Voorheesville Troop 73 boy scout Michael Strauss, center left, listens as Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy, center right, praises his dedication to develop a train-viewing platform for the community and traveling train enthusiasts.Diego Cagara / Spotlight News
VOORHEESVILLE — Local train enthusiasts have a reason to rejoice.
A new train-viewing platform is being erected across from the Albany County Rail Trail Pavilion on 8 Grove St. in Voorheesville, which allows people to enjoy the sight of passing trains under a designated roof. The platform, however, is not complete yet as it still needs a handicap-accessible ramp and a little barrier – possibly shrubbery or landscaping – which would deter people crossing that barrier and accidentally get too close to the tracks or passing trains.
The mastermind behind this project, 18-year-old Voorheesville resident Michael Strauss, said it will likely be complete within the next two weeks. Construction had initially begun in late June but its conception has been on Strauss’ mind for over two years now.
Strauss, a senior at Clayton A. Bouton High School, is a boy scout at the village’s Troop 73 who has been eager to receive the highly-coveted Eagle Scout rank for years, which will become a reality later this fall. Since first joining at 12, he said he has enjoyed learning multiple life skills like becoming a leader and being self-sufficient, and he envisioned the train-viewing platform as his project to help attain the aforementioned rank.
“I’ve learned what it is to be an Eagle Scout and what the project represents. It’s about being a leader and leading a group of people to accomplish something,” Strauss said, connecting this project’s idea with how he himself is a train enthusiast.
“Voorheesville is a train village and a big reason is that Voorheesville became a place for people to live in since it was originally a vacation spot for people from the city of Albany and even maybe New York City. People would come down for the day and that’s how Voorheesville was built up,” he added. He said his project’s site location is significant for being where the original train tracks were built in the village.
He perceived his project as an artistic and functional homage to Voorheesville’s history with trains as well as to complement fellow train enthusiasts. He had first pitched his ideas to the village two years ago as well as to Albany County officials, since the property is technically county property, he said. He received major support from them and then learned to get a building permit.
According to him, the overall project cost a hair over $10,000 — $5,000 was donated by the Voorheesville Community and School Foundation and $4,000 was donated by CSX Transportation, the freight railroad company that owns the tracks near the platform. The rest of the money stemmed from generous donations from throughout the village, including its volunteer fire department.
“Doing this project was a combination of sheer will to do something great for my community and I really appreciate the generous support, time, energy and encouragement from the people around me,” Strauss said.
When asked what type of help he received to erect the platform, Strauss credited several local contractors who helped him realize and finalize the project’s design; his fellow Troop 73 members for helping around the site; the Delmar-based Curtis Lumber for providing some essential materials; and the village’s Public Works Department for helping him move soil and lay the platform’s foundation.
These collaborations helped ease some of Strauss’ main challenges with the project – how he initially did not know much about physically building a platform as well as the lengthy process of getting a public building project application reviewed and approved by the village and county. Regarding the latter point, he said he had to finish most of the project before he turned 18.
Strauss said he also learned how challenging it can be to organize and manage a volunteer group – mainly Voorheesville residents, including contractors, volunteering to help around the site – due to their conflicting schedules but their generosity and expertise in building structures helped.
Despite the train-viewing platform remaining unfinished, Strauss’ parents, Judy and Bryan, as well as several notable local figures like Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy and state Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy spoke at a press conference atop the structure on Wednesday, Sept. 11 to recognize Strauss’ work.
McCoy said he decided to hold on the anniversary of 9/11 to also remember those who perished in the attacks as well as how Sept. 11 was designated by former President Barack Obama as Patriot Day.
Also acknowledging how train enthusiasts are connected with Voorheesville’s long history with trains, McCoy said, “For [Michael Strauss] to look at this site and say, ‘Hey, you know what? People come here, take pictures, and watch trains go by,’ says a lot about you. And to earn your Eagle badge also says a lot and it’s an honor to really thank you for everything.”
He then looked over at Strauss’ parents, also standing atop the structure with them, to thank them “for raising such an extraordinary gentleman and sharing him with us here in the county.”
Fahy similarly echoed McCoy’s words and said, “This is about building a community and strengthening our community. … This is a wonderful way to have done this on 9/11 because you [Michael] are part of our future and it’s somebody like you who gives us hope that we do have future leaders, that we have students and youth who care and recognize the importance of giving back.”
She also complimented how the Rail Trail, which hopes to help bring people to the platform, has been one of the region’s highlights.
After thanking his parents and siblings for motivating him to follow the project through, Strauss concluded, “I feel definitely humbled and proud and I did this because I wanted to show what a boy scout could do for a community and achieve the Eagle Scout rank. It would provide for others and it was really cool to see what it has turned into.”