A concept that was first discussed years ago for the 10-mile trail over the long-abandoned LIRR Wading River extension line from Mt. Sinai to Wading River, Rails to Trails now has some new life as the Suffolk County Department of Public Works has teamed up with a consulting firm, the RBA Group, and is in the conceptual stages of a proposed project.
Suffolk County Legis. Sarah Anker helped set up the meeting at the for community members to share their thoughts after a brief presentation by Jackson Wandres, landscape architect for the project, and William Hillman, Chief Engineer of the SCDPW.
The project, according to Hillman, could cost anywhere from $8-10 million with 80 percent of the funding coming from the federal government and the rest by local government, which concerned Legis. Anker.
"At this point, we can't afford it," she said. "Am I decided either way? No. However, the price tag on this huge project is concerning."
This first meeting was designed mostly for residents that sit along the trail, whose opinions would hold more weight in the matter, according to Hillman. Many of these residents expressed concerns over security and privacy, as well as the cost for the taxpayers. Andrew Gladysz, who lives along the trail in Rocky Point, believes a new trail would invite more trouble into his backyard.
"We're not really for it," Gladysz said. "I work three jobs, I'm not home. So if I yell at someone during the day to get off my property, I'm concerned they could come back when I'm not at home and do something to my wife, my kids, my family."
Hillman said that there are no plans for security along the trail, and much of that would be up to the community.
Jeff Carlson, a nine-year Rocky Point resident and parent of two who does not live directly on the trail, is a member of Concerned Long Island Mountain Bikers (C.L.I.M.B) a group which he says has already dedicated themselves to taking care of the trails. When another CLIMB member said they would be happy to be there helping out, one resident who lives along the trail yelled out, "we don't want you in our backyards."
While tension was high for most of the meeting, Charlie McAteer, a member of the Friends of the Greenway group that supports the existing trail from Setauket to Port Jefferson Station, tried to explain that the community can help make this work.
"I've been involved with that trail since 2000 and we went through everything that has been said tonight," McAteer said. "We've worked with the town to get garbage cans. The problems you mention on the trail don't end up happening because people have cameras on their phone and report [wrongdoings] and we're finding we're not having ATV's because... they do not like to have a paved path."
Other supporters also mentioned the increased safety and property values along the trail, as well as other community projects and opportunities that could come about. Nonetheless, many who came to the meeting against the project didn't seem to be swayed afterwards.
"I go out there about three times a year and I repaint all the graffiti on the poles because I don't want the kids reading the curse words because you can see it out my window...how often will I have to do that now?" Gladysz said. "There are enough trails in the area without building a new one, which we're eventually going to have to pay for."
Hillman reminded everyone that the project is still conceptual, and this was just the first of what would be many more meetings should the process move on to the next step.
"Nothing's been designed, nothing's happened," Hillman said. "We're here to listen to you about this project. If there's support for the project moving forward, we'll begin the process, and that process will contain multiple more meetings. This was, as I said, the first attempt to reach out to the community on the project in a very brief overview."
Would you support a Rails to Trails project from Mt. Sinai to Wading River? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.