The Revitalization of Albany County’s Rail Trail

by Nick Webster

Projected to be finished before the end of this year, large sections of the Albany County Helderberg Hudson (ACHH) rail trail are already open and being utilized by the local community. The first blacktop section opened in fall of 2015 and now stretches from South Pearl Street in Albany to a parking lot in Slingerlands. Even though it is not one-hundred percent complete, the trail has already become a popular shared-use path that fosters opportunities for recreation and fitness, such as running, bicycling, roller-blading and walking.

A Brief History

The ACHH trail has transformed quite a bit over the last 100-plus years. During the 19th century, this area featured a railroad track operated by the Delaware & Hudson Railway. The transformation from tracks to trail began in 2009, when Albany County purchased a nine-mile stretch of the old Delaware & Hudson Railway route. Since then, towns along the trail and various groups have been working to improve it piece by piece. The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy (MHLC) operates sections between Delaware Avenue and Voorheesville under a lease arrangement with Albany County. As paving progresses, the MHLC leases will expire and the County will assume responsibility and ownership. The MHLC manages open portions of the trail, and volunteers from its Friends of the Rail Trail (FORT) committee serve as trail ambassadors, guiding visitors, patrolling, and keeping it clean.

Paving the Way

The trail is being paved in three phases. The first section was paved in the fall of 2015 and spans from South Pearl Street in Albany to Veterans Park in Bethlehem. The County took on this stretch of the trail first, as it is expected to be the most expensive phase due to engineering and bridge challenges (the trestle bridge over Normans Kill and the Delaware Avenue Bridge).

The second phase extends from Veterans Park on Delaware Avenue to the bridge over New Scotland Road in Slingerlands. Through an agreement between the town of Bethlehem and Albany County, at least 6,000 additional feet of the trail was paved last spring. The town of Bethlehem buried sewer lines along the route and in exchange for use of the corridor, worked cooperatively with the County to pave this section.

The third planned section of the ACHH trail runs from the bridge over New Scotland Road in Slingerlands to Voorheesville. About a year ago, after a property dispute was resolved, Albany County was finally able to open the bridge that connects the trail over New Scotland Road. The County seems to be on schedule to have the entire trail paved and operational in 2017. Additionally, a short section of path has been paved in Voorheesville from County Route 306 to a pavilion on Grove Street that will act as an end point of the trail.

The total project will cost at least $5 million including paving, adding wooded guide rails, and upgrading bridges and culverts along the trail, including the Delaware Avenue Bridge and Normans Kill trestle bridge. There are five parking lots along the path and numerous access points. While most of the nine-mile trail has been widened and paved, the section between Slingerlands and Voorheesville is comprised of hard-packed gravel in preparation for paving which may be occurring or have already been completed by the time you read this.

Historic Landmark

In March of 2016, the historic Hilton Barn was rescued and moved over 500 feet to rest alongside the intersection of the rail trail and Hilton Road in New Scotland. Originally built in 1898, the barn is one of the largest post-and-beam structures ever erected in Albany County, standing 60 feet tall, 120 feet long, and 60 feet wide. The plan is to eventually develop the Hilton Barn into a historical tourist attraction for trail users, complete with retail shops, restrooms, and maintenance facilities.

A More Bike-Friendly Downtown

Linking the ACHH trail at its current terminus at South Pearl Street to the Corning Preserve waterfront (more specifically the Mohawk-Hudson bike-hike trail) is the focus of a City of Albany project. The project aims to make the Corning Riverfront Park more accessible from downtown, the Warehouse District, Arbor Hill, and the South End through improved road crossings. Experts hope construction on the waterfront connector path will begin in the spring of 2018.

Meanwhile, CDTA and CDPHP have partnered to bring a bike-share program to the downtown areas of Albany, Schenectady, Troy and Saratoga. Launching in August, CDPHP Cycle will allow users to rent bikes for leisure activities or to commute to work each day. One of the planned hubs will be located on the Mohawk-Hudson bike path, by the parking lot off Quay Street within Corning Preserve.

It’s not difficult to imagine the trail becoming a major part of the transportation system in the Capital District, linking communities and amenities through a fun, safe, and environmentally beneficial recreation and transportation corridor. The idea of having an unimpeded walkway through a heavily congested traffic area is exciting. Next year you may be able to ride your bike from Voorheesville to Albany quicker than you can drive there!

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