Wheelchairs and Strollers Get Out

by Sue Freeman

Outdoors that is… Limited mobility needn’t be a hindrance to getting outdoors and enjoying nature. Moms (or dads) with young ones in strollers and people confined to wheelchairs and scooters can still get out of the house and car and venture off the beaten track. The liberator is a rail-trail.

Early in the 20th century many railroad and trolley lines crisscrossed Central and Western New York. Pulled by steam engines, the trains hauled products from farms, factories, and mines to market and fueled an economic boom. Likewise, electric trolleys transported people to work and to exotic vacation locales such as Canandaigua Lake and Niagara Falls.

But economic hardship befell the rail lines in several ways. The development of cars, trucks, and a system of roads (particularly the interstate highway system) competed for their freight and passenger business. The depression dampened the trade of goods. The rail lines changed ownership many times and struggled to survive. When hurricane Agnes ravaged this area in the early 1970s, it tore up many of the tracks. The railroads were too financially unstable to rebuild so many of the rails were removed for scrap metal. The 1980 deregulation of the railroad industry allowed companies to swiftly abandon unprofitable lines.

RG&E purchased many of the corridors for utility right of ways. Over the past 20 years, local government and volunteer organizations have been purchasing the land and building trails for all to enjoy – regardless of level of mobility. The trails are mostly flat and are often surfaced with hard packed stone dust that’s easy on wheels.

We’re blessed to have many of these trails. Segments of the old Hojack Rail Line were developed into trails in Hamlin, Hilton, Webster, and Hannibal. The Lehigh Valley Trail stretches east/west from Victor through Mendon to Rush were it crosses the Genesee River and meets up with the north/south Genesee Valley Greenway. To the east, The Cayuga County Trail runs from Fair Haven to Cato. It was once part of the extensive Lehigh Valley System. Canandaigua has the former Canandaigua Corning Line, now Ontario Pathways forming a V-shaped trail from Canandaigua southeast to Stanley, then northeast to Phelps. South of Canandaigua Lake is the Middlesex Valley Rail Trail.

Former trolley beds that are now trails include the Hike-Bike Way in Perinton and the Electric Trolley Trail in Pittsford.

No matter what area of Rochester you live in, there’s a rail-trail close to home. They’re all mapped and described in the guidebook “Take Your Bike – Family Rides in the Rochester Area” (available at www.footprintpress.com or by calling 1-800-431-1579). Get your wheels rolling and go outside to play on a local rail-trail.

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