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RAILS TO TRAILS READY TO ROLL IN CHEEKTOWAGA

Michael Dusing knows all about biking in Cheektowaga.

He tried it three years ago when his son, Andrew, was earning a bicycling merit badge with Boy Scout Troop 223.

They didn't get very far.

"Going down William Street, we'd have to cross an exit and entrance to the New York Thruway," said Dusing, who bikes about 75 miles a week outside the town. "The Thruway cuts our town in half. You can't bike or walk from one side to the other."

That may soon change with the Rails to Trails project.

The idea is to turn old railroad and trolley routes into trails for biking, hiking and other activities.

The 6 1/2 -mile trail, which awaits final state approval, would link Stiglmeier, Dingens Street and Wrazen parks and run near some historic sites.

Depending on how much the trail costs, there may be money left over to connect part of Sloan and the Reinstein Nature Preserve.

The town seeks $500,000 from the federal government for the project and will contribute $137,000 itself.

Construction should be completed by fall 1998 or early 1999, said Allan Blachowski, town principal engineering assistant.

For Dusing, the trail would make it easier to get around town on a bike.

"I'd be using the trail all the time," Dusing said. "It would link all the parks."

Cheektowaga's history is closely tied to the rail lines that were once the lifeblood of Buffalo.

Since the 1880s, every train entering Buffalo from the east passed through the town, said John Marriott, chairman of the town Conservation Advisory Council.

At one point, there were nine railroads and two trolley lines. As the importance of railroads declined, most were abandoned.

Although construction on the path has not yet begun, town officials already are planning to expand it, said Councilman Thomas M. Johnson Jr. The expanded path could eventually enter Depew and join an existing trail in Williamsville. The path also could be linked to proposed trails in West Seneca and Lancaster.

The town may expand the trail -- which could grow to 20 miles -- with more federal funding or private and corporate donations, Johnson said.

Police helped design the trail, which will be lighted, have 911 call boxes, restrooms, benches and landscaping.

It will be similar to but longer than the Lehigh Memory Trail, which runs from South Long Street to South Cayuga Road in Williamsville, Johnson said.

Bikers and hikers also can sample history via the Cheektowaga trail. Along the first part of the trail will be a sign marking a stop on the Underground Railroad. Visitors also can see the remains of what may be the world's largest coal trestle, Marriott said.

"The trestle was built in 1883 near Union Road just south of Broadway," Marriott said. "It was more than a mile long and 60 feet high."

The trestle was destroyed by a fire in 1920, but several concrete towers remain.

The trail will run through several parks and undeveloped areas, but many parts of the trail will utilize existing roads. As a result, users will have to cross a few busy intersections at traffic lights.

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