Pushes for Cold Spring-to-Breakneck path to be dropped
A newly formed grassroots organization called Protect the Highlands wants the southmost portion of the proposed Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail to begin and end at Breakneck Ridge, rather than Dockside Park in Cold Spring.
The plans for the Fjord Trail call for a “linear park” stretching 7.5 miles between Cold Spring and the Beacon riverfront. A section of the Breakneck Ridge trail was closed on March 1 so that initial work could begin; a pedestrian bridge over the Metro-North tracks at Breakneck is scheduled to be completed by late 2025 and the entire project finished by 2030.
Dave Merandy, a former Cold Spring mayor, said Protect the Highlands began to coalesce when he convened an informal gathering of about 20 people to discuss what they see as the trail’s potential negative impact on the village.
“Our goal is to get as much of a groundswell as we can and increase our membership to a point where we can’t be ignored,” said Merandy, who is acting as a spokesperson for the group because it does not yet have formal leadership. “One of our goals is to have a public forum, put on by HHFT or whomever, so everyone can hear all concerns and understand more about what is being planned.”
Amy Kacala, the executive director of the Fjord Trail, which is part of Scenic Hudson, said eliminating the section between Cold Spring and Breakneck would be a “worst-case scenario for the village.”
“You’re getting potentially more visitation,” she said. “And you’ve just stopped any investment, infrastructure, staffing, bathrooms and all the things planned that are called for by locals for visitation management, to reduce the impacts of visitation on the community. You’ve just turned your back on all of that investment and visitation management for the village. Yet, you’re still going to contend with additional visitation.”
She noted that the Fjord Trail originated from a need to get hikers and pedestrians safely out of the village without having to walk along Route 9D. “People in the village and Philipstown were concerned for people’s safety and saw that something was going to happen if we don’t take action,” she said. “This is a visitation-management project to get people quickly, and with minimal impacts to the village, out from the train station, if that’s how they’re arriving, and onto the walkway.”
Kacala said that the project has held 14 public forums, and while she wouldn’t rule out the possibility of an “open Q&A” she said that she has reached out to Protect the Highlands three times in order to “listen to them directly if they still feel that they’re being unheard,” but has not heard back.
Merandy said the chief concern of the group’s members is how the Fjord Trail will affect life in Cold Spring. It has been estimated the trail will attract as many as 500,000 visitors annually. Merandy noted that the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie was expected to attract 150,000 to 200,000 visitors per year and now attracts up to 600,000.
“Right now, we have hikers, energetic people who want to climb the mountains,” he said. “The Fjord Trail will attract a whole new group, people who want to walk on a flatter, less-strenuous surface, like those who use the Walkway Over the Hudson.”
Merandy said the pandemic’s impact on the village, with more people wanting to be outdoors, provided insight into what the village can expect if the Fjord Trail is completed as planned.
“Traffic alone is a huge concern; it’s already backing up farther and farther,” he said. “People are going to come in cars, not by train; the village is one way in and one way out, and HHFT can’t mitigate traffic using shuttles.”
Even Seastreak cruises that bring 400 visitors at a time to Cold Spring put a burden on village infrastructure, he said. “And they’re not in cars; you can control them.”
He added that when the idea of starting the Fjord Trail at Little Stony Point just north of Cold Spring, rather than Breakneck, was discussed at one of the first Protect the Highlands meetings, there was general agreement it would not reduce traffic congestion in the village.
The Protect the Highlands website at protectthehighlands.org lists nearly 80 supporters, several of whom, in addition to Merandy, have held elected office. They include Michael Bowman, a former Nelsonville mayor and Cold Spring trustee, and former Cold Spring Trustees Joe Curto, Stephanie Hawkins, Gordon Robertson and Steve Voloto.
Cold Spring Mayor Kathleen Foley said she is aware of the group but that it has not formally communicated with the village. Speaking more broadly, she said that with the proposed scale of the Fjord Trail, advocacy on behalf of village needs is critical because Cold Spring will be affected more than any other municipality.
“All voices should be heard, both in support of and critical of the project,” Foley said, adding that she hopes the state parks department, which is the lead agency on the project, and the Fjord Trail team “demonstrate true responsiveness to the concerns and needs of our community.”
Brian PJ Cronin contributed reporting.
