It took almost ten years of hard work but a clear vision, an unwavering commitment, and creativity and resourcefulness paid off for the Town of Peru in Clinton County as the first 1.25 miles of the Little Ausable River Trail opened on October 5. More than 125 persons joined elected officials, trail sparkplug Adele Douglas, and PTNY board member Jim Dawson to walk to the town’s Heyworth Mason Park where the ceremonies took place.
Most of the $1.06 million project was funded by grants from the federal Transportation Enhancements Program and Recreational Trails Program as well as the state’s Environment Protection Fund. The Town of Peru also contributed funds as well as a significant amount of in-kind labor. Other sources of support included donations of property easements, cash, labor, and materials from the Peru’s Lions Club, Stewart’s Shops, the North Country Chamber of Commerce, Peru’s Aubuchon Hardware, a nearby quarry; and private individuals. A grant from PTNY, made possible by the Healthy Heart Program of the New York State Department of Health, funded a trail head sign. Another two miles of trail are planned that will connect to the town’s athletic fields.
“It was a long haul but it turned out really well. Heyworth/Mason Park is a beautiful place with a great history and off the back of it runs the Little Ausable River Trail, which offers a wide range of users the opportunity to get close to nature while getting some exercise right in the middle of the hamlet. And after all the time in development it’s great to actually see people on the trail and really enjoying it, In addition to dog walkers and joggers so far I’ve seen the school’s runners, moms with strollers, kids on bikes and people in wheelchairs – I couldn’t be happier,” said Adele Douglas.
PTNY has a long history with this project. More than a decade ago when Adele Douglas first had a vision for a trail that would connect the town’s parks and school and be available to all for exercise and recreation, she was encouraged to apply to PTNY’s Healthy Trails, Healthy People program. When Peru’s application was selected in 2005, PTNY staff helped community members create a trail vision, offered advice on trail easements, suggested trail routes, and assisted with building local support for the project.
In late 2005, the Peru trail committee organized a guided walk on the proposed 3.5-mile trail corridor along with a community meeting where residents asked questions, expressed concerns, and presented ideas. Based on input from the trail walk and public meeting, PTNY prepared a “Suggestions for Next Steps” report for the trail committee and Peru’s Town Board that outlined a future course of actions that would advance the project.
In summer 2006, PTNY staff suggested that Adele apply for federal Transportation Enhancements Program (TEP) funding to construct the trail. According to Adele, “Without the encouragement and support of Parks & Trails New York, we would not have even considered applying. They gave us the confidence to complete what seemed like an overwhelming application process. The application process caused us to think carefully about what we wanted for the trail and forced us to make some critical decisions about trail width, type of trail surface, and allowed uses – decisions that we likely would have put off for much longer if we had not decided to submit the application.”
It wasn’t all clear sailing after that as design issues and escalating costs made it necessary to scale back the project and the town had to seek additional grants to get the trail built. “TEP grants can provide the funds necessary for trail projects but the rules, regulations and reviews can increase the cost of the project and result in taking longer than first anticipated to complete,” commented Douglas.
Throughout, PTNY staff provided advice and suggestions as well as letters of support for grants. “We often advise communities that it can take at least a decade to get trail built, and this project certainly illustrates that. But what is most important is that, despite many challenges, the community, and especially Adele Douglas, never gave up.” said PTNY Director of Programs and Policy Fran Gotcsik. “The many grants and community contributions that made this project possible are a testimony to Peru’s commitment to ensuring that their residents can safely walk or bike to the town center and two town parks.”
Photos courtesy of Tim Mitchell and the Peru Gazette.