Residents can determine priority questions
Residents clamoring for a chance to question officials about the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, a 7.5-mile “linear park” between Cold Spring and Beacon, will have their chance next month.
Cold Spring Mayor Kathleen Foley said during the Village Board meeting on Wednesday (April 12) that a public forum on the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, which broke ground last month, will be held at 7 p.m. on May 8 p.m. at the Haldane school auditorium.
The session is being hosted by Cold Spring, the Village of Nelsonville and Town of Philipstown. New York state parks, lead agency for the trail’s development, and Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail Inc., the Scenic Hudson subsidiary developing the trail, will have representatives on hand to answer questions.
“We wanted the meeting to be driven by priority questions as defined by community members,” rather than having elected officials determine all the questions, Foley said.
Residents can submit questions through the three municipalities’ websites, or in-person at their offices, through Wednesday (April 19), and then rank those questions online from April 21 to April 28.
Questions rated high-priority will be sent to the Fjord Trail and state parks, who will respond during the meeting. The public and elected officials will have time to ask follow-up questions and make comments.
Details are available at the websites for Cold Spring (coldspringny.gov), Nelsonville (nelsonvilleny.gov) and Philipstown (philipstown.com).
Foley also reported on a meeting that she, Deputy Mayor Tweeps Phillips Woods and Nelsonville Mayor Chris Winward had with Erik Kulleseid, the commissioner of the state parks department, and other state officials on April 10, to discuss concerns about the project.
Foley said she emphasized the need for Fjord Trail officials to consider the large increase in visitors to Cold Spring since 2017 when the scoping document for the development of the trail’s draft environmental impact statement was written.
In discussing the trail’s potential effect on local infrastructure, Foley said she advocated “a full and thorough traffic and visitation study for the village.”
Foley added while the village can’t solve infrastructure and other major issues on its own, “there is potential for the Fjord Trail to bring real visitor management solutions — if it’s planned well and with the full participation of residents, the Planning Board and the Village Board.”
She said she asked for clarification of the legal and financial relationship between state parks and Fjord Trail Inc.. She said that, although she had previously made a request in writing, she only received the related documents after a resident obtained them through a Freedom of Information Law request.
The board scheduled a public hearing on proposed changes to the village’s Zoning Code (Chapter 134) for April 26 at 7 p.m.
Rock Street resident Michael Reisman expressed concern that in recent months the village had conducted the zoning amendment process “with minimal transparency.” He also said the board “wants to rush this process” by allowing only two weeks for public comment on amendments that he described as possibly the most significant changes to village zoning law in 60 years.
Foley said that amending the code has gone on for nine years and “is not a new topic.”
The ad hoc committee appointed to update the code “has been working diligently since last summer and heavily since January, three to five meetings a week,” to get the draft done by the upcoming June deadline, said Foley.
The mayor added that although the open meetings law does not require advisory ad hoc committees to post minutes or agendas, the village clerk can provide minutes for review.
In other business …
■ Wednesday’s meeting served as the public hearing on the proposed 2023-24 village budget, which includes a 2 percent tax levy increase. Under the tax cap imposed by New York State, the board could have increased the levy by as much as 5 percent. The budget is available on the village website. The public hearing remains open; comments can be submitted until Wednesday (April 19).
■ The Cold Spring Police Department responded to 50 calls in March, and officers issued 89 parking and 13 traffic tickets, including six for speeding. There were no arrests.
■ The Cold Spring Fire Co. answered 13 calls last month, including four mutual aids to other fire companies, three activated fire alarms, two assists to emergency medical services and calls for a carbon monoxide alarm, motor vehicle accident, leaking residential pipe and assistance to Cold Spring police.
■ The board authorized the purchase of a 2023 Chevrolet Tahoe for the Cold Spring Police Department for $68,500, plus the purchase and setup of computer equipment.
Your April 14, 2023, report reads: “‘We wanted the meeting to be driven by priority questions as defined by community members,’ rather than having elected officials determine all the questions, Foley said.”
