RPA Proposes Extending and Connecting Region’s Trails To Form A New Unified Network

The Tri-State Trail would create a 1,650-mile system linking existing and proposed trails to promote health, environmental preservation, and economic activity

Report part of Regional Plan Association’s Fourth Regional Plan to be released this fall 

Today Regional Plan Association (RPA) released a report entitled Accessing Nature which outlines how New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut can become leaders in connecting residents with the region’s natural beauty and recreational activities. The report, part of RPA’s 4th Regional Plan scheduled for full release later on November 30, 2017, recommends existing and proposed trail routes to be prioritized and built to create one of the nation’s largest regional trails networks. The system would make trail access more equitable, putting over 80% of the region’s current residents within two miles of a trail and facilitating access to 141 local, state and national parks or preserves by joining the region’s trails into a continuous network.

RPA also released a letter today from 22 leading trails, hiking, biking and walking, land trusts and environmental groups supporting its proposal.

Building the Tri-State Trail network will promote health, equity, the environment, and economic activity throughout the region. Access to green space has many proven health benefits, including decreased rates of depression and obesity. The Tri-State Trail will also create safe routes for natural migration while reducing the need for car travel and associated carbon emissions for residents to visit natural areas. Low income residents, disproportionately without cars, people with disabilities and bike riders will particularly benefit from expanded access to the region’s natural assets. Additionally, the network will create economic development and tourism opportunities, especially in towns and cities that currently have limited or no public transportation options.

Accessing Nature also includes a number of recommendations for how to complete planning and implementation of proposed trail routes and facilitate the connection of existing trails, including:

  • Organizing a regional trail coalition to prioritize trail segments, raise and allocate funding and provide support to local groups.
  • Setting clear standards for trail construction and access to allow for universal access wherever possible.
  • Connecting regional rail to the trail network 111 regional rail stations, plus 237 New York City subway stations and 13 PATH stations are within a half-mile of the regional trails.
  • Utilizing utility corridors, such as underused rail and power line areas, to create trail connections, especially through some of the region’s most densely populated areas.
  • Identifying gaps in existing proposals where connections can be made with other existing trails, population centers, and mass transit access.

“Creating a Regional Trail Network is a bold, new strategy that will have a lasting impact on the region’s environmental and economic future,” said Robert Freudenberg, Vice President for Energy and Environment Programs, RPA.  “From the Appalachian Trail to the Long Island Greenbelt, our region’s trails travel through an amazing array of environments and offer everyone recreational options — no matter their ability level. Adding crucial trail connectors ensures that more residents and visitors will be able to experience and appreciate our region’s open spaces, and present exciting new opportunities for a range of healthy family activities and commuting options, while spurring economic activity in nearby ‘trail towns.’” 

The report also calls for building off of decades of work done by local and national organizations as well as local municipalities that have developed over 800 miles of the 1,650-mile network already. The concept would link existing trails and trails currently under construction – such as the Harbor Ring, Morris Canal Greenway, Merritt Parkway Trail, and Empire State Trail — and provide a larger vision to help unite local trails groups land trusts and federal, state, and local governments, and other community stakeholders to bring additional expertise and financial support to help expedite the development of these projects. 

The Tri-State Trails network will lead to increased and more equitable access to public lands, higher rates of recreation, and increased support for the region’s biodiversity. Once complete, the Tri-State Trail would put trail access within two miles of over 80% of the region’s population, and a half-mile’s walk for 8 million of the region’s residents—an increase of nearly 25 percent from today—and link 278 of the region’s communities.

To learn more about the Fourth Regional Plan, A Region Transformed, visit rpa.org/fourth-plan.