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May 9, 2013

Otsego group blazes new bicycle trails

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Trails and some roads in Oneonta and Otsego County have been enhanced for bicyclists, thanks to an initiative to identify and improve routes and develop the area as a destination for bicyclists.

Bike Friendly Otsego County will be formally introduced with a ceremony in Catella Park, off of Neahwa Park in the city of Oneonta, at 10 a.m. Monday. The program is sponsored by the Otsego County Planning Department, Otsego County Tourism and the city of Oneonta.

The project also highlights trails in area state parks and local towns and in the city of Oneonta, Al Sosa, program coordinator, said this week.

Sosa headed a task force that has worked on mapping, trails and other goals since April last year. The result represents a tremendous level of cooperation among state, county and city officials and volunteers, plus support from others, including the Oneonta Job Corps Academy in Oneonta, he said.

The project originated with a request for trail maps by Deb Taylor, director of Otsego County Tourism, Sosa said, and then formally began with the appointment by Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller of a task force.

The Oneonta Bike Task Force members were Steven Andrews, director of the city recreation department, James Hawver of the city engineering department, David Hutchison, chairman of the city Environmental Board and Mark Davies, a Hartwick College professor.

Task force goals include promoting Oneonta and the area as a destination for mountain bike enthusiasts, said Sosa, who continues to teach a mountain biking course though retired from the physical education department at the State University College at Oneonta.

Though bicycling has been the focus of the project, he said, the trails actually are multipurpose and can be used for running, hiking, snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing. Improvements to shoulders of state highways will benefit road bicyclists, he said, and efforts by Otsego County and state transportation departments continue to enhance roadways for those bicyclists.

Sosa said there are about 50 miles of trails around Oneonta, including on New Island, and many miles more in the county. He said there are trails in four local state parks _ Gilbert Lake in Laurens, Robert V. Riddell off of exit 17 of Interstate 88, Betty and Wilbur Davis in Westford and Glimmerglass in Cooperstown.

Karen Sullivan, director of the Otsego County Planning Department, and that office staff spent hours working on the maps and related project needs, Sosa said, and SUNY Oneonta and its students also have contributed toward the effort. Hartwick College and Oneonta High School also have allowed access to their trails, he said, and the local state Department of Transportation crews have helped with roadway shoulder enhancements.

Four kiosks will be up in parks to provide maps and information about etiquette for trail use, he said. Kiosks are in Catella Park, Wilber Park and the Oneonta Susquehanna Greenway on Silas Lane and another will be erected at the Homer Folks Forest, he said. The city of Oneonta contributed money toward kiosk costs and other expenses, he said, and Job Corps students have built kiosks.

Signs are going up along some routes, Sosa said, and trails will be rated and marked as to level of difficulty. The trail maps will be accessible on websites for the city of Oneonta and for Otsego County, he said.

The maps and kiosks will promote the trail system and boost awareness of bicycle routes in the county, Sullivan, county Planning Department, director, said.

Erik Scrivener, a planner who works with Sullivan, said the project has created a repository of data about trails in the county. The staff and interns used geographic information systems and other resources to check accuracy of the maps, he said, and new trails and information can be added as routes are created or enhanced.

Sosa said another significant result of the project is formal recognition by the city of its trail system, which allows for funding and maintenance. Last year, the Oneonta Common Council accepted the task force report and recognized the trails, he said, and improvements began with the gate in the corner of Catella Park and a ramp to Lettis Highway near Interstate 88 to improve access to New Island.

The council earmarked about $25,000 for expenses in the project, which continues a collaboration between the city and Sosa that has existed for a number of years, Miller said Wednesday. Recent developments add to improvements already resulting from Sosa's work, he said.

On Monday, Sosa told the Oneonta Parks and Recreation Commission about the trails and the Bike Friendly program, and Tim Catella, commission chairman, thanked Sosa and the task force for working hard on the project. The commission also accepted poster designs for kiosks, pending review by the city attorney and adoption by the Common Council.