New Blueway Trails for Paddlers (And Others)
Paddlers on Long Island will soon have three new blueway trails to explore. A blueway trail is a recreational water trail with a network of public access points, such as the New York City water trail, which begins in Little Neck Bay on the north shore, extends to the Bronx, goes up the Hudson River, and then goes out to Jamaica Bay on the south shore. Trails are in development on the north shore for the towns of North Hempstead and Oyster Bay, and for the southern shoreline of Nassau County.
The firm of Nelson, Pope & Voorhis is preparing the trails for the towns of North Hempstead Oyster Bay, and Going Coastal is working with Cameron Engineering to develop the south shore trails. Kathy Eiseman of Nelson, Pope & Voorhis explains, “Paddling is a great way to experience the natural marine environment and its habitats. A Blueway Trail Plan provides a guide to the harbors and bays that surround Long Island and includes basic information about where to park your car and launch a boat, where local facilities and attractions are located, and in general, to take the mystery out of getting out on the water.”
Funding for the development of these trails was provided by the New York State Department of State, the Nassau County Bond Act Program, and the Village of Freeport (with respect to the South Shore Blueway Trail). “The Blueway Trail is, in essence, the gateway to the waterways that surround Long Island,” says Eiseman. “The program is expected to foster an added appreciation of the amazing resource that surrounds us.”
The trail for the Town of North Hempstead starts in Little Neck Bay at Harbor Hills Park and extends eastward along the shoreline to North Hempstead Beach Park in Hempstead Harbor. The Oyster Bay trail, which will be known as the Theodore Roosevelt Blueway Trail, will start in Hempstead Harbor at Harry Tappen Beach in Hempstead Harbor and end at the Town of Huntington Boat Launch in Cold Spring Harbor, encompassing the Oyster Bay/Mill Neck Creek/Cold Spring Harbor complex. The developers of the South Shore Blueway Trail are investigating access sites on the south shore of Nassau County and on the north shore of Long Beach Island and Jones Beach; a draft is anticipated to be available for public review in September 2013.
Developing a blueway trail can take up to two years, as the evaluation of potential launching sites and rest stops is a complex task. Maps, which incorporate navigational information such as areas with debris or rocks, have to be prepared, and then reviewed and assessed for accuracy. (Blueway maps are not substitutes for navigational charts; rather, they are meant to give information for what amenities can be found at different sites.) Permission for places where a kayak can be put in to the water and where a paddler can stop to use restrooms or get refreshments need to be secured before inclusion on the map. Some sites have access restrictions, such as use by residents of local municipalities only, and such restrictions will be noted on the maps. Local attractions, including parks and cultural or historic resources near the shore, may also be noted on the maps. The attractions are listed to encourage paddlers to visit these sites, but all boat owners looking for day trips and tourists seeking sights will also benefit from these maps.
The process also includes the development of a narrative inventory of the cultural and historic sites along the routes. This inventory will be compiled into a guidebook for maps in the event that funding becomes available. Additionally, estimated costs for recommended improvements, such as kayak floats or storage racks, are prepared and included in the narrative. Before the maps can be published, however, they have to be reviewed and approved by the municipality who secured the grant and by the New York State Department of State.
Paddlers who know the local waterways have valuable knowledge of tidal conditions, access points, currents, hazards, and interesting local sites; their contribution to the development of these blueway trails has been invaluable. Obtaining this information from the public is an integral part of the preparation of a trail. The assimilation of public comments, as well as double checking them for accuracy, adds even more to the time it takes to prepare a trail. Outreach was conducted at community events such as the HarborFest in Port Washington and the OysterFest in Oyster Bay, and through community partners such as Friends of the Bay in Oyster Bay and Operation Splash in Freeport. The South Shore Blueway Trail has a website, www.southshoreblueway.com, where residents can make suggestions and get updates on the trail.
According to Barbara La Rocco, President of Going Coastal, the greater blueway community is integral. “As a nonprofit working to connect people to coastal resources, Going Coastal is happy to help people enjoy greater access to south shore waterways,” she says. “Community involvement is key; stakeholders, user groups, community leaders, and government officials are working together to realize the blueway vision. Watertrails create a greater sense of place and deeper appreciation of nature, local maritime culture, and personal well-being.”
Blueways trails not only encourage the recreational use of the waterways, but increase awareness of the natural environment and encourage its stewardship. People who use the waters value them and work to protect and restore them. That is why Friends of the Bay made the development of a Blueway Trail one of its top Watershed Action Plan priorities. Kyle Rabin, South Shore Blueway Trail Project Advisory Committee chairperson (and former Executive Director of Friends of the Bay), explains that “giving people access to and fostering appreciation of local waterways are what water trails are all about. The South Shore Blueway Trail will support efforts to protect and enhance the ecological integrity of the South Shore Estuary.”
Rabin elaborates on how communities across America have realized the many benefits— recreational, educational, economic, and environmental— that water trails can bring. He says, “I applaud the Village of Freeport, Nassau County, the towns of North Hempstead and Oyster Bay, and the New York State Department of State for pursuing this important project that recognizes the beauty, value, and history of this extraordinary natural resource.”
By Patricia Aitken
Patricia Aitken is a planner at Nelson, Pope & Voorhis. She is the former Executive Director of Friends of the Bay.
The process varies from state to state and in different funding situations, but this video illustrates the complexity of the process that leads up to fun on the waterways!