Claire Costantino thanked the visionaries, dignitaries and volunteers who made Rail Trail East a reality.
“Thanks [to] those people who dared to dream [and] found the courage to act on the plan. The Association is proud to have been part of that dream. [The result] is truly amazing -- it’s an experience like you’ve never had before,” said Costantino.
Rail Trail East begins at Commercial Avenue, expanding across Route 44/55 via an arched pedestrian bridge, under Route 9W through a 12’ high by 16’ wide underpass, through to Mile Hill Road. Sweeping rock cuts serve as a reminder that the pathway was once a major thoroughfare for railroad commerce -- as does a 1926 Pennsylvania Central Railroad caboose, which houses one of two new informational kiosks at the eastern trailhead.
It is the newest addition to the region’s Hudson River Greenway Trails.
Funding for the $3.2 million project included a $802,000 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) grant distributed through the Ulster County Municipal Planning Organization, as well as federal stimulus funds.
“This project was done on time and under budget. We did it again -- happy trails everybody,” said Ray Costantino.
The original trail, built in 1999, extends from Commercial Avenue in the Highland hamlet to Tony Williams Park.
“Never in our wildest imagination did we think we would be celebrating the opening of the rail trail that continues people’s enjoyment [just] one year after the [Walkway’s opening]. This is an enormously important day,” said Ash, who cited a Department of Parks study that found that for every $1 spent on tourism infrastructure in New York State, the state earns back $5.
“It is a quantifiable, wonderful investment in our State of New York -- and parks do it,” she said.
Hinchey said that the new trail would add to the already-evident benefits of the Walkway.
“Just look at all the cars that are parked here today. There was an expectation of 200,000 [visitors]; more than 700,000 came in here this year. It is amazing -- and [Rail Trail East] is just an amazing addition to this whole prospect,” said Hinchey, who helped pioneer and secure funding through Hudson River Valley Greenway and the Hudson River Valley Heritage Area.
After the ceremony, the public shared a light lunch provided by Highland Boy Scout Troop 70, and walked, ran and biked the newly opened section of the trail.
“This is a proud moment for me,” said Everton Henriquez, co-founder of the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association.
The Rail Trail was made possible in part by the donation of the property to the Town of Lloyd by the Ulster County Legislature, led by former legislators Charlie Busick and Danny Alfonso, he said.
“It took 11 years from [the first ribbon cutting] to now and it’s good to see people come together on this very happy day. To me, the dream really is to finish the westward portion, linking it with the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail,” said Henriquez.
The Town of Lloyd received a grant for $1.93 million from the New York State Department of Transportation Enhancement Program (TEP) for Rail Trail West -- to expand the trail westward from Tony Williams Park to Route 299, adding one mile. The improvements will include paved walkways, interpretive signage, two ADA-compliant parking lots, and a Riverside Road underpass. When completed, the Hudson Valley Rail Trail will extend approximately 7 miles through the Town of Lloyd.