Outlet trail: Despite volunteers, problems persist
YATES COUNTY--The Keuka Outlet Trail has been plagued by vandalism and litter in areas for years. The outlet was originally a seven-mile tow path and railroad that was converted to a scenic path from Penn Yan to Dresden. The village owns some 1.3 miles of the path from the baseball fields off State Route 54A east to Cherry Street, with the volunteer Friends of the Outlet Trail group owning the remaining 5.7 miles from Cherry Street to Dresden. The path is usually frequented by walkers, joggers, bicyclists, horse riders and even snowmobiles during the winter.
Currently, the 5.7 miles owned by the Friends has been "officially" closed for more than a year since the May 2014 flash flooding washed out sections of the path. The notice is posted on the Friends of the Outlet Trail website that the trail is closed, although people can still be seen using the trail, as much of the path remains walkable. While the volunteer group has attempted to maintain the part they own, a lack of funding has kept the organization from being able to return the trail to its previous state.
As a result, some discussions have begun as to whether Yates County should take back ownership of the trail. One county official questioned if problems have grown too big for the volunteer group to handle over the years.
"Eventually, it got to the point that it is at today -- civic-minded people trying to do their best, but the maintenance and upkeep, let alone improvements, are too big a job for a volunteer group to manage," Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy said.
Purdy mentioned there have been informal conversations between some Penn Yan officials and a few county officials recently about the options for trail maintenance. However, she added there has been no formal discussion about the matter among the legislature. Yates County Legislative Chairman Tim Dennis said the first formal discussion will be a presentation to the legislature regarding the outlet trail at the start of the regular meeting Aug. 10 at 6 p.m.
"There are grant/loan funds available that could be used to improve the outlet trail and make it an even more attractive recreational opportunity than it already is," Purdy said. "It is just a question of what entity sponsors the effort."
Meanwhile, Friends of the Outlet Trail President Peg Thompson said she is unsure if she would like to see the county take over the trail.
"At this time, I don't think I am ready to say one way or another whether I would like to see the county take over the trail as a park," Thompson said. "While I would like to see more improvements, particularly connected with interpretive signage for both natural and historical features of the area, discussion of improvements would be a long process. If the county did take it over at some time in the future, I am sure there would be a place for Friends of the Outlet to continue to support the trail."
Purdy noted the county used to own a portion of the trail before turning it over to the Friends of the Outlet Trail in 1995. The primary coordinator for the Friends at the time was Bruce Hansen, who Purdy mentioned headed up many of the efforts to keep the trail in good working order. The county was even able to get some state aid through the Emergency Management Department to help address trail and bank erosion some 10 years ago. However, as time went by, Purdy said Hansen passed away, with other turnover occurring in the Friends organization.
Thompson said it all comes down to funding.
"All we need is money," Thompson said. "Money and lots of it."
She said while the county originally owned the property, they did not want a park. Thompson said the Friends was formed 20 years ago from "a bunch of people who didn't want to see it go to rack and ruin because of its historic significance." Thompson said while recently it has become more of a recreational setting for joggers and bicyclists, the group still wants to include signs along the trail about its history at some point. Thompson again pointed to money being the biggest factor hindering that project.
Thompson said the group is pursuing a $150,000 grant to aid them with repairing the trail. However, Thompson said the $150,000 is not expected to cover all of the associated expenses of repair.
"We did receive an earlier estimate to repair some of the damage [in the] summer of 2014, however, it did not include some areas that were checked at a later date," Thompson said. "We do not know if there will be a local match for the grant."
Thompson noted the group will be working with Yates County Soil and Water Conservation District personnel on the project, adding their assistance is essential.
One of the prime issues the trail deals with is vandalism, especially at the visitor's center at Cascade Falls. Thompson said the center has seen break-ins, with all but one boarded up window on the building being smashed. Several abandoned buildings can also be seen in the area with warning signs, but graffiti can still be seen along the inside walls of these buildings, some of it years old. One such building even had signs of a makeshift campfire that had burned out on its concrete floors.
While vandalism remains an issue, the group and trail visitors have taken steps to deal with the litter issue. Thomson said the group has had a few cleanup events throughout the year, one of which included a group of volunteers from the annual Celebrate Service, Celebrate Yates day. She mentioned another cleanup effort included removing more than 1,000 tires that had been left along the trail. Trail walkers have also been critical in the effort to reduce litter along the path, with Thompson noting she has seen some trail walkers with their own plastic bags collecting trash as they go. She also noted portable toilets have also been placed at certain points along the trail, and trash bins can also be seen next to boxes asking for donations for the Friends of the Outlet Trail.