Ulster 'rails to trails' program included in budget

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By Joe Moskowitz
Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget is calling for $2 million to be spent on expanding “rail trails’ in Ulster County. That has some people excited, while others fear it may signal the end of the line for what has become a popular tourist attraction.

The money would go toward extending a rail trail from Kingston to the Ashokan Reservoir. Ulster County Executive Mike Hein says it would create a “world class destination.” He says it would provide a big boost to tourism and provide many other economic benefits.

Making connections
Last October, Hein called for the creation of what would be perhaps the largest rail trail interconnect in New York State. It would be a multi-use trail running 38 miles from Kingston to Highmount.

But in order to create such an extensive rail trail, the existing rails would have to be torn up and that would mean the end of the Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR). Since 1983, the CMRR has been hauling tourists. It has relatively short runs from Mount Tremper to Phoenicia and another in Kingston. As soon as Hein announced his plan, CMRR officials began a campaign asking its supporters to write all elected officials, including Hein and Governor Cuomo, and tell them that it would be terrible idea. The CMRR says without tracks there can’t be trains and once the rails are gone, they would never be rebuilt. The CMRR would like to see rails and trails.

Should Hein get his wish, the rail trail which runs along the county-owned Ulster and Delaware railroad bed, would, at Highmount, meet the Delaware and Ulster Railroad (DURR) tracks. It is located in Delaware County and wouldn’t be directly affected by Hein’s plan. Halcottsville resident Dave Riordan is the executive director of the Arkville-based DURR, a tourist train. He also oversees the Catskill Scenic Trail. That’s a rail trail that runs along the trackless beds from Roxbury to Bloomville.

In agreement
Riordan agrees with the CMRR, he says rails and trails is the way to go. He said, “The engineering marvel that is a railroad is a terrible thing to destroy.” And he says if it is ever determined that we might want to restore railroad service, the cost of rebuilding the tracks would be so high as to make the chances slim to none.

Regardless of Hein’s plan and the governor’s budget proposal, it is not a done deal. It will cost a great deal more than $2 million and there is no guarantee that Ulster County will even get the money. It is just a proposal and the budget is subject to many changes before it is supposed to be passed the end of March.