When Is a Trail More Than Just a Trail?

Ulster County Multi-Use Trail System Map

Ulster County’s system of multi-use trails continues to expand.

If you’ve been following the Kingston Land Trust’s work over the past three years, you’ve heard us go on about how the Kingston Greenline will be an interconnected system of trails throughout the City, right? Well, zoom out a bit on the map, and it’s easy to see that the same system that will link up all parts of the City will eventually serve as the hub for a sprawling network of trails throughout Ulster County.

On Monday, August 15th, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein and the Ulster County Economic Development Alliance are hosting a breakfast presentation titled “More Than Just a Trail: Preparing for the Potential of the Countywide Trail System,” featuring Cynthia Nikitin of the Project for Public Spaces as the keynote speaker. Among the trail groups around Ulster County, we often talk about the countywide trail system as the logical extension of our work. But what does it mean, and why is it a goal worth all of our hard work over the past decade and for the foreseeable future?

Lippman Park Mountain Bike Festival Poster

The countywide trail system is more than just rail trails!

For the full answer, you’ll have to get your ticket and come to the breakfast! But here’s a little preview:

The Countywide Trail System is more than just a trail. All the buzz these days focuses around rail trails. And there’s good reason, since rail trails are often a community’s first glimpse at a true multi-use trail, one that’s designed to accommodate all types of active transportation and recreation uses. But Ulster County’s trail system includes more than just rail trails. From the carriage roads of Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park, to the Long Path; from the single-track mountain bike trails of Lippman Park or Jockey Hill, to the bridle paths of Coyote Ridge Stables or the Rocking Horse Ranch; from bike lanes in our downtown areas to the Shawangunk Wine Trail to scenic byways to the Hudson River Greenway Water Trail, Ulster County’s diversity and expanse of trails is…well, in a word, unparalleled.

Summer Cover of American Trails Magazine

For rural communities, trails can help capture more tourism spending.

Trail systems are big business for small towns. We’ve all heard the mantra – service jobs are great, but manufacturing’s what really matters for economic development. Look closer, though, and there’s a problem with that mantra. How many manufacturing jobs has your small town added over the past decade? A handful, maybe? Or probably, like most communities, it’s not about how many have been added, but about how many have been lost. And the truth is that there’s no willing them back into existence. Instead, take a look at the communities along the Great Allegheny Passage in Southwestern PA. We think we’ve had it hard; these towns have been in a state of decline since…well, since they were established! Yet over the past few years, the trail has helped them reinvent themselves. In 2012, an impact study by the Trail Town Program estimated $50,000,000 in direct spending by trail visitors, which helped support a net gain of 65 new businesses from 2007 – 2015. In 2014, businesses along the trail attributed 40% of their annual sales to traffic from the trail.

George Inness, Catskill Mountains, 1870.

George Inness, Catskill Mountains, 1870. From the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ulster County’s got the raw materials; now it’s up to us to make the most of them. There are some pretty spectacular trails and trail systems out there, for sure. But if we put our minds to it, nothing can compete with Ulster County. Consider this: Ulster County lies within a four hour drive of over 40 million people, and less than two hours from three major international airports. Ulster County has a rich history drawing from its early settlement by Dutch colonists and, prior to that, its importance as a center of trade for the Lenape tribes. Ulster County has a world-wide reputation as home to many of the Hudson River School painters and as the epicenter of the hippie movement that emerged after the Woodstock Festival. Ulster County has over 250,000 acres of forever-wild forest and dozens of scenic rivers and lakes. Kingston, the County seat, was the original capital of New York State and the birthplace of the state’s constitution. Ulster County has one of the world’s best rock climbing areas, the Shawangunk Ridge, and a mecca for fly fishing. Plus renowned galleries, world-class eateries, great antiquing, year-round festivals, skiing, and (soon) rail biking.

Phew! What’s all that got to do with trails, you ask? Well, the answer is simple: we’re building more than just a trail. We’re building the Ulster County experience. In the end, we think that’s where all these trails will lead. Join us on August 15th to see for yourself how a trail can be more than just a trail.

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