Cold Spring Raises Concerns with Fjord Trail Officials

Environmental impact study to be released soon

In opening the Wednesday (Sept. 28) Cold Spring Village Board workshop, Mayor Kathleen Foley recalled a recent conversation with MJ Martin, director of development and community engagement for the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail.

Regarding the trail, a linear park that will follow the Hudson River from Dockside Park north to Beacon, Martin had asked: “What is it that Cold Spring needs?”

Virtually the entire two-hour session was devoted to answering Martin’s seemingly simple question.

But the Village Board, members of the Planning Board and public provided less than simple reactions and requests about the trail and the potential impact of the project, which has raised questions among officials and at least some residents for nearly 10 years.

Those concerns are coming to a head. When HHFT releases its Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement, which is expected by the end of the year, Cold Spring officials and the public will have 30 days to provide feedback.

One of the chief complaints voiced on Wednesday was a perceived shortage of information.

Foley, for example, pointed out that the HHFT’s revised 2020 Master Plan is not available on its website. “It’s confusing to have only the outdated 2015 Master Plan available for most people to see,” she said,

The mayor also said revisions to a scoping document that shows the trail going through Dockside has not been made available. Preliminary plans featured routes using either Fair Street or Route 9D.

Planning Board Member Yaslyn Daniels echoed that sentiment, commenting that the Planning Board has “concluded we don’t have enough information to provide concrete recommendations to the Village Board.”

She and other Planning Board Members raised concerns about a range of issues and bette use of, from the trail’s potential impact on village infrastructure and quality of life to operations, finance and sustainability.

Planning Board Member Matt Francisco said HHFT visitors will likely result in increased demand for handicapped accessibility on Main Street, “a very expensive proposition,” he said.

He emphasized the need to protect Dockside Park, which he described as a “fragile” environment that plays an important part in village life, including as host to the Cold Spring Film Society’s summer series. He cautioned that no one can guarantee that the film society will be able to use the space after the state parks department takes over operation of Dockside as part of the HHFT.

“That would be a real loss to the community; it’s a very Cold Spring thing,” he said.

Dockside

The shoreline at Dockside Park has been fortified. (Photo by M. Turton)

Francisco said that while HHFT operations can benefit from public-private partnerships, there are limitations to what village infrastructure can accommodate.  “There is only one way in and one way out of lower Main Street and Dockside,” he said.

Planning Board Chair Jack Goldstein outlined three questions submitted to HHFT that he said have not been answered: Who owns property along the entire HHFT route? What steps led to what he described as a “counterintuitive” decision that the Breakneck portion of the trail would have an environmental impact? What is the history of use of federal funds for HHFT in the area adjacent to Cold Spring’s National Historic District?

“It became evident that the HHFT organization is not obliged to provide us with that information,” due to the nature of its partnership with the state, he said. “That still remains a concern.”

He focused on “over-tourism” that he said the project could create, an outcome he said results from projects that put “unsustainable pressure on local resources and facilities.” That pressure “can be just as destructive as shoreline flooding,” he said.

Goldstein said that over-tourism can be addressed scientifically. “It’s an opportunity for real innovation,” such as by using computer modeling that responds to evolving factors during HHFT planning.
Goldstein said the village can’t afford modeling, but that state parks could compel HHFT to pay for it.

“The village deserves a tool to help manage over-tourism,” he said. “It is quite clear the project is intended to be a major tourist attraction.”

Foley said some issues, such as a shortage of public restrooms, will be resolved as the HHFT plan proceeds. But she also reflected on something that she said Francisco told her years ago: That Cold Spring has something unique that most places have lost.

“It is our job to protect that,” she said. “We’ve all visited soul-less places that are nothing but tourist destinations. We have an opportunity here, a new public park being developed. How do we do it in a way that’s the gold standard for sustainability?”

Foley requested HHFT:

  • Post the revised Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement, when released, on its website.
  • Reconsider Cold Spring’s status as an “interested agency,” giving the village a more significant role in the planning.
  • Given the potential impacts within the Historic District, demonstrate why HHFT’s lead agency should be exempt from local zoning and permitting.
  • Add the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the aqueduct, as an interested agency because as HHFT is developed, demands on the village water system will increase.
  • Conduct a tourism sustainability study.
  • Conduct a baseline vehicle and pedestrian traffic study for the village.
  • Post the current Master Plan on its website.
  • Include a member of the Planning Board on all working groups.
  • Host public presentations and comment sessions for each working group.