As presented by the mayor, this is a false choice. At village and town hall meetings across the country, and right here, residents are allowed to show up and make comments and ask questions without a priority ranking format. This option is more democratic than the two choices voiced by Mayor Foley and yet it was discounted for this meeting. Therefore, we have to ask: Who benefits from the priority question ranking format chosen and why it was chosen for this particular meeting?
There are four ways in which the chosen format benefits the interests of the HHFT over those the mayor’s constituents. First, prioritizing the most popular questions makes it harder for unpopular ones to be heard. Democracy and effective policy-making both require that all comments and questions be considered rather than simply those that win a popularity contest. Moreover, while the publicity for the event states that the ranking will be “guided by resident participation,” the HHFT is not a neutral player in this contest. HHFT has used social media to encourage its more than 2,000 followers to submit questions and thus outcome of the contest is being influenced in their favor as I write. Lastly, residents will be allowed to ask questions or make comments only at the end of the long meeting, at which point the tone and direction of the meeting will have been set and many residents may have had to leave.
Second, the format allows those running the priority contest to limit, edit and distort the questions as posed by residents. The instructions state that questions must be “limited to 50 words,” “may be edited for length or clarity,” and “if submitted questions revolve around similar topics, we will combine them.” As a result, residents are not assured that the questions will be read as submitted by them. Instead, an anonymous “we” will edit or combine them which allows for the intent and meaning of residents’ chosen words to be changed or ignored.
Third, by limiting residents’ power to only asking questions and giving NYS Parks and HHFT the power to comment, the format denies residents the ability to share their expertise about the place they live and love. The only experts in the room, the format assumes, are the ones given the ability to respond and to make declarative statements: NYS Parks and HHFT.
Fourth, by giving the NYS Parks and HHFT the questions in advance, the format allows them time to strategize about how to spin their responses in ways that will best serve their interests.
Given that the format benefits HHFT’s interests over those of residents in all these ways, why did our elected official decide to use it for this meeting? For residents to be able to answer that question, our representatives must answer three questions: 1. What is the nature of their personal connections to and business dealings with the HHFT’s board and staff? 2. What communications occurred between them and HHFT board and staff members during the planning of this forum and, at any time, did a quorum of trustees meet privately? 3. What is their position regarding the future of the HHFT?
Since the priority questions ranking format is luckily not used at our village and town hall meetings, residents have a duty at upcoming meetings to make comments about this format and to ask these questions. We must remind them that they work for us and not the other way around -– and, certainly, not a private interest such as the HHFT.
I share Mr. Alonso’s concerns, and would add that I had no idea that my questions had to be limited to only 50 words. That seems pretty draconian, and serves the persons administrating the questionnaire, not the public. HHFT has been careful to limit public discourse at their meetings, and this looks like another attempt to do the same.
Unbelievable as it seems, some of the same institutions that have protected the Hudson Highlands from environmental degradation now threaten it.
In 1936, the Hudson River Conservation Society was formed to fight stone quarrying at Bull Hill (Mount Taurus). It was successful; the quarrying ceased and HRCS became the leading environmental organization in the Hudson Valley.
Decades later, in 1963, HRCS took the opposite stance in the fight over ConEd’s proposed power plant on Storm King, ac-cording to Robert Lifset in his book, Power on the Hudson. With the view that the plant represented inevitable progress, HRCS initially supported ConEd’s plan, with some revisions such as buried power lines and a three-level terraced structure.
According to Lifset, “the society took pains to communicate that it did not oppose the material progress represented by this important new source of electrical energy for the public.”
HRCS never regained its strength, Lifset writes. Scenic Hudson, Riverkeeper and other organizations came to prominence.
Now, decades later, most of these entities are taking a direction eerily similar to HRCS’s early 1960s support for the Storm King power plant. Flush and solidly entrenched, today’s environmental “protectors” are working together to construct the Fjord Trail with a raised, 12-foot-wide boardwalk that will stand on pillars implanted on the narrow strip between the train tracks and river. New attractions are planned along the way: manufactured overlooks, “curated environments for learning or lolling” and a swimming pool at Stony Point.
Think summer weekend car and foot traffic are bad now? Just imagine.
