The Revitalization of Albany County’s Rail Trail

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Although it still has yet to be completed, large sections of the Albany County Helderberg Hudson (ACHH) rail trail between Albany and Voorheesville are nevertheless open and being used by the community. The first blacktop section opened in fall 2015 and now stretches from South Pearl Street in Albany to a gravel parking lot in Slingerlands. Even though there is still more work to be done, the trail has already become a popular shared-use path that fosters opportunities for recreation and fitness, such as bicycling, running, and walking.

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The ACHH trail has transformed quite a bit in the last 100-plus years. During the 19th century, this area featured a railroad track operated by the Delaware & Hudson Railway. The transformation from tracks to trail began in 2009 when Albany County purchased a nine-mile stretch of the old Delaware & Hudson Railway Company route. Since then, towns along the trail and various groups have been working to improve it piece by piece. The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy (MHLC) operates sections between Delaware Avenue and Voorheesville under a lease arrangement with rail-trail-1Albany County. As paving progresses, the MHLC leases will expire and the county will assume responsibility and ownership. The MHLC manages open portions of the trail, and volunteers from its Friends of the Rail Trail (FORT) committee serve as trail ambassadors, guiding visitors, patrolling, and keeping it clean.

Paving the Way The trail is being paved in three phases. The first section was paved last fall and spans from South Pearl Street in Albany to Veterans Park in Bethlehem. The county took on this stretch of the trail first, as it is expected to be the most expensive phase due to engineering and bridge challenges (the trestle bridge over Normans Kill and the Delaware Avenue Bridge).

The next phase extends from Veterans Park on Delaware Avenue to the bridge over New Scotland Road in Slingerlands. Through an agreement between the town of Bethlehem and Albany County, at least 6,000 additional feet of the trail were paved during spring 2016. The town of Bethlehem buried sewer lines along the route and in exchange for use of the corridor, worked cooperatively with the county to pave this section.

The third and final planned section of the ACHH trail runs from the bridge over New Scotland Road in Slingerlands to Voorheesville. In July, after a property dispute was resolved, Albany County was finally able to open the bridge that connects the trail over New Scotland Road. After crossing the bridge, the path narrows into a single-track dirt trail. The county hopes to use in-house design and engineering to reduce costs and will continue working cooperatively with local communities. The optimistic assessment is that work on this area will be completed and the entire trail paved and operational in 2017.

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The total project will cost at least $5 million and that includes paving, adding wooded guide rails, and upgrading bridges and culverts along the trail, including the Delaware Avenue Bridge and Normans Kill trestle bridge. While most of the 8.8-mile trail has been widened and paved, the northwestern portion remains narrow in certain parts and is comprised of gravel, grass, and hard-packed dirt. There are five parking lots along the path and numerous access points.

Historic Landmark In March 2016, the historic Hilton Barn was moved over 500 feet to rest alongside the intersection of the rail trail and Hilton Road in New Scotland. Originally built in 1898, the barn is one of the largest post-and-beam structures ever erected in Albany County, standing 60 feet tall, 120 feet long, and 60 feet wide. The plan is to eventually develop the Hilton Barn into a historical tourist attraction for trail users, complete with retail shops, restrooms, and maintenance facilities.

A More Bike- and Pedestrian-Friendly Albany Riverfront Linking the ACHH trail at its current terminus at South Pearl Street to the Corning Preserve waterfront is the focus of a City of Albany project. The project will make the Corning Riverfront Park more accessible from downtown, the Warehouse District, Arbor Hill, and the South End through improved road crossings. The project began this spring and is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

It’s not difficult to imagine the trail becoming a major part of the transportation system in the Capital District, linking communities and amenities through a fun, safe, and environmentally beneficial recreation and transportation corridor. The idea of having an unimpeded walkway through a heavily congested traffic area is exciting. Next year you may be able to ride your bike from Voorheesville to Albany quicker than you can drive there!

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