Riding The Rails

Several community organizations are working on a new trail opportunity in the town of Busti.

Known as the “LoCo” Trail, short for Lower County Trail, it is a proposed trail on the rail right-of-way directly contiguous to the active Western New York & Pennsylvania tracks that run through the lower county. Plans call for the trail to be 10 feet wide, paved and separated from the active rail line by a six-foot high chain link fence.

Funding is contingent on approval of a grant application sponsored by the town of Busti which was submitted to the state Department of Transportation submitted in June. A decision on the grant is expected late in 2014. If approved, trail construction might take place as soon as 2015.

The initial section of trail will be 4.1 miles long in the Town of Busti running from Cummins Engine east to the Lakewood Dog Park near Fairdale Ave. LoCo Trail will be for non-motorized pedestrian and bike use. It is hoped that the trail will some day run as far east as Randolph or Salamanca and southwest to Corry, Pa.

“Rarely is a community trail possible with so few legal and right of way issues,” said Ken Lawton, Busti Town Board member. “Western New York Pennsylvania Railroad supports the project and is working closely with the Town of Busti.”

According to Lawton, there are only two rail shipments per month on the rail line and trains travel at low speeds, typically 25 mph.

Rails to Trails Conservancy estimates there are 160 Rail-with-Trails in the United States, covering more than 1,300 miles. Conservancy officials say the Busti model is a relatively new concept in trail development and would be the longest segment of rail-with-trail in the Western New York region. Unlike existing rail-to-trail segments in Chautauqua County, this trail will be located much closer to the population centers of Southern Chautauqua County, abuts high-density residential and commercial properties and will be paved.

“Safety of trail users is greatly enhanced by the fence that will separate the trail from the rail line,” Lawton said. “There is currently unauthorized pedestrian use of the corridor, and this is a concern for the rail operator and rail authority. The paved trail and fence will increase safety on the right-of-way. In addition, the experience of the rail operator is that increased pedestrian use reduces littering and unauthorized access.”

The trail will take cyclists and pedestrians off of busy state and county roads which lack either a sidewalk or safe shoulder width. The trail will provide a safe route through the Fairmount Avenue commercial corridor, as well as connect residential and recreational areas in the village of Lakewood.

The trail will provide transportation options for people who do not drive and currently rely on CARTS bus, friends, or taxis to meet their transportation needs. According to U.S. Census data, an estimated 21 percent of Jamestown households and 9.3 percent of Lakewood households lack a vehicle. Some of these people will use the trail to access employment, goods and services located in the commercial corridor.

“An estimated 60 percent of the population of the United States are considered ‘interested but concerned’ cyclists,” according to Lisa Schmidtfrerick-Miller, project volunteer. “These people are interested in bicycling and generally indicate that they would bicycle more for transportation or recreation if they were separated from vehicular traffic.”

The Lakewood Community Development Corporation, Lakewood Merchants Association and numerous businesses on Chautauqua Avenue have written letters of support for the LoCo Trail. Regional bike riders will travel to Chautauqua County to ride the trail and bike and roller skate sales to local residents will increase. Sales tax revenues and housing values are higher in communities with bike trails.

Trail officials say they are also excited about such community trails improving public health. Chautauqua County is ranked 54th of 62 counties in New York state by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation in health outcomes. Heart disease, diabetes and childhood obesity are significant, costly health problems in Chautauqua County. Community trails have been proven to increase exercise and reduce chronic illness and are endorsed by the Chautauqua County Health Department and the Chautauqua County Health Network to improve public health.

“There are so many benefits to this trail,” said Jim Fincher of Chautauqua Rails to Trails. “LoCo Trail will pass through the heart of our community, right-of-way issues are non-existent and the rail folks are anxious to make the project happen. This is a truly an exciting opportunity our community should pursue.”

Trail volunteers have begun fundraising to help cover trail costs not covered by the grant. A LoCo Trail Celebration is scheduled for Sunday at Southern Tier Brewing Company from noon-3 p.m. The event will include food, music and detailed trail information. In addition, Hollyloft Ski & Bike has donated a specialized Globe Commuter bicycle and giveaway tickets to win the bike will be available. Individuals interested in volunteering can sign up at the event as well.

For more information on the LoCo Trail and Sunday’s Loco Trail Celebration, visit www.LoCoTrail.org.