An ultra-wealthy donor and his family foundation have given lavishly to the environmental organizations that support im-posing this engineered eyesore on the Highlands. What we have here is an American problem: money gradually distorting well-meaning people’s and organizations’ intentions. The influence of this money can be difficult to detect — especially when the organizations have done so much good in the past. I have happily contributed to Scenic Hudson, Riverkeeper and the Hudson Highlands Land Trust annually. However, I oppose this misguided project.
Something has shifted. Are Scenic Hudson, Riverkeeper and other environmental watchdogs staying true to their original principles? Unless we pay attention and speak up, a huge vanity project will be foisted on our small town.
Hope Scott Rogers completely nails the philosophical conundrum at the root of the Fjord Trail proposal and how ultra-wealthy special interest donors have warped the missions of environmental organizations that now find themselves on the wrong side of history.
I will ask again, if a private developer had proposed to build an 8-mile-long “park” along an environmentally sensitive shoreline, between municipalities that lack the vehicle, pedestrian and municipal infrastructure to accommodate the influx of visitors (whether it be 120,000, 600,000 or a million), the answer from any public entity would be a hard NO. But since the project is being funded by a private foundation in conjunction with private Scenic Hudson sponsorship and endorsed by a few other “environmental organizations” all shrouded in the “public” cloak of New York State Parks… we all must overlook the impacts and how this project will absolutely decimate the communities and the environment. Who cares if Disney builds a boardwalk to Beacon? As someone once said, it doesn’t pass the smell test.
No environmental organization can say with a straight face that the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail in any stretch of the imagination is a study in conservation or even environmental accessibility. Rather, it is quickly becoming a case study on how large sums of money can make the most respected environmental organizations at the very least lose focus and in the very worst sell their souls. I truly hope that the members of those organizations go back and read their charters, review their mission statements and give Walt Disney back his check.
Dismayed by what I also see as a compromised process, I am here to pose some questions openly, without editing or rewriting. I am skeptical of the established process and I do not trust my questions will be entertained, or entertained accurately, at the upcoming event. Strange as it may sound, I choose to circulate my questions and thoughts here in what I think is likely to be a more open and public forum.
First, why have Village representatives represented in the past that the entry to the HHFT is undetermined and that it may not be located at Dockside Park (two other options were studied and mentioned; Fair Street and Route 9)? This occurred while plans were in hand for Dockside Park’s renovation showing a large and unsightly ramp at its eastern end. Said ramp, by the way, was built higher than the specified and approved 4-foot maximum height?
On the economic questions, what sort of economic studies have been conducted to evaluate that the project will benefit the area favorably? What assurances do we have that it will not instead cost the affected area, its taxpayers and municipalities more? I continue to be weary of the arguments bandied about that this project will be “increase tourism” and thereby bring immediate and positive economic gain. Can anyone backup the many anecdotal statements with other than trite responses?
How can any resident or concerned citizen expect a process which is transparent and fair?
Reading the plans for the “trail” — or rather the massive concrete boardwalk with high-fenced walls being planned — brings up nightmare scenarios. Has anyone who champions a boardwalk starting at Dockside thought about where all the people who want to walk there will be parking?
HHFT’s own information says it expects a large number of visitors to be coming by car. What if only a small percentage of the estimated visitors try to park on lower Main so they can walk the “trail”? What if it’s a weekday and the Metro-North lot is full? Even on weekends the lot doesn’t have nearly enough spaces to accommodate as many visitors as projected. Everyone who lives in the village should be concerned. Parking is already the No. 1 issue.
The people who oppose the concrete boardwalk are not NIMBY or anti-visitor. We just are sincerely concerned that this world-class linear park is both poorly planned and being rushed through with minimal local input and oversight. The residents of Cold Spring need to speak up or we risk being overtaken by outside interests who care not about our quality of life.
Where’s the HEART button for this comment? Amen, Judith! Thanks of voicing your very valid and caring opinion.
Judith Rose’s comment is spot on.
Gaston Alonso is 100 percent correct about the sham May 8 forum. As for the “trail,” Judith Rose is spot on, but leaves out one hugely important point — the proposed boardwalk represents a full-scale commercialization of our waterfront.
