Watkins Glen puts brakes on Catharine Valley Trail
Village to take another look at plan for its part of project.
By Glenda Gephart • Special to the Star-Gazette • May 21, 2008
WATKINS GLEN -- Just weeks away from the significant opening of the Catharine Valley Trail bridge over Route 14 in Millport, the project is facing an unexpected setback.
The Watkins Glen Village Board halted development of its section of the trail.
"Based on the feedback we've gotten from people in this area, we should withdraw the (environmental review) application at this time and come back after further review," Watkins Glen Trustee Greg Coon announced to a full room at the board's meeting Monday night.
The ensuing unanimous vote was answered with shock by Catharine Valley Trail supporters and a sense of victory among those who did not want the trail to be built along Finger Lakes Railway railroad tracks on the eastern edge of properties on Magee Street.
"I'm thrilled with the decision," Sharon Pastore of 802 Magee St. told board members. "We know it can be rerouted."
"I'm shocked," was the response of Mike Oates of 1000 Magee St. "Here we have something as green as can be. Everybody loves these trails. For us to delay it even further makes us look ridiculous."
The proposal for the village's section of the Catharine Valley Trail was discussed in detail at a meeting in mid-March.
Since then, opponents have threatened lawsuits, gathered petition signatures and filled the village board room at meetings.
Monday was the last day of the 30-day comment period on the state environmental review application for the project.
Mayor Judy Phillips said she supported the village's section of the trail as designed.
"I personally think that the trail would be the biggest thing that could ever happen to Magee Street," Phillips said.
But she and other board members said they would consider the concerns of the residents opposed to the plan.
"We are listening to you and to everybody else," Trustee Nick Kelly said. "I want the trail. I want it in the village. But we'll see if there's another way."
Rerouting the trail at the south end of Magee Street west onto Tenth or Ninth streets and then north on Decatur Street has been suggested.
"Certainly the Friends are disappointed because we've been making some really great progress in getting the trail completed," Michelle Benjamin, president of the Friends of the Catharine Valley Trail, said Tuesday.
"We will certainly work with the village if and when they're ready to move forward with the project," Benjamin said.
The original plan called for the trail to follow the former railroad bed north from Fairgrounds Lane through the eastern edge of Watkins Glen school district property, across the "Black Bridge" over Glen Creek and along the active Finger Lakes Railway tracks on the east side of Magee Street homes.
The trail would have crossed Fourth Street, continuing along the tracks to the county-owned Seneca Harbor Park. Signs would have directed trail users to Watkins Glen State Park via Ninth Street to Franklin Street.
The trail was designed to be 10 feet wide and paved. It would have been closed to motorized vehicles, with barriers at entry points.
The design called for a 5-foot fence between the railroad tracks and the trail because the tracks are still used as siding by Cargill Inc. No fence was planned for between the trail and private properties.
Residents opposed to the plan have said they are worried about trespassing and litter by trail users. They have urged the board to either find another route or erect a second fence between the trail and their property lines.
Kelly said fencing the trail on both sides could create a dangerous situation for trail users. Having trail users cross Fourth Street along the railroad tracks was cited by some as another danger.
The village board did not say what their plan is for taking another look at their plan for the trail.