As a person older than 80, I was shocked by former Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy’s comment that, unlike “the energetic people who want to climb the mountains, the Fjord Trail will attract a whole new group, people who want to walk on a flatter, less-strenuous surface.”
Oh yes, the grannies with canes and the young parents dragging toddlers will form a human wave, overwhelming the fit young athletes who alone deserve to enjoy the Hudson Highlands State Park.
What part of “state park” do people not understand? The taxpayers of New York state support our parks and a generation of legal rulings have established the right of the physically challenged to enjoy them. Cold Spring and Philipstown have no more right to restrict access to the Highlands than Long Islanders do to keep me from traveling to Jones Beach.
The projected plan for the Fjord Trail, if it starts in the village, will encourage people to arrive by train, if for nothing else than to enjoy the beautiful river views along the route. Many people may want to enjoy the restaurants and shops of Cold Spring after their hike. My husband and I did, years ago, when we were the dreaded foreigners from the Big City. And hopefully, the crucial purpose of keeping hikers and bikers off a narrow and dangerous road will be accomplished.
It’s refreshing – albeit belated – to hear the former mayor advocate against the plan to create a trailhead and tourist bridge from Dockside Park. I first voiced my concerns for the revised trail plan in 2016 – in this publication – to revert to the original plan that did not involve Cold Spring. Six tears hence, I still have the same concerns.
References to how the trail will increase revenue and solve traffic congestion in the village are merely PR posturing: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The developers have no documentation whatsoever to bear out these fantasies. HHFT’s inference that the ensuing added chaos and congestion of a Dockside trailhead would somehow be offset by increased revenue is offending: as if you could put a price tag on civil integrity and peaceable living. This is not a zero-sum equation. In all likelihood, a Dockside trail could bring more congestion, no increase in revenue, and a considerable blow to village quality of life.
Cynical comments made above by the developer, such as “worst-case scenario for the village” and “You’ve just turned your back on all of that investment and visitation management for the village,” have no demonstrable merit or basis in reality, and betray the fact that the developer is becoming desperate to win over local support, resorting to empty rhetoric to fill in the plan shortcomings and absence of cost-benefit analysis, or what is known as due diligence. The village can decide on its own what is in its own best interests, without heaps of vapid PR hype.
Lastly, as some residents seem to advocate universal (the whole world) equal access to Cold Spring and prospective trailhead, I would encourage them to consider at least a minimum of real-life implications in lieu of their ideologies. These implications have been elucidate ad nauseum in this publication by myself, and several fellow residents. One need only see the forest for the trees.
Hudson Highlands State Park has an overuse problem; it spills over into Cold Spring with consequent overcrowding and transportation and parking problems.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the state parks department and towns could seek professional advice from some of the most experienced crowd-control and parking and small-city planning consultants in the world to see how best to balance business and visitors?
Might some of those consultants recommend solutions to these already-existing problems? Might there be some ideas about infrastructure needs? About parking solutions? About transportation strategies? (These problems are not unique to Hudson River towns; other towns, parks and places have gotten very good at managing crowds of visitors.) And wouldn’t it be nice if the cost of those best-in-their-field consultants didn’t have to be paid by Philipstown?
Well, through the forward-thinking and extraordinary generosity of a number of individuals, environmental groups and government agencies, these invaluable studies and recommendations are made available to us. Seems to me that’s a pretty good deal.
The Fjord Trail has been conceived from the outset as a mechanism to help cope with the overcrowding; it is controlled by the 21 agencies and organizations and municipalities that make up its steering committee. Their best interests are front and center.
If what they build turns out to help manage crowds, and happens to be so attractive and practical that it attracts more people than are already overwhelming the existing facilities, we can expect that their congestion-mitigation strategies will also handle the bigger crowds far better than we’re able to handle the existing crowds.
I heartily support the project as contributing to the livability, the prosperity and the pleasure of living in our wonderful communities.
It’s an insane approach to visitor management — instead of building infrastructure to handle the existing crowds or finding ways to limit the crowds, let’s create a waterfront attraction to bring yet more crowds. While we’re at it, let’s have it start at the end of a dead-end street that terminates at Dockside.
Realistically, no one from out of town is going to pay $10 to $20 to park in a lot on Route 9D and take a shuttle bus when they can park on village streets or for free at the Metro-North lot, right next to their destination.