Amy Kacala, HHFT’s executive director, said she attended the meeting mainly to listen but acknowledged village officials’ frustration at not having the DGEIS and all data, analysis, traffic and environmental impacts contained “under one nice clean cover.”

“I understand the hunger for that,” she said. “It’s open because we keep looking at more things  and want to be thorough. For example, we’re redoing the traffic counts” to ensure they are up to date.

“Nobody wants more than MJ and I to have that document finalized for public review,” Kacala said. “It’s been slower than any of us wanted, but all of that is forthcoming.”

During the public comment period, village resident John Martin said the project should “spread out” the large number of people eager to hike area trails.

But village resident Michael Reisman asked: “What is the problem you’re trying to solve with the Dockside connector?” — a proposed HHFT section from Dockside to Little Stony Point. “If the problem is over-visitation, will creating a bridge to Dockside help or harm? I’ve seen no evidence it will solve that problem; I think it will harm Dockside.”

In other business…

Foley noted that the water emergency conservation order remains active, with village reservoirs at about 60 percent capacity. The order applies to all users of the Village of Cold Spring system, including in Nelsonville and some properties in Philipstown. The restrictions include no landscape or garden watering; no car or structure washing; no refilling of pools or hot tubs; limit domestic use as much as possible (full dishwasher and laundry loads; wash dishes from a dishpan, not with running water; turn off faucet while brushing teeth; reduce shower time); restaurants should not provide tap water unless requested; and businesses should use the minimum necessary to operate.

6 thoughts on “Cold Spring Raises Concerns with Fjord Trail Officials

  1. Cold Spring is overcrowded now. We will lose out beautiful village piece by piece. There are more important things to improve. It’s not necessary, and we don’t need more tourists.

  2. We should also expect the village and trail to be asked to accommodate special events. This weekend the Walkway Over the Hudson has Walktoberfest, with 120 vendors, shuttle buses, food and alcohol. It’s easy to imagine that various charities and for-profit groups would be eager to use the trail as an additional draw for their events.

  3. It has become clear that – after receiving pushback from Fair Street residents over the original village route – HHFT has chosen the Dockside terminus for the Fjord Trail as a facile alternative in order to sidestep official Cold Spring Village input.

    Residents of Market, Lower Main, New, Fish, North and West streets should be given a similar seat at the table as Fair Street residents were, as they will be just as impacted by the Dockside Terminus as Fair Street residents would have been impacted by the village (Fair Street) route.

    Furthermore, how can HHFT prove that all traffic to the proposed Fjord Trail will be routed through the Dockside trailhead and/or their proposed shuttle bus? If a resident or visitor is standing at the corner of Main and 9D, or Main and Fair, directed by GPS to head as a crow flies directly down the hill to Little Stony Point, along roads which currently have no sidewalks or shoulders – what measures will be in place to ensure that they are compelled to walk 1/2+ mile out of their way – under the underpass or over Lunn Terrace – to start their Fjord Trail journey at the official Dockside trailhead?

    If Cold Spring pushes back too much, my instinct is that HHFT will just switch to a Little Stony Point terminus and be done with it all. We need real, safe access to Little Stony Point for residents and visitors – and we need to save Dockside from overdevelopment/overuse. The obvious solution is bike/ped improvements on 9D and Fair Street connecting the Village to Little Stony Point, regardless of what happens at Dockside – a multipoint trailhead that responds realistically to the facts on the ground.

  4. As pertains to the Sept. 28 village meeting discussing the Fjord Trail, at which I spoke, I was somewhat disappointed with the outcome, but hopeful for the Planning Board’s intervention. I again questioned the need for such a bridge, and the litany of serious problems it could create, first and foremost, compromising the fabric, integrity and character of the village. Secondly, I would judge the village’s support of the bridge as fiscally irresponsible: the operation and maintenance of the bridge and village infrastructure to accommodate it is simply untenable — the village can’t even afford to maintain public restrooms: the village could potentially be bankrupted by the bridge and its impact.

    I thought all Planning Board members spoke eloquently and provided future insights that should inform the mayor and board of trustees, to scuttle support for the ill-conceived idea of a pedestrian bridge from Dockside. These insights included: overcrowding, operational and infrastructure costs and quality of life issues, and threaten the very soul of Cold Spring – its idyllic and delicately charming allure – that should alarm village residents.

