Sullivan County studies connecting rail trail

Daniel Axelrod
For Times Herald-Record as featured on

MOUNTAINDALE – Charlie Sanborn doesn’t do it for the money, but the money doesn’t hurt.

The owner of Cinder Track Bicycles in the hamlet of Mountaindale said that, more than anything, he runs a bike store because he loves seeing people’s smiles.

But Sanborn had his own big grin on Thursday when he booked 200 bike rentals, as riders tried out a recently resurfaced section of the Sullivan O&W Rail Trail near his bike shop.

Sullivan County leaders expect far more economic and recreational benefits from connecting additional trail sections. And they gave a sneak preview on Friday of their soon-to-be released report on doing just that.

By month’s end, the county Legislature-appointed Sullivan O&W Rail Trail Committee will release a feasibility report on linking a 50-mile former rail line from Livingston Manor to Wurtsboro. The county also studied the feasibility of connecting an old spur from Monticello to Port Jervis.

The rail line was run by the New York, Ontario & Western Railway, which closed in a 1957 bankruptcy. About 25 miles of the company’s 50-mile line through Sullivan County are currently used as a recreational trail, but they’re scattershot.

“The effects of connecting the trail would be incalculable,” said Sanborn, who thanked and praised the county for its recent work on the Mountaindale section. “Every community that has a rail trail can’t imagine life without it.”

Working with the county’s rail trail committee, Alta Consulting conducted the county’s forthcoming two-year study. The committee included representatives of the municipalities through which the completed trail would run and other stakeholders.

The former rail line passes through the towns of Rockland, Liberty, Fallsburg and Mamakating. Completed sections are located just south of Livingston Manor, from Liberty to the Hamlet of Ferndale, from Hurleyville to South Fallsburg, from Fallsburg to Mountaindale, plus in Wurtsboro.

Redoing and linking additional sections will take years and considerable resources, typically up to between $250,000 and $750,000 per mile, according to the county’s study. Time and costs will vary based on each section’s condition and whether it’s privately held.

Upgrading two existing miles of the trail in Fallsburg cost just $100,000. But connecting part of a different trail, a 2.2-mile stretch of the Orange County Heritage Trail, recently cost $227,272 per mile.

New York is experiencing a renaissance for connecting trail networks, said Freda Eisenberg, Sullivan County’s planning commissioner. Regardless of costs, the benefits of a unified Sullivan County rail trail would be great, she added.

A 2012 study of the Hurley Rail Trail in Ulster County, for example, estimated it received 81,000 users, while a 2008 study calculated that the trail’s users spent $2 million annually.

“You have to have a mindset going in that it’s a long-term commitment,” said Alan Sorensen, the rail trail committee’s chairman and a Sullivan County legislator. “There’s an economic benefit, a health benefit for the local residents of being able to get out and walk the trail, and the tourism benefit of providing a recreational resource for the region.”

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