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Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently proposed to spend $200 million in public money to connect Western New York, the Canadian border north of Plattsburgh and New York City with a hiking and biking trail, which he calls the Empire State Trail. The state would build 350 new miles of trail to create the largest state multiuse trail network in the nation.
The governor and proponents of the plan maintain such a trail would boost tourism in upstate communities. There are concerns, however, about how the costs of maintaining the pathways would be paid for. The funding sought by Cuomo would be dedicated only for construction of the 750-mile trail.
One segment is slated to follow the Erie Canalway Trail, from Albany to Buffalo. In the Finger Lakes region, the trail would go through Monroe, Orleans and Wayne counties. Another part of the trail would run from Lower Manhattan through the Hudson Valley and the Adirondacks to Canada.
The Erie Canalway is nearly 80 percent complete and runs some 360 miles along the Erie Canal. The governor’s plan to complete this trail coincides with the bicentennial of the Erie Canal, officials said. Each year, some 1.5 million people use the Erie Canalway Trail, resulting in an estimated $253 million in economic activity from visitor spending. With this proposal, remaining gaps will be completed, connecting the two trails to establish New York’s Empire State Trail.
A poll released by Siena College in late January found 52 percent of respondents oppose the project.
State officials say these long-distance destination trails are economic drivers that can generate $1.5 million to $5 million in annual economic impact for surrounding communities. Additionally, the trail network is expected to support an estimated 9.6 jobs for every $1 million invested.
The work would be done in three phases of construction, with completion targeted for 2020.
Editor’s note: Due to some errors and glitches with this week’s poll, we decided not to feature the poll data.
The cost is enormous, as are the benefits. I believe that some of the not-for-profit companies whose focus is on preserving nature and wilderness should/could chip in on some of the cost. It is also possible that Boy Scouts and similar organizations could take small chunks, given the formula for how it should be, and create part of it. (An award could be offered for the community group doing the best job.)
—Diana Gardner Robinson, Choices Success Strategies Coaching
Sounds like a nice idea, but I’d rather see the funds used for fixing our existing infrastructure—roads (parkway?), bridges, parks and so on.
With all the major issues facing New York State, this is how the governor wants to spend $200 million of our money? How about returning it to the taxpayers and letting them choose how to spend it and generate economic activity?
—Keith Robinson, Diamond Packaging
Oppose 1,000 percent! Because all of our problems are solved, so why not build a $200 million trail with the extra money we have lying around? Honestly, what is he thinking? Reminds me of the game Sim City. When the residents of the city would get angry with the crime and high taxes, you would build a park and they would be happy again for a little while. There are seriously millions of better ways to spend the taxpayers’ money. I think he forgets that it is not his money that he is spending.
Let me clearly say that I oppose every single word of this trail proposal. This will be a complete waste of taxpayer money, and it will not draw tourists. It will draw drug traffickers and provide a great off-road series of pathways to move drugs, guns and money around the state and across borders. It will invite crime and push away families and tourists. And, more taxpayers.
I never comment on these snap polls, but feel I must on this issue. While my wife and I are avid walkers of the towpath along the canal and see the value of the project, I cannot fathom how it would cost $200 million to essentially extend the existing paths by 350 miles. At roughly $571,000 per mile, how much fat is in that budget? Then there are no dollars allocated to service it over time. Wow!
This is relatively small money to create a destination that will draw people to N.Y., help them see the beauty of our state, and create a place that supports the health of our population. It’s likely that reductions in health care costs associated with more healthy people would more than pay for this, if economic justification beyond the likely tourism increase is needed.
—Dave Vanable, Honeoye Falls
At this point I do support the proposal; however, the trail system would have to be flexible for bikers as well as runners and hikers, but also scalable for cross-country skiers and snowmobilers in the winter. Another key would be places for tourists to stay and eat if they wanted to spend a couple of days on the trail. Has a lot of potential, but any spend would have to be thought out carefully to avoid simply sunk costs. If successful, the payment could be substantial and quick if a lot of early adopters use it and provide positive feedback. Advertise it, but no more signs on the side of the highways!
