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Open Space Institute Purchases Unused Railbed for Development of a Schunnemunk Rail Trail

Goshen, N.Y. (December 21, 2021)—The Open Space Institute (OSI) today announced the purchase of an unused section of the former Erie Railroad Line in Orange County. OSI’s acquisition sets the stage for the future construction of a Schunnemunk Rail Trail, with the goal of creating a new multi-use recreation trail between two state parks, Schunnemunk Mountain State Park and Goosepond Mountain State Park, and adding improved recreational opportunity for walkers, cyclists, hikers, and birders. The rail trail would also improve public recreational access for those arriving in the area via the Metro North train service.

OSI purchased the 10-mile long, 101-acre Schunnemunk Rail Trail property for $1.8 million from Erie Properties Corporation and the Plotkin family, which had owned the former rail line for almost 30 years.

Photo of the verdant Schunnemunk Rail Trail property in the summer.
Photo of the verdant Schunnemunk Rail Trail property in the summer.
Photo Credit: Greg Miller

The newly acquired property starts in the Town of Cornwall at the Moodna trestle, traverses the towns of Blooming Grove and Chester, as well as the Village of Washingtonville, and ends at Orange County’s Camp LaGuardia, which is adjacent to the Heritage Trail in the Village of Chester.

Now that the land is acquired, the project is one step closer to becoming reality. The ultimate goal for the rail trail is to provide connectivity between the 3,800-acre Schunnemunk Mountain State Park and the 1,550-acre Goosepond Mountain State Park and link to both the Salisbury Mills-Cornwall and Harriman train stations. The trail would serve an important community function, providing outdoor recreation, improving public health, and providing economic and transportation benefits.

The railbed acquisition is also another significant step toward achieving OSI’s recently announced Highlands West Connectivity Plan to connect 93,000 acres of protected land and six state parks in eastern Orange County. OSI’s acquisition of the unused rail line achieves roughly 30 percent of the plan’s connectivity goal of creating and rerouting 30 miles of trails in the region.

“OSI’s acquisition of the Schunnemunk Rail Trail property is a will serve as the backbone for several transformative community trail projects, locally and regionally. Protecting the land is also a critical and momentous step in linking 93,000 acres of protected land within Orange County, a key goal of OSI’s Highlands West Connectivity Plan,” said OSI president and CEO, Kim Elliman. “Thank you to County Executive Neuhaus and Orange County for a fruitful and sustained partnership to protect land and build trail connections that provide recreation and transportation options for area residents and tourists.”

The Schunnemunk Rail Trail property. A tree-lined and unpaved trail meanders through the land with a lush, green canopy, including flowering trees.
The Schunnemunk Rail Trail property. A tree-lined and unpaved trail meanders through the land with a lush, green canopy, including flowering trees.
Photo Credit: Greg Miller

“We are excited that the Schunnemunk Rail Trail is moving forward and look forward to continuing to work with the OSI and Orange County Land Trust on this transformational project. Now more than ever, residents are utilizing trails throughout the County and the Rail Trail will showcase another beautiful portion of our County, while preserving open space.” Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus

The OSI-protected property is expected to be transferred to Orange County, which will design, construct, and manage the rail trail. Purchase of the property by the County and construction of the rail trail is subject to County Legislature approval and the necessary environmental reviews but could begin in late 2022 or early 2023.

Once completed, the rail trail--including five historic railroad bridges crossing and recrossing the Moodna Creek --will be included as part of a 29-mile-long multi-use recreational trail that runs through the City of Middletown and five villages in Orange County, including Harriman, Monroe, Chester, Goshen and Washingtonville.

The property was also listed as a priority acquisition in the Town of Blooming Grove’s Community Preservation Plan and the Town of Blooming Grove’s Open Space Inventory.

About the Highlands West Connectivity Plan

Unveiled earlier this year in partnership with the Orange County Land Trust and The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, the Highlands West Trail Connectivity Plan highlights a range of opportunities to permanently protect and enhance the landscape, working toward the creation of a connected, regional Highlands Trail network that will provide recreational opportunities for residents and visitors, protect critical wildlife habitat, and safeguard local watersheds.

The Highlands West Trail Connectivity Plan includes recommendations that will make access to trails and outdoor spaces more widely available for new and existing park users and proposes new trail connections that will link popular town centers, train stations, and bus stops to nearby state parks and protected lands.

Spanning more than 93,000 acres of protected land all within a one-hour drive or train ride from New York City, the plan seeks to connect the six state parks located within the western Hudson Highlands, from Storm King State Park in the north to Sterling State Forest in the south, and including Harriman, Bear Mountain, Goosepond Mountain, and Schunnemunk state parks, as well as privately protected lands such as Black Rock Forest and Storm King Art Center.

Hudson Highlands West Trail Connectivity Plan

Interested in learning more about the trail connectivity plan?

Read the Full Plan Here
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