Committee members dream of happy trails

With talk of oil addiction on many people's minds, members of one town committee floated the dream of a trail linking four green corners of Bethlehem.

The Citizens Advisory Committee on Conservation met Monday, July 10, and discussed linking Five Rivers, Elm Avenue Park, the Normanside Golf Course and the land behind Price Chopper, where the Vista Technology Park is slated to be built.

Down the center of that loop and connected to it would run the Albany County Rail Trail. Several committee members wanted to focus only on the area around the Vista property, but others favored the larger scope.

You have to know essentially where the trail is going, committee member Jeff Freedman said.

The committee's report on a trail system will likely be given to the town board in September or October, committee chair John Smolinsky said. It is only a starting point for the board.

Still even if the town board takes up the committee's ideas, before anyone can easily walk, rollerblade or bike about town, a lot of other players will have to be on board.

Albany County for one.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Smolinsky said, the county has not yet purchased the spine of the project " the rail/trail land "from Canadian Pacific Railroad. The rail trail would also take Bethlehem residents into Albany where they could connect with the Mohawk Hudson Bike Trail.

"All the parties are still on track to make (the land purchase) happen. They expect it would be another six months to a year before they will finalize the deal," Smolinsky said.

Also several years off is the Vista project, which is still in its infancy.

Add to the mix a consultant the town is in the process of hiring. That may make the committee more of an advisory body for the trail system rather than the actual planner. The consultant's role should be clear by the committee's August meeting.

In another year or two a study on the watershed located 1 kilometer from the Normanskill now under way may also impact the long-term plans for the trails. The Hudson River Estuary program, a state program, is funding the study and the New York chapter of the Audubon Society will do the work.

"These are long-term visions and long-term changes in the area that are going to take time," Smolinsky said. ""

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