Lingering concern over impact on village
With initial construction on the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail drawing near, the Cold Spring Planning Board met with project officials via Zoom on Aug. 11 to discuss how the village can influence planning.
Cold Spring will be the southern gateway to the 7.5-mile path, which will follow the Hudson River shoreline north to Beacon.
Trail development at Breakneck Ridge is slated to begin late this year. The second phase of construction, from Dockside Park to Little Stony Point and north along the shoreline, is scheduled for 2024, followed by the Breakneck-to-Beacon section.
In May, Planning Board Chair Jack Goldstein expressed concern that “over-tourism intentionally generated” by the Fjord Trail will have a negative effect on Cold Spring, which already experiences summer and fall crowding, parking and traffic issues.
“There needs to be some way for the village to express itself in the moderation of this project,” Goldstein said, citing, as an example, plans for a swimming area at Little Stony Point.
While the designs are beautiful, he said, the plans are ”presented in the context of usage by the community, but not all the people this project is going to bring here.”
Amy Kacala, the executive director of Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail (HHFT), said residents have provided input and want the trail to enhance the community’s quality of life by including amenities such as the swimming area and outdoor spaces for use by schools — facilities she said will help compensate for the disturbance caused by increased tourism.
The project’s roots, Kacala said, were in managing visitation that has increased in recent years even without the trail, along with the need for improved infrastructure.
“The question is, do we do nothing, and just suffer?” she asked. “Or do we try to come up with ways to channel visitation and try to manage it?”
MJ Martin, the trail’s director of development and community engagement, underlined that she and others working on the project live locally and want the trail to be a community resource.
“I want it to work for the community,” she said. She added that the proposed trail goes through state park land that is “for New York state residents, all of them. Everyone has a right to use these parks.”
Goldstein agreed, but not, he said, to the extent that the park becomes unusable. “Simply saying that the problem is getting worse and so, let’s make it even worse, doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.
He asked to what extent local input can influence the trail’s master plan and questioned who, including the state parks department, has the authority to make final decisions.
As an example, he asked, if the public spoke against building the trail out into the Hudson River to link Dockside with Little Stony Point, “can state parks compel HHFT to redesign the project?”
Kacala said state parks is conducting the environmental review and is also the lead agency on the project. She said changes to the master plan would involve dialogue between HHFT and state parks, “but it is state parks’ process, and they’re the lead agency.”
The village maintains Dockside Park though an agreement with state parks, which owns the property. The agreement can be canceled at any time by either party.
For HHFT, which will oversee the trail’s construction, to make improvements at Dockside, the agreement would have to be canceled and a new agreement created, Kacala said.
Mayor Kathleen Foley expressed concern over Cold Spring’s ability to address the trail’s impact. “This is a project not of the village’s choosing,” she said. ”It is far beyond the scope of the village budget.”
She took exception to a consultant for HHFT’s Shuttle and Parking Committee referring to the village as “a market.”
Foley said while Main Street is important, “we can’t be looked at as a ‘market.’ We have to be looked at as a community that needs to maintain its residential quality of life.”
She asked that HHFT study vehicular and pedestrian traffic flows, which she said have shifted significantly since the pandemic.
Kacala said the vehicular study was done and is being updated and that HHFT intends to undertake a pedestrian study.
Planning Board Member Yaslyn Daniels suggested HHFT provide an “overlay” of the master plan, detailing the process and how and when the village can comment.
On Tuesday (Aug. 16), Kacala said Daniels’ idea was a “big takeaway” from the meeting and that HHFT will develop a concise summary of “all planning processes started or planned so that it is clear what is being studied, when, and who will be involved.”
Goldstein said on Tuesday that while the overlay summary will be helpful, “in the broad sense, we are still operating in a world of pretty pictures and vague projections.”