A coalition of health advocates, environmental groups and even a national retailer are looking to build legislative support for the proposed 750-mile Empire State Trail, which would connect bikers, joggers and walkers from New York City to Canada, and Albany to Buffalo.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo included the project in his proposed budget in January. Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, D-Albany, urged her fellow legislators to allocate budget funding for the project, and effectively create the most extensive multi-use trail network in the country.
Many trails across the state have already laid the groundwork for completing the empire state trail. Construction would be required to complete the existing Erie and Champlain canalway trails, and to build a connected trailway system in the Hudson valley.
Supporters of the trail — including REI, one of the largest outdoor retailers in the country — say investing in New York’s upstate tourism projects will produce returns in the form of economic development and healthier communities across the state.
“I often say the more people we expose to the beauty of upstate New York, the more we will make the youth better stewards of our environment,” Fahy said. “It’s not just to make this more accessible for cyclists and hikers and walkers, it is about encouraging tourism throughout upstate, and therefore creating jobs.”
According to the proposal in the Executive Budget, construction of the Empire State Trail would create a projected 9.6 jobs for every $1 million invested. The budget includes a $53 million investment to complete phase one of the trail. Small towns along the trail could see a booming tourism industry, as visitors will have access to New York’s restaurants, wineries, breweries and farms.
In addition to economic benefit, New Yorkers can also improve their fitness and health on the trail. “Heart disease and stroke are the number one and number five killers of all Americans, yet 80 percent of those disease are preventable,” said Bob Elling, chair of the American Heart Association’s Advocacy Committee. “By providing a safe and attractive place for people to bike, hike, push strollers, and engage in any kind of exercise, the state can improve the health of its residents.”
The Empire State Trail will also connect various state parks and historic sites, such as the Walkway Over the Hudson, the FDR National Historic Site, and Saratoga Battlefield National Historic Park, to name a few.
Fahy says the trail would help upstate New York in multiple ways.
“So much of this is eco-tourism,” she said, “but it’s also about making sure that what we do is going to help all of upstate, and making sure we bring people from the city on up.”