You almost hear the whistle blowing

Rail Trail poised to connect Copake Falls and Hillsdale

COPAKE–How far the Harlem Valley Rail Trail has come and where it will go from here was the subject of a presentation at the Copake Town Hall Saturday, March 24.

The next frontier on the drawing board is a five-mile stretch of trail from where it currently ends in Copake Falls at the Taconic State Park entrance through the southern end of the Hillsdale hamlet to Fado Road, just to the west.

Co-hosted by the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association (HVRTA) with the Columbia Land Conservancy and the Copake Hillsdale Rail Trail Alliance, the event drew about 60 interested people.

HVRTA Executive Director Lisa DeLeeuw introduced key players in rail trail realm, including Landscape Architect Mark K. Morrison, who leads the consultant team hired to complete design and construction plans.


Currently, a 10.7 mile stretch of the rail trail is complete between Wassaic and Millerton in Dutchess County, then there’s an eight-mile break as the trail heads north until the paved trail resumes in Boston Corners in Columbia County and runs four miles north into downtown Copake Falls.

The total trail that HVRTA hopes to develop runs from Wassaic to Chatham and involves a 46-mile section of the rail bed that was last used by the Harlem Division of the Penn Central Railroad.


Mr. Morrison started his “Site Analysis and Conceptual Routing Plan” for the trail with history. He told about the start of the railroad in the 1830s and its decommissioning in the 1970s. He showed photographs of old railroad stations, trestles and bridges along the train route and talked about the move to “revive the trail” in an “ecologically-friendly” way, “enhancing habitats” and “interfacing with nature.”

The new expanse of trail passes through a huge amount of agricultural land and has views of the Taconic Mountain Range, said Mr. Morrison, noting that hydrologically there are a few spots with wetland issues of which he and his team are aware and are working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to mitigate. Overall, the trail is gravel, “a good bedding,” which is less expensive to run a trail on, he said.


Three phases will make up the new stretch, the first from Copake Falls to Orphan Farm Road, the second from there to Underhill Road, then from there to Fado Road.

In the first phase, the trail, which appears mostly clear and open in the slides shown, picks up in the Copake Falls hamlet crosses over the surface of North Mountain Road and eventually emerges at the edge of a big farm field. Mr. Morrison said the trail has been “bush-hogged” and most of the old railroad ties have been removed over the years or stacked up by hunters to act as blinds. The trail, which “runs on the old ballast of the rail bed,” will be paved on top to a thickness of 4- to 5-inches and a width of 10 feet where possible, and the trail will skirt around big old trees. Footings or other railroad relics will be left and the flow of water will not be interrupted.


When the trail emerges upon the large farm field, instead of installing the path straight across the field, which was its original course, it will bend around the edge of the field to the west. Mr. Morrison said because the grade is steeper to the east, it would be “a great spot for a mode path” where people can chase butterflies, go sledding, kite flying or bird watching.


On the spot where the complex of buildings that made up the former Odyssey Farm once stood, Mr. Morrison saw possibilities for farmers and/or flea markets and saw space for parking nearby.

On its journey from Orphan Farm Road to Underhill Road, the trail continues to encounter farmland and perhaps its greatest challenge–getting across the busy State Route 22.

Ever since the railroad bridge over Route 22 was torn down it seemed unclear how the trail would make the leap across the road and then after the Black Grocery Bridge was removed, how it would cross the Roe Jan Kill.

The goal, according to Mr. Morrison, is to go under Route 22, somewhere north of Orphan Farm Road and south of where the Black Grocery Bridge once met the state road.


The trail can follow the state 50-foot right-of-way along the highway until it tunnels underneath the road via a 12-foot wide, 40- to 50-foot long box culvert. Mr. Morrison showed examples of culverts that are in use. He talked about opening the ends to allow light in and installing solar lighting inside.

Once on the other side of the highway, the trail would cross the creek from the cornfield on a footbridge, proposed to span the water diagonally to allow for views up and down the stream. The Black Grocery end of the bridge could connect to the old abutment. Mr. Morrison said he has been checking out bridges of wood and steel that are custom built and come in pieces.


The last leg starts at Underhill Road and runs 2.2 miles through the Rheinstrom Hill Audubon Sanctuary. Mr. Morrison said the rail bed “takes the high road into Hillsdale” emerging behind Herrington’s and easing its way through the sanctuary to Fado Road. He said there is the potential for a trailhead at Herrington’s.


Questions from the audience included:

*Could some parts of the trial remain unpaved and left with a crushed stone surface? While Mr. Morrison said he prefers crushed stone with dirt in it, he did note that it can be a “maintenance headache.” HVRTA Board of Directors member Alice Platt said people in wheelchairs, rollerbladers and small children on big wheels are not be able to access unpaved areas. Permeable asphalt was also suggested, with Mr. Morrson noting that it is substantially rougher and would cause people who fall on it to “get scraped up a lot more.” Boardwalks were mentioned as possibilities where wetlands preclude paving.

*In light of Mr. Morrison’s statements about the trail sometimes diverting from the rail bed’s original path, someone asked what percentage of the trail would end up being “the real trail.” He estimated about 90%.

*Asked how the expense of the rail trail is shared, Ms. DeLeeuw said the money comes from federal and state grants and private donations. She said towns and counties have never been asked for money.


A price tag for the project or any portion of it was not revealed. Mr. Morrison’s planning and design work, which is being paid for by a $122,000 grant secured by HVRTA and administered by the conservancy, will conclude in the fall, and as soon after that as funding permits, trail construction will begin. But long before the paving starts, new sections of the rail bed will be open to the public.


To contact Diane Valden email .








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