An Empire State of Trails: Creating New Trails and Connecting Existing Networks

A Core Track Presentation

The session describes New York’s emergence as a trail state, highlights advocacy and planning that paved the way, and offers takeaways for trail systems elsewhere.

by Karl Beard, Trail Planner, National Park Service, Andy Beers, Director of the Empire State Trail program, Hudson River Valley Greenway, Beth Campochiaro, Trails and Community Outreach Director, Hudson River Valley Greenway, Mona Caron, Program Manager, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Robin Dropkin, Executive Director, Parks and Trails New York, Sasha Eisenstein, Trail Manager and Business Development Specialist, New York State Canal Corporation, Scott Keller, Acting Executive Director, Hudson River Valley Greenway, Tom Sexton, Director, Rails to Trails Conservancy

In January 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an investment of $200 million in the Empire State Trail, a statewide system of multi-use trails linking New York City north to the Canadian border, and west to Buffalo. Stretching 750 miles, it will be the nation’s longest state trail system. Land-based explorers aren’t alone, however, as recent years have seen significant investments in the Hudson River Greenway Water Trail and now the New York State Canalway Water Trail - another 780 miles of adventure!

These systems are supported by trip-planning resources and promoted widely, enhancing their contributions to local economies and the overall outdoor recreation sector. Taken together, New York’s trails make the state a leader in outdoor recreation and adventure tourism. The session will describe New York’s emergence as a trail state, highlight advocacy and planning that paved the way, and offer takeaways for trail systems elsewhere.

About the Authors

Karl Beard, pioneering Trail Planner of the National Park Service Rivers & Trails Conservation Assistance Program. Karl has played an instrumental role in the development of numerous trails of local, regional, national, and international significance, including The Walkway Over the Hudson, Hudson River Greenway, Shawangunk Ridge Trail, Erie Canalway Trail, the Bronx River, the national Water Trail movement, the Kingston Midtown Linear Park, the Ashokan Rail Trail and many, many more.

Andy Beers was appointed Director of the Empire State Trail (EST) program in May, 2017. He is an employee of the Hudson River Valley Greenway, responsible for overseeing the statewide EST initiative. He served as the Executive Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation from 2007 to 2017, where he was responsible for overseeing agency administration, policies, and park operations.

Prior to joining State Parks, Andy worked for seventeen years at the New York State Office of The Nature Conservancy. He received his undergraduate degree from Colgate University and a Masters Degree from the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University.

Beth Campochiaro is the Trails and Community Outreach Director for the Hudson River Valley Greenway and National Heritage Area. Prior to working on the trails, Beth was the Scenic Byways Coordinator for the Greenway. Beth has been with the Greenway since 2003. Beth oversees the designation of land trails throughout the Hudson Valley as part of the Greenway Trail System, with the goal of creating a continuous off road trail between New York City and the Capital Region. Beth also administers a $500,000 grant program to fund trail projects that include trail construction, planning and design, rehabilitation and improvement, and education and interpretation. Beth also organizes the annual Hudson River Valley Ramble, a series of events throughout the month of September that celebrates the history, culture and natural resources of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, as well as the amazing landscape, communities, and trails throughout the region.

Mona Caron is a Program Manager for Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. She is responsible for the Water Trail and promoting the recreational opportunities along 500 miles of the corridor. She is the project manager of the newly published NYS Canalway Water Trail Guidebook and Navigational Map Set. Prior to joining ECNHC in January 2019, she was the editor of Adirondack Sports magazine.

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor preserves our extraordinary canal heritage, promotes the corridor as a world-class tourism destination, and fosters vibrant communities connected by more than 500 miles of historic waterways.

Robin Dropkin is Executive Director of Parks & Trails New York (PTNY), a statewide non-profit organization that works to expand, protect and promote a network of parks, trails and open spaces throughout the state. Among PTNY’s major programs are Healthy Trails, Healthy People, a 12-year effort to help communities create multi-use trails from the ground up, and the Canalway Trail Partnership, the focus of which is to complete and promote the 524-mile Canalway Trail.

Sasha Eisenstein is the Trail Manager and Business Development Specialist for the Canal Corporation. Sasha comes to us from Audubon, NY where she served as Government Relations Manager, developing and managing a comprehensive statewide strategy that included engagement, education and advocacy across the Federal, state and local spectrum of governments. Prior to that, she served as a Special Assistant for the Environment for Governor Andrew Cuomo. Her experience in government relations; environmental policy; open space and recreational access development; community engagement; marketing and budgeting will all serve Sasha well in her new role.

Scott Keller is the Acting Executive Director for the Hudson River Valley Greenway and the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area. He is responsible for all aspects of the Greenway and NHA. Prior to becoming Acting Executive Director Scott worked on all aspects of the Hudson River Greenway Trail system. Scott was responsible for the development of the Hudson River Greenway Water Trail (HRGWT), a 256 mile, 117 site water trail from Whitehall, New York to Battery Park in Manhattan. In 2012 HRGWT was named one of the first nine National Water Trails by the US Department of the Interior. He has served on the Hudson River Watertrail Association Board of Directors since 1994. He also previously served on the North American Water Trails Board of Directors. In 2013 Parks and Trails New York presented him with their Public Leadership Award for his work on HRGWT. He is married, has three children and lives near Albany. Paddling has been an integral part of his life since he was a child. Prior to his transfer to Albany, he commuted to work by canoe across the Hudson between Ulster and Dutchess Counties.

Tom Sexton has been the Director of the 10-state Northeast Regional Office of the Rails to Trails Conservancy since 1991, the same year he founded the Environmental Fund for Pennsylvania. In the early 90s, he was the lead Pennsylvania advocate for Transportation Enhancements (now TAP) and he led the effort to protect unused rail bridges and tunnels, which resulted in an 18-month demolition moratorium. Tom led the most comprehensive study of rail-trail maintenance practices from over 200 trail managers in 2015. He was Co-chair of the 1999 International Trails and Greenways Conference.

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