After decades of work reclaiming a 0.4 mile section of an abandoned rail corridor, Dryden officials opened the newest section of the Dryden Rail Trail in October.
The property includes a track bed that runs through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Reynolds Game Farm – the last operational game farm in the state, according to Dan Lamb, assistant supervisor of the Dryden Town Board.
Prior to opening the property to public use, access to the property was restricted to the DEC for more than 90 years, Lamb said.
When completed, the Dryden Rail Trail will traverse the entire city, connecting the East Ithaca Recreation Way in the west to the Jim Schug section in the east. The trail will connect the village of Dryden to Freeville, Etna, Varna, Cornell and the city of Ithaca, and will be a vital link over the county’s 240 miles of interconnected trails.
After years of meeting and negotiating, the City of Dryden and the DEC have reached a 20-year agreement for the path. To reach that agreement, the city had to convince game farm supporters that the trail would support rather than threaten the state’s final pheasant rearing and reintroduction program.
Both cities are working with Tompkins County on a plan for a new Game Farm Road intersection. In the meantime, the public can enter the new section from Stevenson Road.
The scenic route crosses Cascadilla Creek and features two restored historic wooden trestle bridges. The path is covered with a stone dust surface and is ADA-accessible and is ideal for activities such as hiking, biking, skiing, horse riding, e-bikes and bird watching.
Lamb called the agreement unprecedented how the city and state worked together on the project. The state had to register an occupancy and usage permit, which is usually used for buildings instead of paths.
“I suspect there is nothing like hiking trail access in New York state,” said Lamb. “You had to come up with something creative to get people on the property.”
Paving a way forward
Before the new section of the trail was opened, the Dryden Highway Department worked to restore the area. The bridges at the construction site were buried in sediment, dirt and undergrowth, so the highway department worked to clean up the dirt and excess vegetation in June and July, Lamb said.
“Last spring this section was overgrown and completely impassable,” said Rick Young, Dryden Town Highway Superintendent, in a press release. “Our boys cleared the way to the two old railway bridges.”
Young continued, “They removed rotted sections, built new links, reinforced parts, and gave new life to the goats.”
The city recently completed the work by covering the old track bed with a stone dust runway.
The DEC had suggested that the city tear down the old trestles and build expensive new bridges.
However, an engineering report commissioned by the city showed that the historic bridges, strong enough to support rail traffic for a century, could be safely repaired and then used by pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders, according to Bob Beck, Dryden Rail Trail Task Force chair.
Funding for the section is part of a $ 182,000 grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation through the Environmental Protection Fund. According to Lamb, this grant, which was granted in 2017, required an equivalent service from the city, which the city offered to provide by providing its own workforce.
The focus of this section was on rehabilitating 5.5 miles of the city’s abandoned rail corridor, through clearing, developing parking lots and starting points, and repairing infrastructure.
The local TRIAD Foundation in Ithaca also provided a $ 15,000 grant to purchase materials for the renovated historic trestles.
The trail was first proposed in 2005 but made no significant progress until 2016 as city guides faced the challenge of getting through the game farm, negotiating Route 13, and receiving easements from private landowners, Lamb said. In 2016, after his appointment as deputy mayor, Lamb founded the Rail Trail Task Force.
Lamm: Homeowners, Tourism Will Benefit
According to Lamb, homeowners enjoy access to the Rail Trail.
“They love it because it gives them access, improves their quality of life, increases property value and is good for business,” said Lamb. “We have new companies that want their employees to have access to these and commercial homes that are being built or proposed.”
He continued, “Developers see it as a selling point for current or future tenants.”
To date, the Dryden Town Board has raised more than $ 2.2 million of the estimated $ 2.9 million rail trail project, according to Lamb.
“This trail is about community building and bringing tourism to Dryden,” Lamb said in a press release. “It’s about education, relaxation and wellness for everyone.”
Lamb continued, âIt offers an alternative way of commuting and transportation that reduces car use and greenhouse gas emissions. It also supports the goals of the energy strategy of cities, counties and countries. “
Follow Matt Steecker on Twitter @OnTheStecord. For full access to the latest news, subscribe or activate your digital account today.