Cayuga Waterfront Trail: Connecting the Community to the Waterfront

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Tompkins Weekly July 15, 2012

by Rick Manning

In Tompkins County, transportation uses 42% of the energy we consume and is the source for 35% of our greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, nearly 1/3 our country’s children, from ages 5-19, are overweight (5 times the proportion recorded in 1973 and ’74), while more than 30% of American adults are obese (body- mass index at 30 or higher). These problems of increasing energy use and expanding waist lines can both begin to be addressed by designing communities where walking and biking are encouraged through the provision of a safe and well-designed active transportation network. Trails, like the Cayuga Waterfront Trail, can play an important role in creating more healthy, sustainable and vibrant communities that reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions

In the City of Ithaca, we are fortunate to have an intact and vibrant downtown surrounded by traditional residential neighborhoods with front porches, sidewalks, street trees and on street parking – a development pattern that is the envy of progressive community planners and great for walking. Our streets, most constructed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are narrow and on-street parking prized, presenting challenges in providing bike lanes and the space needed for all bicyclists to feel comfortable on our roads. On balance, however, we are well positioned to try and replicate the national trend that shows rising enthusiasm for bicycling, as evidenced by a 70% increase in bicycle commuting rates between 2000 and 2009 in 55 cities across the country.

One of our best kept secrets is that Ithaca is a waterfront community. We are fortunate that Ithacans who preceded us had the foresight to preserve so much waterfront land along Cayuga Lake and the Inlet for public use including Stewart Park, Newman Golf Course, the Farmers Market, Cass Park and Treman State Marina. The Cayuga Waterfront Trail Initiative (CWTI) was founded to connect these waterfront parks and places, and to connect this wonderful waterfront to the community.

There are now two 2 sections of the Waterfront Trail completed. The 2 mile Cass Park Trail loop has been open since 2003 and has continued to grow in popularity for walking with family and friends, working out, or just relaxing at the water edge.  The Trail is now fully furnished with benches, overlooks, dog care stations, bike racks, way-finding and interpretive signs. A trail is only as good as its surroundings, and this trail combines lovely waterfront scenery with the many activities found in Cass Park — the Ithaca Children’s Garden now in full bloom, the swimming pool, and ballfields teaming with sports of all kinds.

The newest section of the Waterfront Trail, opened last season, is a 2 mile linear trail that links Ithaca’s most heavily visited waterfront destination, the Ithaca Farmers Market, to Newman Golf Course, Stewart Park, the Ithaca Youth Bureau and the County Visitors Center. Many have observed that the Waterfront Trail has brought new life to Stewart Park, providing a steady flow of users at all hours, and leading to an increased sense of comfort and security for all.   CWTI will be enhancing the trail during the next 2 years, adding benches, bike parking, wayfinding and interpretive signs, landscaping, and a Stewart Park Trailhead. We are also planning to complete the trail loop within Stewart Park, constructing a new section of trail from the main park entry left along the south edge of the park (adjacent to Fuertes Bird Sanctuary) to the newly renovated pedestrian suspension bridges and boardwalk. The new trail is only one of many improvements now underway or planned for Stewart Park.  Visit for information on the many ongoing park rehabilitation efforts.

Completing the Waterfront Trail will involve constructing the trail section linking Cass Park to the Farmers Market (formerly known as Phase 2) and improving pedestrian crossings of Route 13 at Dey and 3rd Streets. Easements maps are being finalized, appraisals prepared, and negotiations with numerous landowners are either ongoing or about to begin again. Both projects are both now planned for construction in 2013. Mark your calendars and join us for a ribbon cutting near the Farmers Market in October of 2013!

Two contiguous trail projects suggest a bright future for our emerging regional trail network. The Black Diamond Trail between Cass Park and upper Taughannock Falls will be open in 2013 after two bridge construction projects are completed. While the trail will not be surfaced nor amenities provided at this time, just having this corridor available for hiking, running and mountain biking is a huge and encouraging step forward. Next year, the City is also constructing a one mile multi-use trail along Floral Avenue and the Flood Channel Trail from the south end of the Cass Park Trail to the proposed future location of a trail bridge near Cecil B. Malone Drive. While this trail is being constructed to provide safer pedestrian and bike access to the City for Floral Avenue residents, it is also a southern extension of the future Black Diamond Trail and will be great for viewing crew racing events.

Trail building is not for the faint of heart, nor the impatient.  Thanks to the vigilance of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, the unwavering commitment of the City, and the generosity of the community, we are on the verge of completing the Waterfront Trail, a project that will help bring to fruition a new era of increased biking and walking in the City. Look for the more multi-use trails throughout the County, linking Freeville and Dryden to Cornell University and South Hill to the Black Diamond Trail.  And the City is now planning neighborhood greenways to link the Commons and downtown residential neighborhoods to the West End and the Waterfront Trail. Creating a more sustainable future for our community includes generating and more efficiently using renewable energy, growing and purchasing locally grown foods and building materials, and building transportation infrastructure that encourages biking and walking in the City. Completing the Waterfront Trail will be a key milestone in our community’s progress towards a more sustainable future.  

Rick Manning is the Coordinator of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail Initiative. There are many organizations working to provide more trails and create a better active transportation system in Ithaca. Some of these include the Creating Healthy Places Project, Ithaca Tompkins Transportation Council, Way2Go, Ithaca CarShare, Finger Lakes Cycling Club, Cornell Big Red Bikes, Bomber Bike Initiative, RIBS, and the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council.

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