Infrastructure work could start in 2015
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Joined by public officials from three localities, on a rain-splattered night last week about 125 members of the public gathered indoors beneath Breakneck Ridge for the debut of a route map for the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, a pedestrian and bicyclist track intended to link Cold Spring and Beacon.
At an Oct. 23 forum held at the Chalet on the Hudson, consultants from the RBA Group presented the trail’s preferred course between the Cold Spring and Beacon train stations, though the actual inch-by-inch and mile-by-mile siting and way the trail hugs the ground or river (or rises above them) remain to be determined through more nitty-gritty work.
“This is a really, really challenging place to try to put the trail. There is very little land to work with and the land that’s there is pretty darn steep,” said Jackson Wandres, RBA director of landscape architecture and urban planning. “We looked at all sorts of things,” he explained as he led the audience through PowerPoint slides on the projected route. “The final design of the trail is going to be interesting, to say the least.”
Wandres estimated the total cost of the multiuse trail at $15.5 million, excluding a shoreline section from Little Stony Point, a New York State Park site just beyond the Cold Spring boundary, and Breakneck Ridge, about a mile north.
Snaked between the mountains on the east and Hudson River on the west, the trail would parallel the Metro-North Railroad tracks and Route 9D, a busy and narrow, twisting highway. Currently, throngs of hikers walk along 9D to reach paths winding up the hills, while cars overflow small lots and park in long lines along the scant verge.
A coalition of governmental, private and citizen interests advocates the Fjord Trail as a safe way to bring pedestrians and bicyclists, including present residents, from Cold Spring and Beacon to the mountain paths and allow them to walk or bike all or part of the 9-mile distance between the two towns, enjoying the vistas, boosting the local economy, promoting a form of ecotourism and decreasing auto congestion.
Intense trail discussions began in 2013, and last week’s public meeting followed two others this year on the initial “trail-blazing”: creation of a master plan that — after tweaking — could be finalized by December. Beyond that lie improvements to the existing parking lots; repairs to Cold Spring sidewalks leading from the village’s train station and extending to Little Stony Point; applications for grants and financial aid as needed; new signage; fulfillment of regulatory requirements; and, if all goes well, construction and completion of the trail itself.
Parking lot and sidewalk work could begin in 2015. In addition, trail supporters want to hold a Fjord Trail race next spring. Wandres said that along with a sidewalk running out Fair Street–River Road from the heart of Cold Spring to Little Stony Point, improvements at the southernmost end of the trail would likely include a reconfigured River Road–Route 9D (Morris Avenue) intersection, currently a dangerous and sharp Y.
Likewise, the limited-use Breakneck railroad stop, which takes hikers close to the highly popular Breakneck path, would get upgraded. The northern end of the trail would wind through Beacon.
Speeding and parking
Audience members asked about potentially hazardous vehicle maneuvering along 9D and the trail; parking difficulties (even with lot improvements); and why, given the numerous pedestrians on Route 9D and the road’s inherent dangers at present, its speed limit has not been reduced, despite repeated calls for action.
“It’s been discussed. That’s up to the state,” the Department of Transportation, Wandres replied. “They don’t like to reduce speed limits where they really don’t think it will be obeyed.”
The trail could enter Little Stony Point via the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks and proceed along the waterfront — a feature that caught the attention of Cold Spring resident and architect James Hartford, the president of the Little Stony Point Citizens Association.
“I’m just a bit concerned about it being a little heavy-handed in some places, that the experience of nature could be obliterated” in areas such as Little Stony Point, Hartford said. “I feel that place is special by itself and what you’re proposing is a pretty heavy impact on what is a forest preserve.”
Wandres responded that “we didn’t actually get into any details as to what we propose,” beyond bringing the trail into Little Stony Point and along the shore.
The forum drew Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea, Fishkill Town Supervisor Bob LaColla and Beacon Mayor Randy Casale, all of whom welcomed the audience and the concept of the trail.
“We’re super-fortunate to live where we live and we’re super fortunate to have this” range of interest and support, Shea said. He added that the trail “has forged a partnership that is really powerful — between state and local officials [and] between public and private. And everybody knows when they see a great idea.”
Casale tied the name of Beacon as “a shining light” to wider illumination emanating from the trail effort. “We’re going to be, and the Fjord Trail should be, the beacon that leads people [to see] that if we work together good things can happen,” he said. “Instead of thinking small and just locally, we have to think regionally.”
LaColla mentioned the “energy” and sense of the “positive” the project generates. “Almost anybody that has touched on this has liked the idea. They love the idea and want it to happen,” he said. “Speaking as somebody involved in government a while: it’s unusual when everybody comes together like this.”
Various stakeholders have participated in the trail preparation, including the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, Scenic Hudson, Open Space Institute, Hudson River Foundation, Hudson River Valley Greenway, Putnam and Dutchess counties, towns of Philipstown and Fishkill, Village of Cold Spring, City of Beacon, Friends of Fahnestock & Hudson Highlands State Parks; NY-NJ Trail Conference, Little Stony Point Citizens Association, three New York state government departments, Central Hudson Gas & Electric and Metro-North Railroad, as well as residents.
Photos by L.S. Armstrong