The Catskill Mountain Rail Trail
The Catskill Mountain Rail Trail will be a 38-mile section of the tax payer owned Ulster & Delaware Railroad corridor, which starts in Kingston, then curves around the Ashokan Reservoir. In Boiceville the scenic tourist train will run for a 6 mile section up to Phoenicia. From there the trail will continue westward following the Esopus Creek, ending in Highmount.
How the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail will connect to the Ulster County Rail Trail Network
The Catskill Mountain Rail Trail will comprise one of the prime destinations of a county-wide unified rail trail network (the largest in New York State), with the City of Kingston as the central “hub” of three rail trails: Wallkill Valley Rail Trail (Route 32), O&W Rail Trail (Route 209) and the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail (Route 28).
This grand vision entails a network of rail trails that extend as “spokes” through the Wallkill Valley, Rondout Valley, Rondout Waterfront/Kingston Point and the Catskill Mountains that will meet at a midtown hub, known as the Greenline, in the historic City of Kingston. It will also connect at its southeastern end with the popular Walkway over the Hudson (over one million visitors annually), allowing tourists easy access to Ulster County via Metro North and Amtrak from New York City and beyond.
As was the case in the past, Kingston serves as a key focal point for economic development opportunities in the Catskill region, and the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail promises to be a significant component of the region’s recreational and tourism future.
The first phase of the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail project will convert 8 miles of under-utilized rail bed into a multi-use recreational trail from midtown Kingston to the Ashokan Reservoir. Subsequent phases of the project will extend the Trail along the full length of the Ashokan Reservoir. The Catskill Mountain Rail Trail could also connect to seasonal tourist railroads and extend well into Delaware County.
Catskill Mountain Rail Trail Development Steps & Issues (as shown in Ulster County’s PowerPoint rail trail presentation)
- Resolve Outstanding Legal Issues
- Contractual issues with Catskill Mountain Railroad Company Inc.
- Rail banking & protection of corridor right-of-way
- Clarify Strategy for Project Development
- County or non-profit lead– State agency involvement
- Find funding sources for planning and construction
- Agreements with NYC Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP)
- Address Constraints and Challenges in Corridor
- Crossings of Esopus Creek and roadways, e.g. Route 209
- Drainage improvements & replacement of damaged embankments
- Determine Long-Term Operations and Maintenance Model
- Public/ non-profit/ hybrid model
- Partnerships with businesses and State agencies (e.g., ORDA)
In the mid-1970s, the County purchased the old Ulster & Delaware Corridor running along the Esopus Creek as an almost 40-mile long linear park intended for the benefit of the public. The corridor was later leased to the Catskill Mountain Railroad Company Inc., a for-profit scenic railroad company. The Catskill Mountain Railroad Company Inc.’s current lease, signed in 1991, calls for Catskill Mountain Railroad Company Inc. to restore to active service one additional mile of track per year for the life of the lease. Over the last thirty years, during the Catskill Mountain Railroad Company Inc.’s two leaseholds, the company has never been able to keep more than approximately eight miles of track in use, even at the height of their operations (pre-Hurricane Irene). Due to this and several other cases where the CMRR Inc. is not upholding its lease, there has been recent legal action to demand that the railroad comply with its lease.
Since the best efforts of the Catskill Mountain Railroad Company Inc. have left them far short of their obligations and aspirations, with huge environmental and financial hurdles looming, Ulster County residents deserve immediate access to all those sections of the corridor that the railroad has been unable to maintain and will never be able to put into use and maintain. As with other rail trails around the country, the railroad Right-of-Way will be preserved via rail-banking, so that in the future a railway could be brought in, if a viable business plan for doing that emerges.
Catskill Mountain Railroad Company Inc.’s lease on the U&D corridor expires in 2016. The impending lease expiration has left stakeholders to consider alternate uses of the largely underutilized U&D corridor to more broadly benefit local communities and the Catskill Mountain region as a whole. Considering the recreational, health and economic development benefits a rail trail would provide, and the broad-based, non-partisan grassroots, county, state and federal support for this concept, the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail has emerged as the highest and best use.
The Catskill Mountain Rail Trail has rapidly attracted enthusiastic supporters at local, county, state and federal levels. Perhaps most important of all, the CMRT is finding grassroots advocates among children, families, adults, the elderly, and disabled individuals, including cyclists, skiers, walkers, hikers and runners across Ulster County.
At the County government level, County Executive Michael Hein has devised a plan to quickly initiate work on the CMRT. This bold action realizes a vision for the U&D corridor as part of unified, county-wide rail trail network that has been long championed by the Ulster County Legislature.
Recognizing its remarkable potential, Governor Andrew Cuomo included $2 Million in his 2013 budget to move the CMRT forward. And shortly afterward, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer stopped in Kingston to view the corridor and pledge his support in obtaining federal approvals.
Support for the CMRT in concept is also documented in a number of County studies and plans, including:
- 2006: Rail + Trail Feasibility Study for U&D Corridor
- 2007: Ulster County Open Space Plan (goals include linking County’s rail trails and connecting neighborhoods with open space)
- 2008: Ulster County Non-Motorized Transportation Plan
- 2011: Ulster County Transportation Council Year 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan
Each of the municipalities through which the U&D Corridor runs (Kingston, Ulster, Hurley, Woodstock, Olive, and Shandaken) have, in their Master Plans or otherwise, directly identified trail network development and expansion as a community priority. Kingston, Ulster, Hurley, Olive, and Shandaken have specifically identified the U&D Corridor as an opportunity site.
In October 2012, the Ulster County Trails Advisory Committee voted unanimously to “support the vision for a world-class, county-wide, unified trail network as articulated by County Executive Mike Hein in his proposed budget for Ulster County in 2013.”
Beside Woodstock Land Conservancy, which along with Catskill Mountainkeeper is a lead advocate and sponsor of this site, a number of other land trusts are involved in this effort to make the unified county-wide network a reality, including the Kingston Land Trust, Wallkill Valley Land Trust, Open Space Institute, and other organizations such as Walkway across the Hudson, Hudson Valley Greenway, Parks & Trails New York, National Park Service, Hudson Valley Rail Trail, Fats In The Cats mountain biking club.
If you would like to join the movement and become a supporter, please see the “How you can help” section of this website.