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Different shades of green

Williams Lake hosts Rail Trail Ramble fundraiser for Rosendale Trestle restoration this Sunday

by Frances Marion Platt
August 18, 2011 11:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Fiona Bohan taking in the view from the Rosendale railroad trestle in 2006
Fiona Bohan taking in the view from the Rosendale railroad trestle in 2006
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There’s an event happening in Rosendale this weekend that emphatically brings home the abiding truth of the observation that politics make strange bedfellows. Two heavy-hitters on the local land preservation scene, the Open Space Institute (OSI) and the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT) – upon whom one can usually rely to take the “green” side in any debate – are organizing a fundraiser on Sunday, August 21 called the “Rail Trail Ramble” to benefit the restoration of the Rosendale Trestle. That’s the 116-year-old, 150-foot-high former railway bridge that spans the Rondout Creek and Route 213 at the western end of “downtown” Rosendale. The historic structure offers vertiginous views, along with the potential of linking the end of the existing Wallkill Valley Rail Trail with an off-road route to Kingston and beyond for walkers and cyclists.

Closed to train traffic since the 1970s and once envisioned as a bungee-jumping destination, the Trestle is currently fenced off to protect public safety, awaiting replacement of rotted wooden decking and railings and repairs to some of the steel structure. Raising money to restore and reopen it is the linchpin of WVLT’s and OSI’s high-priority project to acquire rights-of-way over the remaining stretches of former railbed connecting Kingston with southern Ulster County and make them pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. So far, so good; you’d be hard-pressed to find a local resident who didn’t consider this effort a noble cause, and many have already made donations.

The fundraising event scheduled for Sunday sounds like a lot of fun, tailored to the kind of physically and environmentally active, outdoorsy folk who are most interested in seeing the Rail Trail linkage completed. Activities will include a barbecue featuring local fare, lake swimming, live music, games, guided walks and bike rides, a silent auction and raffle. But it comes with a very big caveat: The full name of the event is the “Rail Trail Ramble at Williams Lake.” It’s being hosted by the Williams Lake Project, formerly known as Canopy Development/Hudson River Valley Resorts: the very people who are planning to turn the formerly publicly accessible Williams Lake into a gated luxury resort and housing complex.

As planned, the development would consist of a 94-unit hotel, 14 cabins and 22 suites, plus a residential development of 89 attached units and 71 detached homes. Other proposed features include an outdoor activity center, kiln wall café, amphitheater, spa, constructed wetlands, fitness center, beach and swimming areas, teahouse, yoga and meditation center, historic interpretive center, wellness center, organic garden, photovoltaic array, boathouse and bathhouse.

The developers have retained architects with strong credentials for sustainable building and site design, and are engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign to spin the project as “green development.” Project manager Tim Allred pitches it as “a modern-day Mohonk, or a cross between Mohonk and Omega Institute,” pointing out that it will also create 1,300 short-term construction jobs and 300 permanent full-time jobs. At no time are you likely to hear representatives of the developers using the term “luxury” to describe the resort, or dwelling on the fact that Rosendalian commoners can no longer pay a day use fee to swim in Williams Lake – an amenity that they used to take for granted.

Although there’s a broad consensus that jobs are badly needed in the area, not everyone in the community is buying what the Williams Lake Project people have to sell. A grassroots group called Save the Lakes has opposed the project from the beginning, as have environmental organizations with more clout and credibility like the mid-Hudson chapter of the Sierra Club. Besides issues of accessibility, opponents of the development as conceived cite excesses of scale for the environmentally and historically sensitive site. They have also brought in local hydrogeologists to argue that plans to draw 160,000 gallons per day of water from Williams Lake are not sustainable.

The community remains deeply divided about the project, with many supporters wondering why the approval process is taking so long. At present, Rosendale’s Town Board is reviewing draft wording developed by its Zoning Review Committee for a Planned Development District for the Binnewater Lakes neighborhood, with the idea that these planning guidelines would have broad applications. “We cannot draw up a law that addresses just one proposed project,” notes town supervisor Patrick McDonough. “When you create a law, it has to be for the whole town,” agrees councilwoman Manna Jo Greene.

So by all means, go to the Rail Trail Ramble at Williams Lake on Binnewater Road this Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m., have fun and help raise the $1.1 million needed for restoration of the Rosendale Trestle. If Save the Lakes and the Sierra Club don’t have tables at the event, ask OSI and WVLT why not. “Our vision is for future resort guests at Williams Lake to use the Rail Trail to walk or bike to Main Street in Rosendale and take advantage of the great businesses there,” says Tim Allred. Advance tickets for the Rail Trail Ramble at Williams Lake cost $17 for adults and $8 for kids; admission on the day of the event is $25 for adults and $12 for kids. These tickets include on-site parking. Walk-in/bike-in tickets cost $20 for adults and $10 for kids. Kids under 10 years of age get in free. Tickets are available at www.railtrailramble.eventbrite.com, at the Big Cheese and Twisted Foods in Rosendale and at Stone Ridge Wine and Spirits in Stone Ridge. Rail Trail parking is available at the Iron Mountain Kiln lot (to the left of the Iron Mountain main entrance) on Binnewater Road or at the Lakeview Estates (the old Hidden Valley Campground) at 290 Whiteport Road. For more information, visit www.trackthetrestle.org or call the Wallkill Valley Land Trust at (845) 255-2761.

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