By NED CAMPBELL, Observer-Dispatch, link to original post
A plan to connect a network of rail trails in the city of Oneida is chugging along. The idea to form a city-wide trail over the former railroad beds has been discussed for years and is part of the city’s comprehensive plan. But it picked up speed when the Oneida Improvement Committee reorganized as a nonprofit in the fall and started looking for grant funding.
The Central New York Community Foundation was challenging nonprofits in Madison and Onondaga counties to enter its CNY85 Giving Project, where online votes would determine the winner of $8,500. “We wanted to plan a project that would affect the most people because we needed votes, so the Oneida Rail Trail project was born,” committee member Patti Meakin said.
Out of 27 projects and more than 50,000 votes, the Oneida project earned about 12,500 votes to come out on top. “What that did — the money was nice — but it threw the rail trail project into the spotlight,” Meakin said. “So now, the snowball is getting bigger.”
The recently formed Rail Trail committee now is seeking about $200,000 in state Department of Transportation STEP funds that would help cover the rest of the project’s costs. The Madison County Planning Department is preparing the grant to be submitted Wednesday, should the Common Council approve a resolution to apply for the grant at its 6:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday.
The project will connect and improve 10.75 miles of trails that already exist; they’re marked by three abandoned railroads. The trail will be triangular as a result, starting west in Wampsville, circling City Hall in the northern portion and reaching southeast to the Oneida Community Mansion House near Sherrill. It will be designed for use by walkers, runners and bicyclists. “Normally a trail goes from one place to another but this one is going to connect, which is of kind of rare,” Meakin said.
The expenses will include updating facilities at three parks along the trail and installing benches and trail markers. Trail work will be minimal, Recreation Director Luke Griff said, and include clearing out some brush and adding “dirt-filler gravel.”
He said some of that work will begin this spring. “We’re planning to have pretty large sections open this summer,” he said.
What will take more time, though, will be acquiring land from private property owners in order to connect the system. Meakin said the city owns about 50 percent of trail area, and the rest is owned by National Grid, the county and privately.
But the city already has made progress. On Feb. 5, the Common Council accepted an offer from NuTech Bioscience dedicating 1.13 acres of railroad beds on North Willow Street that can now become part of the trail.
Meakin said the project already has spurred a sense of community. The completed trail will keep that going and could lead to economic development as well, she said. “If people are looking to move to some place, they want to know what there is for recreation,” Griff said. “Well, we can say we have a 10-mile rail trail that’s open year-round.”