Highlands West trail plan unveiled in Orange County

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Photo courtesy of NYNJ Trail Conference

ORANGE COUNTY – The Open Space Institute (OSI), in partnership with the Orange County Land Trust (OCLT) and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC), have unveiled a new, long-term trail and open space connectivity plan.  The vision addresses the Hudson Highland region in Orange County. 

The Highlands West Trail Connectivity Plan highlights a range of opportunities to permanently protect and enhance the landscape, working toward the creation of a connected, regional trail network that will provide recreational opportunities for residents and visitors, protect critical wildlife habitat, and safeguard local watersheds. 

Spanning more than 93,000 acres, the plan seeks to connect the six state parks located within the western Hudson Highlands, from Storm King State Park in the north to Sterling State Forest in the south, and including Harriman, Bear Mountain, Goosepond Mountain, and Schunnemunk state parks, as well as privately protected lands such as Black Rock Forest and Storm King Art Center.

The Highlands West Trail Connectivity Plan includes recommendations that will make access to trails and outdoor spaces more widely available for new and existing park users. The plan proposes new trail connections that will link popular town centers, train stations, and bus stops to nearby state parks and protected lands.

“We know that smart land conservation strengthens communities by providing recreational and economic opportunities and protecting drinking water sources,” says Kim Elliman, Open Space Institute president and CEO. “Once implemented, the plan will connect a fragmented network of protected land, create a unified trail system throughout this spectacular landscape, and provide easier recreational access for all people, including those arriving by train.”

“The Orange County Land Trust is thrilled to be working with the Open Space Institute and other conservation partners on this ambitious plan. Access to our region’s State Parks has never been more important. Solidifying these trail connections throughout the Hudson Highlands West region will support local economies, safeguard habitats, and enhance visitor access for generations to come,” said Matt Decker, Orange County Land Trust’s director of conservation and stewardship.

Four major long-distance trails converge in the western Hudson Highlands—the Appalachian Trail, Long Trail, Highlands Trail, and Orange County Heritage Trail—and serve as the basis and inspiration for this expanded and enhanced network.

 The plan establishes a regional vision for recreation, conservation, and local economic development, and proposes 21 projects. Proposed projects include new trail creation, realignment and safety improvements for existing trails, planning for new park and trail areas to help reduce crowding at some of the more popular state parks in the area, and trailhead improvements at existing parks to better welcome and direct visitors.

The plan calls for the protection of areas that have been designated as a climate-resilient corridor, meaning that the land will continue to support an incredible diversity of wildlife as the climate changes. Significantly, the plan also highlights the need to protect the region’s watersheds that provide vast quantities of clean drinking water for the people of Orange County.

The Hudson Highlands West Trail Connectivity Plan is the product of more than two years of planning, meetings, and interviews. Stakeholders including elected officials, nonprofit organizations, friends groups, and state and local government agencies were consulted to develop a regional vision and identify opportunities for meaningful open space protection and trail linkages.