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Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail

County Executive Steve Bellone, Legis. Sarah Anker and Assemblyman Steve Englebright were on hand for the ground-breaking ceremony of the North Shore Rail Trail project Oct. 25. Photos by Kyle Barr

On the freshly mowed grass of a right of way in Miller Place, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) held up a yellowing booklet and from it unfurled a map of Long Island. The booklet was from 1972, and the map showed plans for a trail along the North Shore from Wading River to Mount Sinai.

On Oct. 25, little less than 50 years since the first county planner, Lee Koppelman, drew up those plans, officials finally put the first ceremonial shovel in the ground for the 10-mile rails-to-trails project, now dubbed North Shore Rail Trail.

Construction is set to begin in early November.

“This site will become a premier destination for hiking and biking,” the county exec said.

County officials were joined by town, state and town representatives, various civic leaders, along with hiking and biking enthusiasts to dig the first ceremonial dirt piles and pop the cork on a bottle of champagne. 

Officials said construction will start in Mount Sinai and continue through to Wading River. County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said building it could take close to two years to complete. Officials had an expected finish date for fall 2021. The trail will not officially open until the entire project is completed, Anker said.

Local and state officials break ground on the North Shore Rail Trail project Oct.25. Photos by Kyle Barr

Some area residents are unhappy with the new trail, including several whose homes abut the right of way where the trail will extend through. Rocky Point resident Gary Savickas, who has long been a vocal opponent of the new trail, said his property currently overlooks the fence in his backyard which borders the right of way, and walkers will be able to look directly into his yard.

Anker said the county is planning to work with Rocky Point Civic Association in gathering together funds to address barriers and other measures to help with privacy concerns, but there is no word of when that funding will come. 

The current 3-mile Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail has entered its 10th year, and Herb Mones, Three Village Civic Association trustee and active member of the Friends of the Greenway, said many of the complaints he has heard with the new trail are ones he heard during the Setauket trail’s development.

“Now when I walk on the greenway, those very same people will walk up to me and shake my hand,” he said. “The attitude changes, but the attitudes are a result of not having enough of these recreation corridors for people to appreciate.”

For those who enjoy hiking and biking, the tune is much different. Elyse Buchman, who owns Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn in Stony Brook along with husband Marty, said she knows many who will use the trail. On Oct. 13, she and several hundred people from all over the Northeast raised money for the New York Bicycling Coalition, but some who wanted to come to that event didn’t, with many bikers having qualms about riding on roads as congested as some on the North Shore.

“This is a destination, this is for our long-distance riders who want to get to the North Fork, and get there safely,” Elyse Buchman added.

The $8.82 million trail is being funded through federal and state grants, along with Suffolk County funds. The trail was finally confirmed with Bellone signing legislation last year.

Though there are likely people who will want to use both the North Shore Rail Trail and Greenway Trail, they will have a 1-mile stretch between their two end points with several roads in between. The county exec said they are currently creating an interconnected hiking and biking plan, with a general idea to make Suffolk a regional destination for hiking and biking. Included in that plan is a scheme to connect the two ends of the separate trails, though he added there is no definite plan to do so. 

“The connection is a priority,” Bellone said.

 

Residents, legislators and members of the Friends of the Greenway and the Three Village Community Trust, above, celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail. Photo by David Luces

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.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Three Village Community Trust members Herb Mones and Cynthia Barnes, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker and Charlie McAteer, chair of the Friends of the Greenway. Photo by David Luces

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.

Residents enjoy the 10th anniversary celebration. Photo by Herb Mones

“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.