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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 28, 2010

County purchases defunct track
Rail trail awaits funding

By Philippa Stasiuk

VOORHEESVILLE — During last May’s Memorial Day parade, Mary Beth Dollard and her son Sean blasted Queen’s “Bicycle” from their pickup truck float, heralding the planned nine-mile biking and hiking trail from Albany to Voorheesville.

This month, the Dollards’ dream, along with many others, came one step closer to reality when Albany County announced that it had bought the nine-mile stretch of the Delaware & Hudson Railway between the Port of Albany and Voorheesville from Canadian Pacific Railway. The county paid $700,000, half from a grant from the state Parks and Recreation Department and the other half from Scenic Hudson, a non-profit land conservation organization.

Dollard is one of several villagers who are part of “Friends of the Rail Trail” or FORT, a committee of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy that, for the past year, has both rallied public support for the trail and played an active role in making sure public input is part of the trail’s planning process.

“It was one of the best things I’d ever heard, that they were trying to do something with that empty train corridor,” said Dollard this week. “When we put up the huge signs in the parade that said the rail trail was coming, the response was overwhelming. I believe it will be well used by this town and not just for biking and running. I have a pair of cross-country skis that sit in my shed because I don’t have a place to use them.”

Seeking funds

Although Canadian Pacific removed the steel rails several years ago, the trail will still need a $7.8 million makeover before people can use it recreationally and Mary Duryea, a spokesperson for Albany County, said that, until the money is obtained, construction won’t begin.

The county is depending on two grants to pay for the trail, one of which has already been allotted from the Federal Transportation Improvement Program for $2.4 million. The other, which could pay up to $5 million of the trail’s costs, is from the Department of Energy and funded through the 2009 Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Called the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, it aims to fund programs and projects that reduce energy use and fossil-fuel emissions.

According to Dan Rain, co-chair of FORT, the inherently green aspect of the rail trail makes it a perfect candidate for this new federal funding.

“The Capital District Transportation Committee estimates that “in the peak period, trail users would make 255,930 trips, which would save 18,800 gallons of fuel each year,” said Rain. “If you use the EPA’s estimate of pounds of carbon per gallon of gas, that would reduce pollution by 365,000 pounds of carbon emission per year. That makes it a very sustainable project.”

Beyond fitness

Heaped on top of the health and environmental benefits of a rail trail, FORT members also cite the potential boon a rail trail would be for local businesses. In 2009, the Rails to Trails Conservancy, based in Washington, D.C., surveyed users of 14 different trails in the Northeast and found that, for each trail, users each year spent an average of $4.14 million for soft goods, such as food and water.

If they reach the end of the rail trail and there’s no more,” said Dollard, “they’ll stop and come into the village on their bikes and they’ll want to patronize whatever businesses are here. Maybe they’ll ride to get a pizza at Smitty’s or an ice cream at Stewart’s, and then ride back.”

Now that the county owns the trail, the question is no longer: Will there be one? Rather, it is: When will construction begin? Duryea said that, while Albany County is researching other grants and potential stimulus money, the Friends of the Rail Trail are waiting to apply for other grants until the Department of Energy announces block grant recipients some time this spring.

“There are certainly less grant opportunities out there at this time because of the economic situation,” said Duryea. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

 “And we have to be patient,” said Dollard. “If it means both grants won’t come through to complete the trail on time, we have to keep the interest up. We’d love to have everyone contact Mike Breslin,” she said of the Albany County executive. “He’s been instrumental.  I’d like to see other people, not just from Voorheesville, but Bethlehem and Albany write to him and let him know how important this trail is to us.”

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