By Kyle Adams, Hudson-Catskill Newspapers | link to original post
The Mountain Top Historical Society celebrated National Trails Day Saturday by opening the historic and long-awaited Kaaterskill Rail Trail in Haines Falls.
The walking trail was officially opened to the public at 10:30 a.m., with enthusiastic speeches by representatives of the many organizations involved in its development, including the town of Hunter, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, the Mountain Top Historical Society and a handful of private property owners. After the opening ceremony, an eager crowd of hikers took off on guided walks of the trail.
“This is truly a historic, special day for the town of Hunter and for the many people that have worked to bring this project to fruition,” said Michelle Yost, member of Friends of the Kaaterskill Rail Trail and executive director of the Watershed Assistance Program at the Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District. “The Kaaterskill Rail Trail has been the dream of many residents for close to 40 years.”
The 1.5-mile trail runs from the grounds of the Mountain Top Historical Society, in Haines Falls, to the end of Laurel House Road, just a five-minute walk from the top of Kaaterskill Falls in the 8,550-acre Kaaterskill Wild Forest preserve. It roughly follows what was originally a footpath dating back to the 1820s that connected the Catskill Mountain House to hotels in Haines Fall.
As the area grew in popularity, two parallel railways were built to shuttle vacationers up and down the mountain. The Haines Falls trail head holds a restored Ulster and Delaware Railroad station, now serving as a small museum and information center.
The kiosk at the trail head encourages hikers to “look for signs of the railroad — stone bridge culverts from the 1880s, railroad bridge abutments, logging roads, cinders from the steam engines, remnants of the hotels, and glimpses of Kaaterskill Falls which were once clearly visible from the trains.”
The trail is not 100 percent finished, but Yost said it was time, especially considering it was National Trails Day, to open it for public use. Though the trail had been a thought and a dream for nearly 40 years, Yost said the project began in earnest in 2007 when Greene County Soil and Water, in cooperation with the town of Hunter, received a $50,000 Quality Communities grant to conduct a Mountaintop-wide effort to develop the outdoor resources there. The Kaaterskill Rail Trail grew out of that initiative, as did the Windham Path, which opened last Monday.
“This project has relied on the efforts of many people and organizations, businesses, volunteers,” she said. “We’ve had volunteers out on the trail for the past month laboring in sweat and bug bites. So the project truly reflects the commitment and dedication of the community and the agencies that have been involved in this project.”
Kathy Moser, assistant commissioner for natural resources with NYSDEC, spoke about the trail’s overall significance for the region and how it fits into Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s initiative to bring more tourists upstate.
A recent study examining the economic benefits of outdoor recreation, she said, found that $9.2 million was spent on fish and wildlife-related recreation in 2011, with 1.7 million visitors to the Catskills generating $46 million in revenue.
“We want to focus on the Catskills and make it an area that people know about and want to come to,” she said. “I’m thrilled that local communities are taking the initative to work with DEC to identify where you want to invest money and where you want to have people come and connect both with your communities and this great recreation opportunity.”
She said volunteer organizations like Friends of the Kaaterskill Rail Trail and other organizations involved with the trail are especially important in these initiatives, as DEC currently has limited resources.
Echoing what many said and demonstrated at the opening, she said, “For me, it’s all about partnerships.”