Phase 1 of Fjord Trail Gets OK

A drawing of the proposed bridge, which would be constructed just north of the Breakneck Tunnel

The Breakneck project will include a 445-foot span over the tracks north of the tunnels.

State finds no adverse environmental impact 

Construction of the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail’s first phase, which includes two paths and a bridge over the Metro-North tracks, was cleared to begin with a determination by New York State that the project will not have a negative impact on the environment. 

The Department of Environmental Conservation announced Dec. 28 that the parks department had issued a “negative declaration” for the Breakneck Connector and Bridge, which combines the 445-foot span over the tracks with a half-mile trail between its north end and Metro-North’s station at Breakneck. 

The $85 million segment also includes a 345-foot trail from the south end of the bridge to the Breakneck Ridge trailhead; parking areas along Route 9D; two comfort station buildings and a trail steward station; upgrades to the train station and platforms; and upgrades to the Upper Overlook area along the Breakneck Ridge Trail. 

As planned, the whole Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail will encompass 7.5 miles of pathway and amenities running from Dockside Park in Cold Spring through Hudson Highlands State Park and ending at Long Dock Park in Beacon. 

Amy Kacala, executive director for Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail Inc., which is overseeing the project, said on Wednesday (Jan. 4) that work on the bridge and connector will begin in the spring with stabilizing and restoring the beginning of the Breakneck Trail. 

As part of the first phase, the trailhead will be moved up-slope from Route 9D and its tunnel, with stone stairs added for hikers. “We will formalize some social trails, close others and erect a new hiker orientation station for the trail stewards at the relocated trailhead,” she said. 

Construction on most of the bridge and connector will begin late this year, said Kacala, and is to be completed in 2025. During a public hearing in July, Stephen McCorkell, a capital facilities manager with the state parks department, said the bridge would be outfitted with a steel pedestrian barrier, railings at least 8 feet high and mesh to prevent anything from falling on the tracks. 

McCorkell also said that the span would need a waiver because it would be about 3 feet lower than the standard. It would be constructed from pre-fabricated sections lifted from a barge anchored in the Hudson River. 

One of the trail’s goals is to allow hikers disembarking at the Metro-North stations at Breakneck and Cold Spring to visit the popular hiking destination without using Route 9D, thereby reducing congestion on the busy state route, where passing cars often compete for space with people walking in the roadway. 

“These improvements will make good on Hudson Highland Fjord Trail’s promise to improve safety and access at this extremely popular area,” said Kacala. 

Along with ferrying hikers and bicyclists across Metro-North’s tracks, the bridge would give New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection vehicles access to a drainage chamber built as part of an underwater pressure tunnel for the Catskill Aqueduct. 

The chamber, which sits between Metro-North’s tracks and the river, became landlocked when Route 9D was built in 1932 and is only accessible by trail or boat, Todd West, a planning director with the DEP, said at the public hearing in July. 

West also said that the DEP would provide $14 million toward construction of the bridge and connector. Kacala said in July that an additional $20 million would come from the state parks department and the remainder from HHFT.

The rest of the project is undergoing a full environmental review that is expected to be completed later this year. That review, known as a generic environmental impact statement, will include a period of public comment, as well as public hearings.

3 thoughts on “Phase 1 of Fjord Trail Gets OK

  1. How surprising and reassuring to hear that, in its infinite wisdom, the state “finds no adverse environmental impact” in the design of their blundering Fjord Trail. Do we safely assume that due diligence was done for this study, or was it merely a quick meeting in the back of a boardroom? A GEIS study was promised for this past November, however, it still has not been revealed.

    Since the project is not being prosecuted by the state, the developers are finding it elementary to jump the sharks — the stringent requirements — that any other state project would mandate. Indeed, they seem to have carte-blanche over matters that should be decided by proper, unbiased oversight.

    Further to the point of the developer’s impunity, I made a FOIL request on Nov. 17 requesting all studies and designs pertaining to the project. As I have said, the trail project is not under the aegis of the state, which perhaps explains why the state did not deign to return a single document to my FOIL, including the report referenced in this story.

    One of my chief reservations of the project is the ill-conceived plan by the trail developers to usurp our Dockside and turn it into a tourist theme park and trailhead. As a construction manager — five decades in the industry — I like to think that at least some of my concerns would be taken seriously. Since 2016, I have regularly voiced concerns in this publication, and at forums about several practical considerations as to why this is an untenable plan. Suffice it to say, the developer’s only concern with any such comments is their public image.

    I have said that our recent Dockside Park has shown early vulnerabilities that it simply is not able to absorb. The latest storm inundating the lower village wreaked havoc on the park, throwing up mounds of rotten tree trunks and stumps (wrack) on the park and walkway. When wrack turns up in the middle of the park, it serves no practical purpose, in the way wrack at the shoreline does. This debris is not “design intent.” Such impacts threaten the pie-in-the-sky concept of what advocates describe as “rewilding, or living shoreline.”

    There is a strong likelihood that future storms will impact the park even more dramatically, exposing a lack of resilience. What is glaringly obvious is the fact that the designers did not correctly calculate or design the shoreline for such storm surges. This is the park’s glass jaw, or achilles heel. I encourage and invite other residents who value their quality of life in the village to protest the ham-handed, unremunerated eminent domain usurpation of our Dockside Park, and to protest against it, as before too long, the developer will merely erect these new tourist stomping grounds on top of us.

  2. The trail project is a huge smoke-and-mirrors operation, beginning with its name. This is no trail: It’s a linear theme park destined for national news coverage, costing hundreds of millions of dollars that would irrevocably change and destroy the Village of Cold Spring and the area we cherish.

    Scenic Hudson would like us to think this project would somehow magically control the hordes of tourists who already overwhelm Cold Spring during most of the warmer months. In reality, it would turn a small village and the surrounding area into a sideshow. We need to stop this destructive plan.

  3. Phases should be for construction, not for approvals. The Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail project should not be allowed to start until it is reviewed in its entirety — all three phases.

    But I guess that’s the purpose. The reality is, if a developer attempted these tactics, true environmentalists would be in an outrage. Yet, here we are in 2023 and the same groups that “saved” Storm King and the Hudson River in the 1960s (specifically Scenic Hudson) are plowing ahead with this project despite citizens voicing the same concerns those organizations had a generation ago.

    I’m at a loss as to the purpose and cloak-and-dagger, but I guess we will follow the money and see who is to gain in the end. It sure isn’t the taxpayers of Philipstown.