On Memorial Day Sunday, I bought an exquisite pottery dish at the Callicoon Farmers’ Market for a college roommate’s upcoming wedding. I purchased mushrooms and rainbow chard from one of …
On Memorial Day Sunday, I bought an exquisite pottery dish at the Callicoon Farmers’ Market for a college roommate’s upcoming wedding. I purchased mushrooms and rainbow chard from one of the local farm stands. It was a rainy Sunday, but a good one. As I walked back to my car, a group of spandex-clad cyclists arrived. It was their turn to explore the farmers’ market. Even in the spitting rain, they wore smiles—triumph for arriving at a prudent waypoint in their mechanical travels.
Cycling has become western Sullivan County’s most popular minor hit. There may not be more than one bike shop in the area (Catskill CycleWorks in Jeffersonville!), but weekend cyclists have become a fixture on road shoulders throughout the county. I can imagine this trend will outlast the pandemic, too. Residents and business owners should embrace it.
I bike. My dad bikes. My mom bikes. Their friends bike. Sometimes, I go with them; sometimes, I ride solo. I might do 10 miles at an aggressive pace, or a casual 40. I’m not training for anything. I just like the open road, wind in my face and smoothly paved asphalt. I can’t always guarantee a smooth road, but that’s never enough of a deterrent to prevent me from cycling. My favorite rides include a volunteer fire department pancake breakfast. I know the New York side of the Delaware quite well because the hills are conquerable. I’m less familiar with the Pennsylvania side. Its topography seems less forgiving than the New York side. Those hills are the real deal.
My favorite road in western Sullivan is definitely Route 131, which follows Calkins Creek and concludes in Hortonville. You earn your stripes going up the hill on Newman Hill Road, but it’s worth the low gear grinding because 131 may be the greatest downhill on this side of the Mississippi. Maybe not. From what I know, it’s a really good one. The western Sullivan hills are challenging but not impossible for intermediate cyclists. Our roads offer winding, zippy rides, but beginners, or families with children, would benefit from flatter, safer bike paths, separate from the roads.
The old New York Susquehanna and Western Railway along the Delaware River offers a compelling blueprint for a new, protected bike path. While the rails are in use, albeit infrequently, the land they sit upon has already been leveled and could be expanded to include a small asphalt trail. Sullivan towns like Long Eddy, Callicoon, Narrowsburg and Barryville would increase revenue for current businesses, attract new businesses and enhance property values. Recreational facilities encourage exercise and have the potential to lower healthcare costs. Even Pennsylvania towns along the river, like Equinunk and Milanville, would gain a foothold to this renewed recreation and tourism. This is a moment to lean into opportunity for the Upper Delaware River, where cycles of economic growth have been commonplace since its settlement.
In the 1630s, Swedish explorers traveled up the river and nestled into several fertile floodplains, which the Lenape called “Cushetunks.” While the region continues to support family farms, the first railways along the river in the 1840s brought in hospitality and small manufacturing businesses, which relied on the raw materials produced locally, like lumber and cattle hides for leather. Perhaps most notably, the recently finished railway delivered General Winfield Scott, Secretary of State Daniel Webster and President Millard Filmore to Callicoon in the spring of 1851. And, of course, the Borscht Belt Era in the mid-1900s ushered urban families to the Catskill Mountains enjoy their seasonal stays at big hotels, sprawling camplike resorts, bungalow communities and cottages for standup comedy, dancing, fine dining and outdoor recreation. As we emerge from this pandemic and domestic travel rises in popularity, it would be wise to guide travelers toward the region and capitalize on tourism for the so-called second coming of the Roaring Twenties.
I do not believe cycling infrastructure would be a fickle investment. Recreational trailways have become desirable across the country because they generally surpass their annual maintenance cost to taxpayers with the revenue generated from their use. Plus, bike paths are not just for cycling. Running and walking would have a new home on the protected rail trail, too. Just across the river, Wayne County, PA has already embraced their rail trails for recreation. Not so far west from Honesdale are the O&W Rail Trail and the D&H Rail Trail. Now, it is Sullivan County’s turn to cycle along the rails, and we’ll be better for it.
Noah Kaminsky is a middle school science teacher and a youth sports coach residing in Lake Huntington, NY.