In a world of cars, transportation for people who want to travel on foot, with bikes or even by horse often seems senseless. Take, for instance, the case of the Saratoga Springs High School track team, who used to be bussed half a mile from their school on West Avenue to Saratoga Spa State Park just to go for a practice run.
That changed in June, when a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by local officials and trail advocates marked the expansion of Saratoga’s Railroad Run, a multi-use trail that now allows students and others to cross busy Route 50 into Spa State Park with the first-ever pedestrian activated stoplight providing safe passage.
It’s just one segment in an ever-growing trail system for the county, with pieces puzzled into place by advocates like Maria Trabka, executive director of Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land and Nature), the group that has done more than any other to make Saratoga County a more trail-friendly place.
“The idea is getting people to places they want to go under their own power,” says Trabka. “Trails are not just for recreation, but to connect people who may be walking or riding bikes to places. Then you don’t have to have more parking—just a few bike racks.”
The seeds for the county’s rapidly growing trail system were planted by the Saratoga County Green Infrastructure Plan, which was adopted unanimously by the county Board of Supervisors in 2006 and set in motion a plan to preserve and connect a network of “green infrastructure,” including trails, parks and waterways.
An opinion survey sponsored by Saratoga PLAN found overwhelming support—80 percent—among residents for a network of green infrastructure. At public meetings to discuss the plan, the majority of those attending were looking for trails that connected county communities, says Julie Stokes, an emeritus board member of Saratoga PLAN who heads up the Countywide Trails Committee.
“Saratoga County Board of Supervisors has really stepped up” to help make this happen, forming their own committee to focus on priorities for the county trail system, Stokes says.
Saratoga supervisors and Chamber of Commerce officials understand that public recreation is important to the economy of a community with such a strong tourism base, says Stokes. “Trails are a real attraction not only for residents but also for visitors,” she says. “It’s not just about quality of life—it’s also an economic issue.”
“A key component of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce’s economic development strategy is about the quality of the place in which we live and work,” says chamber president Todd Shimkus. “Trails that go from city to town and town to village all across Saratoga County for those who love to hike, bike, snowshoe, and cross country ski can be a real game changer. The better integrated, connected, safe and well maintained these trails are the better. We’re also visible and vocal in advocating that Amtrak allow passengers on their trains between New York City and Montreal to bring their bikes on board so that we can attract more cyclists to our communities as tourists too.”
Linking trails is often a matter of biding time, waiting for the opportunity to acquire land or the rights-of-way needed to tie pieces together. Ironically, increased development sometimes leads to new trail opportunities, when trails can be built over newly sunk water and sewer lines, says Trabka. “Once you have plans in place, when opportunities come forth, you can take advantage of them.”
When President Obama’s administration announced stimulus funds for “shovel ready” projects in 2009, Saratoga County had trail projects that fit the bill—such as the new Spring Run Trail, built on an old railroad bed off Excelsior Avenue. “Sometimes it’s just serendipitous,” says Trabka.
Highlights of the county trail system—over 200 miles long and growing—are listed below. Trails vary in terrain and surfaces, as well as uses. Anything from horseback riding to snowmobiling to unleashed-dog-walking may be allowed on certain stretches. Visit www.saratogaplan.org for maps and more information; trail data for Saratoga County trails can be downloaded and used in conjunction with Google Earth.
Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail
The two-mile Bog Meadow Brook Trail in Saratoga Springs follows the path of an abandoned railway through three distinct wetland communities, including open marsh, wet meadow and forested wetland. Interpretive signs show the significance of the flora and fauna that flourish there. An extensive boardwalk system facilitates travel by foot, snowshoes or cross-country skis, and kids can follow clues on a “Passport” nature hunt.
Champlain Canalway Trail
(Saratoga and Washington counties)
This in-progress 71-mile route stretches from Waterford to Whitehall along the old Champlain Canal, which connects Lake Champlain to the Hudson River. The trail will make use of historic towpaths, existing local and regional trails, and Champlain Canal shoreline to connect key historic and cultural sites. Some communities already have trail sections completed or underway.
