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Trust for the Public Land: Planned trails would run length of Long Island

Fourteen of Nassau's largest employers and six educational institutions are close to the proposed route; Suffolk's pattern is similar though the distances are farther.

A hiker makes her way along a trail

A hiker makes her way along a trail in Flanders in October 2018. Photo Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Long Islanders could bike, walk or jog from Manhattan to Montauk on 175 miles of trails along roads, parks and utility rights of way under a new proposal unveiled on Tuesday.

The Trust for the Public Land's $114 million plan mirrors the 750-mile-long Empire State Trail that will cost about $200 million and run from Battery Park to Buffalo and Plattsburgh when finished next year.

The network of trails on Long Island would give outdoor lovers more options than increasingly overcrowded parks, make it easier for rail commuters to bike to the train, and pump up tourism, the nonprofit group said.

Running the east-west trail through the middle of the Island’s built up areas, which often have fewer places to exercise outside, would help correct this imbalance, the advocacy group's report said.

Further, 14 of Nassau's largest employers and six educational institutions are close to the proposed route; Suffolk's pattern is similar though the distances are farther.

About half the trails would run along roads; half would be off-road, probably paved or filled in with gravel. Sections might open as soon as two or three years, said the group, adding it would work to find funding.

Carter Strickland, the group's New York State director, said in a statement: “A trail on existing infrastructure that links together Long Island communities and parks will provide many benefits, including nearby opportunities for residents to get healthy by walking, jogging, or biking, sustainable transportation to jobs, neighbors, or the train station, and a weekend adventure for friends, family, and tourists."

The Trust for Public Land issued a joint release with Suffolk and Nassau county executives about the Long Island Extension to the Empire State Trail.  The state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation had no immediate response.

"This trail will be an important asset for tourists, local recreational cyclists and commuters alike, helping to provide a new, healthy transportation alternative while celebrating the unique geology of ‘fish-shape Paumanok,’” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in the joint statement, referring to a Walt Whitman poem.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said, “It is very exciting to be a stakeholder in the Trust for Public Land and New York Bicycling Coalition’s initiative to promote the reuse of the historic Long Island Motor Parkway to create a non-motorized transportation and recreational asset for all Nassau and Suffolk County residents.”

A representative with the Long Island Rail Road said LIRR officials "have met with the group and we're exploring all possibilities."

PSEG Long Island spokesman Jeremy Walsh said by email: "PSEG Long Island and LIPA have had a successful partnership with Suffolk County on the Rails-to-Trails project in northwest Brookhaven, and we look forward to following up on preliminary conversations with the Trust for Public Land and Suffolk County as they develop this exciting project that connects communities and promotes healthy lifestyles.”

The Trust for Public Land, which said it consulted extensively with local officials, bike clubs and the public, said the trails would reduce accidents and buoy the economy.

The 66-page report details various possible routes and north-south links, such as the Bethpage Bikeway, which links Massapequa through Bethpage State Park to Woodbury's Trail View Park, and the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail, which stretches between Cold Spring Harbor State Park and the Massapequa Preserve. 

The new network should start with a 21-mile link from Nassau's Eisenhower Park through Bethpage State Park to Suffolk's Edgewood Oak Brush Plains Preserve, it said.

This project would cost about $20 million, it said, based on estimates for the Port Jefferson to Wading River trail that is almost entirely funded by federal taxpayers. 

Planning for the new trails could finish this year, with funding secured by 2020, the group said, vowing to work with the state and counties on design and construction in 2020 and 2021.

A number of state and local officials — from parks, transportation and public works agencies — plus the MTA and LIPA would have to approve different parts of the plan.  

"We're hopeful that some portions of the trail can be opened in 2021 or 2022," a spokeswoman for the group, Joanna Fisher, said by email.

For details, see https://www.tpl.org/sites/default/files/Empire%20Trail%20Extension%20Report_1_9_19-compressed.pdf.

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