Big turnout for discussion of 8-mile rail trail extension
From left, Dan Barufaldi, Ghent Town Board; Lisa DeLeeuw, Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association executive director; HVRTA Chair Phil Meeks; Ghent Town Supervisor Craig Simmons;  John Howe, Mayor of Chatham; and Mark Morrison of MKM Landscape and Architecture of New York at a meeting in Ghent on Sunday, Oct. 15, regarding the expansion of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. 
Photo by Judith O’Hara Balfe

Big turnout for discussion of 8-mile rail trail extension

GHENT —  Approximately 150 people turned out for the information session hosted by the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association (HVRTA) in on Sunday, Oct. 15.

The meeting hall of the Ghent VFW was just about filled to capacity in a gathering that also served as HVRTA’s annual membership meeting.

The invitation was extended to the public to discuss the 8-mile expansion of the rail trail from Philmont to Ghent. The conversation was spearheaded by HVRTA Chair Phil Meeks, HVRTA Executive Director Lisa DeLeeuw, and Mark Morrison of engineering firm of MKM Landscape Architecture of New York, which is planning the 8-mile extension. 

Aside from a detailed description of the addition to the existing rail trail replete with maps, PowerPoint slides and lively discussion, refreshments were served. Following the presentations, the audience was invited to make comments and ask questions.

Meeks extended welcome to all, including several local officials who attended. He said, following the meeting, “I was very pleased with the turnout at our annual meeting. There were a lot of very good questions on the expansion of the trail, and the benefits to our local communities.”

A few questions centered on the impact the trail would have on its nearest neighbors, and its accessibility. Members of the Rail Trail Association were also on the agenda, and were able to address many of the questions as the group oversees the maintenance of the existing trail and the expansion as it takes place.

One of the items talked about was the fact that the new section will be paved, and will reach well into central and northern Columbia County. When finished, the trail will lead hikers into the Village of Chatham, not too far from where the Shaker Museum is expected to be built.

Ghent Town Supervisor Craig Simmons and Village of Chatham Mayor John Howe were among the attendees, as was Ghent Councilman Dan Barufaldi. Howe remarked that Chatham is beginning a multimillion-dollar water project, roughly in the area of the rail trail expansion. Such is his belief in the trail: He hopes to get the water project moving ahead of the expansion so that, once completed, there will be no need to disturb the trail when the expansion has begun.

What the residents do want to hear is that there will be ample parking for the cars of the hikers, that the trail will be well maintained, and that all rules will be enforced, such as not cutting or removing vegetation, no unleashed pets, no feeding wildlife, no camping or fires, and quiet when near local residences.

A grant in 2023 allowed for the final design and engineering plans for the expansion; however, it is not yet funded. Grants and donations are being sought, and completion will depend on when the funds can be acquired; however, the project is now “shovel-ready” as soon as the funds are in hand.

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