Erie Canal Towpath
(Southern Saratoga County)
Efforts are underway to re-create a historic towpath trail along the original Erie Canal Route in the southern Saratoga County towns of Clifton Park and Halfmoon. The towns are teaming up on a connector trail that will link the nearly 700-acre Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve in Clifton Park with the newly enhanced Crescent Park on the banks of the Mohawk River in Halfmoon. When complete, the connector trail will span more than seven miles through the two towns, allowing hikers, cyclists and cross-country skiers to cross Wagar’s Pond and travel around the Northway.
Fish Creek Trail
Along Fish Creek in the village of Victory, Saratoga PLAN is building a new hiking trail on hallowed Revolutionary War ground. The trail marks the spot where American forces gathered during the Siege of Saratoga at the end of the 1777 Battles of Saratoga. The British, commanded by Gen. John Burgoyne, had retreated and were waiting for reinforcements from Albany that never arrived, leading to Burgoyne’s surrender and the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Fish Creek Trail will close a three-mile loop from Saratoga Monument through Victory Woods—a historic site opened by the National Park Service with boardwalk trails and interpretive signs explaining Burgoyne’s last stand.
Kayaderosseras Creek Canoe
and Kayak Trail
Paddlers can travel this six-and-a-half mile trail along the local creek with the mouthful of a name—the Mohawk Indian word for “the land of the beautiful lake of the winding river.” The trail offers a relatively mild paddling experience, with two opportunities for whitewater when the river runs high, and is navigable from spring to autumn. The route—with five access points for different levels of ability—provides easy access to Saratoga Lake, Fish Creek and Lake Lonely.
Palmertown Ridge Trail
(Northern Saratoga County)
From Moreau Lake State Park to Saratoga Springs, this in-progress trail will intersect the heart of the county, eventually connecting the Saratoga Springs Greenbelt Trail, Saratoga Spa State Park and the Zim Smith Trail to form the spine of the county trail network. The Palmertown Trail links lands belonging to the state’s Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility, DEC state forest, easements on a new Wilton subdivision built by developer John Witt, and former Finch Pruyn paper company land acquired by the Nature Conservancy. “We call this the alternative Northway,” says Trabka. Roughly a quarter of the trail is in place.
Railroad Run is a half-mile trail in Saratoga Springs connecting West Circular Street to Congress Avenue. Stone dust on one side and asphalt on the other, the trail is used for walking, bicycling, rollerblading and skateboarding. In June—thanks to land donated by the YMCA—the trail was extended south across Route 50 and into Saratoga Spa State Park. Plans are to eventually connect the trail to the Zim Smith Trail in Malta.
Saratoga Springs Greenbelt Trail
Residents are working to create a trail loop that circles Saratoga Springs, connecting people with nature. The goal is to link three existing trails—Railroad Run, Spring Run Trail and the Bog Meadow Trail—with downtown and key destinations, including the YMCA, Spa State Park, Skidmore College, Saratoga National Golf Course and more.
Spring Run Trail
In the 1800s, a railroad shuttled passengers between downtown Saratoga Springs and Saratoga Lake for recreational fun, with mineral springs and mud baths along the way. Much of this railroad bed still exists. Spring Run Trail is a 2.4-mile, off-road (handicapped accessible) pedestrian and bike path along the Victorian-era railroad bed. Plans call for linking it to Bog Meadow Trail.
Zim Smith Trail
(Southern Saratoga County)
A backbone of the county trail system, this multi-use trail now connects Ballston Spa to Coon’s Crossing in Halfmoon through the towns of Ballston, Malta and Clifton Park and the village of Round Lake. The county is working on completing the last stretch from Coon’s Crossing into Mechanicville via the in-development Mechanicville Rail Yard, which will eventually connect Zim Smith to the Champlain Canalway Trail. Plans are underway to connect Zim Smith to Saratoga Springs through Saratoga Spa State Park. When the massive Global Foundries plant was approved, one of the stipulations was for the Zim Smith to connect with recreational trails in Luther Forest, where the plant is located; Saratoga PLAN’s Malta Trolley Line was used to make this connection. The trail was named in honor of Saratoga resident Zimri Smith, a retired USAF officer who helped establish the Saratoga County Heritage Trail System.