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OSI Launches O&W Rail Trail Projects

HUDSON VALLEY, NY (Aug. 31, 2023)— The Open Space Institute (OSI) today announced the start of two projects intended to further transform the Ontario and Western (“O&W”) Rail Trail into a public recreational destination: the launch of the O&W Comprehensive Feasibility Study and the restoration of two separate sections of the O&W Rail Trail in Ulster County.

Planning to Create a Contiguous Greenway

The O&W Comprehensive Feasibility Study marks the first step in a major OSI-led effort to transform the fragmented former O&W Railroad corridor, including sections of the historic D&H Canal corridor, into a contiguous, 57-mile shared-use greenway trail reaching from the City of Kingston in Ulster County southwest to the City of Port Jervis in Orange County.

The study will include a detailed corridor inventory and assessment, stakeholder and community outreach, and trail routing and access alternatives. The study will also include an engineering and construction analysis, cost estimating, and project prioritization. OSI has hired regional consulting firm Greenman-Pedersen, Inc. to support the study, which is expected to be completed this winter.

A trail crossing a bridge and leading straight into a verdant green forest.
A section of the O&W Rail Trail.
Image Credit: Greg Miller

Reconstructing Trails in Accord and Ellenville

OSI, in partnership with Ulster County and the towns of Rochester, Wawarsing, and the Village of Ellenville, is also already reconstructing two sections of the O&W Rail Trail, together totaling more than five miles.

OSI will improve a 3.2-mile trail section between Accord and Kerhonkson, and a 1.9-mile section stretching north from the Village of Ellenville toward Port Ben. The trail projects include the incorporation of three bridges, in total; trailhead parking area improvements in the hamlet of Accord; vegetation maintenance; drainage improvements; and full trail resurfacing of both project sections.

Together costing more than $1 million, the trail improvement projects are expected to improve safety and overall public access to the O&W Rail Trail. The trail restoration projects began earlier this month and will be substantially completed by year’s end.

“As demand for greenway trails increases—for transportation, recreation, and community connection—OSI is leading the effort to repurpose the entire O&W line. From planning initiatives and outreach to design and construction, our goal is to create a transformative corridor within New York State’s burgeoning trail network that expands public recreational access to the region’s town centers, parks, forests, and other outdoor spaces,” said Peter Karis, OSI’s vice president of Parks and Stewardship.

When reconnected and restored, the O&W Rail Trail will serve as a southwestward extension of the NYS Empire State Trail, connecting communities between the Hudson and Delaware rivers. The project was also outlined as a priority in the 2020 New York State Greenway Trails Plan.

OSI’s O&W Rail Trail Comprehensive Feasibility Study, which will help identify needs for future investment, is supported by a $500,000 New York State Environmental Protection Fund grant. OSI is seeking matching private support for both projects to realize the rail trail’s full potential as a shared, community resource.

In October 2021, the Ulster County Legislature awarded OSI $2.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds toward three rail trail improvement projects, including the two projects along the O&W Rail Trail and the now completed improvements of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. Additional in-kind services for the project are being generously donated by the local municipalities, with an additional $95,000 of in-kind project management services from OSI.

Earlier this year, OSI unveiled its Growing Greenways: West of Hudson Greenway Trails Vision Plan (“Growing Greenways Plan”). This plan presents a vision to connect seven existing Hudson Valley trail networks, including the arterial O&W, creating an interconnected, multiuse trail network spanning more than 250 miles and connecting dozens of communities throughout Ulster, Sullivan, and Orange counties.

The Growing Greenways Plan proposes connecting, extending, and improving the O&W Rail Trail, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, Catskill Mountain Rail Corridor, Sullivan O&W Rail Trail, Schunnemunk Rail Trail, Orange County Heritage Trail, and Shawangunk Ridge Carriage Roads. Once completed, the unified trail system will improve public access to nature, expand recreational opportunities, and promote local economic activity and tourism.

Having attracted and invested more than $100 million in public and private funds toward land acquisition, trails, and other visitor amenities in the region over the last decade alone, OSI is pursuing additional partnerships, private funds, and grants to raise an initial $8 million to support the Growing Greenways Plan. Learn more about the Growing Greenways Plan here.

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