Looking ahead on the future of the Helderberg Hudson Rail Trail

Helderberg Hudson Rail Trail 2017-July

Though a portion of it has only been paved for a few years, the Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail is already one of the area's most popular hike/bike paths. And 2018 is shaping up to be another big year -- the trail is set for more miles of pavement and a trailhead makeover.

Here are a few things about what's ahead...

The Slingerlands trailhead

Albany County Rail Trail Slingerlands trailhead 2017 overhead slide

At a public meeting Monday night in Elsemere, representatives of the engineering firm Creighton Manning presented three options for a makeover of the trailhead on Kenwood Ave in Slingerslands, where the paved portion of the trail currently ends.

The project basically has two parts: 1) Formatting and paving the parking area (there are three options) and 2) fixing up the bridge that carries the trail over New Scotland Road and repairing the sidewalks below the bridge. You can check out slides from the short presentation online.

The goal is to have the trailhead makover finished next summer. If you'd like to offer feedback, the county is accepting public comments through December 1.

The depot building

On the west side of the Slingerlands trailhead there's an old railroad depot building that dates back to the 19th century. It's currently private property, but Albany County is in the process of finalizing the purchase of the building and the home just across the trail. (You might remember that this spot had been a point a conflict with the property owner about through access for the trail.) Michael Lalli, a policy analyst for the county, said Monday that the county is hoping to close on the deal sometime in the next month or so.

So that depot building presents some possibilities for new amenities. Monday's event included tables with maps on which members of the public could write annotations and suggestions. Pretty much every table had marked "bathrooms" on the depot building.

Paving to Voorheesville

The segment of the path from Slingerlands west to Voorheesville is currently unpaved -- but the four miles set to get pavement next year. Albany County department of public works commissioner Lisa Ramundo told the crowd Monday that county crews will prep the gravel in spring after the thaw and paving should be complete sometime during the summer.

When finished, the rail trail will have 9 miles of pavement from South Pearl Street in Albany all the way out to Voorheesville.

The rail trail as a whole

Monday's meeting drew a large crowd -- at least 50 people. And even though it was specifically about the Slingerlands trailhead, people had plenty to say during the Q&A about all sorts of issues related to the trail: signage, hours of use, lighting, first responder access, etiquette.

The trail is popular. Even though it's only been paved for a few years, it's already the second most-used bike hike trail in the region. And it's understanble why -- the path cuts through some beautiful scenery and it connects a series of communities.

So with the second portion of the trail set to be paved next year, this feels like a good time to be thinking about the trail in some sort of overall way.

Helderberg Hudson Rail Trail mural complete
The new mural along the trail in Delmar. It's by artist Andrea Hersh and was backed by the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy's Art on the Rail Trail committee.

Michael Lalli, the county policy analyst who's attached to the project, said Monday that Albany County officials are looking at a range of opportunities associated with the trail, from better ways to connect businesses and trail users along the path to fielding inquiries from people and groups who'd like to pursue art projects. He also pointed to the potential of the planned connector in the city of Albany between the Helderberg-Hudson trail and the Mohawk-Hudson Hike-Bike Trail.

A few possible points of discussion that came to our mind for the next year:

+ Are there opportunities to set up "destinations" along the trail -- say, maybe, an overlook in the Normanskill gorge, or picnic areas.

+ Are there ways to make the trail more of a route for commuters? As one member of the public noted during the Q&A Monday, if you're using the trail to get to and from work this time of year, you're probably going to be cycling when it's dark. So can/should there be lighting in some areas?

+ As more people use the trail there are bound to be a few people who act in ways that most of us wish they didn't. There were a few comments Monday about etiquette, noise, and litter. What options are there for thoughtful enforcement if a problem becomes persistent?

+ What sorts of connections might there be between the trail and the communities along it? Are there spots that would be good candidates for connecting bike lanes to the trail?

+ What about expanding bike share stations along the length of the trail?

+ How can the trail continue to be a relaxing, joyful place?

Comments

Are you SURE that there is a commitment to finishing the paving out to Voorheesville? I attended the meeting and heard a little "squishiness" in the schedule. Seems like they are committed to paving out to the New Scotland Bridge, which is really only a couple hundred yards, but that the several miles out to Voorheesville are a "discrete" project that was not specifically addressed. Maybe I'm just being paranoid but I've spent years "decoding" bureaucratic speak. Last year they abruptly canceled paving in progress cause of lack of funds. Allegedly. It would also be great if they could get the paving done in April and May instead of the vague "summer" time frame. That way people could enjoy it this year.

What does "discrete" paving mean?

@frank kelly: Yes, as I understand it, the trailhead project/bridge improvement and paving the rest of the way to Voorheesville are separate projects. But I wouldn't read too much into a lack of a hard date to start paving the last segment other than "early summer." A handful of factors -- especially weather -- can cause the timeline for projects to shift. But if July arrives and there's still no work, then, yep, there would be good cause to question what's up.

there should be a "spur" for the trail from the corning preserve over the (planned, new) Livingston Ave Bridge (Amtrak) to connect Albany to Rensselaer (which in turn could tie into Troy's bike trails). While it may be years away, "pushing" Amtrak to commit to pedestrian and bike access to any new bridge is an important goal. My understanding is that the existing bridge had pedestrian access, but that it's use was discontinued.

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