In what is typically a quiet spot in the woods of Shoreham, elected county officials and community leaders gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 10.
The North Shore rails-to-trails project was first introduced some five decades ago when a young woman at the time wrote a letter to the editor advocating for the conversion of an old rail line into a bike path. After decades of planning, the path, which links Mount Sinai to Wading River and everything in between, is finally complete.
County Executive Steve Bellone (D) headlined the event. He spoke of the immense willpower on the part of the parties involved in making this dream a reality.
“You know any time a project is on the drawing boards for 50 years and you’re actually at the ribbon cutting, that’s a great day,” he said.
In March 2020, the county completed its updated master plan for hiking and biking, which called for 1,200 miles of new bike infrastructure, according to Bellone. At full build-out, the plan would put 84% of county residents within a half-mile radius of a biking facility. The opening of the North Shore Rail Trail, he suggested, is an important first step to executing the master plan.
“This opening today really goes a long way toward kicking off that next effort — and we don’t want all of that to take another 50 years,” the county executive said. “That’s the kind of transformative investment we need to be making to keep our region prosperous and growing and attracting and retaining young people.”
Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) spearheaded much of this project through the various levels of government and into completion. During that process, Anker said her office overcame a number of obstacles before getting to the finish line.
“We understood as a community we needed this,” she said. “My number one priority in making sure this happened was, and still continues to be, public safety — making sure our residents, especially our kids, have a safe place to ride their bikes.”
For Anker, the trail offers a number of benefits to local residents, providing bikers with an open space to pursue their hobby while mitigating safety concerns about bikers sharing public roads with drivers. Additionally, the trail will encourage more residents to use their bikes to get around, limiting traffic congestion and air pollution from cars.
“I know someone that lives in Rocky Point,” Anker said. “He takes his bike on the trail now to get to his job in Mount Sinai … that’s what this trail is all about.”
Joining Anker was her colleague in the county Legislature, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). Hahn said trails like these can help to band neighboring communities together, establishing a sense of cohesion throughout the area.
“Between this one and the Port Jeff Station-East Setauket Greenway Trail, we can get from 25A in Setauket all the way to Shoreham-Wading River safely,” she said. “Suffolk County’s roads have consistently fallen on a national list of the most dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians. This is the kind of vision we need to turn that around.”
State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) suggested that at a time when tax dollars are leaving Long Island communities, the opening of this bike path is also a symbolic victory for the community members and their representatives.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend taxpayer money than to invest it in something that is a free, recreational and healthy activity for not only the residents of Suffolk County, but for all of New York,” she said.
Town of Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro (R) detailed the many logistical hurdles that the Highway Department had to overcome to make this project possible.
“There are over 30 road crossings and all of them are town roads,” he said. “We had to work very closely on making sure that the design of that provided for safe passage for our bikers and walkers.” He added, “I live about a third of a mile away and rode my bike here [today]. I ride here with my kids all the time and it is a fantastic addition to our community.”
Anker ended with one final reflection before the official ribbon cutting, placing the trail in historical context. “The original idea came about 50 years ago at a Sound Beach Civic [Association] meeting and also a young girl in 1974, who wrote a letter to the editor,” the county legislator said. “It did take a while, but we did it.”