The Rail Trail as classroom

By John Conway

HURLEYVILLE – It is easy to view Hurleyville’s Milk Train Trail as strictly a recreational feature, but although it is unmistakably that, it is already so much more, and continues to evolve.

Especially now that a substantial portion of it is paved, the trail, stretching to South Fallsburg in one direction and to Ferndale in the other, draws scores of people daily, including hikers and bikers and causal strollers, and people pushing people in wheel chairs. Most of these people come strictly for the exercise or to experience an hour or so of tranquility in a burgeoning green space, but for some, there is another aspect of the trail that sets it apart from other recreational venues. They have come to recognize that the trail is a veritable classroom where history and biology vie for attention and ultimately converge into one consistent narrative.

And this aspect of the Milk Train Trail’s personality will soon be enhanced, as the Fallsburg Parks and Recreation Department and The Center for Discovery collaborate to develop and erect interpretive signage along its expanse.

The signs will provide users with information on historical events, such as the gruesome boiler explosion on an O&W Railway passenger train that claimed three lives in February of 1907, or the significance to the local farmers of the creamery that was erected adjacent to the tracks in the 1880s, but they will also point out and describe flora and fauna along the way.

From birch to oak to willow tree and from huckleberries, blackberries and elderberries to sunflowers, dozens of colorful and useful plants grow prolifically on either side of the trail, changing along the way with such things as the topography of the land, the moisture in the air, and the acidity of the soil.

“It is fascinating to consider all the different pieces of the eco system that exist along the trail,” said Eve Minson, a contributor to The Hurleyville Sentinel who works at The Center for Discovery and is helping to develop the signage. “Some of the plants along the trail are native plants, others are invasive, and there are great stories associated with each of them.”

Ms. Minson, who has earned two Masters Degrees from Cornell in Landscape Architecture and Natural Resources, can barely take a step anywhere on the trail without launching into a lesson on the greenery along the edge, sometimes reaching out to cradle a branch or a flower in her hands for emphasis, or to pick a berry simply because they taste so good. From the medicinal uses of the sumac or the hemlock by the local Native Americans of the eighteenth century to the current discovery of the benefits of the dreaded Japanese knotweed, she leaves no stone—or leaf– unturned.

If the signage, once it is in place, can convey a fraction of the information Ms. Minson shares on a leisurely walk, it will solidify the Milk Train Trail as an educational resource as well as a recreational one.