“No bike trail parking” reads the sign, hand-painted in spindly letters on a red barn in pastoral North Chatham, New York. On a Tuesday morning, off a side street few would think to plant a car on, the Empire State Trail (EST) is quiet, save for the distant lowing of cows and a chestnut mare who lifts her head to snort at a passing jogger.
Measuring 750 miles, the EST, a T-shaped path linking New York City to the Adirondacks, and Albany to Buffalo, is the longest multi-use rail trail in the United States. It’s emblematic of the state’s push to encourage residents to get outdoors and improve their health. The trail also aims to reconnect communities, many in rural areas which have become increasingly isolated.
According to Andy Beers, director of the EST, the $200 million project—which secured another $93 million in grant funding after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo championed it in 2017—is “the single largest state investment in trails anywhere in the country.”
It’s also inextricably linked with rail history. Once the lifeblood of New York State,...