New guide is meant to inspire creation of more greenway trails

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Albany County’s Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail is used by people of all ages, accommodating runners, walkers, cyclists, wheelchair users, and babies in strollers.

New York state has over 2,000 miles of greenway trails — shared-use paths for people of all ages — but Parks & Trails New York says that network can be nearly doubled.

The not-for-profit trail advocacy group has partnered with the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation to publish a guide this year that is meant to inspire communities to develop more trails.

The handbook, “Trails Across New York: A Grassroots Guide to Developing Greenway Trails,” is available online through the Parks & Trails website.

“Often born from old rail lines and canal towpaths, greenway trails are popular local resources and provide essential public health infrastructure for active recreation and connection to nature,” Parks & Trails says.

“Greenway trails,” it goes on, “are also valuable tourism generators, attracting thousands of new visitors to New York State each year, especially since the opening of the  increasingly popular 750-mile Empire State Trail.”

The 2021 Statewide Greenway Trails Plan identified the need to provide resources for local advocates to navigate the process for future trail development, and the new handbook is meant to fill that gap — using a step-by-step process.

The handbook includes nitty-gritty details like do-it-yourself mapping techniques and how to determine costs as well as overarching guidance on challenges like dealing with opposition or putting together well-rounded trail committees.

The handbook’s first section outlines the steps needed to get a project started: from identifying the corridor to cultivating a vision that will help inspire engagement and public support, eventually leading to buy-in from state or local government.

The second section describes the trail planning and development process, including conducting a feasibility study for a trail, securing the corridor through purchase or easements, identifying grant funding opportunities, and finally getting the project designed, permitted, and built.

Finally, the guide provides guidance for attracting visitors and maintaining the value of local trails once they are built. 

On town trail programs, the guide has this to say: “Greenways can help unite community members, improve access to recreational opportunities for residents, and grow the local economy by attracting visitors.

“The growth of outdoor recreation opportunities directly benefits area restaurants, lodging, and service stations and spurs the growth of businesses selling recreational gear and other goods, sometimes called the ‘outdoor recreation economy.’ Rail-trails, especially, can breathe new life into small towns no longer served by the rail line.”

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