    Whereas Planning Board members seem to already see the forest for the trees, the mayor seemed to ride the fence and adopt the neutral position that the village should wait and see what the various traffic and environmental impact studies turn up. There is no need to wait. Clearly, the Planning Board is better suited and far more experienced in such matters. I stated that it would be a dark day indeed when we have to rely on the government and developers’ conflicted-interest impact studies to sway our decisions. I believe that the concept of the bridge prima facie is more than enough to garner fierce opposition.

    Part of the reason more opposition isn’t voiced is owing to the disingenuity of the developers and calculated failure to inform the Planning Board and village residents of its intentions. I daresay a public polling would evoke far more opposition to the project

    The bridge is a solution in search of a problem that could potentially create insurmountable and irrevocable liabilities for the village that the Planning Board and myself have been pointing out, since 2016. As Fair Street already conducts pedestrians to Little Stony Point, the idea of a bridge to the same destination is redundant. Furthermore, it directs people in the opposite direction of nearly all village businesses. Why would any village support that counterintuitive notion?

    That said, the only argument for the bridge outstanding is that of NIMBY constituents who dislike seeing the hikers pass by, who would theoretically be shunted to the bridge instead of their street. Naturally, hikers will use Fair Street, bridge or no bridge.

    In my vocation of capital expenditure and large scale planning, a project begins with a feasibility study, and its accompanying research. This was also pointed out by Michael Reisman. In this way is the project being conducted backward, and more importantly – disingenuously by the developers, who plan to break ground in 2023.

    Clearly, the decision whether to support the project is large and contentious. For this reason, I believe it exceeds the compass of any ephemeral or transient official(s) to have the power to support it or not. It is not a political decision, but a practical one. Is it too much to ask politicians to be practical?

  5. The trail, per the HHFT website, will be “a future linear park on the Hudson River, envisioned by locals to address safety, manage visitation, and respect the landscape”.

    The vision has changed drastically from the start. Many locals have been alienated. Safety has been disregarded. Increased access (visitation) is planned. Respect for the landscape is questionable.

    This pathway or boardwalk along the river is more than a Trojan horse, it is a boondoggle in both time and money. The cost of the bridge portion over the tracks at Breakneck is $50 million. That means the bridge, at 437 feet long, will cost $114,000 per foot. This seems incredibly expensive and is just one small portion of the full 7.5 miles.

    What will maintenance costs over future decades? The river is rising. Scenic Hudson estimates six feet in the next century. With parts of this trail in a flood zone, the upkeep and maintenance of the structure will grow. Will the HHFT, as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, be able care for the trail properly over the next 50 years?

    Successful projects depend on communication and dialogue, awareness and trust, and a clear understanding of costs, benefits and value. It seems the Fjord Trail is floundering and needs to reconnect to its mission and its constituents.

  6. Isn’t it ironic that for generations the humble residents of Philipstown and the Village of Cold Spring have fought so hard and courageously to preserve our environment and our quality of life here in the amazing Hudson Valley only to have New York State parks and a coalition of established local environmental groups betray those interests for a “legacy linear park,” aka Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail?

    A true Trojan Horse, these groups, backed by a very sizeable endowment from a wealthy Garrison resident, stealthily slid under our watchful guard. Now, the very character and reason we all live in the village is in jeopardy.

    Hudson Valley Fjord Trail, Inc. (HHFT) has determined what’s best for us and where the southern entrance of the park will be, and in so doing, the fate of the village. The Village of Cold Spring will be collateral damage, deemed necessary and acceptable by HHFT in order to build its “legacy” park.

    They would have you believe that nothing significant has really changed since the project’s conception, that their outreach to the Village of Cold Spring has been significant, that they are listening to the residents, that this project will mitigate current tourism problems, that this project is not segmented, that, through proper planning, all will be well in the village once the park is complete, that this project will help protect the surrounding park and most importantly, that this project is evolving and not “fait accompli.”

    Having been involved with this project as both a Philipstown councilman, husband of a Village of Cold Spring Trustee and as the mayor of Cold Spring for seven years, I can say with authority and certainty that much has changed since the initial conversations in the early 2000s, including what was presented to the public at Winter Hill, Dutchess Manor and the Chalet. The design, landscape architects and planners, scope of the project, the public spokesperson for HHFT, the purchase of Dutchess Manor and the Chalet (the former now HHFT’s headquarters and the latter scheduled to be demolished) and even the name of the project have changed.

