Orange County, NY (February 22, 2021)—The Open Space Institute (OSI), in partnership with the Orange County Land Trust (OCLT) and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC), today unveiled a new, long-term trail and open space connectivity plan and roadmap with recommendations to conserve open space and support accessible outdoor recreation in New York’s western Hudson Highland region, a fast-growing and heavily visited area in the lower Hudson River Valley located in eastern Orange County.
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 trail network that will provide recreational opportunities for residents and visitors, protect critical wildlife habitat, and safeguard local watersheds.
Spanning more than 93,000 acres and 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.
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. The plan proposes new trail connections that will link popular town centers, train stations, and bus stops to nearby state parks and protected lands.
“We know that smart land conservation strengthens communities by providing recreational and economic opportunities and protecting drinking water sources,” says Kim Elliman, Open Space Institute president and CEO. “Once implemented, the plan will connect a fragmented network of protected land, create a unified trail system throughout this spectacular landscape, and provide easier recreational access for all people, including those arriving by train.”
Hudson Highlands West Trail Connectivity Plan
Interested in learning more about the trail connectivity plan?
“The Orange County Land Trust is thrilled to be working with the Open Space Institute and other conservation partners on this ambitious plan. Access to our region’s State Parks has never been more important. Solidifying these trail connections throughout the Hudson Highlands West region will support local economies, safeguard habitats, and enhance visitor access for generations to come,” said Matt Decker, Orange County Land Trust’s director of conservation and stewardship.
“It’s easy to focus on building new sections of trail, but this plan demonstrates the type of big-picture thinking needed to make smaller projects into something greater than the sum of their parts. By connecting preserved lands and ensuring public access along them, we seek to create long-distance trails that open up brand new ways for people to connect with nature. Perhaps someday, thanks to this plan, residents of the Hudson Highlands will look at the Highlands Trail and Long Path with the same recognition and reverence that the Appalachian Trail enjoys,” said Peter Dolan, Trail Program Manager at the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.
“The many connections and improvements envisioned by this insightful plan will make it easier and safer for people to visit our six State Parks in the Hudson Highlands region. It will help address overcrowding at some our most popular parks that are delivering healthy and safe outdoor recreation that has been so important during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in areas in proximity to metropolitan New York City,” said Erik Kulleseid, Commissioner of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
“Orange County Tourism is thrilled to be working with the Highlands West Connectivity Plan and feel there is an incredible value when our robust Trail and Park systems are linked. Now, more than ever, people crave the natural adventures that Orange County has to offer and by improving these connections, we open the door to many more outdoor enthusiasts,” said Amanda Dana, director of Orange County Tourism & Film.
Four major long-distance trails converge in the western Hudson Highlands—the Appalachian Trail, Long Trail, Highlands Trail, and Orange County Heritage Trail—and serve as the basis and inspiration for this expanded and enhanced network.
The plan establishes a regional vision for recreation, conservation, and local economic development, and proposes 21 projects. Proposed projects include new trail creation, realignment and safety improvements for existing trails, planning for new park and trail areas to help reduce crowding at some of the more popular state parks in the area, and trailhead improvements at existing parks to better welcome and direct visitors.
Beyond establishing a network of integrated, multi-use trails that connect the region’s existing recreational and natural assets, the Highlands West Trail Connectivity Plan also proposes protecting some of the area’s most iconic and distinctive forest areas in a region that has seen increasing residential, commercial, and industrial development pressures.
The plan calls for the protection of areas that have been designated as a climate resilient corridor, meaning that the land will continue to support an incredible diversity of wildlife as the climate changes. Significantly, the plan also highlights the need to protect the region’s watersheds that provide vast quantities of clean drinking water for the people of Orange County.
The Hudson Highlands West Trail Connectivity Plan is the product of more than two years of planning, meetings, and interviews. Stakeholders including elected officials, nonprofit organizations, friends groups, and state and local government agencies were consulted to develop a regional vision, and identify opportunities for meaningful open space protection and trail linkages.
Kim Elliman added, “OSI is grateful for our partners, local stakeholders, and all participants who have joined us in developing a plan that reflects the character and needs of the region’s communities. With continued cooperation and engagement, we can take steps to implement this plan and make this collective vision for Highlands West a reality.”
With a year-round population of more than 150,000 people, the western Highlands support many thriving communities. The Hudson Highlands West Trail Connectivity Plan acknowledges that trails and open spaces are important resources that enhance communities, foster healthy lifestyles, protect natural areas, and support local tourism and economic development.
Already welcoming more than three million visitors annually, the western Hudson Highlands’ state parks and trails are popular destinations for outdoor recreation. The plan aims to support the sustainable development and protection of the Highlands West region as a premier destination for magnificent scenery and accessible outdoor recreation.
Read the full Highlands West Connectivity Plan or the the executive summary.
The Highlands West Trail Connectivity Plan
Learn more about our plan to connect trails and protected lands in the western Hudson Highlands!
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 to protect significant landscapes in New York State, OSI has been a partner in the protection of nearly 2.3 million acres in North America.
In and around the western Hudson Highlands, OSI has protected more than 26,000 acres, adding the land to Hudson Highlands, Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park, and Schunnemunk state parks. Most recently, OSI has partnered with the Unites States Military Academy cadets for four consecutive years to build new pedestrian trail bridges at Fahnestock State Park, a partnership that provides cadets engineering majors with real-world design and build experience while improving the park for the public. In 2020, OSI launched an extensive plan to improve recreational access at Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park and upgrade overall public access; provide enhanced wayfinding signs for navigation; better accommodate new and existing users to the park; and deepen visitor engagement. In 2014, OSI secured the Hudson Highlands' largest-ever conservation easement on Black Rock Forest, then donated the easement to the State of New York, guaranteeing public access to nearly 60 miles of hiking trails.