The Fjord Trail began as a great idea. Back when the plan was to create what could accurately be described as a trail, I was all for it. But as the years have passed and the trail has ballooned into something else, I’ve become less enthusiastic and more skeptical.
What’s now proposed is out of scale with the surrounding community and, it seems to me, will exacerbate the overcrowding problem it claims to solve. The Fjord Trail website describes the project as “regionally transforming.” I’m game for change, but that seems a bit much.
Thanks for covering the growth of opposition to the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail in our community.
I joined the Protect the Highlands campaign because the boardwalk will disfigure a landscape that generations of nature-lovers have known better than to try to improve, and because the attraction will turn the village of Cold Spring into a hub for an influx of traffic. The planners lie when they say they know how to handle it.
But my biggest concern is the opaque political process. I have two friends who have signed on to the plans but privately express horror at them. “Blow it up,” one of them whispered to me at the dog-and-pony show the Fjord Trail organized at Dutchess Manor in December. I also am concerned about the influence of wealthy donors. The family foundation of Chris Davis, the visionary behind this project who has done much to preserve forested areas in Philipstown, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Scenic Hudson, the Hudson Highlands Land Trust and Riverkeeper, organizations that came into being to oppose adorning the river with concrete and chain-link necklaces but today are on board with doing just that. Cold Spring deserves a transparent and robust discussion of these issues.
During the hiking season, hundreds of visitors trek from the train station up Fair Street on their way to the trails, spilling onto Spring Brook Condominium property despite signs marking it private. Drivers routinely try to park in our lots, despite ever-larger warning signs, frequently displaying attitude when told they can’t park there.
The Fjord Trail plan will solve both of these problems by routing the foot traffic through Dockside. It also provides additional parking and restrooms. Our Fair Street neighbors will be as concerned as we are to learn that the Protect the Highlands plan would have the Fjord Trail begin and end at Breakneck, putting all that visitor traffic from the train station right back on Fair Street. It’s a really dumb idea.
Plante is president of the Spring Brook Condominium Association.
As a matter of specificity, the HHFT traffic consultant study notes that only 2 percent of all hikers access from Cold Spring Metro-North and thereby Fair Street. The fantasy that a Dockside trailhead would somehow eradicate pedestrian congestion in the village is only in service of (at most) this 2 percent – who may or may not utilize a prospective Dockside trailhead – and the NIMBYs of Fair Street, who are the biggest local proponents of the trailhead not because they value the plan, but because they speculate they would see less people in their neighborhood. Those hikers would merely crowd other access points. Such is the inspiration of selfish NIMBYism.
The Fjord Trail is going to be a fantastic way to unite two beautiful places and make riding and hiking much safer. We need young people to see the beauty in the natural environment so they will want to fight for it. As an argument, “protecting the environment” by opposing the trail is 100 percent smoke. [via Instagram]
Of course there’s a small group insisting on exclusionary revisions. I wonder how they stand on the privatization of the Indian Brook waterfall in Philipstown that locals couldn’t enjoy [because the town removed parking]. Or the public-safety nightmare of Route 9D between Beacon and Cold Spring. Beacon shouldn’t have to take all the weight on this. [via Instagram]
What a way to express that implicit Cold Spring privilege. Protect the Highlands describes itself as a “diverse” coalition, which makes me wonder how diverse it could be, knowing the demographics of Cold Spring. [via Instagram]
I’ve tried to have a debate with the people who oppose the connection to Cold Spring. They don’t want to debate. They want to spread fear and false information and get everyone in the village afraid. If Cold Spring opts out of this, it’s going to be worse because they’ll still have to deal with the crowds and have zero say in the matter.
Opponents like to think this park is going to be the Hudson Valley version of Coney Island. I can’t wait until the Fjord Trail puts in a Ferris wheel. [via Facebook]
Where are they planning to have people park if it starts in Cold Spring? There’s only one road to the train station parking lot and it’s crazy busy trying to get through the village to reach it on weekends. [via Instagram]
The Dockside Park trailhead entry point will be accessible by train, foot, bike and shuttle. Because of the limited parking in Cold Spring, folks arriving by car will be encouraged to park in one of four planned parking areas along the trail and use the trail or hop on the Fjord Trail shuttle to reach the village.
The shuttle system will allow all visitors the convenience to access any trailhead along the route. The shuttles are planned to be electric vehicles and even have bike racks.
