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Riverfront Committee: time to expand Black River trail system

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With Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushing to promote tourism and Upstate New York, Dr. Jason F. White said he believes now is the time to go after state funding to complete the city’s hiking and biking trail system that runs mostly along the Black River.

In the past couple of decades, the city has finished almost 2 miles of trails. Now, Dr. White and the Riverfront Committee are eyeing an addition to the system. And state funding could help pay for new trails, he told members of Advantage Watertown on Thursday.

“I don’t think we should miss this opportunity,” Dr. White told the group of business and community leaders.

Last week, Gov. Cuomo held a tourism summit in Albany and announced what he called the largest tourism campaign in decades, committing $60 million to promote the industry. His proposal included a major advertising campaign in New York City to promote upstate tourism.

Dr. White and Advantage Watertown Chairman John K. Bartow Jr. will attend Monday night’s Watertown City Council work session to push for the city to apply for a grant from the North Country Regional Economic Development Council for trail funding. The Riverfront Committee is a subgroup of Advantage Watertown.

“As a group, we can get the momentum going,” Dr. White said.

Almost all of the system is on the river’s south side. The trails mainly snake through the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, Veterans Memorial Riverwalk, Factory Square and the Marble Street, Whitewater and Waterworks parks.

Last year, more trails were added in Marble Street Park and Bicentennial Park, along the river at the fairgrounds. They were added when overall park improvements were completed there. The first set of trails was completed in Waterworks Park, across from Huntington Heights, during the 1980s.

So far, the city has completed 21 projects along the Black River, Dr. White said, adding the city could use in-kind services by Department of Public Works crews as a matching grant for the state funding.

Dr. White suggested applying for $100,000 to $150,000 to complete additional trails.

The city has worked to increase public use in and around the river. Besides the trails, a handful of companies now operate rafting trips along the river, Mr. Bartow said.

Senior City Planner Michael A. Lumbis, a member of the Riverfront Committee, said the city still has about $47,000 remaining for Black River funding that could be used for trail improvements.

Mr. Bartow said that other communities, including Wilna, Carthage and Lyons Falls, have made recent improvements along the river or plan to do so.

Advantage board member Peter W. Schmitt, who is also executive director of the Watertown Family YMCA, suggested that the group would be more successful in lobbying for funding if it can prove how much the trails are used by the public.

While the city does not track such data, rafting trips attract about 40,000 people a year.

The City Council’s work session starts at 7 p.m. in the third-floor council chambers at City Hall, 245 Washington St.

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