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27-mile rails to trails project jump-started in Springville

There's a new 1.8 mile multiuse trail in the village of Springville that snowshoers and cross-country skiers are welcome to use this winter.

But advocates for a much longer trail stretching from Orchard Park, south through Springville to the town of Ashford in Cattaraugus County, hope it's just the start.

Springville's "Pop Warner" Rail Trail, named after the football legend who grew up in the southern Erie County village of 4,294 residents, is the first section to open along the discontinued 27.6 mile Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railroad right-of-way.

"Down the road, what we hope to do is launch this on a larger scale beyond the village of Springville through five municipalities, two counties to make this 27.6 miles an interim trail that can be used by all Western New Yorkers and anybody visiting the area," said Gary Willert, co-chair of the board of Erie Cattaraugus Rail Trail, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization formed as the trail sponsor.

rails-to-trailsThe trail would connect the towns of Orchard Park, Aurora, Colden, Concord and Ashford. For that to happen, Erie Cattaraugus Rail Trail needs to take ownership of the corridor through a process called "railbanking." Willert said. The railroad and trail sponsor are close to negotiating an agreement, he said.

To jump-start the project, Springville secured a right-of-entry agreement with the railroad to allow development this year of the "Pop Warner" trail, which cuts a diagonal line across the village and officially opened last month. No longer will hikers and dog walkers be trespassing on a private right-of-way. Snowmobiling, however, is still prohibited.

A $12,000 grant from the Springville Griffith Institute Community Education Foundation allowed the village to give the trail from Waverly Street to West Main Street a park-like setting, including a surface of asphalt millings, landscaping, picnic tables and benches.

"We plan to make improvements to our village so our village continues to be a pleasant place to live," said Mayor William J. Krebs.

Krebs said the trail fits with "smart growth" principles that improves the village's walkability. It could also be a draw for tourists and new village residents who look for trails as recreation amenities, he said.

The trail imagined outside Springville could also stimulate some economic development in the rural Southtowns it passes through, said Deborah Fenn, another board co-chair.

"There's not a lot of opportunity in some of these smaller communities for economic development that's appropriate," she said. "I think this trail really brings the opportunity for quiet economic development in a very appropriate way for these communities."

A rails to trails project would preserve the corridor's historical significance of over 100 years of rail use, from the village of Orchard Park's depot south through rolling hills and across a high trestle bridge spanning the county borders at Cattaraugus Creek, Fenn said.

The railroad carried coal beginning in the 1880s from Pennsylvania to Buffalo and Rochester. Passenger service began in 1883 and brought tourists on excursions to the Southern Tier and scenic Cattaraugus Creek gorge. Rail passenger service to Springville ended in 1955 and all rail service ended in 1996.

In 2008, the railroad notified the federal Surface Transportation Board of its desire to abandon the corridor. Rail ties and tracks were removed two years later.

Momentum is gaining on the Erie Cattaraugus Rail Trail just as a similar path opened this summer in the Tonawandas along a discontinued NFTA right-of-way to great acclaim.

But there is currently no long-distance trail in the Southtowns for bicyclists, joggers and others that provides safe, off-road protection from motorized traffic, Fenn said.

Trail advocates hope to rally support among residents of the towns, and through an online petition that has 6,259 supporters.

"Once we have in our hands the ownership of the entire corridor, we can move forward and it would be absolutely fabulous to get the support of all the municipalities along the corridor but it's not absolutely necessary," said Fenn.

Local residents' input determined the appearance of Springville's trail and that will happen everywhere else, too, Krebs said.

"We had a series of meetings with our residents and we made the decision locally of how this was going to look," he said. "I think that'll happen in all the communities north of here."

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