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Changing Abandoned Rails into Recreational Trails

The Erie Cattaraugus Rail Trail, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the abandoned 27-mile Buffalo-Pittsburgh rail corridor and transforming it into a multi-purpose recreational trail. The trail would stretch from Orchard Park to West Valley, N.Y., thus connecting Orchard Park and East Aurora all the way to Cattaraugus County. 

Deborah Fenn, vice president of Erie Cattaraugus Rail Trail, Inc., said the group is trying to prevent the expansive trail from being sold to several private owners, which would forever divide the trail. “They call it railbanking. If in the future, you need some kind of transport along that corridor, you’ve got it because it’s banked,” she said. “In the interim, it’s a fabulous recreational asset for any town.”
Besides the transportation benefits, rail trails can provide safe avenues for bikers, joggers and the like to exercise. Trails can also contribute to a sense of community between the town connected by the trail, Fenn said. 
Fenn said trails also encourage both residential and commercial development. “People want to live near these trails. They want to have access to exercise. As the baby boom generation retires, they look for these kinds of places to live,” she said. Fenn used Cape Cod as an example of a location of a very successful converted rail trail; here, coffee shops and bed-and-breakfasts have sprung up all along the path. 

On Monday, June 29th, at 7PM, the organization is holding a program for leaders of municipal governments along the corridor and members of the media, as well as key users of trails, like bicycle clubs or the horse council. Carl Knoch — the northeast manager for trail development for the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which has helped in 1,500 railroad to recreational trail transformations — will be the event’s keynote speaker. “He has a marketing background and he’s applied his knowledge and his experience to the development of trails,” Fenn said. “Trails tend to be quiet economic generators for the communities through which they traverse.” 
“Carl’s guidance has shown the way in communities from Eastern Maine to Western Pennsylvania, and we’re very pleased to have his stewardship on our project,” said Anne Bergantz, Erie Cattaraugus Rail Trail’s president. 
If you’d like to get involved with the organization, go to the “Get Involved!” section of their Web site. Biweekly meetings are held Wednesdays at 7:30PM, at the Orchard Park Municipal Building. Fenn said the development of the trail is still in its earliest stages and the state is currently working to acquire the land from the railroads, so support from the communities along the rail trail is crucial. 
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