Orange County and the Open Space Institute (OSI) are working to build a new 9.8-mile trail that will span from Camp La Guardia in the Town of Chester to the Moodna trestle in Salisbury Mills.
The proposed Schunnemunk Rail Trail would be utilized by commuters, cyclists, and pedestrians connecting with the County’s Heritage Trail in Chester. Construction on the Schunnemunk Rail Trail, subject to County Legislature approval and necessary environmental reviews, could begin in late 2022 or early 2023 depending on a variety of title acquisition and environmental issues. Once work begins, the project could take approximately 16 to 24 months to complete.
Total cost would be $18 million. The county would buy the property from Open Space Institute for $1.8 million. The remaining $16.2 million would cover engineering and design, construction, construction review, public art and maintenance. Out of the $18 million, $14.4 million (or 80 percent) is from a federal grant; $1.8 million will be from state.
“The Schunnemunk Rail Trail will provide residents with another venue to utilize for exercise and it will also facilitate bicycle and pedestrian connections for commuters,” Executive Steven M. Neuhaus said. “This project will improve public transportation and will showcase another beautiful portion of our county. It is an impressive expansion of the county’s rail trail network and will facilitate the conservation of significant open space.”
Neuhaus applauded the efforts of the Open Space Institute which secured a formal agreement to purchase the property earlier this year. OSI, Orange County Land Trust, and Neuhaus began discussions several months ago about the County’s potential role to help create the path once the sale is completed. The County Planning, Law, Parks and Public Works Departments have been working with OSI though the process to develop potential grant sources, address potential legal issues, and plan for development. The Orange County Land Trust (OCLT) has been supporting OSI and the County on the initiation and planning of the project.
The Schunnemunk Rail Trail project would also mark the first significant success included in OSI’s Highlands West Connectivity Plan announced in February in partnership with the Orange County Land Trust and The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. Chief among the goals of the plan is connecting 93,000 acres of protected land and six state parks in eastern Orange County. This single transaction achieves roughly 30 percent of the Plan’s connectivity goal of creating and rerouting 30 miles of trails in the region.
“Securing the Schunnemunk Rail Trail is a momentous first step as we set out to link 93,000 acres of protected land within Orange County,” OSI president and CEO Kim Elliman said.
“The Schunnemunk Rail Trail project will connect communities with the surrounding landscape and support the goals of local economic development and open space projection.” added Jim Dehner, OCLT’s Executive Director.
The Schunnemunk Rail Trail is an abandoned portion of the former Erie Railroad Line which traverses through the Town of Cornwall, the Village of Washingtonville, the Town of Blooming Grove, ending at Camp LaGuardia near the Heritage Trail and running northeast to the Moodna Trestle in the Town of Cornwall. This multi-use recreation trail will expand connections from Schunnemunk State Park to Goosepond Mountain State Park, and the Salisbury Mills Cornwall Trail Station and the Village of Washingtonville.
The 112-acre property is currently owned by Erie Properties Corp. It has been secured with a Purchase and Sale Agreement by OSI, a regional land trust founded in 1974. There are five bridges along the line that cross the Moodna Creek and one that crosses State Route 94. This section of the Erie Railroad was identified as a priority project in the Town of Blooming Grove’s Community Preservation Plan and the Town of Blooming Grove’s Open Space Inventory, which was adopted by the Town Board in October of 2019.