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'Trails Across NY' Advocates For Empire State Trail

Trails Across New York
Jesse King
New York Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy speaks in Albany at the launch of the "Trails Across New York" campaign.

Supporters kicked off a new “Trails Across New York” campaign Monday to seek further support for a multi-use trail system in the state.

The Empire State Trail is set to be completed in 2020, but the Trails Across New York campaign says continued support is needed. At the state capitol Monday, Parks and Trails New York Executive Director Robin Dropkin laid out the project’s goals.

“Essentially, the Trails Across New York agenda calls for three major things: the creation of a statewide multi-use trails plan – and there’s already legislation introduced in the Assembly and the Senate to that effect –, an extension of the Empire State Trail through Long Island and to other parts of the state, and some policies that make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians," Dropkin explained. 

Those policies include closing a loophole in the state’s Complete Streets law, establishing a three-foot standard between cyclists and motorists on the road, and clarifying the legal status of ebikes. Lawmakers approved $200 million for work on the Empire State Trail in 2017, which at 750 miles would be the nation’s longest multi-use trail. State Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, an Albany Democrat, says the project aims to connect all areas of the state.

So aside from going from east to west across the entire state, we want to go north to south," Fahy notes. "The goal is that you can get to any parts of the state, essentially, from New York City to Buffalo, or New York City to Plattsburgh.”

Supporters say the Empire State Trail can bring cycling and historical tourism to many of the “trail towns” it connects. The Empire State Trail initiative includes a website to direct trail users to local businesses and historic sites. Parks and Trails New York says the Erie Canalway Trail – a component of the Empire State Trail – already has an annual economic impact of $253 million and 3,400 jobs. Assemblywoman Fahy says the trail is crucial for upstate New York.

“There is a wonderful multiplier effect," says Fahy. "When we get people outside, and enjoying [this] outdoor recreation, not only is it good for the environment, good for the health and mental health — this is absolutely good for the bottom line and the statistics are rather extraordinary.”

She adds connecting the Empire State Trail to Long Island would allow business to flow upstate and vice-versa. Martin Buchman, an innkeeper from Stony Brook, is rooting for the Long Island extension.

“If you build it they will come, it will bring tourist dollars. Cyclists are nicknamed ‘wallets on wheels’ because they tend to spend more on food, on beverage, on outdoor equipment," says Buchman. "Tell me, have you ever seen someone on a bike trail who was in a bad mood?”

While the campaign isn’t necessarily seeking additional funding in the budget, Parks and Trails New York’s Dropkin emphasizes a need for a "coordinated statewide blueprint," and dedicated funding in the future.

“The statewide trails plan that legislation introduced is really to look at every part of the state and see how trails that either exist or could be developed could then connect with the Empire State Trail to really create a real network," expalins Dropkin. "And we kind of see it playing out similar to the Open Space plan, which is updated every five years, and there’s a lot of regional input, regional advisory groups. So that’s how we’re really looking at it.”

The call comes as state lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo face an April 1 state budget deadline. 

Jesse King is the host of "51%" and a producer for WAMC's afternoon news programs. She also produces the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."
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