Funding for Sullivan County O&W Rail Trail: September 2021

“How Government Should Work”
by John Conway

MOUNTAINDALE, September 2021 – Congressman Antonio Delgado (NY-19) joined local leaders and state representatives at a press conference in Mountaindale late last month to announce a $1.1 million investment in the Sullivan County O&W Rail Trail.
The House of Representatives passed a package of seven appropriations bills in July, funding various federal agencies for the fiscal year 2022. Within that legislation, Rep. Delgado secured funding to create over 30 miles of continuous trail in Sullivan County, connecting seven hamlets and villages.
The funding request had been submitted to the Congressman’s office by Sullivan County leaders, who see the expansion of the rail trail network in the county as not only a tourist attraction, but also as a tool to improve health outcomes in the County, which has for many years ranked very near the bottom of the 62 counties in New York State.
The Town of Fallsburg had previously been notified of a $400,000 grant—a combination of Sullivan Renaissance and State money– to improve a section of the trail between South Fallsburg and Woodridge, a project that would necessitate the restoration of the Fallsburg tunnel and construction of a pedestrian bridge over the Neversink River—both costly undertakings. This new federal money will be largely used toward that same work.
County officials, including Legislature Chairman Robert A. Doherty and Planning Commissioner Freda Eisenberg, have been spearheading the effort to expand and improve the rail trail network, and encouraged local organizations and businesses to write letters of support to include the money in the appropriations bill. They had been notified in July that Congressman Delgado had been successful in getting the line item in, and were later informed that the bill had passed the House. It then made it through the Senate, as well.
“It is an honor to secure this investment and play a role in the development of the historic Sullivan County O&W Rail Trail,” Congressman Delgado said at the press conference. “Thanks to the tireless work of community members and House passage of funding for this project, we are one step closer to completing the trail. The Sullivan County O&W Rail Trail will be an essential economic boost that delivers for our local businesses and connects our communities.”
“The incoming investment in the Sullivan O&W Rail Trail secured by Congressman Delgado promises to spur this project forward towards completion. Started as a community effort to utilize existing infrastructure for recreation in the verdant Catskills, it has now blossomed into the socio-economic engine that can bring new life to the towns it once helped to create,” said NYS Senator Mike Martucci .
“I want to thank Congressman Delgado for pushing this funding through at the federal level. The completion of this trail will mean so much to the people of Fallsburg. This is an example of a community coming together to accomplish something great,” said Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther.
“This joint effort between Democrats and Republicans is an example of how government should work, and I’m proud to be part of it,” Mr. Doherty said. “I thank Congressman Delgado not only for taking the time to talk with me to understand our plans to connect our various rail trails, but also for agreeing with us that it’s worth the investment of federal funds.”
“It has been an honor working with Congressman Delgado and his staff on this project,” Fallsburg Supervisor Steven Vegliante said. “Funding this trail will help the Town create a regional tourist destination and provide all of our constituents with a healthy linear park throughout our Town. We are grateful to the support shown by the County of Sullivan and Sullivan Renaissance. It is a positive example of what can happen when we all work together.”
Sandra Gerry, the founder and Chairwoman of Sullivan Renaissance was also on hand at the press conference. She spoke briefly, praising the teamwork that went into securing the financing for the trail network.
“Quite simply, what we are witnessing here today is the power of collaboration, where the grassroots efforts of community volunteers and elected officials, coupled with public and private funding, can come together for a common cause and transform an area,” she said.
Coupled with the Golden Feather funding previously obtained, the federal money will go toward the development of a continuous 13-mile trail running from Mountaindale to Ferndale. It is hoped that eventually other projects can be completed that will connect separate sections of the trail to create approximately 30 miles of continuous trail.
Mr. Doherty has said he would also like to see the historic Ferndale trestle reconstructed as a footbridge, making the trail even more of a lure for tourists. He sees a completed continuous trail as a major boost to the county, addressing two significant problems: poor health and a sluggish economy.
A National Park Service study compared people who lead sedentary lifestyles to those who exercise regularly. The exercisers filed 14% fewer healthcare claims, spent 30% fewer days in the hospital, and had 41% fewer claims greater than $5,000. Another study, conducted by the National Rails to Trails conservancy, indicated that health cost savings from increased physical activity due to active transportation is currently $20 billion annually and could grow to nearly $92 billion annually nationwide.
In addition to improving health outcomes by encouraging exercise and other healthy outdoor activities, several studies over the years have documented the many substantial economic benefits generated by trails, including increasing the value of nearby properties and boosting spending at local businesses, which benefit from the influx of visitors going to restaurants, snack shops and other retail establishments. On longer trails, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and outdoor outfitters also benefit.
“The trail is good for the region, good for the community, good for the town. It brings people together,” Mr. Doherty said. “That is why we are investing in this.”