Last week we heard from officialdom about how bids will be invited, contracts awarded, and work — yes, actual shovels and gravel and culverts — work will begin/resume/appear in a year. Meanwhile, the Black Diamond Trail is a resource that Ithacans and others in our region are using daily as a beautiful and restorative outdoor venue. The “work” will be nice, but we already have a trail that is possible — and delightful — to traverse between Cass Park and Taughannock Falls State Park.
There haven’t been a lot of reports from the field, accounts of what the trail is like in detail. But, we’ve had severals reports of problems or questions along the course of the BDT. So, today Diana and I went for a bit of a reconnaissance walk to check up on a few things.
In general, we can report that the trail really looks terrific. We confirmed that you can walk from Cass to Houghton Rd with no problems. We only started north from around Glenwood Heights Rd, but we encountered others who had walked to that point from Cass. And, for the most part, the trail looks great. Not as great as it will eventually be; but, considering the proper work hasn’t even begun, it’s great. There are rocks, mostly the railroad ballast that’s hard on feet and bikes; but, they are sunk into the soil somewhat in most places and one gets used to them. And, then, there are some pretty tall weeds through which the single track of a footpath leads. In all, the BDT is between the luxury of a finished rail-trail and the unpolished roughness of a hiking trail.
But, that’s looking only at the actual trail and conditions. I don’t know what to make of it, but the Parks people have apparently decided to declare the trail unapproachable. At each road crossing there is a rack of several signs put up by Parks, and one of them declares:
“The property is not suitable for trail or any other use in its present condition.”
This so absurdly flies in the face of the obvious utility of the trail that I don’t know what to make of it. I suppose it is a phrase that comes from lawyers. At first, I was delighted to see signs that are obviously made specifically for the Black Diamond Trail, leading me to believe that this trail will become reality. But, this assertion of uselessness shows such a discord between “us,” the trail users, and “them,” the trail builders that I wonder where it can lead.
But, these “boilerplate” disclaimers aren’t the worst of it. At the Glennwood Heights Rd crossing, heading south, we see what sure looks like a serious warning.
Several people have inquired about these signs, because they really go beyond any of the generic warnings that amount to little more than “walk at your own risk.” This one, with its “absolutely” and “violators” and “prosecuted,” is really formidable. I don’t know what to make of it. Why has Parks posted such a draconian warning?
Of course, we walked past the sign to see what might be the danger. As far as we could see, there is no particular hazard beyond what you find all along the trail — some steep banks next to the path and some rough ground. The place where the trail was completely washed out a few years ago has been filled enough that the trail just takes a bit of a dip and the culvert that failed on that occasion seems to have been repaired and fortified.
I hope that we can initiate a conversation with Parks to clarify these things. Do they really mean that I will be prosecuted for walking that section of trail? Do they really mean the trail is not suitable for trail or any other use? Or, can we come to an understanding that, while resources are gathered, the trail can be a wonderful thing as it is — not fully the resource we envision, but still a wonderful thing. Signs that condemn and prohibit anything short of a fully finished trail only erode our trust and opinion of the Parks department. Certainly idle threats of prosecution diminish respect. But, so would real threats in a case where there is no hazard.
Another point of difficulty along the trail was the crossing at Houghton Rd. Coming south on the trail, if one were to cross the road in a straight line, one would be on a private driveway. the actual trail at that point, one must turn left (east) down the road a 100′ or so, then turn south off the road onto a short connection back to the rail line. From the south, one would turn right just before a snow fence that the private owner has placed across the driveway. It’s a bit of a scramble down the bank and over to the road. Then, head up hill to pick up the rail trail again.
I gather that at one point there was no fence barring the walkers from going straight down the maybe 50′ of driveway to the trail’s continuation. And, people got angry. Now, there is the fence and a little sign, saying “Trail” to help find the true path. I made a couple little videos of the situation — it’s a request to Parks to fix the situation with the signs. The info is all there now, but it really isn’t clear. The first one is approaching Houghton Rd from the north, the second from the south.
And, approaching from the south:
The BDT lives, and it’s a great place to walk. It would be great to see it finished. But, if there are realistic obstacles to doing that immediately, it really seems that we should treat the trail better. There has to be a way that the minimal grooming we give roadsides could be brought to the trail — a simple mowing once or twice a year would do wonders. And, the signage could be changed to become informative rather than merely a series of CYA declarations for the authorities.