Countless runners, bikers and families enjoy the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail every day, many unknowing to the fact that the 3.5-mile trail at one point was destined to be a highway.
On June 8, residents, members of the Friends of the Greenway and the Three Village Community Trust as well as public officials gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the greenway trail opening at the midpoint of the trail — Lynx and Bobcat lanes.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am that the trail is so actively used by so many different groups of people,” said Herb Mones, TVCT trustee.
Mones said like any project it took a tremendous amount of planning and execution.
The process began in 1999, when residents began discussing what to do with the land acquired in the 1960s by the New York State Department of Transportation that ran from parts of East Setauket to Port Jefferson Station. Initially the state wanted to create a bypass to Route 25A.
“At first, many people didn’t understand how a pathway would work, because there was no example of it in the community,” Mones said. “People scratched their heads and said I don’t want that.”
It took 10 years to figure out how the trail would look and feel. Along the way, residents began to recognize the benefits of a greenway/bike trail.
The TVCT also had help from public officials.
Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was one of the first to see the potential of a greenway trail in the area and was able to secure more than $2 million in funds for the initial build-out of the trail. On the federal level, former Congressman Tim Bishop (D) was able to obtain $5 million for the remaining sections of the trail.
“It is really a testament to the community, volunteers and public officials to see this through,” Mones said. “Now this greenway is being used as a model for other trails being built in the county.”
George Hoffman, co-chair of the Three Village Civic Association, remembers initially people were upset with the idea of a trail but now residents advertise their homes being on the greenway as a selling point.
“This a great community resource,” he said. “Still some people don’t know this is here.”
Charlie McAteer, chair of the Friends of the Greenway, said he was glad for the turnout.
“Ten years ago we were at this spot, we had the support of the community, now you see what it had brought out, a three-mile trail that we all enjoy,” he said. “You see how many people use this trail. That’s what we intended.”
The success of the greenway trail has inspired the future county project Rails to Trails, a 10-mile path that will run from Mount Sinai to Wading River.
McAteer said he and the Friends of the Greenway are looking forward to helping with the project. Officials said they hope to break ground on the new trail sometime in fall 2019.