A long-term agreement has been reached between the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad and the Erie Cattaraugus Rail Trail, giving the green light to the conversion of a 27-mile former rail line into a multi-use recreational trail.
Spanning five municipalities and two counties, Trail Co-Chair Deborah Fenn says what will be known as the Erie Cattaraugus Rail Trail will follow an important historic and wildlife corridor and be longest trail of its kind in Western New York.
For more than a century, this rail line was a major freight route with some passenger trains. It was also once studied as a potential transit route to the football stadium in Orchard Park. When its Springville rail bridge needed major repairs and after a major wreck near Kissing Bridge, the railroad shifted traffic away from the line in 1996.
It has been 22 years since rail traffic stopped on the line and the weeds began to grow over the tracks and branches spread overhead. For a decade, community groups have been negotiating with the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad for use of the line. They have now signed a 49-year lease that allows for the railroad to potentially take it back some day.
Now that the agreement is in place, rail trail co-chair Deborah Fenn said fundraising to convert the line can now begin.
"It's just a beautiful, absolutely exquisite trail and if you're a nature lover, if you're a biker, if you're a walker, this is your kind of trail," Fenn said. "I mean, it goes through rich farmland, some old-growth forested areas, some really interesting pristine ponds that you pass by as you walk along the corridor, ski country and then to end up over that high tressel bridge, it will definately be a tourist destination."
Officials are hoping the effort will also spark new recreational small businesses along the trail.
"In these small hamlets, there's not a whole lot going on economically," Fenn said, "and to have a restaurant, a little B&B, some bicycle repair shops, other types of little shops opening up would add a heck of lot to those communities in terms of economic development, not to mention real estate increases in value."
Fenn said Springville may be the first area for work to start. Mayor Bill Krebs said the village had a prior lease that has been a real success, like covering the rails crossing Main Street.
"We've planted trees. We've built a rail trail on West Main Street, with cooperation of the surrounding property owners, restaurants, so that people can park there. We've put benches. We've put picnic tables. There's, of course, signage," Krebs said.
Krebs said the the Springville Pop Warner Rail Trail has been a major success, used by all segments of the community. Erie County Environment and Planning Commissioner Thomas Hersey said he lives near a successful rail trail.
"Rails-to-trails project that went in in Tonawanda," Hersey said, "and I can pretty much see it from the end of my street corner and can see the traffic, the community connections, the people that it has brought to it and, really, you can see the economic driver that these trails have become in our communities."