By Desirée Keegan
It has been more than 30 years in the making, but by 2018, cyclists in the Town of Brookhaven may finally have a new 10-mile route to ride from Port Jefferson to Wading River.
The Rails to Trails Conservancy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created to preserve land strictly for recreation and transportation, proposed to use old North Shore railroad track locations and pave the way, literally, for a bike path.
Marty Buchman, who lives in Stony Brook and opened the new Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn, has been a member of Rails to Trails for 20 years and cycling for over 40.
“It means everything for us cyclists,” Buchman said of the project. “There is no joy like riding on a bicycle trail. The trail will bring economic development, health, jobs — I can’t understand why it took so long to get this started, but I’m absolutely overjoyed. I can’t wait. I’ll be here the first day.”
He has frequently rode along the Greenway Trail, which connects Setauket and Port Jefferson Station, and said that the usage and the joy people get out of the trail is exciting to see. He added that he knows the new trail, which will connect Port Jefferson Station, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point, Shoreham and Wading River, will have the same impact.
“If you build it, people will come,” he said. “I’ve been cycling since I was 16, and when I ride, I feel like I’m 16 again. I feel like I’m connected to the world around me. I sometimes ride 30 miles to work.”
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (R-NY), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) all helped give the proposal life, advocating for the project over the years in an effort to secure funding.
According to Zeldin, converting the rails into a bike trail had been discussed in 2001 when North Shore advocate Mike Cosel spoke to then-legislator Martin Healy about the idea, which has long been stalled since then. Though the projects roots date back much further than that. The previous allocated funding for the project sat for over five years, and was in danger of being cancelled and repurposed, so local officials worked over the past 19 months across party lines to restore the funding so the project could move forward.
“Living on Long Island we are blessed with so many natural treasures, including our renowned parks and beaches, many of which are connected through our scenic biking and hiking trails,” Zeldin said. “Long Island’s trails are an important part of our local community and economy, connecting our residents and visitors to our beaches, parks, local farms, festivals, wineries, restaurants and other destinations, while providing an option of healthy recreational activity and transportation. In addition to improving quality of life and livability, trails help to protect our environment through conservation and by reducing traffic and pollution on our roads.”
The $9.51 million project, according to the congressman, will be 80 percent federally funded, with Brookhaven Town covering the remaining 20 percent.
“We’re going to take this and make this something that people can enjoy,” Romaine said. “This will be a great addition to what we have to offer for recreation in the Town of Brookhaven.”
For experienced cyclists, skateboarders, walkers or even first-time riders, safety was a main concern for all parties involved in approving the trails.
“Unfortunately Suffolk has the very dubious honor of having the highest fatality rates of cyclists on the road,” said Robert DeVito, president of the Suffolk Bicycle Riders Association and director of the Nassau-Suffolk Bicycle Coalition. “We constantly go out riding, whether in a group or alone, always concerned [about safety]. With people today utilizing their phones more and more in their car, it’s really become an issue. We need safer areas to ride.”
The project will also provide an economic boost, as shops could set up along the trail. Anker said the goal is to create ecotourism where along the trail, community members and visitors can stop at the various hamlets, whether it be just to buy a bottle of water, to sit and eat dinner or even visit the Tesla Science Center.
According to Ashley Hunt-Martorano, director of marketing and events for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a non-profit organization focused on national policies to address climate change, it will also help create a safer place for cyclists to travel during ozone days, when county or state officials determine it’s not safe for bike riders to be out on their bikes.
“The more people get outdoors and engage in their community, the more they’re paying attention to the changes we’re seeing in our planet,” she said. “I have really fallen in love with riding my bike, and I love riding my bike on Long Island. I visit places I’ve never went before in my car. There are certain areas where it’s just gorgeous.”
Although there’s still more time to wait and see if the plan will come to fruition, for now, many locals are excited to hear there may be a plan in place.
“This project has always had tremendous support from all of the surrounding communities,” said Rock Point resident Jeff Carlson, who is president of the Rocky Point Civic Association. “We’re really happy that this is finally getting somewhere.”