In Brief – A rail trail stretching across the northern shore of the Ashokan Reservoir outside Kingston was opened to the public Friday.
The Ashokan Rail Trail (ART) is 10-12 feet wide and laid with crushed gravel, allowing hikers and cyclists to traverse its length. It begins at Basin Road in West Hurley and ends at Route 28A in Boiceville. The trail is ADA-accessible.
The trail runs along the old Ulster & Delaware Rail Corridor, which has not been used for transportation for 40 years, according to ART.
The trail was opened at a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by about 200 people, including many biking and hiking enthusiasts. Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan spoke, thanking many who participated in the project, including former Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, who oversaw the development of the project during his tenure.
Ulster County Legislator Kathy Nolan said the project was years in the making, but she knew it needed to happen.
“It is land and water that belonged to native peoples and were used for hunting and angling – it’s going to be preserved for that. It’s been used, undoubtably, for transportation around that area – it’s going to be used for that. And it’s been something to inspire and to nourish, and it’s going to be used for that,” she said.
Land abutting the Ashokan Reservoir is owned by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which has bought up land over the decades around New York City’s water sources in the Catskills. Ulster County had an easement for the rail line dating back more than a century but received additional easements from the DEP to complete the Ashokan Rail Trail.
Some of the speeches made during the ceremony focused on how the city-owned reservoir could now be a boon to locals and the local economy, as well as delivering world-class water to the city.
DEP Deputy Commissioner Paul Rush spoke of how DEP land had been increasingly opened up to public use in the last 15 years.
DEP first established permit-free public access to some of its lands in 2008, with 133,017 acres of land for fishing, hiking, hunting, snowshoeing and other forms of low-impact recreation made accessible by 2017, according to the Watershed Post.
The project cost $16.5 million, but the cost was spread out among many different organizations – the DEP contributed $4.3 million, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) contributed 3.6 million, FEMA contributed $2.2 million, and the state Office of Parks and Historical Preservation contributed $500,000, among others, according to Pat Ryan.
“For every local dollar spent…a little more than $2 in grant money was matched,” he said.
The project was also constructed under a labor agreement using local labor unions, according to Ryan.
ART is a ten-minute drive from Kingston, and Nolan suggested it would allow easy access to the Catskills to visitors and locals who may not have explored the region before.
Prior to the opening of ART, the area could only be accessed with a DEP permit. The trail is now open to the public year-round for any non-motorized usage.