Smart Growth grant gives Keene Community Trails a boost

Riding on the East Branch Community Trails (Provided photo — Due West Photography)

KEENE — A transformational trail project in Keene is getting a boost from a $125,000 Smart Growth grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The funding will allow the town, in partnership with the nonprofit Barkeater Trails Alliance and the Keene Youth Commission, to move forward with planned expansion of the East Branch Community Trails this summer.

In a press release announcing this year’s Smart Growth and other state grants, Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “Smart Growth grants represent a vital investment in our communities, fostering sustainable development, economic prosperity, and enhanced quality of life.”

The East Branch Community Trails are on a 113-acre tract of county land off state Route 9N between Keene and Upper Jay. Now in its third year of trail construction, the project began as a vision of the Keene Youth Commission seeking opportunities to foster physical activity for kids through mountain biking and outdoor recreation. That vision took form as a trails plan laid out by Luke Peduzzi, of Peduzzi Trails, with support and guidance from BETA in 2021.

In 2022 and 2023, BETA raised over $100,000 of donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations to fund work with Peduzzi, BETA staff, and community volunteers including youth.

During this period almost three miles of trail were completed, which quickly became popular with walkers, runners, and mountain bikers. The next phase of the planned 7-mile shared use trail system will be built in 2024 and 2025 with funding by the Smart Growth grant and $63,000 of donated cash and labor matching from BETA.

“I want to thank Governor Hochul and New York state DEC for supporting grassroots recreation projects like the East Branch Community Trails with a generous Smart Growth Grant,” Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson said in a statement. “These very successful multi-use trails are the result of motivated families in the Keene Youth Commission program leading the effort to develop biking and recreation opportunities for local kids. The grant will help build on a solid foundation of trails developed and constructed with support from local businesses, Essex County, BETA, the town of Keene and many volunteers.

“This project shows the importance of trails in building healthy, connected communities and the high level of use is evidence of the strong demand in our region for sustainable shared-use trail systems accessible by beginner and intermediate mountain bikers, walkers and trail runners.”

“We are very thankful for the support from the town of Keene, Essex County, Keene Youth Commission, Governor Hochul and the Department of Environmental Conservation in this effort,” BETA Executive Director Glenn Glover said in a statement. “This important effort is another example of the public/private partnerships by which BETA helps to build and maintain the trails that strengthen the communities in our region,” Glover added.

The Keene Youth Commission’s purpose is to create and coordinate recreational youth programming within the municipality. Equity in access, stewardship to our environment and a spirit of fair play are the pillars on which we build our youth development program.

The mission of the Barkeater Trails Alliance is to build, maintain, and advocate for a system of community and backcountry trails for ski touring, mountain biking, and other human-powered activities in the eastern High Peaks region of the Adirondack Park. Learn more online at barkeatertrails.org.

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