Rail Trail seeks northwest passage

CHATHAM–Over 50 people attended the June 28 meeting about the Harlem Valley Rail Trail extension between Chatham and Philmont, a little more than 11 miles of the 46-mile abandoned railroad bed between Chatham and Wassaic in Dutchess. Sections of the trail between Wassaic and Millerton and from Ancram to Copake Falls are already open to the public.

Harlem Valley Rail Trail supporters are calling this section the Northwest 11 based on its length and position in the overall route. Plans call for it to complete the trail in the county by connecting the Copake Falls-Hillsdale section that reaches into Philmont with the Village of Chatham, passing through parts of Claverack and Ghent.

Lenny Collins, who has worked on other sections of the trail, and who organized the Thursday meeting in the parking lot of the Kinderhook Bank branch in Chatham, said the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association is applying for a state Consolidated Application Process (CFA) grant that could be part of as much as $300,000 for the project and also requires 25% in matching funds form community donations. That grant would cover engineering and planning costs for the Philmont-Chatham section of the trail.

The bank branch occupies a former Chatham railroad station and sits next to the tracks still used by CSX and Amtrak.

The effort to create the Copake Falls-Hillsdale trail received a $160,000 grant and local supporters raised over the $40,000 in matching funds needed, Lisa DeLeeuw, executive director of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association told the meeting. The Copake Falls-Hillsdale group formed an alliance of members from both communities to work on the grants and raise the money. The Rail Trail called the Chatham meeting to help create a similar alliance for the new section of the trail.

Mr. Collins said that he has been reaching out to town and village boards along the trail for their support. Though it is not a requirement of the grant to have motions passed supporting the trail, Ms. DeLeeuw said that those expressions of support are something state officials consider in their funding decisions.

Asked if they met any opposition, Mr. Collins said, “There is always opposition to these things.” But he said the town boards he had talked to were supportive as well as the Chatham Village Board. He said he has found “great interest and great hope.” He said the effort has the support of Congressman Chris Gibson (R-20th) and state Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R-108th) and Assembly member Didi Barrett (D-103 rd).

Robin Dropkin, executive director of Parks and Trails New York, said that all communities she’s dealt with have had issues with people fighting the trails, but she added, “It’s definitely a growing movement.” She said rail supporters’ biggest issue right now is funding. The federal transportation budget, she said, has devastated the funding previously available for trails, but there is still money at the state level. “Don’t lose hope,” she said.

Mr. Collins said much of the land along trail is owned by the state, but three private property owners on Route 66–Camphill Ghent, Price Chopper and the owners of the Chatham Plaza–all have agreed to build the sections of the trail that will cross their property.

The grant application for state funds to support the Northwest 11 section of the Harlem Valley is due July 16, and Mr. Collins said the group will meet again about creating the alliance in communities through which this section of the trail will pass.

For more information go to www.hvrt.org.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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