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Our link to the outdoors: trails across New York State.

Back in the year 1892, when the State Legislature appropriated $250 for completing a "public path" to the summit of Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskills, it formally marked the origins of recreation trail use policy and development in New York. Today, there's a 16,000 mile network on public as well as private land, not including the fast-growing number of designated on-highway bicycle routes that extend across the state. From Montauk to Niagara, such diversity of trail use opportunity and ease of access is best characterized by trails within, or connecting to, a system of state parks and historic sites dispersed throughout New York.

The network of trails within the 65,000-acre Allegany State Park in western New York is among the most popular in the Northeast. The park's wild and scenic woodland character has added to Allegany's renown for a spectrum of trail uses: hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and nature study.

Exercise trails at many Long Island state parks and others point to the value of trails for physical fitness. Indeed, the favorite activity of over 80 percent of the 65 million annual visitors to the state parks of New York is hiking and walking.

The second most-favored trail activity is bicycling. A notable connection for cycling is the Seaway Trail, a 454-mile scenic road and bikeway system along the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River that links 38 state parks and Sackets Harbor, a New York State heritage area. Maps and a guidebook are available from Seaway Trail by calling 1-800-SEAWAY-T.

Within the blue-line boundary of the Adirondack Park, an extensive network of scenic roads and bikeways has been designated by the Adirondack North Country Association, an economic development and tourism agency. These link many of the public campgrounds and boat launches operated by DEC, as well as trailheads of the roughly 2,000 miles of trails in wilderness, wild forest and other classified units of the New York State Forest Preserve. In addition, the snowmobile trail system in Old Forge includes 500 miles of groomed trails on private land. Near Lake Placid at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, is the Nordic ski and biathlon trail system originally constructed for the 1980 Winter Olympics.

The Hudson River Greenway Trail links numerous state parks and historic sites, and includes Bike Route 9, a recently designated on-road bikeway connecting New York City to Montreal. Also included between Yonkers, Tarrytown, Ossining and Croton is the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, a 26-mile multipurpose recreationway listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

With 61 projects completed or under way, New York is considered one of the strongest rail-trail states in the country. A paved multipurpose recreationway constructed by State Parks in 1992 connects the city of Amsterdam with the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site at Fort Hunter. Together with a number of one- and two-acre canal parks along the Mohawk, as well as 37 miles of former towpath within the Old Erie Canal State Park between Rome and Fayetteville, these are important components of the 524-mile Canalway Trail being developed by the New York State Canal Recreationway Commission.

In Columbia County, Taconic State Park at Copake Falls is the terminus of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, recognized by the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy as among the most desirable, useful and attractive in the nation. The 20-mile multi-use recreationway is further described as "a wonderful nature trail... even from a wheelchair." At least 64 units of the state park system have nature trails, a number of which are handicapped accessible.

The Station for the Study of Insects Nature hail, established at Harriman State Park in 1925 by the American Museum of Natural History, is considered the first interpretive trail in the world. The self-guided nature trail at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve on Staten Island provides a special opportunity in an urban area to develop a stronger connection to the natural world. Hikers on the Indian Ladder Trail along the Helderberg escarpment in Thacher State Park gain an appreciation for one of the outstanding geological and scenic displays in New York State.

State Parks, DEC, and private and volunteer interests have been partners in the development of long-distance hiking trails. When completed, the recently designated 150-mile Highland Nail will link 26 county, state and federal parks, forests, historic sites and public open spaces in New York and New Jersey. Other significant long-distance initiatives include the Northville-Lake Placid Trail, the Long Island Greenbelt Nail System, and the 70-mile Taconic Ridge Trail. The Long Path, extending from the George Washington Bridge in New York City through the Shawangunk and Catskill Mountains to the Helderbergs, will eventually connect to the Adirondacks.

The first portion of the Appalachian hail, extending some 20 miles through Bear Mountain/Harriman State Parks, was opened in 1924. This trailway now covers 2,100 miles from Baxter State Park in Maine to Springer Mountain, Georgia, and serves as a prototype for long-distance hiking trails across the country. Over 380 miles of the Finger Lakes Trail is on the proposed route of the 3,200-mile North Country National Scenic Trail that connects the Crown Point State Historic Site on Lake Champlain to Lake Sakakawea State Park on the Missouri River in North Dakota. Another 25-mile segment of the Finger Lakes Trails runs the entire length of Letchworth State Park, from Portageville to Mt. Morris in Livingston and Wyoming counties.

These trails, and many other trails in state parks, are maintained by volunteer trail organizations, such as the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Finger Lakes Nail Conference, and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. In Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Ulster County, the Gunks Off-Road Patrol, or "GORP," is recruiting and training volunteer mountain bikers to assist all trail users, and help minimize conflicts on the shared use of 26 miles of carriage-ways. A New York State Trails Council, representing 11 motorized and non-motorized trail interests, helps guide state trail use policy for OPRHP, DEC and other state agencies.

Today, for millions of New Yorkers and visitors to the state, trails are a valuable link to the outdoors, providing opportunities for recreation, exercise, education and transportation.
COPYRIGHT 1996 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
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Author:Cobb, Tom
Publication:New York State Conservationist
Date:Feb 1, 1996
Words:1029
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