Scenic Hudson says construction planned for 2021
The days of seeing hikers walk along Route 9D may soon be over, according to Scenic Hudson, which plans to begin construction on the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail between Cold Spring and Beacon in the fall of 2021, with a goal of completing the project by 2027.
The organization said it hopes, as part of the next phase of an initiative that began in 2006, to construct a bridge over the train tracks at Breakneck Ridge, eliminating the need for hikers to walk through the tunnel; increase the number of lots to reduce roadside parking, and add paths between Route 9D and the Hudson River to keep the roadsides clear of pedestrians.
Volunteers on the Philipstown Greenway Committee envisioned a pedestrian trail from the Cold Spring to Beacon train stations nearly 15 years ago that would attract visitors and ease congestion. The project was taken up by Scenic Hudson, which, after years of public input, released a master plan in 2015.
Since then, the project has been idle, leading to speculation that it was a bust.
But Hank Osborn, who was on the volunteer committee and continues to work on the project as an employee of the nonprofit New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, said that nothing could be further from the truth.
“There’s so much happening, but it’s 100 percent behind the scenes,” he said. “Things are happening fast. I know it doesn’t seem fast because there’s still no trail. But to do it right, we need to do it carefully.”
Over the past five years, the project has been re-imagined from the ground up, said Amy Kacala, the executive director of a newly created nonprofit operating under Scenic Hudson’s wing called Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, Inc. The organization has its own board of directors and will conduct its own fundraising while working with the consortium of public and private groups on the project, she said.
The consortium includes volunteer groups such as the Little Stony Point Citizens’ Association; state organizations such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; and nonprofits such as the Lenape Center, Hudson Highlands Land Trust, Riverkeeper and Open Space Institute.
Kacala said that crowding at Breakneck over the past few years made it clear that the original plan for the trail as a single track wasn’t going to cut it.
“There was this growing problem of congestion, congestion management and the rate of high visitation,” she said. “For a community like Cold Spring, receiving that much visitation becomes challenging. The solutions are significantly expensive, and it would be hard for the community to mobilize the resources to implement them on its own.”
The revised plans call for the project to be a wider, multi-use trail with destinations throughout to give visitors something to do besides visit Breakneck.
One example, Kacala said, would be increased beach access at Little Stony Point. For years, the Little Stony Point Citizens Association has wanted to create another beach area in the northeast corner of the park but been thwarted by invasive species overgrowth. The Fjord Trail project would remove the invasive species and create a family-friendly beach with a driftwood play area and more access for schoolchildren to study the river. That would allow Sandy Beach, the existing river access, to become a quieter, more contemplative space, she said.
North of Breakneck, the trail would wind closer to the river and provide views of Bannerman’s Castle. Kacala said that she heard from locals who live near Bannerman’s that tourists, looking for a better view of the castle, have trespassed and in some cases even come onto residents’ porches.
A “Forest Nets” section closer to Beacon would elevate the trail along the tree canopies, overlooking restored native undergrowth. With its own parking, Kacala said that this section could become a community gathering spot.
Osborn pointed to the newly opened Ashokan Rail Trail as a model for the project, although he said the Fjord Trail will have its own character.
One way it will be similar is the extensive use of trail stewards. Visitors to the Ashokan Rail Trail are greeted by yellow-jacketed stewards who answer questions and provide assistance.
The present timeline calls for the Fjord Trail to be completed in 2027, Kacala said, although the fact that her staff can’t get in the field to do a new environmental review may cause delays. Once social gathering is allowed, she plans to host a series of public sessions.
“I had just started scheduling small group conversations about the project,” Kacala said. “But the first one had to be a video call.”