    In HHFT Executive Director Amy Kacala’s own words: “Over the last five years, the project has been reimagined from the ground up” and “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.”

    HHFT can say they have taken considerable public input but that input was taken before the project was “reimagined from the ground up.” If village residents were shown the current design and scope of work at the aforementioned meetings, I guarantee the input would have been radically different.

    This is no longer just a safe, simple footpath from the Cold Spring Metro-North Station to Little Stony Point and Breakneck, as initially intended, rather as HHFT stated in an Oct. 8, 2021, press release, “The HHFT is envisioned as a world-class linear park.” The municipalities and partners, so proudly displayed and touted by HHFT as proof that everyone is in agreement with this project, signed early on to a much simpler, straightforward concept and not a world-class linear park.

    HHFT would have us believe they can mitigate any problems arising from the southern gateway being Dockside Park with trolleys, sidewalks and signage. They would have us believe that vehicular traffic can be controlled, that most will come by train, that the problems already exist, so anything they do will be an improvement. All of this is naïve, shortsighted and wishful thinking.

    Once the project is complete, this “world-class linear park” will be trumpeted by The New York Times and other influential media outlets across the country as the next Wonder of the World. People will flock to Cold Spring, and definitely not just by train or on weekends, to experience this “world-class linear park.” Have we forgotten so soon the parking and traffic madness we experienced the first years of COVID? It was complete bedlam! Vehicles circling the village endlessly, searching for parking. Parking, legally and illegally, like the village had never seen before.

    The early days of COVID, the Indian Brook Road parking debacle and similar early parking issues the Audubon Sanctuary had to deal with, are portents of the disaster the HHFT will bring to the Village.

    To those who say (regarding tourism), “the problem already exists we can do nothing or work with HHFT to make it better” (a statement that drives me crazy),
    I say, the problems that HHFT will cause do not already exist. The hikers and shoppers that we have dealt with for years will remain. They are not going away. Add to their numbers the less ambitious folks, those who have little interest in hiking trails or climbing mountains, the same class of folks who are lured to the ease of a flat surface and the views offered by the Walkway Over the Hudson.

    (The Walkway Over the Hudson, by the way, initially projected 267,000 visitors per year and actually saw 415,000 in just the first three months! In 2017 they saw 600,000 and in 2021, approximately 620,000.)

    Do not be fooled by the splendid renderings or the soft sale by HHFT spokespersons. Be wary of the study results. If this linear park has a southern gateway anywhere in the village, be ready to live in a fulltime tourist trap. Be prepared to sacrifice your quality of life and the neighborhood character of our village.

    I started and will finish with irony. From the Scenic Hudson website (HHFT is a subsidiary of Scenic Hudson):

    Scenic Hudson was established by six community members in 1963 to halt an industrial project from destroying iconic Storm King Mountain in the Hudson Highlands, Scenic Hudson has long been considered a leader in safeguarding the Hudson Valley’s irreplaceable landscapes -– including the region’s productive family farm -– while advancing balanced and sustainable development, and protecting our land, air and water from pollution and other threats. Scenic Hudson is credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement and winning Americans the right to speak out and initiate lawsuits to protect their environment. We continue to be inspired by the credo of Scenic Hudson co-founder, Francis “Franny” Reese: “Care enough to take action, do your research so you don’t have to backtrack from a position and don’t give up.”

    I would ask our environmental friends at Scenic Hudson to reflect on your beginning and your mission. The “other threats” mentioned above may very well be you. The Village of Cold Spring’s character and the Highland Park are irreplaceable and will be trashed by the hordes of tourist flocking to experience this legacy project.

    To HHFT: Let the southern gateway begin at Little Stony Point. Don’t expand but limit parking and visitation. Remove all parking along 9D. If you are truly looking for public input and collaboration, then don’t hide behind any immunity from municipal review that your partnership with New York State parks may offer, and as with all projects in the village, submit an application and create an escrow account to pay for all professional services needed by the Village to properly vet this project and make responsible decisions.

    Thank you to those who have voiced their concerns! To those who haven’t, please heed Francis “Franny” Reese’s credo and be inspired by the six community members who stopped the destruction of Storm King Mountain.

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