I support this with the following caveat: Monies will need to be in place for upkeep/security of this trail and, in order to facilitate the expected increase in tourism (both local and international), it would be helpful to know what is being planned for additional lodging, food, etc., easily accessible from this trail.
With the increasing risks of biking on-road due to driver distraction, there is a real need for traffic-free trails for recreational bikers. If you build it, they will come. There is already one organized annual canal camping ride, but once the Erie Canal trail is fully connected, other organized and self-guided tours are sure to pop up, catering to bikers who will bring business to hotels and restaurants along the way. As a way to fund continuing maintenance of the trail, the state should consider offering people/companies the opportunity to pay an annual fee to sponsor sections of the trail (as sections of the highway are now sponsored). This would be great advertising for local businesses along the trail.
—Maggie Symington, Brighton
I wholeheartedly support state funds for these types of initiatives that help to connect communities, bring visitors to places they wouldn’t go otherwise, and allow people to explore the great outdoors. You can see so much more when you are walking, biking and running outside. I hope the affected communities will embrace the plan, and Friends groups can help to maintain the trails.
—Maria Bucci, Canandaigua
There are a number of reasons to oppose this proposal: 1. The state government is corrupt. We need to clean it up before embarking on new spending projects. 2. The maintenance and security of this trail is bound to become another unfunded mandate that our local government will be forced to pay. 3. It will mean seizure of private property. 4. Most important, we have to stop looking to tourism as the cure for our ailing economy. Tourism is fine when it evolves on its own, but we should be devoting our efforts to eliminating the many impediments that exist in creating skilled manufacturing and tech jobs.
Tourism and allowing state residents to appreciate and enjoy our natural resources is a good reason to support this important project.
—Lee Drake, OS-Cubed Inc.
If it makes sense, raise the money and do it yourself. Stop trying to put all these ridiculous projects on the backs of the taxpayer, 99 percent of whom will never use them.
—Kenya Burn-Moore, Rochester
As a Scout leader, and one who appreciates history, I do like the idea (not the price tag). Maybe Cuomo can take a page out of President Trump’s practices and find a way to lower the cost.
I use the canal path for biking and walking. Improving it would be a nice asset for all New Yorkers.
I’m in support of this wholeheartedly, and it’s about time! I’m an avid road cyclist and, assuming the project includes paving a good portion of the pathways (always looking for that safe and beautiful 50- or 100-mile trek), this type of infrastructure and recreational improvement would be advantageous on so many levels. I think this would go a long way to improve the attractiveness of the state, both to tourists and those who are contemplating residing (or staying) here. And this doesn’t even include the multitude of abandoned railway rights-of-way that could provide usable trails for hikers and bikers in the Greater Rochester area to destinations like Letchworth (and other state parks), Niagara Falls, the Finger Lakes and lower Southern Tier areas. If our local communities and counties are willing to work with the state, maintaining the pathways should be entirely doable and manageable. Projects like this (along with contemplating something like a phased and expanding light-rail network) just open up the expansive beauty of our state for many in-state residents and out-of-state tourists. This just can’t happen soon enough!
We rate at the bottom in taxes, job growth and population attrition, and this governor wants to build bike trails. Good grief, has he ever seen a boondoggle he doesn’t like?
—Steve Wichtowski, Honeoye
An interconnected hiking and biking trail is a great idea. I believe it will greatly improve the quality of life for many.
I wholeheartedly support the trail, and would seek opportunities to use it whenever and wherever possible. It would make New York an even better state than it already is, giving people more access to some of the lesser-traveled but still gorgeous parts of our state. Much of New York is truly magnificent! But many have no clue how beautiful it really is. This trail would do a lot for those willing to get out and explore beyond their own communities. I see this project as providing a valuable quality-of-life resource for all who have a sense of adventure and a love of the outdoors.
—Jocelyn Goldberg, Schaible Rochester Research Group
Use the $200 million to pay for the federal paperwork and processing to get all the illegal immigrants that are in New York State filed for legal immigration so that they can be legal immigrants and U.S. citizens.
The numbers don’t add up. 2,000 jobs? The difference between 1.5 and 5 million is quite a big difference also. Someone in the “trail-building industry” must have made a substantial contribution.