The path is paved!: Trail to Train links Wassaic station to hamlet’s center
Visiting from Stockbridge, Mass., Linda Russell and Liz Hazen rode their bikes with their husbands (not pictured) along the new bicycle path leading into the hamlet of Wassaic on Saturday, Sept. 12.
Photo by Kaitlin Lyle

The path is paved!: Trail to Train links Wassaic station to hamlet’s center

WASSAIC — More than a decade since the idea of extending the Harlem Valley Rail Trail from the Wassaic Metro-North Train Station into the hamlet of Wassaic was first conceived, the town of Amenia’s long-awaited Trail to the Train project has been completed, marking a milestone for the town and one of the region’s most beloved assets.

According to Wassaic resident Tonia Shoumatoff, the project started around her kitchen table in 2000, when she and her colleagues of the Trail to the Train Committee asked Metro-North to pay for a trail next to the train station.

“We as a community wanted access by a bike and hiking path,” Shoumatoff said, adding that the original idea was to have a boardwalk that would go through the wetlands behind the Amenia firehouse.

Totaling a distance of approximately 3,500 linear feet on lands owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the town of Amenia and other private property owners, it was proposed that the multi-use path would extend from the Wassaic Train Station into the hamlet of Wassaic, establishing a new start for the Harlem Valley Rail Trail (HVRT). Considering that commuters were disembarking the train and either walking along busy Route 22 or on the train tracks to get into Wassaic, Amenia town Supervisor Victoria Perotti said one reason for the trail extension was safety. On top of that, she said the trail could help economic development in the hamlet of Wassaic and add amenities like walking and cycling paths.

Finding funding

To get the project off the ground, Shoumatoff wrote the first three grant applications for the trail in conjunction with Amenia Grant Writer Mike Hagerty and Amenia Councilwoman Vicki Doyle. One was for a $600,000 transportation enhancement grant signed by former town Supervisor Wayne Euvrard that required a 20% match; the town received $480,000 with a $120,000 match. Altogether, Shoumatoff said the Trail to the Train Committee had more than 36 meetings during a three-year period with all the permitting agencies involved in the project, including (among others) the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the New York State Office of Historic Preservation, Dutchess County Planning and Development, Dutchess County Department of Public Works (DPW), the town of Amenia and all of the engineers at Metro-North. 

The project was endorsed by the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro (then a New York State Assemblymember) and many others, though it had its share of issues. 

Some  struggles

One issue was finding a single person to be the project manager, which led to Perotti to working with the DOT, the MTA and project engineer, Daniel Briar, P.E. of WSP USA. 

“It was a very time-consuming project before everything got put in place for the trail to actually be built,” Perotti said. 

A. Colarusso & Son, Inc., was selected to construct the path in May of 2019 while John Kosma was hired by the town last October as project manager. Though Mark Morrison of Mark K. Morrison Associates was originally hired to create the initial trail design, the town ultimately went with WSP USA, Inc., to complete the project’s engineering services.

Cost concerns

Regarding finances, the town applied for and was awarded a number of federal grants to support the project, including a $100,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which is distributed through the county, a $100,000 Dormitory Authority Grant and a $250,000 grant from the  state DOT — all of which served as reimbursement grants that required the town to first expend the funds before the monies were reimbursed to the town. Since the original CDBG was submitted in 2013, Perotti said that, as the trail progressed, she had to keep up with the necessary paperwork to get the grant extended.

As far as how area residents feel about the trail, concerns had been raised regarding the substantial amount of money invested in the project and the trail’s maintenance (the HVRT is actually county property). 

Euvrard  said that during his time as supervisor, more than a decade ago, the project’s initial cost was his biggest worry.

“My big concern was originally it was going to be $800,000 — I know the board had borrowed a million and a half.”

As of last fall, the total project cost was calculated at $1.5 million, though Euvrard said he’s never gotten a true cost from the Amenia Town Board. Viewing this expense as extra costs for the town and taxpayers, he reasoned that the funds used for the project could have been used for other town projects, such as a new highway garage. Euvrard also shared his concerns about the maintenance costs for the trail, since he was originally informed by the county that because the trail was being built by the town, it would be up to the town to maintain it.

“In my experience, we’ve had trouble maintaining our ballfields, so it’s one more expense for the taxpayers to maintain this,” Euvrard said. “I honestly don’t see it benefiting even a small percentage of town residents. I’m all in favor of the Rail Trail that exists: it’s well-used, it’s a county project and we all pay for this, but I’m concerned about the cost. This all adds up… and people are struggling.”

Community reaction

Nevertheless, the town saw its long-awaited Trail to the Train project to the finish line as did the project’s advocates from the last two decades. These days, the new trail has drawn a continuous flow of walkers, joggers and cyclists, along with families exploring the path with young children in tow — a welcome outing in the days of COVID-19 quarantines. Regardless of whether they’re town residents or visitors from neighboring municipalities or states, the large majority of trail users have praised the new path and the ways in which it’s enhanced their Rail Trail experience.

“I think the Rail Trail is one of the greatest assets for Dutchess County,” said Joe Biernat, a resident of Red Hook, as he paused during his jog down the new path. “I didn’t even know it came this far south — it’s a new area to explore.”

“We think it’s beautiful and we’re all for it,” said Linda Russell, a resident of Stockbridge, Mass., as she straddled her bicycle at the head of the new path.

“This is my favorite Rail Trail in the area,” said Liz Hazen, another cyclist from Stockbridge. “I love the scenery; the farmland around here is beautiful and the trail itself is really well-maintained.”

Marveling at how the trail is yet another draw to bring people into the hamlet of Wassaic, Shoumatoff said she was told by Jeff Barnett-Winsby, one of three co-executive directors of the popular arts collaborative, The Wassaic Project, that the trail extension has transformed how people interact with the small hamlet. 

“It’s just a great addition to the area — I could not be more thrilled,” Shoumatoff said. “It’s opened up opportunities for the people coming here and for The Wassaic Project residents and supporters.”

Now that they’ve reached the project’s end, Shoumatoff credited all of her colleagues in “this wonderful collective community effort,” including Morrison, whom she said stood with the committee every step of the way.

At this point, Perotti reported that the town is now working on the project’s finishing touches, which include handling all the closeout documents, obtaining bids for a split-rail fence and ordering signs with the trail rules to install on the trail.

“We’re just delighted to finally have the project finished and being able to have a contractor who did such a wonderful job on the trail to make it safe for people to be able to use it,” Perotti said. “It’s just a great feeling of accomplishment.”

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