Group wants path from Beacon station to bridge

A coalition of planning and transportation professionals is trying to build momentum and gain funding for a 1-mile walking and biking path that it says would promote safe, non-vehicular access to the outdoors for nearly 125,000 people in Dutchess and Orange counties. 

The Regional Connector would run from the Metro-North station in Beacon to the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. Closing that gap would connect Beacon and Newburgh and potentially unify a growing trails network even further, says Naomi Hersson-Ringskog, an urban planner who lives and works in Newburgh. 

“We’re talking about 50 years from now having this connection that underpins all the future development,” she said. “This is something that can be integrated into community development plans.” 

A map created by the Regional Connector coalition shows anticipated and existing trails.
A map created by the Regional Connector coalition shows anticipated and existing trails.

The potential for connectivity is significant, although many of the projects it would link are only proposals. The Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, if implemented as envisioned, would connect Cold Spring and Beacon, making a bike trip from Newburgh or the Beacon waterfront to Main Street in Cold Spring much safer than Route 9D. 

If a trail is built along the dormant Beacon rail line, a trip to Hopewell Junction, or the Walkway Over the Hudson, becomes possible. The Fishkill Creek Greenway and Heritage Trail, which is being constructed in segments around Beacon, will also be active. 

On the west side of the bridge, a network of proposed bike routes could take riders in one direction toward the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail or, along the Newburgh waterfront, to the Quassaick Creek Greenway Trail, a path in the planning stages that would extend from the Hudson River to Crystal Lake in Newburgh. 

The sheer number of trails being considered demonstrates the emerging demand for a network of bike paths, says Thomas Wright, a Beacon resident and head of the city’s Greenway Committee who works in Newburgh. “This would make bike riding much safer,” he said. “It would be incredible for people on the west side.”

The idea of a regional connector is not entirely new. The City of Beacon in 2016 received a $5,000 grant from the Hudson River Valley Greenway agency to study the creation of a trail running from the Metro-North station to the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. 

However, the city says it cannot currently back the proposal because it already has more than $42 million in capital projects, including Beacon’s central fire station and the rehabilitation of Fishkill Avenue/Teller Avenue, on tap for this year and next. 

The city is working with Scenic Hudson on the Fjord Trail and Dutchess County on the potential Beacon line trail — projects “that are more achievable,” City Administrator Chris White said. If Beacon were to invest time or funding into the Regional Connector, “it would impede our ability to do those projects,” he said. 

That doesn’t mean there’s no support for a connector. Paul Steely White, the executive director of Parks & Trails New York, said “there’s probably not a more important greenway trail in the state right now. It’s a linchpin, the critical link that can unlock enormous connectivity for hundreds of thousands of people.”

By connecting to Newburgh, where, according to the city’s Transportation Advisory Committee and U.S. Census data, 30 percent of residents do not have cars and 27 percent live in poverty, the Regional Connector would provide “inclusive and welcoming access to regional trails and parkland,” said Fjord Trail Executive Director Amy Kacala.

For it to be built, the Connector would have to run through land owned by Metro-North and the New York State Bridge Authority (NYSBA). Two parcels owned by the Open Space Institute and known collectively as the 55-acre Verplanck Landing site sit at what would be the northern terminus of the path. 

A NYSBA spokesperson said this week that the agency “supports efforts to make our bridges more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists” and “looks forward to continuing discussions” on the Regional Connector proposal. 

The advocacy group, which also includes Michael O’Brien, who is a member of the NYSBA Board of Commissioners, and Eleanor Peck, Beacon’s former Climate Smart coordinator, plans to hold meetings in Beacon and Newburgh this spring to gather support from community members and discuss funding sources. 

Wright and Hersson-Ringskog estimate that the connector would cost nearly $6 million. White, the Parks & Trails New York executive director, said he hopes New York State will take on the project to promote biking as the type of “bread-and-butter transportation that drives tourism and generates local spending.”

“This is, in my opinion, how tax money is well spent,” added Hersson-Ringskog. “It can make the whole region more attractive for commerce as well as quality of life.”

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Simms has covered Beacon for The Current since 2015. He studied journalism at Appalachian State University and has reported for newspapers in North Carolina and Maryland. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Beacon politics

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