EDITORIAL: Trail is a step forward

DID YOU KNOW they still make mechanical treadmills? No motor or refrigerated sports cup holder. Just a rubber belt powered by your feet and a battery-operated box telling you how “far” you’ve gone, though truthfully you’ve haven’t gone anywhere at all.

Think of all the energy you waste on a treadmill. Imagine if you could use that energy to charge your phone. Or something bigger. Forget solar farms and wind turbines crowding out the scenery in Kinderhook or Copake. Let’s gather at treadmill pods and walk our way to a greener future. Or not.

This would be a hard sell. But remember, our species gave up swinging through trees to evolve instead as walkers, hunters and ballroom dancers. That took a few million years and then, during the last few centuries we turned evolution on its head. We now know that walking is for losers. It’s inconvenient and uncomfortable compared to the alternatives. Who wants to walk?

More people than you might expect. Some communities are known their ‘walkability.’ Locally, Hudson and Chatham come to mind. There’s the Harlem Valley Rail Trail in Copake and all the paths and trails in conservation lands managed by the Columbia Land Conservancy. And now there’s an effort to add a new trail to the mix, the Albany-Hudson Electric Trail (AHET), which was introduced at a meeting earlier this month at Ichabod Crane High School.

The name of the new rail trail comes from both the history of the trail land and the way that land is used today. Let’s start with the present. The electric utility National Grid has agreed to allow AHET create major parts of a 35-mile long trail on a strip of land the company owns that’s nearly perfect for a trail. The land starts in the City of Rensselaer across the Hudson River from Albany and threads its way through Rensselaer County into Columbia County, where it meanders through the Towns of Kinderhook, Stuyvesant, Stockport and Greenport, ending in Hudson.

What’s the catch? High voltage power lines are strung overhead. From the illustrations presented by AHET at the ICC meeting it will be hard to imagine you’re lost in the woods as you hike beneath the cables. Still, think of what it means to have a public foot-and bike path to the state capital, which is inaccessible now except by motor vehicle unless you want to risk your life on the shoulder of Route 9.

Shall we stroll to Albany for dinner this evening? It seems unlikely anyone here would commute to Albany by trail, though you might bike there and back if you want a mini-Iron Man workout. A century ago it was possible to take an electrically powered trolley between Hudson and Albany, with local stops in between. And short walks between Kinderhook and Valatie might well become popular.

Residents of communities along the trail need to know things like: What will having this trail cost the taxpayers of the towns and villages through which it runs? Local municipalities will be asked to maintain their sections of the trail with mowing and plowing. Who sets the standard of care? Who monitors it? How have other trail host communities handled these issues?

In the past neighbors of other planned trails have expressed fears of suddenly having strangers nearby. They worry about their safety and about property values declining. The AHET folks should address those fears head-on. And trail supporters had better get active.

If you live in a Columbia County village or in Hudson you’re used to strangers walking by. Many of them contribute to our economy. More visitors mean more business. A healthy economy leads to increased property values. Ask people who already live near trails what they’ve experienced.

Some folks don’t want strangers showing up and that’s their right. But anyone who believes that people who walk or bike on trails are statistically more dangerous or criminally inclined better have some facts to prove it.

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