County lays plans to finish Rail Trail

JOHNSTOWN – Fifteen years after the first stage of the FJ&G Rail Trail was completed, Fulton County officials are hoping to take steps toward developing a long-broken link in the trail that ultimately could lead to the completion of the 22-mile recreation path.

The Building & Ground committee of the county Board of Supervisors on Monday approved pursuing development of the privately-owned 5-mile stretch that mostly runs through the town of Mayfield. It would connect an existing 10-mile path that runs through Gloversville and Johnstown with a 2-mile section in Vail Mills.

The trail’s right of way in Mayfield fell into the hands of a half-dozen private owners in the 1980s when the town declined the right of first refusal to take over that section of the former FJ&G railroad. When the Rail Trail project began in the 1990s, it stalled near the town border, when the land owners wouldn’t allow development on the railroad’s former right of way.

“I think the attitude has changed,” said Mayfield Supervisor Rick Argotsinger, who chairs the Buildings & Grounds Committee. “From the feelers that have been put out, I think there is support to get the trail done,”

About 4.5 miles of trail between Union Avenue Extension in Johnstown to Route 5 in Fonda remains undeveloped. Montgomery County expects to complete its 3.4-mile section between Fonda and the city line this year, and Johnstown officials expect to link it with the existing trail next year. That would leave the Mayfield section as the only missing link.

Fulton County Planning Director Jim Mraz told the committee it could try to acquire the Mayfield right of way directly or, if the property owners were hesitant, offer to move the right of way slightly. He also said officials could pursue seizing the property by eminent domain, though he didn’t endorse that tactic.

“In my 30 years here, I’ve never seen an elected official jump up and down and say, ‘yes, let’s go get this,'” Mraz said.

Gloversville 1st Ward Supervisor Marie Born said owners may be more willing to negotiate now that the trail has been largely developed. Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Michael Ponticello suggested the county look for creative ways to negotiate with property owners, noting there is nothing to lose.

“It’s win-win or it’s nothing, so I don’t see why we just don’t put forth the effort and try,” he said.

The trail has been a large recreational draw, county Administrative Officer Jon Stead told supervisors, noting visitors frequently park at the county’s tourism information booth in Vail Mills just to use the 2-mile stretch between Broadalbin and Vail Mills.

The trail is open only to non-motorized vehicles, but when Stratford Stratford Supervisor Robert Johnson Jr. asked about allowing other uses, like snowmobiling, Mraz said it would be an option to consider.

The county has funds left in a Transportation Equity Act grant that was used to complete part of the Rail Trail in Johnstown which could be used to acquire property. Mraz said the cost to build it – which could be up to $100,000 per mile, could be covered by another grant.

“I’m confident we can get it, but the ability to get that grant would increase significantly by having the right of way,” he said.

Gina DaBiere-Gibbs, tourism director of the Fulton-Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she’s excited about the potential a finished Rail Trail could bring to the region. The trail would allow cyclists to easily link up with the Erie Canalway Trail and the Path Through History initiatives, she said, hopefully drawing tourists.

“With trails like that it’s easier to bring people into Fulton County to ride their bicycles and stop at attractions and spend their money,” she said.