November 27, 2018

Columbia County’s economic development agency and the local land conservancy are working together to study the possibility of building a rail trail that connects two state trails east and west in the county.

The Columbia Economic Development Corporation and the Columbia Land Conservancy are working with Hudson River Valley Greenway on a feasibility study of a rail trail that will connect the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, which runs through the eastern part of Columbia County, to the proposed Albany Hudson Electric Trail that runs through the western part.

Both organizations are paying Weston and Sampson Inc., a landscape architecture and design company headquartered in Massachusetts, a total of $25,500 to conduct the study. CEDC awarded the contract to Weston and Sampson on Oct. 30.

The Hudson River Valley Greenway is the organization building the Albany Hudson Electric Trail, a 35-mile bicycle and pedestrian rail-trail path that will run through Rensselaer County and Columbia County.

The CEDC was promised a $12,750 grant from Greenway in October 2017 to conduct the feasibility study. The CEDC will pay for the study and the grant will be provided as reimbursement.

CEDC Executive Director F. Michael Tucker and the Columbia Land Conservancy each contributed $6,375 to the study.

Tucker and CLC Community Projects Manager Christine Vanderlan both presented an outline of the study area and updated town supervisors at the county Economic Development Committee meeting Monday.

“This trail makes sense to make Columbia County a centerpiece to the trail system that runs through the county,” said Gallatin Town Supervisor John Reilly, who chairs the Economic Development Committee. “People can come up on the Amtrak for a day trip or multiple-day trip and take the Albany-Hudson trail or connect to the Harlem Valley trail and see the whole county.”

Both organizations provided an approximate time line for the possible trail project with the feasibility to be completed by early spring 2019, planning and design to be done in one to two years, construction to be done in two to four years and the trail opening sometime in the following five years.

The trail will run east and west along the Boston-Albany Railroad line most likely from Hudson through Greenport and then through Claverack to Philmont.

The trail will mixed use like both the Albany Hudson Electric Trail and the Harlem Valley Trail, allowing walking, biking, horse-riding, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

“This could provide the area with more of the benefits from the Harlem Valley Rail Trail and the potential benefits of the Albany-Hudson Electric Trail,” Tucker said.

As the CEDC has been conducting its study, it has reached out to the 12 property owners — one in Greenport and 11 in Claverack — along the rail corridor.

“We sent letters to all landowners and have had meetings or site visits with half at this point,” Tucker said. “We plan to meet with the Hudson Common Council, the towns of Claverack, Ghent and Greenport, and Philmont Village Board throughout December. We are scheduling additional meetings with landowners and a public meeting early next year.”

One of the possible obstacles to the trail running along the rail line is that some property owners own parts of the right-of-way along the line. Columbia County owns part of the Boston-Albany Railroad bed, which the county purchased when the railroad was closed in the 1960s. The county then sold the rights-of-way to adjoining landowners who were willing to make purchases. The CEDC would have to obtain easements from those property owners.

Another obstacle is the Kinderhook Creek, which runs through the heart of the county with only three locations to cross, limits the trail’s possible routes.