October 16, 2021

Rail-trail section opens

Dryden-to-Freeville project unveiled this weekend

Travis Dunn/contributing photographer

Walkers and runners make their way along the rail trail connecting Freeville to Dryden before the trail’s official opening Saturday morning.

FREEVILLE — For decades, the trail between Freeville and Dryden was a dream.

The location was obvious: along the old rail line that, from the 1870s through 1978, ran right through both villages.

But crucial points along the way were blocked by private property, and so the dream never materialized.

That all changed about four years ago, said Freeville Mayor David Fogel. The easements started to come through, including a major one from the The William George Agency for Children’s Services, and so did the funding and the volunteers.

A $180,000 grant from state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation got things rolling, and a $1.5 million grant from the state Department of Transportation, which came through late last month, put together the money required for three more trail projects.

After four years of work, the trail officially opened Saturday, at a ceremony at the midpoint on the trail between Freeville and Dryden.

Dozens of residents biked, ran and walked over to the event, which featured food, games, and speeches from local officials, including advice columnist Amy Dickinson, who commutes daily to her Freeville office by bike or on foot.

“It’s a game changer,” she said.

The Dryden Rail Trail is growing, too. The trail, started in 2015, runs along old railroad beds and will connect East Ithaca to Dryden, including the 4-mile Jim Schug Trail. It also connects to the 950-mile Finger Lakes Trail/North Country Trail.

In December, more than $180,000 was awarded to the town of Dryden from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s Environmental Protection Fund to improve the 10.5-mile trail. The award went to enhancing sections of the trail from Game Farm Road to Route 13.

Dickinson, who grew up in Freeville, said her daily commute, thanks to the trail, is more than just getting from point A to point B, but a daily journey through “a beautiful microcosm of this whole area.”

Bruno Schickel, Dickson’s husband and owner of Schickel Construction, helped bring together contractors, who donated time, machinery and material for the project.

“Everybody I’ve asked has stepped up,” he said.

Bob Beck, chairman of Dryden Rail Trail Task Force, said Todd Bittner of the Cornell Botanical Gardens wrote the application for the $1.5 Department of Transportation grant. That money, Bittner said, will solve one of the major logistical problems of the trail — crossing Route 13 at a spot where the speed limit is 55 mph.

The state wouldn’t allow a surface crossing, so that left the Rail Trail Task Force with two options: over or under. The group chose over, and the grant will allow it to build a pedestrian and bike bridge over the road.

Karl Smolenski, who with his son and daughter, participated Saturday morning in a 5K fun run on the trail, said his kids were enjoying themselves, as he continued “keeping them busy on a Saturday.”