Giving travelers another reason to visit other parts of New York State aside from New York City doesn't sound like a bad idea, as long as the costs don't outweigh the economic benefits to the state.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to complete and connect two greenway trails crisscrossing the state from Manhattan to Canada and from Albany to Buffalo to create a 750-mile paved biking and hiking route that will be marketed as a national tourist destination.
“We want to build the largest multi-use trail in the nation,” said the Democratic governor at a state of the state speech Tuesday in Westchester County. Cuomo proposed spending $200 million over three years to pave 350 miles of gaps in the existing greenways and connect them to create what he calls the Empire State Trail.
Legislative leaders had no comment on the proposal, which would need legislative approval in the state budget starting with $53 million this year.
The trail will incorporate the existing Erie Canalway and the Hudson River Valley Greenway. State Bike Route 9 that runs along Lake Champlain to Canada would complete the trail from Manhattan. It is expected to bring millions of dollars in revenue to the surrounding communities each year.
The Erie Canalway is nearly 80 percent complete; the Hudson River Greenway nearly 50 percent. The state already owns most of the land needed to complete the project.
“The trail is great as it is, but closing those gaps will make it so much better,” said Erie Canalway spokeswoman Jean Mckay, who has cycled the trail end-to-end three times. “If you’re riding with your kids across the state, it feels a little scary when you have to go on the road for a couple of miles.”
The Hudson Valley segment of the trail starts at New York Harbor and skirts the Adirondack Mountains. It features historic sites such as Olana, the home and studio of Hudson River School painter Frederic Church; the popular Walkway Over the Hudson, an old Poughkeepsie railroad bridge transformed into a pedestrian and bike path; the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site in Kinderhook; the Saratoga National Battlefield and Fort Ticonderoga.
The western leg of the trail follows the Erie Canal and Mohawk River through cities, villages and farmland, and features Buffalo Harbor State Park; the Salt Museum on Onondaga Lake; the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge; and the Fort Stanwix National Monument in Rome. Parks and Trails New York, a nonprofit advocacy group, said the Erie Canalway Trail attracts more than 1.6 million visitors annually.
“I think greenways are absolutely wonderful, whether you’re a runner, walker, biker or pushing a baby carriage,” said Dick Beamish of Saranac Lake, who has bicycled with his wife on rail trails and greenways in San Francisco, Virginia, Vermont and Albany. “They’re a great way to promote health and well-being as well as help local economies.”
Beamish, a retired news magazine publisher, is an advocate for a new 34-mile rail-trail the state is creating in the Adirondacks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid.
Cuomo’s office said the Erie Canalway Trail has an economic impact of $253 million from visitor spending and the Hudson River Greenway generates more than $21 million annually.
Photo credit: Cyclists pass the Niskayuna Train Station as they bike on the Canalway Trail in Niskayuna, New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a 750-mile paved biking and hiking Empire State Trail, which would include the Canalway Trail. Mike Groll / Associated Press