The 2021 agreement between Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail Inc. and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation (OPRHP), which I obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request, includes the section below. As predicted, this is how the HHFT will raise money to support its “epicenter” of recreational attractions in the Hudson Valley. Add this to environmental desecration and horrendous traffic, and it’s so long historic Cold Spring:
“Sponsorship funding of the Fjord Trail Project or any part thereof or improvement therein, or of events held therein, togeth-er with concession or other agreements with vendors of food, parking, programming or other complementary reve-nue-generating activities, are acceptable to OPRHP as a general matter, and OPRHP acknowledges that such sponsorships and concessions might be important sources of funding for both development and operations of the Fjord Trail Project.
“HHFT may retain sponsorship and concession revenues. Sponsorships and concessions are subject to the prior written approval of OPRHP as to form, content and manner of presentation, not to be unreasonably withheld. Sponsorship by companies, interests or organizations that are directly identified with the sale or use of vape, nicotine or tobacco products is strictly prohibited. Sponsorship opportunities include, without limitation, program inserts, product sampling and advertising displays at the Fjord Trail Project and at events and projects therein.”
Imagine a winter ice skating rink and lovely holiday gift booths to attract off-season visitors — one-stop shopping and fun in Dockside. What about summertime sponsorships of Quaker Oats granola bars and Frito-Lay’s latest trail mix? What about clever promotions for fishing rods, hiking boots and backpacks? And don’t forget food concessions. And why stop at Dockside? There can be food and drink at all six trail entrances, twilight concerts in the new amphitheater and T-shirts and ice cream for sale at the new beach at Little Stony Point.
Thank you for finding that. I hope that The Current publishes this in its print version so more people see it.
Kacala attempts to refute the notion that the trail will bring “600,000 new visitors” to the system on the basis that HHFT has never stated that estimate, as if HHFT is the only source of the correct data. I have not read the referenced claim of an additional 600,000 visitors. The writer states that there are currently 480,000 visitors, to which another 120,000 will be added, which nets 600,000, not 600,000 + 480,000. Somehow, HHFT states, this increase will reduce traffic and congestion. This is an utterly counterintuitive outcome that insults anyone who subscribes to reason.
As HHFT attempts to clear the smoke of alleged fake news — in point of fact, public opinion, it responds in-kind by continuing to blow its own smoke. Case in point is the claim that despite adding parking and attracting 25 percent more tourists, the outcome will result in “drawing hikers away from Route 9D and neighborhood streets alleviating the burden on local neighborhoods and village infrastructure,” and “provide and manage critical amenities and infrastructure that residents have sought for years,” adding lip service, that part of its mission is to “serve Cold Spring.” This conjecture is no less “categorically false” than the claims HHFT endeavors to refute.
There is nothing in the plan or its studies that bears this out as fact, nor can it pertain to the Village, as exactly zero impact studies have been conducted here in the village. How can HHFT claim perceived positive outcomes without conducting requisite impact studies? I encourage HHFT to do its own factchecking and do its best to clarify its own misinformation before compounding its own patently fake news campaigns that have no basis in reality.
The Fjord Trail is great news for residents of the Hudson Highlands, particularly for families in Philipstown, where this recreational asset will be convenient to access and enjoy. From additional access to beautiful locations along the river, increased parking and the amenities it will expand, we are thrilled that this community-led project continues to develop.
Recreational amenities are important to our family. Our sons are both athletes, and as a family we enjoy our time in the outdoors as often as we can. We envision the Fjord Trail being a safe place for Philipstown kids to learn to ride a bike, for student-athletes to train and an accessible resource for seniors to enjoy regular walks along the river. The planned shuttle system will also improve accessibility to all the Fjord Trail’s amenities.
Additionally, the Fjord Trail helps solve longstanding challenges with congestion in Cold Spring and dangerous conditions along Route 9D, where too many pedestrians, motorists and cyclists compete for space on weekends. Creating six access points along the 7.5-mile route will also spread out usage of the trail, reducing the crowding that frustrates so many in our town.
Many of us have been talking for years about the need to address the safety and congestion issues around the use of the local trail system and the impact it has on our local community. The Fjord Trail provides a solution that will also be a wonderful community recreational resource.
