The completion of a major trailway in New York state could have benefits for Onondaga County

Courtesy of James Meerdink

A new proposal from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo could have benefits for Onondaga County.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed $200 million in funding to complete the Empire State Trail, a 756-mile off-road trailway for walkers and cyclists that would be the largest of its kind in the country.

The Empire State Trail aims to create a network of off-road trails that would connect the Erie Canalway trail and the Hudson River Valley Greenway, extending the network to the Canadian border. The Erie Canalway would stretch from Albany to Buffalo and the Hudson River Valley Greenway would extend from New York City to Lake George. Cuomo has said the trail would be completed by 2020.

The $200 million would be used in part to fill gaps in the existing trails. One of those gaps spans 14 miles between Camillus and DeWitt running through the city of Syracuse, said James Meerdink, project director of Parks & Trails New York.

The state money will be used over several years, with one portion of the money being used to complete the Erie Canalway trail from Buffalo to Albany. The Erie Canalway trail is 80 percent complete with several gaps between cities, including the gap between Camillus and DeWitt, Meerdink said.

Parks & Trails New York conducted an economic impact study in 2014, which stated that the Erie Canalway trail generates approximately $250 million in sales — because of visitor spending — and supports about 3,000 jobs in the state.

The other portion of the $200 million will go toward road enhancements on the trail to the Canadian border and improving the existing Hudson River Valley Greenway from Lake George to New York City, Meerdink said.

Each gap in the trail falls under the jurisdiction of the area it’s located in, said Travis Glazier, director of the Onondaga County Office of the Environment.

Glazier said Onondaga County has not received exact details on how the $200 million will be apportioned throughout the state, but his understanding is that it is a competitive program. The program consists of counties putting forth a proposal to close the gaps, and with Onondaga County’s extensive research on the impact of the gap between Camillus and DeWitt and possible solutions to filling it, Glazier said he believes the county is “well-positioned to compete for some of that (funding).”

Large businesses look to build offices and branches in places their employees would be interested in living in, and the new Empire State Trail could attract businesses and people to the state, said Jeanie Gleisner, program manager of comprehensive planning for the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board.

Syracuse loses out on some of those economic benefits because of its lack of off-road trails throughout the city, Meerdink said. Cyclists have to ride on city roads, often unprotected from drivers, he also noted.

To combat this, local and regional groups have identified several options for a possible bike trail through Syracuse.

“It’s a very difficult setting for developing a trail because of the urban setting and all of the different barriers,” Gleisner said. “There’s highways, there’s busy traffic and there’s all kinds of commercial establishments with driveways so if you try to put a bike path through that, it’s not easy.”

Gleisner said the trail could bring money into Syracuse because the city would act as a rest stop for cyclists riding on the trail.

“I know that, from some of the research we’ve done, that cyclists are some of the most readily interested folks in the marketplace in terms of visitation,” she said. “If you have a great cycling region, these folks want to come and visit. They’ll stay a week and spend money because they tend to have money to spend.”

Glazier said he has seen the positive impacts of trails in Syracuse personally. With the Onondaga Creekwalk in downtown Syracuse, Glazier said it transformed the landscape from “a sketchy area” to a place with higher property values where people want to live.

Onondaga County’s government has also become more reliant on sales tax in recent years, Glazier said. He added that the trail’s impact could be substantial for the community because it brings in money not only from residents, but from tourists coming to the county and purchasing things within the community.

“(Cuomo) is interested in this idea of selling something we have that we’ve never really pursued as an economic development tool, and I think he sees upstate as an area of great potential in certain ways,” Gleisner said.


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