Story and Photo By Matt Smith
Imagine it’s a clear, calm, Spring, Saturday afternoon. You’re in town, having completed a morning of shopping, or finished lunch with a friend. As you would usually do, you head back to your car and prepare for the drive home. But imagine you didn’t bring your car–and instead, you travel home via bike, which is also the way you came. You ride along a woodsy trail, surrounded by trees and steeped in nature. As you pedal, you feel the cool, crisp air brushing against your face and the soothing warmth of the sun washing over your back. Just before you reach the clearing, you cycle across a bridge and look out at a lake, its ripples shimmering in the sunlight. Pure bliss. Wouldn’t that be just wonderful?
With any luck, you could be doing exactly that…and sooner than later, as the New Castle Town Board is steadily making progress on its previously announced plans to construct the proposed ChapLine.
The project would involve upgrading an existing path–cleared and graded in 2005 in order to install a sewer line–to create a fresh, 1.6 mile, multi-use recreational trail connecting Chappaqua Crossing to Horace Greeley High School, and the downtown shopping area (King St. and N. Greeley Ave.)
The project received new attention last year when New Castle resident Dan Googel–who was also, at the time, a member of the Master Planning Commercial Work Group–approached the Town Board at a public meeting, with new ideas for moving forward with the plan.
Noting that community members, according to a July 2014 report from the community work sessions run by Pace, had requested “a more walkable community, a more bike-friendly community, [and] more places for the community to gather,” Googel explained that the establishment of such a trail in Chappaqua would “be a cost-effective means to accomplish these goals.”
Though he acknowledges the town master plan is still not yet complete, Googel has been encouraged by the outpouring of positive feedback from the town and residents since his initial presentation. Comments New Castle Town Supervisor Rob Greenstein, on the matter: “There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but there is also enormous support for creating this trail, and I’m hopeful that we will finally get it done.”
Greenstein also recognizes the many benefits to having the trail completed. For one, he says, “it’s good for business,” as the trail would provide easy access to the downtown shopping area. Additionally, it would be good for the community, as according to studies from other towns and communities, such trails “actually increase the home values of these areas,” making them more attractive and vibrant.
Googel, on the other hand, stresses that having a walking/running/biking trail would encourage a healthy lifestyle, “providing a place for people to get exercise [and] to be outside.” Furthermore, “it’s environmentally friendly,” as it reduces the needs for cars (which cuts down on fuel expenses and gas emission) and “allows a great deal more students to get to school without having to drive.”
Equally important, it would provide residents with a safe alternative to biking or walking on the main roads. “Route 117 is dangerous,” comments New Castle Deputy Supervisor Lisa Katz. “So, to have anyone be able to walk from school or town [on a safer trail] would be phenomenal.”
Greenstein also notes that the trail would provide a more appropriate running course for members of the Greeley Track and Field team, who currently train by crossing Rt-117 and running up Annandale Rd, stating “Crossing Rt-117 in the afternoon is far from ideal, but what option do they [currently] have? ChapLine would give the team a safe option.”
While the Town is enthusiastic about the benefits the trail would provide, Board members are also aware of certain concerns and obstacles that may need to be addressed as they move forward. “We understand that there are neighbors who are affected [by this process] and we’ll do everything in our power to try to minimize and lessen those impacts,” comments Greenstein.
On the subject, Googel expressed that he would like to see the Town work with the affected residents during the path development process. “We want the adjacent neighbors to see this as a positive amenity,” he explains. “And we want to build the path in a manner such that it enhances their property in addition to [enhancing] the broader New Castle community.” Of note, the Town owns the land next to the affected private properties, and intends to evaluate either procuring easements and/or relocating the trail onto this Town-owned land.
Additionally, the team has recently issued an RFP for an engineering firm to conduct both a feasibility study and cost analysis for the competition of the trail. “We’ll have to do a SECQR [State Environmental Quality Review] as well,” says Greenstein, which will “identify any [additional] environmental concerns or technical issues.” Though Greenstein is confident in the Town’s ability to mitigate any major concerns, he explains that because the project is in such an early stage, “We may not even know what our biggest obstacle is yet.”
As for additional future plans, the Town would like to assemble a committee of sorts–which might include a member of the school board, the Town Board, the Planning Board, the New Castle Recreation and Parks Department, and a few of the affected neighbors–so that issues and questions about the project can be answered in a forum where everyone can be heard. Greenstein adds that having the committee might also benefit the newly elected Town Board members, giving them “a chance to quickly get up to speed.”
Furthermore, having received a generous donation of $1.5 million by Summit Greenfield (the owner of Chappaqua Crossing), in support of pursuing this project, the Town hopes to explore additional sources of funding after the feasibility study has been completed. “I have full confidence in this community, as family-oriented as it is, that people would be very supportive personally,” states Googel, on the subject. “The town will definitely come together on this issue.”
So, all in all, things are looking up. “This is a great opportunity,” adds Greenstein, “and we’re going to work hard to get it done, and get it done right.” Reiterates Googel, with a smile: “[The trail] is already here. It’s just begging to be completed.” And, when it is, he says, looking optimistically at the grassy path in front of him, “Hopefully, we can all have a great amenity for our families to enjoy.”
Matt Smith is a proud graduate of Skidmore College and a regular contributor to the Inside Press.