In the late 19th century, the Wallkill Valley Railroad ferried fresh produce and vegetables from the farmlands of Ulster County to the streets of New York City. It also served as a commuter railroad for passengers traveling along the Hudson Valley. For more than a half century, the railroad supported business and tourism, provided jobs and created a critical economic link between upstate and downstate.
By 1933 only one passenger train ran daily each way, and four years later, all passenger service came to a halt. Over the next few decades, numerous stations along the Wallkill line closed. In 1977, the Wallkill Valley Railroad took its last freight run. Like other American rail systems, it had fallen victim to increased competition by automobiles and trucks.
The Wallkill Valley Railroad sat abandoned for several years. Then, in 1983, plans were launched for the railroad’s transformation into a linear park. Rail trail supporters situated along the trail galvanized others in the push toward a trail that would accommodate hiking, biking, running, cross-country skiing and other forms of outdoor recreation.
Establishing the trail was complicated, involving five different legal entities and spanning several years. Once plans were in place, the volunteers who had played a major role in making the trail a reality organized into the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail Association, dedicated to maintaining and promoting the trail.
Working together to give the long-neglected land a new lease on life, Association members helped clear and maintain the trail in Gardiner and New Paltz. They cleared brush, smoothed the road bed, and repaired the bridges to make them suitable for walking, bicycling and horseback riding. In particular, with the help of volunteer carpenters from the nearby religious community of Hutterian Brethren, they planked the Springtown bridge over the Wallkill River with pleasing patterns and flanked it with comfortable benches, making it an attractive destination.
The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail opened informally in April 1991, the 17th such trail created in New York State. Flanked by the majestic Shawangunk Mountains, the trail stretches along the Wallkill River through the Ulster County Village of New Paltz, from Rosendale to Gardiner. The trail is owned by the towns of Gardiner and New Paltz and the village of New Paltz.
In addition to providing a relaxing and peaceful spot for various outdoor activities, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail also is the site of a number of special events that are open to the public each year.