley and Ontario & Western (O&W) Rail Trails. On March 16, the County Legislature voted to award OSI $2.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for three rail trail improvement projects, with OSI utilizing private support to provide an additional $95,000 worth of project management services. The proposal to use American Rescue Plan Act funds for the three projects was first suggested in Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan’s 2022 Executive Budget proposal released in October 2021 and has now approved through the legislative funding process.
Advocates for the projects explained that trails provide enormous community benefits and were invaluable places for people to escape the pandemic. They enhance public health and overall quality of life; they are safe, accessible, equitable, and provide alternate transportation choices; they are conductive of positive local economic activity; and they are often places of immense community pride
The three newly funded projects touch eight community centers and will provide enhanced access to the scenic views along Rondout Creek and Shawangunk Ridge. Specific aims of the projects include vegetation maintenance, improved grading, drainage, and structural enhancements, rebuilding existing bridges, upgrades to the safety off-road crossings, and trail resurfacing. Improvements will also provide universally accessible access points, welcoming trailheads, and improved signage.
“Decades of OSI’s strategic land protection throughout the Shawangunks and Ulster County improves the public’s access to nature and makes parks and trails more available and welcoming to everyone,” said OSI president and CEO, Kim Elliman. “Thank you to the Ulster County Legislature and County Executive Pat Ryan for their strong leadership, helping establish the area as a regional hub of exceptional trails. Together, we will accomplish our bold vision for protecting the land and creating safe, accessible, and equitable recreation and transportation options for the residents of Ulster County and the visiting public.”
Chair Tracey Bartels (Towns of Gardiner and Shawangunk, District 16), said, “Our county’s long partnership and collaboration with the Open Space Institute has made Ulster County a world-renown destination. Their projects include the Ashokan Rail Trail, Rosendale Trestle, Northern Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, River to Ridge Trail, Bluestone Wild Forest Trails, Carriage Roads at Minnewaska, and the Lake Minnewaska Visitor Center.”
Chair Bartels adds, “Countywide, our trails receive over 600,000 visits per year and contribute more than $10 million to the local economy annually. They provide equitable access to nature, open space, and safe recreation.”
Physician and Ulster County Legislator Kathy Nolan (Towns of Denning, Hardenburgh, Olive and Shandaken, District 22) noted, "With these trail projects, Ulster County and the Open Space Institute are joining together to extend the well-documented health and mental health benefits of outdoor recreation to underserved residents and regions of our county." Nolan adds, "Our regional trail network played an oversized role in providing a safe refuge for residents during the early phases of the coronavirus pandemic, while also supporting a sustainable, low-carbon portion of our tourism economy."
“Before the global pandemic, I don’t believe any of us fully appreciated how critical our parks and trails are to the health and wellbeing of not only our residents but to all who visit Ulster County. The pandemic revealed that our trails are not only valued transportation infrastructure but are also a vital part of Ulster County’s public health infrastructure,” said Bartels.
“Over the past two years, the County’s trail systems have provided extraordinary benefits as people turned to outdoor spaces to connect with nature and each other,” said Peter Karis, OSI’s vice president for Parks and Stewardship. “Building on our River-to-Ridge Trail, Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, Ashokan Rail Trail, and Minnewaska carriage road successes, OSI is proud and excited to partner with Ulster County to support its communities recovering from the pandemic. It’s partnerships like this that make all the difference.”
“We applaud Chair Tracey Bartels, members of the Legislature, and County Executive Patrick Ryan for acting to significantly expand Ulster County’s signature shared-use trail system and municipal parks. Tonight’s approval acknowledges the vital benefits Ulster County’s premier trails and parks have provided throughout the pandemic—for active transportation, recreation, and as essential public health infrastructure,” said Kevin D. Smith, chair of the Ulster County Trails Advisory Committee. “These new projects will significantly extend those benefits to tens of thousands more residents in four municipalities, as well as to the many visitors to our County.”
About the projects:
- Project 1: Restores a 5.45-mile corridor of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail between the Village of New Paltz and the Town of Gardiner. Project funding total: $895,000. Expected completion date: June 2023.
- Project 2: Restores a 3.2-mile corridor of Ontario & Western (O&W) Rail Trail connecting the hamlets of Accord in the Town of Rochester and the hamlet of Kerhonkson within the Town of Wawarsing. Project funding total: $565,000. Expected completion date: June 2023.
- Project 3: restores a two-mile corridor of the O&W Rail Trail between the hamlet of Napanoch and the Village of Ellenville. Project funding total: $640,000. Expected completion date: November 2023.
About the Open Space Institute
The Open Space Institute protects scenic, natural, and historic landscapes to provide public enjoyment, conserve habitat and working lands and sustain communities. Founded in 1974, initially, to protect significant landscapes in New York State, today, OSI has been a partner in the protection of over 2.3 million acres in North America.
Over the past 40 years, OSI has protected more than 33,000 acres on and along the Shawangunk Ridge in Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster counties—a total more than twice the size of Manhattan. The work, achieved with the support of local partners and generous donors, has expanded parkland, created trails, preserved local viewsheds, and protected vulnerable farmland and wildlife habitats.
In 2009, OSI partnered with the Wallkill Valley Land Trust to acquire 9.5 miles of the Rosendale and Ulster sections of what is now the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. OSI raised $1.5 million to restore the Trail's Rosendale Trestle and completed a $1.1 million renovation of the northern stretch of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail in 2020. The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail adjoins OSI's 6-mile River-to-Ridge loop trail, NY which traverses more than 360 acres of land protected by OSI. The River-to-Ridge Trail meanders through farm fields and over gently rolling hills, connecting New Paltz directly to the Shawangunk Ridge, with over 90 miles of recreational carriage roads and trails at the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park Preserve, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, and the Empire State Trail.
In 2011, OSI partnered with the Wallkill Valley Land Trust to acquire the 118-acre Joppenbergh Mountain in the Ulster County hamlet of Rosendale. The mountain sits along the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail near the north end of the Rosendale Trestle.
In 2015, OSI partnered with Ulster County by providing $150,000 towards a feasibility and engineering study for the Ashokan Rail Trail. After the OSI-funded study was completed, the Ashokan Rail Trail was designed and constructed by Ulster County through a partnership with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the trail was opened in 2019.
In 2020, OSI added 208 acres of forested land to the Catskill Park’s Bluestone Wild Forest as part of a regional effort to establish destination-quality multi-use trails in the Catskill Mountains, support Ulster County’s expanding green tourism economy, and relieve pressure on wildly popular trailheads and important summits.
Over the years OSI has continued to add to the mosaic of protected lands in the area. Committed to protecting the Shawangunk Ridge and improving public access to protected lands, OSI has more than doubled the size of Minnewaska State Park preserve; rebuilt over 15 miles of Minnewaska’s historic carriage roads; and most recently, OSI raised more than $3 million toward the design and construction of the Minnewaska Visitor Center which opened in 2020.