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Rail Trail honored by garden club

MILLERTON — The Millbrook Garden Club, a Garden Club of America club, awarded the Harlem Valley Rail Trail (HVRT) a Civic Improvement Commendation in the beginning of the month during a luncheon at the Millbrook Golf and Tennis Club. The honor was in recognition of the Rail Trail’s “creative reuse of an abandoned rail line making a free area for recreation accessible to all, and in the process revitalizing Millerton and northeastern Dutchess County.”Dick Hermans, one of the trail’s founders who still sits on the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association’s Board of Directors, went to the awards ceremony after being contacted a few weeks ago. He said the garden club is a “powerful group” that does a lot of good in the area. He added he was moved by the fact the Rail Trail was honored by such a prestigious organization.“It’s just nice to get recognized, particularly from a national organization, that realizes in the whole scheme of things little projects like this make a big difference to communities,” Hermans said. “We’re currently trying to evaluate what impact the Rail Trail has on Millerton. The perception of Millerton to the outside world compared to what it was 30 years ago has really changed. Millerton is on the map, and the trail has helped to make that happen.”“HVRT has contributed inestimably to the ongoing revitalization of Millerton, a town where we have all seen many new shops and restaurants,” stated Ellen Peterson on behalf of the Millbrook Garden Club. “Because the trail begins at a train station connecting it to New York City, many people come just for the day and stay to have a meal or pick something up at a shop. On the weekend the town is filled with cyclists.”According to recent numbers, the Harlem Valley Rail Tail gets about 400,000 visitors annually — a number worth noting, according to Hermans, especially when one realizes the impact that has on the local economy.“The fact that the trail draws so many people on weekends makes businesses more viable in town,” he said. “Bike riders don’t always carry a lot of stuff.”Which means they need to buy what they need, whether that be food or beverages, newspapers or magazines, maps or bubble gum. The bottom line — Rail Trail users spend their dollars in the communities they visit. In the Harlem Valley that means Millerton, North East, Amenia and Wassaic all benefit. Once the planned expansion reaches Chatham, numerous other communities will benefit from the trail’s presence as well. Hermans said that although it will take time to complete, the final project will be outstanding.“There’s a lot of waiting, but it’s worth it,” he said, adding the initial idea for the Harlem Valley Rail Trail was born in the 1980s. “Just seeing how people enjoy the trail [is worth the work]. Every time I go on it almost always someone is using it. There are kids riding bikes, or people running or walking or using their wheelchairs. It’s part of the landscape now, but it really serves a purpose for a lot of people — it’s recreation but it also gets people outside and moving their bodies. I don’t do it myself enough.”The HVRT Association is set to have its third meeting with representatives from the state parks department to discuss the trail’s northbound extension soon. Hermans said there have been some property acquisitions, but that nothing has “happened overnight.” He added, “The state has clearly indicated interest in having the trail finished up there [in Copake and Chatham].” Dutchess County has even moved up the date for design work going north from Millerton on the trail to 2012; construction is being targeted for post-2015.Hermans acknowledged the recent award could act as further incentive in getting the county to act sooner rather than later.“It says the trail has some stature in the world and that there’s a reason why trails come into existence,” he said. “And I was pleasantly surprised at how many community leaders use the trail and are aware of the trail, and this kind of builds the groundwork for more support.”The Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association will hold its annual meeting on Sept. 10 this year in Copake Falls. Anyone interested in joining the association or learning more about the trail is invited to attend the pot luck dinner. For more information about the event or about the HVRT, call 518-789-9591 or go online to www.hvrt.org.

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