With eye on transportation, recreation, Dryden works on rail trail expansion plan


By Eric Banford

Tompkins Weekly

Dryden wants more trails running through the town, with an eye on creating alternative transportation and more recreation opportunities for local residents.

Efforts are underway by the Dryden Rail Trail Task Force to expand Dryden’s existing trail system through Freeville, Etna and Varna to connect with the East Hill Recreation Trail in Ithaca. Grants are being applied for, trail work is underway on some sections this summer, and a growing group of citizens are hoping to see this community resource completed in the near future.

“It’s a team effort, and we have a really good team,” said Bob Beck, chairperson of the task force. “We’re obtaining easements from landowners along the entire route between Ithaca and Dryden village; some have been recorded with the County Clerk, some are pledged, and some we are still working on.

“We’re applying to New York state for some funding for sections where we’re ready to go,” he added, “and we have some Dryden youth from the Work Readiness Program through Cornell Cooperative Extension ready to work on the trail this summer.”

Rail-to-Trail efforts have been popular around the world for decades, with communities working to convert former railroad beds into walking and biking paths, greenways and linear parks. New York currently has 104 such trails covering 1,043 miles, with 62 additional projects underway, according to RailsToTrails.org. Germany has the largest number of rail trails in Europe, with 677 rail trails covering more than 3,000 miles.

Proponents of such trails tout an increase in home values along trails, business development, eased commuting and great community health. Opponents often cite property rights, privacy, and increased vandalism as arguments against expanding trails.

As far as opponents of the trails go, the task force is working with each individual to try to work out something that works for everyone.

“When people are reluctant, we want to be good neighbors and work with them,” Beck said. “We’ll continue talking, but in the meantime we’re working with other landowners who are willing to sign easement agreements.

“We don’t consider reluctance at this point a reason to be discouraged,” he added.

Four easement agreements were delivered to Dryden Town Hall last week, including one from the William George Agency that will allow the trail to fully connect the Village of Dryden with the Village of Freeville.

“At this point, we only need to connect sections of the Rail Trail between Varna and Freeville, and conclude negotiations underway regarding trail access on state owned property near Cornell,” said Dryden Town Supervisor Jason Leifer in a prepared statement. “Completing the project will be a 20-year dream that some residents have had for a trail that links our Dryden communities.

“The plan is also to draw new people in to Dryden to enjoy recreation and to visit our businesses,” he added. “We thank all the landowners who have or are planning to contribute land easements to the trail project.”

Most landowners have been really enthusiastic, and with good reason. According to the Rails To Trails Conservancy group, design, engineering and construction of walking and bicycling facilities – such as trails – create more jobs per dollar than any other type of transportation infrastructure construction. Americans spend more on bicycling each year than they do on airline travel. Trail-based tourism is a major economic driver in many small communities, supporting local small businesses through annual revenues of millions of dollars per trail in direct consumer spending in many cases.

Getting out, exercising, enjoying nature and the fresh air, Beck said, are further benefits of access to trails.

“It’s off the road so it’s safer for families,” he said. “Cyclists can commute to work so it reduces fossil fuel use.

“I’m looking forward to the day when I can ride a bike from Dryden Lake all the way to Taughannock Falls Park,” Beck added with a laugh.

He noted that some people have been doubtful about the trail ever being in place, or believing it would take decades to complete.

“It is going to happen, and a lot sooner,” Beck firmly concluded.

Ray Burger, the Town of Dryden’s director of planning, said that a key aspect to remember is that people want to have transportation alternatives.

“Yes, people are going to be using it for recreation, but there’s also the option to ditch the car and get on the trail instead,” he said. “There will be a lot of people who can hop on a bike and ride to jobs at Cornell, Dryden, or Ithaca.

“It just gives us the option to get rid of the car traffic,” Burger added, noting that there are around 20,000 car trips just on Route 13 each day.

The town’s broader view is to form a network that allows for easy connection with existing trails in Dryden and ones in neighboring communities.

“The larger project is getting the entire rail trail reestablished border to border, from the west side of Dryden at the East Hill Rec Way to the present Jim Schug Trail which reaches the eastern boundary of town,” said Burger. “So we’ll have a crosstown thruway, which I think will be a great amenity for the community.

“For the tourism aspect, having interconnected trails, which the county has a whole plan for and which this is an integral part of,” he added, “it makes the county a real tourist destination because people do like to come and have a long trail network where they don’t have to worry about the hassles of traffic.”

Burger said he’s looking forward to riding his bike to Freeville for ice cream, and noted that people are looking for options when it comes to getting around.

“I want to make sure we can promote a variety of transportation alternatives for this community, and this is an important piece to the whole transportation puzzle,” he said. “There are just so many aspects of community health and lifestyle that are served by this.”

For more information about Dryden’s Rail Trail Task Force, visit Dryden.ny.us/board-commission-list/rail-trail-task-force. For more information about the Friends of Dryden Rail Trail, visit Facebook.com/DrydenRailTrail.

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