Back in 2017, New York State embarked on ambitious plan to create the Empire State Trail — a 750-mile network of multipurpose biking and hiking trails crossing the state from Buffalo in the west and Plattsburgh in the north to New York City. 

It’s no small feat that this trail network was completed in just three years, but there is one glaring omission — none of these trails are on Long Island, where 7 million New Yorkers live, if you include Brooklyn and Queens, which are geographically on the island.

The Trust for Public Land is hoping to change that. 

They’ve mapped out potential trails running the length of Long Island to the tips of the forks, and have begun work on a 25-mile segment of the path, Phase I, that will connect Eisenhower Park, Bethpage and Brentwood State Park, adjacent to numerous schools and universities.

The New York Director of the Trust for Public Land, Carter Strickland, approached both the Southampton and East Hampton town boards in recent weeks to ask the towns for help with grant applications to build Phase 2 of the trail, from Riverhead to Montauk.

The Trust has already received $1.1 million in state funding to design Phase I, along with a $2.5 million federal match, and is now working to raise grant funding to design Phase 2, with the hopes of receiving construction grant funding to begin building both sections of the path in 2025. 

The project, which the Trust for Public Land is pursuing with Suffolk County, is intended to build on the success of the North Shore Rail Trail, a 10-mile multi-use recreational path along the former Long Island Rail Road line from Port Jefferson to Wading River.

It could also connect with a Southampton Town trail being designed between Red Creek Park and Good Ground Park in Hampton Bays.

The Trust aked each of the South Fork towns to draft a letter of support committing $100,000, which can include in-kind support, for U.S. Department of Transportation RAISE grant applications that are due Feb. 28, 2023, with the hopes that when the designs are near shovel-ready they will be ideal candidates for federal transportation infrastructure funding. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to announce the winners of the design grants in late June of this year.

The final route has not yet been set — that will happen during the design phase — but Mr. Strickland said it could stretch either along Montauk Highway, with a buffer between the trail and automobile traffic, or along Long Island Power Authority rights of way for transmission lines through the woods.

“Our insight and inspiration was the North Shore Rail Trail,” said Mr. Strickland. “Suffolk County, for a dozen years or so, negotiated with LIPA on that trail. LIPA has networks all over the island, so that’s our starting point. It’s going to intersect with a lot of hamlets and redevelopment areas.”

He added that the projects are being developed based on Suffolk County’s Hike Bike Master Plan.

Mr. Strickland said Suffolk and Nassau counties have some of the highest cyclist and pedestrian death rates in the state, and the projects would be designed to provide a buffer, or even take a separate route from vehicular traffic.

“I think for me, and I’m sure for the rest of the board, finding ways to reduce traffic and improve connectivity and have safe routes of travel for bicyclists and pedestrians are right in our wheelhouse of things we’d like to see happen,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc told Mr. Strickland at the East Hampton Town Board’s Feb. 7 work session.

Mr. Van Scoyoc added that he’d like to see the Long Island Rail Road participate in the project, especially since the railroad recently allowed a section of the offshore wind cable from the South Fork Wind Farm be buried along about two miles of railroad right of way in Wainscott, which is now cleared.

“So far, the indications we’ve gotten from the Long Island Rail Road are its not something they’re interested in,” said Mr. Strickland. “I don’t want to keep pushing that boulder up the hill, but we can keep looking, if there’s local support for it.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman noted at the Southampton Town Board’s Feb. 2 work session that he remembers being in local government when a Rails to Trails plan was being considered from Southampton to Montauk about 20 years ago.

“A lot of work was done. There were survey plans as large as this desk,” he said, gesturing to the town board dais in front of him. “Where that one ended up failing was where the parking areas were. There were objections, particularly in villages, where residents feared too many people would park their cars and take their bicycles onto a paved surface. The money for that project ended up being reprogrammed for the North Shore Trail.”

“That was 20 years ago, and people understand this issue and more people are biking now than ever,” he added. “It’s such a monumental task. I’m glad it’s you [doing it], not me.”

Mr. Strickland said ebikes have changed the way people use multimodal transportation, making it easier for people to travel to and from parking areas to their ultimate destinations.

“That could peel a lot of traffic off the road,” he said.

The Southampton Town Board unanimously approved participation in the RAISE grant application at its Feb. 14 meeting, and the East Hampton Town Board also unanimously approved participation in the grant application at its Feb. 16 meeting.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please prove you're human: