Trail project aims to expand tourism, recreation opportunities

Jan 15, 2017

Imagine a sprawling network of hiking and biking trails that connect some of New York’s most historic and scenic sites in a unified 750-mile route.

When Governor Cuomo trekked to Western New York this month to deliver one of his State of the State speeches, he discussed the proposed Empire State Trail. The three-year project would create an additional 350 miles of paved trails across the state, linking existing trails. It would allow hikers and bikers to trek from Buffalo to the Adirondacks- and all the way to the New York Harbor.

Credit New York State

Deborah Fenn, co-chair of the Erie-Cattaraugus Rail Trail told WBFO she has used the existing trail network.

“It’s beautiful, but there are parts that are not finished. There are parts that are simply sort of a grass trail. There are parts that you can’t even go on -- you're  out on a road. Unfortunately those parts go through places like Herkimer and Syracuse that are quite hilly,” Fenn said.

If completed, the recreational paths would be the largest state multiuse trail network in the United States.

“I’m sure that it will get fantastic use not just for people in New York State,” Fenn said, noting the existing trail already attracts people from all over the world.

According to Parks and Trails New York, a nonprofit advocacy group, the Erie Canalway Trail alone attracts more than 1.6 million visitors annually.  Fenn took a trip along the Erie Canal route last summer.

“What’s really neat is that as you travel the trail with a group of people, if these little towns and villages know that you’re on the trail end, they anticipate your arrival,” Fenn said. “They’re very welcoming and it’s really been a really great, quiet economic generator.” 

Cuomo said he will push for $53 million in the upcoming state to begin a project that is expected to cost $200 million.

Fenn said she would eventually like to see the trail expansions extend south to connect New York trails to the Allegheny Mountains.

Beyond the economic impact an expanded trail network could have on the state, Fenn said the project also promotes wellness.

“More people are including trails in their exercise regime,” she noted.

WBFO's Brandon Gonzalez contributed to this report.