The plans for a new 9-mile public trail linking the Village of Cold Spring in Putnam County and the City of Beacon in Dutchess County along Route 9D via Breakneck Ridge are gaining momentum. The beginning stages of the proposed Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail is expected to break ground this spring.
The proposed multi-use trail will begin at the Metro-North Cold Spring station, wind through Little Stony Point and follow the Hudson River’s edge to the Breakneck Ridge trailhead and Metro-North Whistle Stop station. The trail continues north through Dutchess Junction Park to connect with existing trails in Beacon, such as Dennings Point and Madam Brett Park, ending at the Metro-North Beacon station.
Avid hiker Jesse Kaplan is no stranger to the well-traveled network of local trails. As the manager of Max’s on Main in Beacon, he believes the area can benefit from a new major trail.
“Everyone knows about Mount Beacon, Breakneck Ridge and the trails around them,” Kaplan said. “Something connecting Beacon directly to Cold Spring, specifically around the water, is going to be ideal for hikers and tourists — even for our dogs.”
The proposed Fjord (pronounced “fee-yord”) Trail master draft plan was unveiled to more than 100 residents and public officials of both Putnam and Dutchess counties during an open forum last fall, in an effort to gauge public reaction and answer any questions about the 10-section plan. The Town of Fishkill — in collaboration with the City of Beacon, Village of Cold Spring and Town of Philipstown — was awarded a grant by the New York State Hudson River Valley Greenway program to create the draft proposal in 2013.
More than a dozen agencies, including non-profit environmental groups, state agencies and municipalities, are involved in the project, which could take an estimated 10 years to complete.
“Breakneck Ridge is considered one of the premier hiking destinations in the country,” Town of Fishkill Supervisor Bob LaColla said. “The project began as a way to address safety issues related to all the people who were showing up, mainly on weekends, to hike the trails. What’s great about this is we have so many partners around the table and all saw a benefit to seeing this project totally develop.”
Breakneck Ridge is part of the 6,000-acre Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve, stretching from Peekskill to Beacon. The steep 5.5 mile Breakneck Ridge trail climbs to 1,250 feet in less than a mile and offers sweeping views of the Hudson River.
“What everybody wants to see is world-class amenities that fit within the environment and provide an ease of access, and a level of safety isn’t there now. The more people that know about it, the more fans the project will get,” LaColla said.
Soliciting public opinion
Scenic Hudson, one of the organizations involved, has taken the reins as the central contact on the project. Besides running the official webpage, the group recently conducted an online survey to gather input on the proposed route since the public presentation.
“There was so much to cover in the meeting, we didn’t really have a chance for people to say whether or not they agreed, what they thought about each section, what they liked and didn’t like,” Scenic Hudson Senior Planner Amy Kacala said.
RBA Group, the environmental engineering and landscape architecture firm that drafted the plan, considered safety, river access and views, accessibility, cost and technological feasibility as major factors.
The 22-question survey, which closed to public input Jan. 16, garnered more than 450 responses to questions such as, “How would you use the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail?” to ranking the importance of specific improvements to route safety, such as signage and bike lanes, to suggesting ways to deal with traffic congestion and parking.
“We are ready to tweak the plan if needed, but the results so far show there is strong agreement with all the segment routes as proposed. It’s more how the trail will be put in place,” Kacala said.
For example, people are worried about the look and feel of the trail. Kacala explained the importance of constructing the trail in a way that showcases the natural beauty of the landscape, instead of serving as a distraction.
“You can easily have a trail that fits into the landscape, as long as it’s prepared well by whoever’s doing it,” Kaplan said. “It doesn’t have to be a blacktopped, giant open space. As long as it’s carved into the side, by the beaches, I think it will look good, just like the old barge roads.”
The other major concern, and one of the roots of the Fjord project overall, are the safety concerns in the 9D corridor and pedestrian management, Kacala said.
“Those who have driven through 9D on the weekends inherently understand when there are a lot of hikers,” she said.
Kaplan said he also believes safety is an issue.
“9D doesn’t go directly against the water, the train tracks are there, and you have the beaches,” he said. “Walking and parking your car going up to Breakneck, especially before they built the extension lot, was very dangerous. Hikers would be right there on 9D while cars were going by at 55 miles-per-hour. But, with the correct signage and enough guardrails and fences blocking off the trail from the major highway, people should be fine.”
Another public event is planned for March to share the survey results and explain how the information was used to create a finalized master plan.
“After endorsements by all four municipalities the trail goes through, an environmental review would be done to get a general sense of environmental impact and threshold, then an engineering plan with a higher level of detail, ” Kacala said.
Two projects on the Fjord Trail will break ground this spring, both part of the first section of the trail starting in Cold Spring and paid for by two separate $100,000 New York state grants awarded to the Town of Philipstown in 2013.
The group hopes to break ground on a third project this summer using a different grant awarded to the Town of Fishkill in 2014. All three projects are expected to be completed by the end of summer.
The first project will expand the Washburn parking lot, on Route 9D across the street from Little Stony Point, starting this spring. Funding will also include designing a wayfinding system and installing gateway signs.
The second project will create a sidewalk path along Fair Street (located two blocks north of the Metro-North Cold Spring station) all the way to the entrance of Little Stony Point. The sidewalk project has already been designed and is also set to begin construction in spring.
The third project, also the most expensive, will improve the pedestrian connection and parking situation between the Whistle Stop platform at Breakneck Ridge and the Breakneck Trailhead. The projectincludes improving the Breakneck parking lot and the installation of banners.
The Fjord coalition was awarded just more than half of the $1.7 million grant applied for. Since the project is not fully designed and is just getting underway, the partnership group is reworking the numbers for the reduced budget and may divide the project into phases.
“With the award, the amount delivered was a quite a bit less than what was requested,” LaColla said. “We’re going to have to adjust and come up with a new scope of work.”
Kacala said the project could take 10 years to complete.
“The real message is, it’s a big project, but it’s going to move forward,” Kacala said. “We’ve been in this planning phase and even though we have these grants, we haven’t been able to break ground yet. I think there is a lot of excitement in the community for this to happen and I look forward to people being able to see some of the results of their work and input.”
Stefanie Schappert is a freelance writer. Reach her at email@example.com
Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail
Inquiries: Contact Scenic Hudson Senior Planner Amy Kacala at 845-473-4440 ext. 276 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Fjord Trail local partners
Hudson Highlands Land Trust, Scenic Hudson, Open Space Institute, Hudson River Foundation, Hudson River Valley Greenway, Friends of Fahnestock & Hudson Highlands State Parks, NY-NJ Trail Conference, Little Stony Point Citizens Association.
Municipal partners: Town of Philipstown, Town of Fishkill, Village of Cold Spring, City of Beacon
Other agency support: NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; NYS Department of Transportation; NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Central Hudson Gas & Electric and Metro-North Railroad