Connecting Communities to Nature and Each Other
A lifestyle renaissance is underway in New York’s Hudson Valley. Through targeted land protection and the conversion of former rail lines into linear parks, new connections are being created — changing the way people recreate, socialize, travel, and experience the region’s abundant natural beauty.
Sparking this major transformation is a new Open Space Institute (OSI) initiative to create a network of protected land and greenways spanning 250 miles and 50 communities throughout Ulster, Sullivan, and Orange Counties. OSI’s Growing Greenways vision plan is a detailed blueprint to connect and improve eight existing rail trail and greenway systems, greatly improving public access to nature, expanding recreational opportunities, and boosting local economic activity and tourism.
“The Growing Greenways plan is a quintessential OSI effort — in both impact and vision,” says Bob Anderberg, OSI Senior Vice President and General Counsel, who has stewarded land preservation and rail trail efforts in the region for decades. “We are connecting large-scale OSI conservation successes across the Hudson Highlands, the Catskill Mountains, and the Shawangunk Ridge, while building out local trail networks. The impact for people in both rural communities and urban neighborhoods is nothing short of transformative.”
According to Anderberg, once the network is completed, cyclists will be able to bike off-road from Kingston to the New Jersey border; families will be able to enjoy an afternoon of safe, low-impact hiking, and city residents will be able to jump on the trail to the farmers market or grocery store.
“This is what forward thinking looks like,” says Alan Sorenson,
Planning Commissioner for Orange County. “Building on OSI’s Growing
Greenways plan, we are connecting our communities with out-of-the-box
transportation options. The idea of being able to travel safely and
stress-free across the county without ever needing to get into a car is
OSI’s work in Orange County will connect Schunnemunk and Goosepond Mountain State Parks to the Hudson River, the city of Newburgh, and the Orange County Heritage Trail. Trails will also connect to several stations along the MTA Port Jervis Line, offering visitors arriving by train from New York City a seamless way to explore miles of trails.
In Sullivan County, OSI and partners are working to rejuvenate rural communities along the Sullivan O&W Rail Trail by acquiring and improving a rail trail running from the village of Wurtsboro to Livingston Manor, connecting to the O&W Rail Trail and the D&H Canal. The lengthy O&W Rail Trail is key to the plan: once trail improvements are completed, the fragmented former railroad corridor will be transformed into the backbone of the Growing Greenways trail network — a continuous 57-mile greenway trail running from the city of Kingston to the city of Port Jervis.
Since announcing the plan in early 2023, OSI has already notched some impressive conservation and trail improvement victories, including the purchase of 2.4 miles of railbed running along the Shawangunk Ridge State Forest, which will be added to the O&W Rail Trail. OSI has also completed major restorations to nearly 6 miles of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and replaced the Plattekill Creek Bridge — funded through a $2.1 million Ulster County grant of American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Farther up the Shawangunk Ridge, OSI restored Minnewaska State Park Preserve’s High Point Carriage Road, marking more than 15 miles of Minnewaska’s carriage roads restored by OSI and partners and opening sections of the park that had previously been largely inaccessible.
The scope of the plan is broad, requiring an initial $8 million investment, but OSI is uniquely positioned to take on the work, says Anderberg. “We are blending our expertise in land protection, our commitment to finding new and exciting ways to connect people to the land, and our ability to work with partners and leverage private and public funds.”
The completed projects are attracting fans. “The new rail trails have dramatically increased the amount of time I spend on outdoor exercise,” says Accord resident Barbara Lawrence.
“The trails are beautiful and safe places to ride for a quick outing or a daylong adventure.” Local filmmaker Peter Nelson is also enthusiastic, saying, “My wife, Sally, and I love meeting up with friends to cycle the rail trails and enjoy the ever-changing vistas. Accessing a rail trail has become so easy no matter where we are.”
Anderberg is already seeing proof of success. “From witnessing a young mom teach her son to ride a bike on a new rail trail to watching couples of all ages happily embark on a long ride that ends with a trip to a local eatery, something magical is happening here on the land. And I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it all.”