The event was hosted by the Open Space Institute (OSI) and Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT) to launch its first public fundraising campaign to “Track the Trestle.” The idea is to raise $500,000 to match the $450,000 already garnered through grants and donations, funds which will be used to renovate and construct decking across the 114-year-old, 970-foot-long, 150-foot-high train bridge spanning the Rondout Creek and Route 213. Total project cost is estimated to be $1.1 million dollars.
The trestle, perhaps the most distinctive and recognizable landmark in all of Rosendale, offers pedestrians and bicyclists sweeping views of the Shawangunk Ridge, the Binnewater Lakes region and the hamlet of Rosendale. Once completed, the 12.2 mile-long rail trail ranging from New Paltz to Gardiner will connect with Rosendale’s trail leading to the Town of Ulster, nearly doubling its length to 24 miles.
The stories were a handful of those told by Williams to hotel guests while on walks or sitting around campfires. He spoke about how the running trains were a vibrant presence in Rosendale, often churning towards then-booming Kingston’s “needle trades” and metal foundries, as well as of students to be delivered and returned from Kingston schools every day. Other cargo included farm eggs, coal, cement and rubber. Williams mused over how the locomotives often stalled on the steep incline of the mountain in front of the hotel, blocking the crossing, and would make several more failed attempts before splitting the train in half.
“After years went by, one car after another was taken off the trains: milk carts, mail cars; the kids took the buses to school, and coal disappeared with oil heat,” said Williams.
The Sunday event saw more than 70 people — some new and some familiar faces — while running raffles and donation drives. “I’m seeing a lot of new faces, which is a great thing,” noted WVLT Executive Director Christine DeBoer. “People riding their bikes on through and seeing how there’s something going on about the trestle and stopping in. It’s a good sign.” Every dollar collected at the theater event was doubled by an anonymous donor who offered to match up to $10,000.
Though the WVLT says it has a good idea about what’s going on structurally with the bridge, there’s still more to learn, said DeBoer. Restoration is already underway, and the monies raised have been put to immediate work. The task will require six months of physical work, speculated DeBoer, and a start-to-end time of roughly two years. “We have done some cleaning of brush, and some structural repairs will start in the summer,” she said.
The land trust and the institute’s longer-term goals include connecting the north end of Kingston and other trails with this one, and ultimately connecting the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail to the Highland Rail Trail, leading across the Walkway Over the Hudson and into Dutchess County.
“We want people to get involved,” implored DeBoer. “Let’s get everyone in the fold. This affects everyone: horseback riders, bike riders, everyone.”
Bob Taylor, WVLT board president, was proud to say that his organization has been in it for the long haul for 22 years already, and has preserved and saved over 1,600 acres from development, including three conservation easements.
Work on the Ulster trail peaked in 2010 when over 1,500 old tires, weighing over 10.5 tons, were collected off the trail and recycled. Taylor and DeBoer are hopeful for such progress to continue. One woman, dropping a few singles in the donation jar, quipped that she just wanted to be able to one day cross the trestle bridge and look down over Rosendale for “a fresh, new perspective of the town.”
The next WVLT event will be a Walk and Talk on the 95-acre Phyllis Noreen Conservation easement in the Town of Rosendale on Saturday, April 16 led by naturalist Lynn Bowdery with a state Department of Environmental Conservation forester speaking on conservation and forestry programs. More fundraising is in the near future for the Track the Trestle campaign, including food tastings and outdoor events.