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Blueway trail

Residents enjoy a day on the Nissequogue River. Photo from the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation

County officials are asking residents for help in creating Suffolk’s new blueway trail.

According to the National Park Service, a blueway trail is a water path that provides recreational boating opportunities along a river, lake, canal or coastline.

The county’s blueway trail plan will make nonmotorized water sports — kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding and rowing — more accessible to residents and visitors by identifying information needed for a safe and fun paddling experience.

As part of the first phase, the county has launched a survey to solicit feedback from residents to see what they would want in a blueway trail. The comments and recommendations received through the survey will be open until July 15.

“Our ultimate goal is to link the blueway trail to our great recreational assets, such as our parks, beaches, and hike and bike trails, as well as provide opportunities to advance ecotourism and economic development within the county,” said County Executive Steve Bellone (D). “Paddling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and exercise at the same time. The county is committed to working with residents to add to the enjoyment of the experience.”

The survey will help identify existing and potential launch sites throughout the county’s more than 1,000 miles of waterfront and develop a wish list to improve the sites for water access.

“Paddlers have long enjoyed Suffolk’s scenic waters, and we want to make it easier for residents and visitors to learn how to take advantage of the magnificent waterways we have available to us while doing it in a safe and fun way,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket).

The origins of a countywide blueway trail date back three years ago, when Hahn was developing a similar plan for her North Shore district.

In June 2016, Hahn sponsored bipartisan legislation authorizing the county to pursue state funding, which resulted in the award of a $60,000 grant.

“It is an exciting next step,” she said. “I grew up in Stony Brook, and there’s nothing like being out in the water.”

Once priority sites have been identified, Suffolk County will work with the various municipalities to identify funding sources for specific project improvements and develop a management, communication and marketing plan.

Hahn said the trail would help drive new opportunities for tourism and benefit the local economy.

“We are looking for inexpensive ways for residents to access the shoreline,” she said.

The trail would provide suggested routes depending on skill level, locations of features such as rest stops, scenic locations, bird-watching and amenities including restrooms, concessions, nearby businesses and parking. It will also include signage to help paddlers find launch locations and provide information such as maps, environmental educational information and safety information.

Though the first phase of the plan is underway, Hahn said this will be a long planning process that could take a few years.

She said it depends on how much funding they can get as they will need to reapply for more grants as well as fixing and preparing the launch sites to be used as part of the blueway trail.

For residents who want to contribute to the blueway trail survey visit, www.arcg.is/1KyPDq.

Just in time for the holidays, Suffolk County has received a gift that will keep on giving.

Suffolk is slated to receive funding through New York State’s Regional Economic Development Councils for the creation of a countywide Blueway Trail.

According to the National Park Service, a blueway trail is a water path that provides recreational boating opportunities along a river, lake, canal or coastline.

The application submitted by the county earlier this year was based upon a recreational water trail plan Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) was developing for her North Shore district.

When Hahn took up paddle boarding about three years ago, she said it was a transformational experience.

“I was so excited to get a whole new perspective of our community,” she said, adding that although she grew up in the area, she only recently discovered water sports that provide a view of the shore.

“As more and more tourists seek out off-shore recreational activities … there’s no reason why Suffolk County’s lure should end at the water’s edge.”

— Kara Hahn

Reading an article about an established trail in Nassau County gave her the impetus to get a working group together, she said.

After evaluating the economic benefits and increased tourism a more comprehensive blueway trail would bring to the region, the preliminary plan was expanded to include all of Suffolk.

In June, Hahn sponsored bi-partisan legislation authorizing the county to pursue state funding, which resulted in the awarding of a $60,000 grant. She is hoping the seed money will give the county access to other grant funding.

“For generations, Long Island has attracted visitors from around the globe and international acclaim because of its shoreline of world class beaches,” she said. “However, as more and more tourists seek out off-shore recreational activities like canoeing, windsurfing and stand-up water paddling, there’s no reason why Suffolk County’s lure should end at the water’s edge. Once completed, this project will help drive new opportunities for regional tourism and serve as a catalyst to the local economy as our residents — and those vacationing here — discover Suffolk is amazing both on and off shore.”

According to the proposal, during its first phase, Suffolk County — in collaboration with its towns, villages and paddling organizations — will develop a blueway trail plan for the north and south shores as well as the Peconic Estuary in Riverhead. A schematic design of the trail route will include potential launch and landing locations, and there will be signage drafted and project identification for public access and facilities — an implementation plan will complete this phase.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) sees the project as an economic win.

“The funding for the blueway trail plan is a significant breakthrough for Suffolk’s local economy and its regional tourism industry,” he said.

Kristen Jarnagin, formerly of the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau in Hauppauge, and now president and CEO of Discover Long Island, a marketing website that facilitates the booking of vacation plans, envisions an increase in tourism.

“Tourism is a $5.5 billion industry on Long Island, which translates to more than $356 million in local and state tax revenues for Suffolk County,” she said. “We applaud Legislator Hahn’s effort to develop the new Blueway Trail that reflects the beauty of our destination and will assist in meeting the demand of our 9.1 million annual visitors.”

Jarnagin is one of many supporting the project.

Long Island Paddlers, Inc. President Steve Berner echoed her sentiments.

“Tourism is a $5.5 billion industry on Long Island, which translates to more than $356 million in local and state tax revenues for Suffolk County.”

