CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY, NY – Trail stakeholders across Chautauqua County have been working to foster collaboration and bring much needed funding to the County’s recreational trails.
The Chautauqua Region Economic Development Corporation (CREDC) was recently awarded a $25,000 grant from the Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation to explore the feasibility of establishing a “Friends of Chautauqua County Greenways Group.” This effort will bring together various trails organizations and determine how best they can work together as a Friends group to provide mutual support and seek funding together.
In 2012, the Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Economic Development released a comprehensive Greenway Plan, which identified areas for eco-tourism, private/public partnerships, natural recreational greenway opportunities, and projects to expand greenway development within the county. While some of the planned projects have been completed, there has been a renewed interest in completing other projects identified in the Plan, and many stakeholders within the county are beginning to understand the importance of outdoor recreation and eco-tourism.
“I am thrilled that there is renewed interest in implementing projects and initiatives recommended in the Greenway Plan that we worked so hard on more than 10 years ago, and that this is happening organically,” said Mark Geise, Deputy County Executive for Economic Development and CCIDA CEO. “Some of the key recommendations from the plan stated that we should create a “Friends Group,” and we should take care of what we already have while also seeking to increase our offerings. That is exactly what is happening! Kudos to the passionate volunteers who are putting in the hard work to make this happen, and to the County Legislature, the Sheldon Foundation, and others for allocating funding for the purpose of improving upon the incredible assets we already have.”
Jacob Bodway, a member of the County Parks Commission and an avid trail user, has been partnering with the Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Development to facilitate initial discussions among various trail organizations, legislators, and mayors. For Bodway, the promise of a comprehensive “Friends Group” will help break down the silos that have made it difficult for communication and county-wide planning. “The ‘Friends Group’ will help get everyone on the same page and will enable us to seek larger grant dollars for future trail projects. This moment represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to upgrade and expand the county’s greenspaces and to market the county as a regional leader in outdoor recreation.”
The potential for a “Friends Group” comes on the heels of Chautauqua County setting aside $250,000 in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for trail maintenance and upgrades. The County plans to purchase new trail maintenance equipment to improve efficiency, and repair bridges on the Overland Trails, among other projects. Funding was also allocated for various trail projects, including major improvements to the Westside Overland Trail in Chautauqua Gorge and Mount Pleasant State Forests, the installation of trailhead kiosks on the Overland Trails and the Chautauqua Rails-to-Trails, new trail signs on the Overland Trails, and trail maintenance projects on the Chautauqua Rails-to-Trails.
“Chautauqua County is fortunate to have an outstanding network of recreational trails for hiking, mountain biking, snowmobiling, horseback riding, and more,” said Rebecca Wurster, Planning Coordinator for the County’s Department of Planning and Development and Chautauqua County Partnership for Economic Growth (CCPEG). “The trails are a major draw for locals and visitors alike, and it is essential that we continue to maintain and develop them.”
The Planning Department has been busy with other trail development projects. In partnership with the Town of Westfield, the department is developing the Welch Trail, which will connect downtown Westfield to the natural beauty of Chautauqua Creek via a mile-long loop trail. The project, funded through a grant from the New York State Office of Parks and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), is expected to be completed this spring. The Department has also been working to secure easements for a portion of trail that would connect Barcelona Harbor to the Chautauqua Institution, with additional funding from OPRHP.
As the CCPEG and the County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency (CCIDA) push the #LiveCHQ marketing campaign, Director of Marketing and Communications, Jason Toczydlowski, believes that outdoor recreation is a major reason why Chautauqua County is such a unique place to live and to visit. “We have the ecotourism and adventure sports assets that continue to be refined. The sustainable growth is notable for attracting visitors, but we also want to leverage our easily accessible outdoor lifestyle to attract talented and skilled job seekers and entrepreneurs to promote local economic growth” said Toczydlowski.
The next six months will see substantial developments for Chautauqua County’s trails, as projects and partnerships continue. “It’s an exciting time to be a Chautauqua County resident and an outdoor enthusiast,” explains Bodway. “We are thrilled that so many people are behind our efforts to revitalize the trails and the eco-tourism in the county.”
For more information on the Chautauqua County’s ongoing trail development projects and access to the County Greenway Plan, visit planningchautauqua.com/planning/trails.
If you would like more information about this project, please contact Rebecca Wurster, Planning Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.