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Getting Started: A Guide to Planning Trails in New York State

While no two trails are developed in exactly the same way or under the same circumstances, the experience of many successful trail organizers has shown that there are a number of common steps along the way.

A joint publication of Parks & Trails New York and Hudson River Valley Greenway, June 2004

The following chapters may be downloaded in PDF format:

Map of New York

Chapter 1: Introduction: Creating a network of trails across New York State
Chapter 2 and 3: Getting organized and Going public
Chapter 4 and 5: Trail planning and Integrating natural values and recreational use
Chapter 6: Landowner issues and concerns

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this guide is to foster the vision of a network of trails across New York State — with the Hudson River Greenway Trail, the Canalway Trail, and several long-distance hiking trails — as backbones of the system.

New York State is fortunate to already have a substantial number of trails, from community-based multi-use recreation trails to such renowned long-distance hiking trails as the Appalachian Trail and Finger Lakes Trail. With thousands of miles of scenic rivers and streams, lakeshores, canals, historic roadways, and abandoned railroad corridors, plus hundreds of appealing cities, towns and villages, opportunities for additional trails abound in every region of the state.

At first, it may seem like a daunting task to develop a trail. And there’s no denying that the process is complicated. Any project that involves assorted governmental entities and community organizations and, sometimes, hundreds of property owners would have to be. But, when the process is broken down into smaller steps, it is quite manageable. Hundreds of ordinary citizens just like you have worked to successfully develop trails in their communities. Throughout this publication, you’ll meet some of these people and learn more about their trail projects.

Trail projects usually begin with a resource and a vision. Sometimes the source of this vision is a governmental agency, such as a local or county planning board. Just as often, the source is a local citizen. For instance, one day, while driving by an abandoned rail corridor that runs through town, someone thinks, "Wouldn’t this make a great trail? I wonder what it would take to clean it up and open it to the public?"

shows how the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail in Ulster County came to be. 1977 Last freight run along Wallkill Valley Railroad. 1983 Local community leaders The person with the original idea usually "tests the water" by informally sharing the vision with friends, family, and colleagues. For the idea to gain real momentum, however, the broader resources of the community must be mobilized. Therefore, one of the first steps in planning a trail is to get more people involved by forming a committee whose purpose is to organize, coordinate, and lead the effort to establish the trail.

Among the tasks the trail committee may take on:

  • Communicate the vision
  • Educate officials, the public, and landowners about the benefits of trails in general and this trail project in particular
  • Encourage more people to participate
  • Build broad community support
  • Determine trail route options
  • Identify opportunities for access/use agreements
  • Raise funds
  • Organize events
  • Involve the media
  • Oversee or provide input into trail design
  • Participate in construction
  • Maintain the trail
  • CELEBRATE AND HAVE FUN

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