—Kristen Jarnagin

“The Suffolk Blueway Trail will be a real benefit to prospective, novice and experienced kayakers alike,” Berner said. “The Long Island Paddlers commend legislator Hahn for spearheading the effort, and New York State for recognizing the economic potential of such a plan.”

George Hoffman, a founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said he doesn’t forsee any downsides to the plan.

“It gets you out on the water,” he said in a phone interview, “and in addition to the environmental aspects, you get to see colonial history from a different vantage point. There should be markers to flag what you’re looking at.”

He mentioned the Nassau County south shore blueway trail that opened last June.

Ann Strong, of Strong’s Neck, who is on the board of Strong’s Neck Civic Association, is a member of the Three Village Historical Society and is a real estate broker whose family has been in the Setauket area for over 350 years, said she thought it seemed like a good thing for a lot of people.

“I can’t see it would be anything but favorable,” she said, adding that she looks forward to learning more about it. Upon hearing that Hahn was the prime mover of the project, she said she felt heartened that it would be done well.

A total of 10 Regional Councils were established by the state — including the Long Island Regional Council — to assist the regions in jumpstarting their economies. The Councils empower businesses and leaders, as well as citizens to develop strategic plans tailored to their region’s unique strengths and resources.

During the most recent round of funding, the Long Island Region awarded $62 million in grants to support 101 projects, which includes the Suffolk County Blueway Trail Plan.

Two people enjoy a paddleboarding ride along Huntington’s shore. Photo from Katie Buttine

By Victoria Espinoza

Kayakers, canoeists and water enthusiasts in Huntington may be singing a different kind of blues in the near future.

The Huntington town board approved a plan at a July meeting to create a blueway trail, that would span from Cold Spring Harbor to Northport Bay, and highlight both historic and cultural areas along the town’s shoreline.

According to the National Park Service, a blueway trail is a water path that provides recreational boating opportunities along a river, lake, canal or coastline.

The Huntington blueway trail would be geared toward increasing awareness and use of coastal resources, while also encouraging ecotourism.

“This will provide an opportunity for residents to provide their own input, experiences and recommendations.”
—Carolyn Sukowski

Huntington Stand Up Paddle business owner Katie Buttine said a blueway trail would be an asset to both her business and customers.

“That would be awesome,” Buttine said in a phone interview. “Water sports are continuing to grow and people don’t know where they can and can’t go in the area. This would help so people would no longer be frustrated when they get to a beach and realize they can’t load there.”

Town board members unanimously approved a resolution to apply for a $76,000 New York State Environmental Protection Fund grant to undertake the project with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, a nonprofit community education agency that works to preserve the county’s heritage, protect ecosystems and provide opportunities for young people.

The project, which would begin next year and be completed in 2020, will plan a blueway starting from Cold Spring Harbor, through the Long Island Sound and the Huntington and Northport Bay complex, and ending at the mouth of Fresh Pond in Smithtown Bay.

The grant will be used to create a blueway trail map-and-guide smartphone app, and a video tour.

The guide app would include a map of the trail, as well as natural and cultural heritage points of interest. It would allow visitors easier access to trail information, better options in trip planning and increased safety through use of georeferenced maps while on the trail. Trailheads, amenities and downtown assets such as paddle sport establishments would also be identified. It could be used by people on land or water, and would be similar to guides the town has compiled for land-based activities. 

Currently, Huntington’s website features detailed information on nature trails in the area, complete with addresses, parking fees, hours and animals that may be seen in the area.

The Huntington trail would resemble others on Long Island.

A woman and dog enjoy a paddleboarding ride during sunset. Photo from Katie Buttine
A woman and dog enjoy a paddleboarding ride during sunset. Photo from Katie Buttine

Oyster Bay started working on a water path in 2010, with a similar grant and help from a community planning firm that inventoried the best-suited trailheads and amenities that provide access to recreational facilities, commercial establishments, and ecological, historical and cultural resources along the proposed trail, according to Friends of the Bay. A community survey was also conducted to let residents give input on what they thought the trail should look like.

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto praised the project in a 2012 statement:

“[It created] an exciting and unique way for people to learn about and enjoy this beautiful natural watershed and promote the many attractions in and around the harbor. The whole purpose of the blueway trail map is to provide a simple and easy way to discern the best places to stop and take in the wonderful attractions our town has to offer.”

Huntington is hoping their blueway trail will have the same effect.

Cornell Cooperative said it will be working with the town to collect public opinion, field research and more.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) introduced the resolution to the town board in July, and said the nonprofit approached him with the idea.

“[The organization] came to Huntington with a very strong project proposal, and we are very delighted to be partnering on this endeavor,” he said in an email.

Carolyn Sukowski, resource educator for the nonprofit said Huntington’s blueway path will be enriched with community contribution.

“This will provide an opportunity for residents to provide their own input, experiences and recommendations,” she said in a phone interview. She also said Cornell Cooperative plans to hold public meetings and distribute surveys that will help determine stops and points of interest on the blueway trail, and the app as well.

Cuthbertson agreed that resident feedback will be an invaluable part of the process.

“We anticipate extensive community input,” he said. “Clearly we expect that our parks, beaches, marinas and historic sites will be included, but our list will be compiled with community input.”

Sukowski said the path will have stops on the shoreline, suggestions for destinations near the water and a list of town parks.

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