March 11, 2010

Tompkins County Approves Ithaca Waterfront Trail

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Spectators at Cornell crew races will soon have a more intimate view of the action. After nearly three years of delay, the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce has decided to bypass the second phase of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail Initiative (CWTI) and begin construction on phase three, connecting the Ithaca Farmers’ Market to Stewart Park, according to Jean McPheeters, chamber of commerce president. The trail also cuts through the University’s rowing center.

Phase one of the project was completed in 2002, but the second phase, connecting Cass Park to the farmers’ market, was delayed due to protests from local property owners and Cornell, whose land the trail would cross over, according to Rick Manning, program coordinator for the CWTI. Prior to the delay, phase two was estimated to be finished in 2009.

Since 2007, the city has been in negotiations with the University on the design of the trail. Plans were initially stalled, however, since the University had yet to finalize the design for their new boathouses, and it was unclear whethe the trail would impede their construction plan, University Planner Mina Amundsen said.

In addition, the rowing center sits on a narrow, oddly shaped strip of land ans and rowers, especially during crew races, Amundsen said.

“The [City] was really willing to work with us on moving the trail away from the waterfront, which is not ideal for them but it is for us,” Amundsen said.

Although the University still has reservations about the safety issues associated with the trail, the City has taken a laissez-faire attitude toward the issue, according to McPheeters.

“We have great usage of the Cass Park trail but there aren’t thousands of people on it at one time,” she said, “if [problems arise] we’ll figure something out.”

Manning believes that the trail will actually be a valuable asset to the University’s rowing program by attracting more spectators to the races. According to him, thousands of people would pile into Lehigh Valley railroad cars along Cayuga Lake during the 1890’s to follow the crew team boats as they raced up the east side of Cayuga Lake.

“Right now the [rowing center] is like a football field without any stands,” said Manning, “but the trail will allow people to go all the way from the boathouse to the water’s edge.”

Despite the progress that has been made with the University, easement negotiations with the estimated eight local property owners being affected by the CWTI are in the hands of New York State. Last summer, the State Transportation Department decided to take over these negotiations and they are currently assessing the value of the easements so that a reasonable price can be offered to the residents for use of the land, McPheeters said.

“I think there was a hope on the part of some land owners that [an agreement] wouldn’t be worked out with Cornell so the project might stall,” said Manning, “but now that Cornell is in I think they’ll be more likely to [negotiate] with us.”

According to McPheeters, projects often move slowly on the state level, therefore she does not expect phase two to be completed anytime soon, but construction of phase three is scheduled to begin this summer and be completed by the end of the year. Bids for the construction plans of phase three will be coming in within the next few weeks, Manning said.

“This has been a much longer process than anyone possibly imagined, but I suppose it’s not that unusual for projects like these to take awhile, so perhaps we were a bit unrealistic in the beginning,” Manning said.

Once all phases of the CWTI are constructed, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation envisions connecting the waterfront trail to a 15-mile path that will be called the Black Diamond Trail, McPheeters said. According to her, this trail will connect the State Marine Park, located by Cass Park, to the Taughannock, Buttermilk Falls, and Allda Treman state parks.

McPheeters hopes that the completion of these trails will help to decrease vehicular traffic around the farmer’s market by promoting walking and biking, as well as enhance tourism in Ithaca and provide the community with greater access to the lake.

Original Author: Samantha Willner