A rail trail grows

The Harlem Valley is home to a rare recreational resource that provides much more than just a pleasant way to spend the day. Yes, the Harlem Valley Rail Trail offers an 11-mile paved pathway for walkers, runners, cyclists and skaters, but it is also an economic engine for the towns, villages and hamlets it passes through.The Rail Trail attracts a significant number of exercise enthusiasts and tourists to Millerton, North East, Amenia and Wassaic, for everything from casual outings to the more coordinated affairs, like the annual BikeNY event, which lures thousands from the Tri-state region.For 25 years the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association has been promoting its magnificent conversion of the old Harlem Line of the New York Central Railroad into a public trail — a linear park that opened to the public in 1996. Since then residents from around the region and visitors from afar have enjoyed the scenic trails that meander through our northeastern Dutchess County backyards. Soon more will be able to take part in the experience. The Rail Trail just received word that it has been awarded a $121,000 grant from the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which must be met with a matching $40,000 in funds, according to the Copake Hillsdale Rail Trail Alliance. That grant is earmarked for extending the Rail Trail from its trailhead in Copake Falls northward through the hamlet of Hillsdale. The alliance hopes to raise the $40,000 in 10 months’ time through trail events, grants and public donations.The project is a tremendous coup for Columbia County. The ultimate goal is to bridge the gap and have one continuous trail from the southernmost point (hopefully in the center of the Wassaic hamlet once an extension is completed) to the northernmost point in Chatham — a 46-mile stretch through fields, forests, streams and wetlands.There are also plans to extend the Rail Trail from the trail head in Millerton 8 miles to Copake. That idea also has much community support, and according to a board member of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association, the money has been allocated for the extension.“We just want it to be finished,” said Marty Reynolds, adding there’s a lot of excitement about the project.Expanding the Rail Trail makes good sense, and the fact the state is preparing to fund the Columbia County expansion is encouraging. Let’s face it, the advantage of having something so lovely, so beneficial, so enjoyable, so tangible and so affordable (use of the Rail Trail is free) is truly priceless. People today need ways to de-stress, to connect with the natural world and to breathe in fresh air. Getting some exercise doesn’t hurt, either. Add into the equation the impact having the Rail Trail makes on the region’s economy and it’s a win-win.To distill the numbers, the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association is conducting a survey of the trail’s financial impact on the village of Millerton (the busiest of the trail’s locations). It paired up with the Millerton Business Association to get the surveys out to merchants and will soon have results on how the trail affects trade. There’s little doubt the relationship is a good one, and even less that the Harlem Valley Rail Trail is appreciated by those who know and love it.For more information on the Harlem Valley Rail Trail or to make a donation, go online to www.hvrt.org or call 518-789-9591.

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