Martin is director of development and community engagement for the Fjord Trail.
Let’s be clear that Protect the Highlands is by no means the only community members in opposition to the trail plan, and that group is nascent and continues to grow. I believe members of that group would welcome debate on the topic, and have made their mission clear. Let’s bury the extremely ill-conceived notion of the threat of a superfluous bus fleet further constipating our Main Streets ad nauseum. The current administration would never support such a cockamamie and self-harming proposition.
I hear the term “fake news” misused in this thread. Opinions are not fake news, unless one opposes them. Such opposition rarely has any context in reality, and only seeks to debase other opinions. The only fake news I have noted are the dubious and speculative outcomes of the HHFT fantasy. I would encourage residents — and especially amateur urban planners — to educate themselves before hazarding further public embarrassment. They really have no idea that they promote an irresponsible usurpation of the soul of our Village.
A method of eliminating parking along Route 9D could be for the state to make all 9D parking illegal, raze the old Breakneck Lodge and build a five-story parking structure with a ground-level lot for oversize vehicles such as pickup trucks and passenger vans.
The state could collect a daily parking fee and use that money to offset the cost of running a free shuttle bus loop to all of the trailheads from the parking site.
I find it alarming that Fjord Trail staff say “it’s a state parks project,” and the state parks staff say “it’s the Fjord Trail’s project.” Who’s in control? Who’s going to pay? The best public-private partnerships clearly and openly delineate roles and responsibilities. But we have not seen any memorandum of understanding or contract between the state and the HHFT.
Further, we have seen no estimated construction and operating budgets. Pilings in the river and a 12-foot-wide elevated boardwalk can be pricy. And ongoing maintenance, security, liability, administration and repairs will add up quickly. The only significant asset will be Dockside Park. Think Bryant Park in a densely commercial area, but now in a rural residential area. Restaurants, bars, ice skating rinks, holiday gift booths, bumper cars, film festivals, concerts — all to pay for an attraction that they claim will transform the region. Is that what Cold Spring needs or wants?
How is it better that village locals will need to get in their cars and drive to access the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail? People will continue to walk unsafely down Fair Street and Route 9D and there will be no access for children and senior residents to enjoy this beautiful linear park. If the Cold Spring Metro-North station was being proposed today, the same pitchfork mob would be out predicting the demise of our village without offering any solutions.
The HHFT traffic consultant noted that only 2 percent of hikers access Breakneck from the Cold Spring Metro-North station and Fair Street. The fantasy that a Dockside trailhead would somehow eradicate pedestrian congestion in the village is only in service of (at most) this 2 percent, who may not utilize a prospective Dockside trailhead.
The NIMBYs of Fair Street are the biggest local proponents of the trailhead not because they value the plan but because they speculate they would see less people in their neighborhood. Those hikers would merely crowd other access points.
Pre-pandemic, it used to take me two minutes — even on a busy weekend — to get to Foodtown from our house on Fair Street. Now, that route clocks in at around 8 minutes. This is due to cars backed up on side streets waiting to turn onto Main with little visibility around parked cars, pedestrian traffic, congestion at the stoplight, and drivers trying to park and de-park.
I arrive at Foodtown’s parking lot, which is busier than usual but with some spaces still available.
The home trip takes me an indeterminable amount of time because the most direct routes are excessively congested with both cars and people. I choose the route congested with cars only and head out toward 9D. A line of northbound traffic snaked around Butterfield (which can extend as far away as Boscobel in leaf season) means to me that the light at Main Street is to be avoided. I zig-zag the side streets to the east to cross 301 further up, and using cut-throughs escape down Craigside Drive to eventually get back onto 9D and take Northern home.
On Sundays, when traffic patterns change because of church and then visitor parking, this time increases significantly, which begs the question: What will an influx of traffic mean to this already congested and circuitous route? What of the parking lot at Foodtown? Will visitors try to park there? Who’s to stop them?
I believe a comprehensive, up-to-date and independent traffic and parking study is needed to determine a realistic assessment of what the Fjord Trail will mean for this village’s roads and parking. And I wouldn’t stop there. I think of Bear Mountain at peak season, with the traffic circle clogged and employees out shooing cars away from closed parking lots. Will the Fjord Trail pick up that overflow as well? Will we?