Rail Trail open for business

Public-private partnership leads way to light use of 1.9 miles of trail

They've finally legalized it.

Walkers and runners are now free to use a portion of the Albany County Rail Trail after local officials and open space activists gathered today to cut the ribbon on a 1.9-mile section running through the Town of Bethlehem.

We know people have been walking it, but they can now do it legally and not feel guilty about it, said Jill Knapp, executive director of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy. "I just hope it gets a lot of use and everyone enjoys the effort that's been put into this."

The MHLC will be assuming the cost of liability insurance on the trail. Town of Bethlehem crews will help out with maintenance including mowing, and already volunteers have spent hours pruning the corridor. The county, which owns the land, agreed to participate in the partnership.

There's only some limited work to be done before the trail can be brought up to standards for mountain bike use, and advocates of the project hope it's only a matter of time before more of the trail can be opened.

"I'm really excited that we can open this section so our community can enjoy this," said County Legislator Thomas Cotrofeld, who has the newly-opened section of trail running through his district. "I look forward to when the whole 9.1 miles of the trail can be opened."

A year ago, the prospects were not so good for anyone who dreamed of legally walking the trail. The county completed the purchase of the corridor from Canadian Pacific Railway in early 2010, but funding the completion of the trail would prove to be a much heavier lift with nearly $8 million of work needed at last estimate.

The county has $2.4 million of federal money promised so far, but lining up other grants has proven difficult. The county wants to pave the entire path and repair or replace eight bridges that cross roads and rivers along the route. The county also wants to do this without any cost to the taxpayer and all in one project, which would save on construction costs.

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