I understand that Protect the Highlands opposes construction of the southern portion of the Fjord Trail, which was con-ceived as a community-driven solution to help manage Cold Spring’s overcrowding and tourist and hiker access to our state park resources. An early phase of the project — adapting the area at the entrance to the Breakneck Ridge trail — is underway.
As a member of New York state park Taconic Regional Commission, I am particularly concerned about public safety, adequate infrastructure, equitable access to our parklands and ongoing maintenance and transportation. The Fjord Trail is intended to address those issues and has engaged the most reputable consultants in traffic management, crowd control, infrastructure needs, parking and transportation.
As a longtime Philipstown resident, I have seen the Highlands struggle under the pressure of mounting visitation. Some say Cold Spring is the “rock star” of Hudson Valley tourism. Already being so attractive to visitors, our community must manage what we have.
Some fear that the trail will be such an attraction and that it will bring even more people to the area. That may happen. But if we can’t handle the people we already have, how will we handle more? The planned remedies to manage what we have now are designed to deal with increased use (more use is inevitable, whether or not there is a Fjord Trail). If Protect the Highlands considers the planned infrastructure amenities (sidewalks, wayfinding, parking areas, shuttle transportation, etc.) to be inadequate, ask for more.
There are 19 entities (municipalities, agencies, nonprofits, etc.) on the Fjord Trail steering committee. That convinces me that voices of all kinds are being heard. Additional workshops, working groups, public hearings and presentations will provide the public with even greater opportunities to learn more and to contribute ideas. I’m sure Protect the Highlands is taking ad-vantage of them. I certainly am. The community gathering scheduled for Monday (May 8) will be such an opportunity.
I believe the Fjord Trail will serve our community. It will not only manage tourists, but will increase accessibility to the river-front and surrounding trails for seniors, those with disabilities and families in a way that has never before been possible. It will benefit us, the locals, who will be able to enjoy it for years to come.
I hope we can continue a productive dialogue on this project. I invite members of Protect the Highlands to engage with me, other members of the Taconic Commission, the staff at HHFT and representatives of organizations on the steering committee to express their concerns and learn more about how this project stands to benefit us all.
I would be interested to learn when and where the Taconic Commission has met to review the Fjord Trail plan. Which version of the plan has it seen? Are meetings of the commission open to the public and publicly noticed?
There are five members of the Taconic Commission; two are residents of Putnam County. I understand their role is purely advisory, but have they voted on any iteration of the HHFT plan? Has the Fjord Trail project been included in the statewide parks master plan?
Many of us moved to Philipstown to be close to state parks, and there are about 20,000 acres in the Hudson Highlands and Fahnestock parks, with dozens of marked trails. Some offer excellent views of the river, including the Osborn Trail and the North and South Redoubt trails in Garrison, and the Fishkill Mountain trails.
That is one of the issues I have with the proposed Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail (HHFT): A private nonprofit and state parks intend to pour more than $100 million into turning one stretch in these hundreds of miles of trails into a High Line-like attraction — a stretch that is already overtaxed, filling Cold Spring to bursting.
Why aren’t these powerful bodies acting in an ecologically prudent manner and seeking to send more of the traffic to other destinations in our parks system?
I live near Fahnestock and am in there all the time, yet I see very few hikers or bikers. I’m happy about that for selfish rea-sons, but I am clearly privileged, and this is an inequitable arrangement. The same can be said about the Sugar Loaf Trail and the all-but-unmarked Watergrass Trail in Garrison — the state and privileged neighbors want to keep them a well-guarded secret. And so apparently does the patron of the Fjord Trail, who lives in Garrison but whose vision for a miles-long concrete boardwalk, destroying views and scarring a riverbank, is fastened on a community not his own.
The landscape architects hired for the Fjord Trail have worked on other climate-resilient projects and I am interested in hearing more about the details. I believe there is a misconception about the environmental impact and the designers could do a better job of communicating their plans.
Long Dock in Beacon is a shining example of what the Fjord Trail could be. I watched the waterfront development at the Beacon train station for seven years, from its start. We know much of the river shoreline has been disturbed for more than 100 years. The restoration brought back wildlife and habitat, including pollinators and native plants.
