New York State Shows Growing Commitment to Trails
The New York State Legislature's full funding of the Empire State Trail shows the state's growing appreciation for the economic and health benefits of trails.
When the New York Legislature passed the 2018 state budget on Monday, it included $200 million to create the 750-mile Empire State Trail. It took the strong initiative of Governor Andrew Cuomo and many enlightened legislators, along with New York State Parks, the Hudson River Greenway, and the nonprofit Parks & Trails, to bring a project of this magnitude to reality.
Like the letter T on its side (see map) the Empire State Trail will connect Albany in the east to Buffalo in the west and the Canadian border near Montreal in the north to Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. (Some trail enthusiasts are already suggesting that it should also include an approximately 130-mile Long Island spur from Battery Park to Montauk.) The funds allocated by the legislature will be used to complete unfinished gaps in the east-to-west Erie Canal Trail, interconnect various rail trails between NYC and the southern Adirondacks, and improve Bicycle Route 9 north to Canada.
The Empire State Trail will traverse 27 counties, 130 municipalities, and 35 state parks. As the different trail gaps are connected, one can envision the Empire State Trail functioning like a spinal cord connecting many other trails into a statewide network. Over 50 bridges, culverts, and tunnels will need to be built or replaced over the next three to four years before the project is complete.
I expect the Empire Trail to be very popular, since the greatest increases in trail use are by “walkers” who prefer shorter, easy-to-moderate hikes, as well as bikers searching for off-road rides.
Though $200 million is a large sum, it has been shown that the Erie Canalway Trail, by itself, has an economic impact of $253 million annually. Putting trails at the top of the budget rather than the bottom is a recognition that trails and open space are essential, quality-of-life amenities in high demand.
Trails are at the heart of all issues the Trail Conference lobbies for, and the funding of the Empire State Trail is the perfect opportunity to remind our representatives that adequate operating budgets to protect our existing trail networks and precious parks, which are already serving so many so well, are also essential.
Join us in celebrating this recognition and doing our utmost to harness the growing enthusiasm for trails. Thank your representatives and let them know how important open space is to you (find contacts on our advocacy page), or email [email protected] to find out how to get involved with our trail advocacy efforts.