What kind of plans are there to restore the natural habitat that existed pre-Industrial Revolution, and how will the restoration help mitigate the rising water levels caused by climate change?
If accessibility and safety are of such concern to HHFT, why not improve the thoroughfares to Little Stony Point that already exist: Route 9D and Fair Street?
For a fraction of the cost of the ill-conceived and environmentally damaging Dockside boardwalk, these streets could have functional sidewalks and crosswalks, safety barriers and speed enforcement. Such additions would provide year-round benefits for all residents, including Haldane students.
Hikers would use these to begin the trail at Little Stony Point, as was HHFT’s plan before it decided to turn the Cold Spring waterfront into the High Line on Hudson.
Ten years from now, we will scratch our heads wondering how the Fjord Trail could ever have been controversial. Philipstown and Beacon residents will get the most use and enjoyment out of it. We will be proud of it.
I dispute the prediction that the Fjord Trail itself will be a draw. Maybe it will at first, with all the controversy, resistance and fanfare, but that will wear off. It is a connector trail. It will safely connect tourist attractions that already exist. People do not go to Niagara Falls because they built a connecting trail between viewpoints. People come here for Breakneck, Bull Hill and Mount Beacon, and they will continue to come, in increasing numbers, for those glorious hikes whether or not the Fjord Trail is built.
All of us have seen visitors walking along the shoulder-less 9D like they are in Disney World, pushing strollers, walking dogs along the narrow road, oblivious to the 55-mph speed limit. If the Fjord Trail gets those folks off the road, that alone wins my support.
Why would anyone in his/her right mind think that this rich-man’s tax right off will be an improvement on nature’s multi-million year project?
Rip Van Winkle will be throwing gutter balls for the rest of history. Having lived here nearly (a very long time), I, as most of the other kids who grew up here, found more than enough recreation in nature’s backyard without feeling the need to “improve” it. To climb to table rock and view the “Mahicantuck,” flowing two ways with the ebb and flow of the Atlantic tides. Look across the river from Breakneck Ridge and see the mighty Storm King, which Herman Melville compared to a mighty whale. (Looking at it, is there any doubt of the resemblance?) Thanks to the likes of Pete Seeger and others it will remain so for as long as the earth lasts.
And how long will this hare-brained scheme last? Until the next hare-brained scheme raises its ugly head!?
It’s understandable that some people in the village believe the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail’s extension from Cold Spring to Little Stony Point will bring even more congestion to the village on pleasant weekends, and it may do so when first opened.
But this project, including the river walk, will solve more problems than it creates. Funneling crowds of hikers off Fair Street and the dangerous 9D shoulder will be a huge improvement. The addition of restrooms at Dockside and Little Stony Point with maintenance costs covered by state parks will be a huge relief to Main Street merchants and village residents who bear the price of maintaining the current inadequate restrooms.
The thing is, tourism is going to increase whether the Fjord Trail is built or not. There is no mechanism by which anyone can encourage tourists not to come to Cold Spring and the Hudson Highlands. The beauty of this area does not belong to us more than anyone else, but the responsibility to manage increasing tourism with measures that protect everyone’s safety does fall on our shoulders.
What troubles me most is the ugly sentiment, spread by some very loud voices, that some of the financial resources used to build the Fjord Trail come from wealthy people. It’s great that people of means are generous enough to help fund this project benefiting so many. Would you rather they build themselves a yacht they need another yacht to get to, or another of the obnoxious Lamborghinis and Ferraris that troll through town?
Looking for sinister motivations for such gifts reflects poorly on our community. Would you say the same about Gordon Stewart, who funded this very newspaper? Or any of the other generous locals who support our recreation center, farmers market and the Shakespeare Festival? Or the donors who fund any of the amazing museums and concert halls we all have access to?
I’m enormously grateful to live here because I can enjoy the beauty of our locale 365 days a year. I’m also thankful for the collaboration between multiple state entities, nonprofit organizations and generous individuals who designed a piece of infrastructure that will improve the accessibility and enjoyment of our local natural resources. There will never be a perfect solution to the problems tourism brings, but allowing the status quo is no solution at all.