A windy day in April
I've been working in Orange county for just over a month through the tail end of winter. I found the trail on the county map and decided to give it a spin this morning. I drove to Chester and after a misadventure finding the old depot (signs folks, SIGNS!) set out on foot to check out the trail. It is well maintained. There was no way to get lost. The views even on a very blustery mid-April morning were nice. The trail is well used by walkers, bikers, and skaters. Chester Depot is at MP 4.0. At MP 8.5, just west of Monroe, I turned back. I did that segment, 9.0 miles round-trip, in under three hours (2:46 minutes) including time for browsing an old cemetery, chit-chat with other users, and a few photo stops. All in all it was a pleasant time. Within a block of the Chester Depot is an eatery and ice cream shop. Be aware that the depot parking has a three hour limit but I noted that there is other parking nearby that has no limits.
A Worthwhile Destination
Even on a sub-freezing January day, the Heritage Trail is a pleasant place to ride. The asphalt surface between Monroe and Goshen is in excellent condition and is exceptionally wide. I would have had no difficulty passing three pedestrians walking abreast on my trike -- had there been any pedestrians to pass. And I wasn't starting and stopping for street crossings either. There were only a handful of crossings on the entire trail -- and most of these were little-used country lanes.
The trail connects three small villages located in the foothills of the Catskill mountains. Goshen and Monroe are on hilltops, while Chester Depot is in a valley about mid-way between. The trail grade is gradual -- probably no more than 2 percent -- but beware that the uphill ride from Chester Depot to Monroe is about six miles long with only a couple of brief level reprieves.
Between Chester Depot and Monroe, you'll also find yourself in an upland hardwood forest. In the vicinity of Chester Depot the trail passes alongside several dairy farms and, then, for about two miles on the outskirts of Goshen it runs adjacent to NY 17, a heavily travelled divided highway that is soon to become an Interstate. There are sweeping vistas -- some quite spectacular -- at numerous points along the way.
Goshen, with a well-defined village center, seemed the most interesting of the three villages. Chester Depot had a classic Upstate "town time forgot" feel. What I saw of Monroe was mostly parking lots, strip malls and highway overpasses -- punctuated by several minimally-landscaped parks. There may be more to Monroe, but the Heritage Trail doesn't take you there.
The absence of road crossings is something of a mixed blessing, in that access options are limited. Here's what I observed:
1. There were perhaps three dozen, 24-hour parking spots in the lot adjacent to the Goshen trailhead. The majority of these were empty -- but, hey, it was a weekday in January.
2. Chester Depot seemed to be the best place to park. The trail passes in front of the old rail depot in the center of town. There was a ton of parking and the only active businesses I noticed in the vicinity of the rail depot now a museum) were a sports bar ($2 well drinks for ladies on Tuesday night) and an outdoor clothing store.
3. At Airplane Park in Monroe, there're ample 2-hour parking spaces, plus what appears to be a brand-new commuter parking lot. But you'll need a Google map and the skills of a private detective to find the Heritage Trail.
The trail head is, in fact, at the top of the embankment behind the fighter jet from which the park takes it name. But there are no signs, no paved access, and the Village Fathers have planted evergreen trees along the park boundary so that even in winter, you can't see the trail. I've only visited one other trail head that has been so completely and deliberately concealed.
What's more, if you start at Airplane Park, don't be deceived by the "Bike Route" signs you'll see as you enter the park. Those are for an on-road bike route, and have nothing to do with the Heritage Trail. Follow them, as I did, and you simply end up on the shoulder of a busy highway sucking truck exhaust.
4. Two miles past Airplane Park, the trail bisects a complex of New York State commuter parking lots. On a Thursday, these were filled beyond capacity with every visible space filled and cars left on the grass barriers. On weekends, however, there should be ample parking available.
Bottom line: For mountain bikes and hybrids, there are several vastly more interesting non-paved trails to be found within a 45-minutes drive of the Heritage Trail -- including the immensely popular Minnewaska State Park Preserve near New Paltz. But for skinny tires and trikes, the Heritage Trail is a worthwhile off-road destination with gentle grades, sweeping vistas and several interesting villages to explore.
We enjoyed our ride on this trail on September 8, 20011. Weather was gorgeous and the trail was in really good shape. We tried to follow the traillinks directions to the trail head in Goshen, but that was pretty worthless. Ended up parking in Chester, which had ample parking (at least on a Saturday). Traillink directions were pretty good to that spot. Wish I'd reading the post from previous reviewer, Lionel, a little closer to find the trailhead in Goshen (reposting just in case my review knocks him off the bottom of the reviewers list: "If you are new to this trail and parking on the Goshen side, simply go to the center of town where the Presbeterian church is and look for the Berkshire bank. The parking lot for the trail is along the side of it and the trail is right there. A sign is now posted indicating that this is where the trail terminates." Fall colors were nearing full bloom. Not a lot to see on this trail other than the trees, though we did find an old Packard in someone's yard and a cemetery from the mid-1800s right along the trail. Nice benches for resting on the northern part of the trail. Portajohns are placed often enough along the trail. Previous reviewer said the trail continues beyond the 'end of the trail' sign in Goshen, but we didn't find it, so our ride was only 20 miles RT instead of the 23 we thought we'd get. Still, it was a great, ride with just enough variation in grade to make it interesting for a couple old folks on hybrids.
Benefits if trail would extend to Harriman
This trail's lack of steep hills and sharp turns were a tremendous help when I was learning how to use in-line skates. I like how the scenery and shading changes from one end to the other, from full sun, into cool, shady woods, and then back into full sun. Some of you may have wondered, as I have, why the trail ends abruptly at Airplane Park in Monroe, and the reasons are many. There were contract issues with Norfolk Southern, who raised the price of the abandoned railway in this section to $1.25 million (source, Times Herald Record), forcing the county to lease this section instead, using federal grant money. There were also issues with people in Harriman, particularly the mayor, not wanting the trail to pass through their village, maybe for privacy reasons, maybe for concern about increased traffic, who knows? So, these major points nonwithstanding, here are some benefits and challenges that I observed when I hiked the unfinished portion from Airplane Park to River Road. Benefits: The trail would pass directly through the center of downtown Monroe, in between Lake Street and Spring Street, and over the railroad tressle (the one that has endeared itself to the community with charming graffiti that reads, "The Loacher" and "Spanky Lives"). This would provide easy access to the trail, easy parking from Millpond Parkway, and increased business for nearby stores selling refreshments and snacks. Slightly further along, the trail comes within easy walking distance from Smith-Clove Park. Trial users could simply walk off the trail near the convenience store across the street from the entrance to the park. After this, the trail passes through dark, shady woods that have been all but forgotten for many years. There are still old, rusty cars alongside the trail here, and assorted trash that would need to be cleaned up, but nothing major. Finally, the trail would terminate at River Road, near Mary Harriman Memorial Park, within moderate walking distance of some small restaurants, and further north, the Home Depot shopping center. Should the trail continue further than River Road, I have no idea what path it would follow, as it would seem to go directly through Nepera chemical property. This would put it very close to Harriman State Park, and once it came within shooting range of HSP, the possibilities are immense. I have read some articles proposing connection to another, future trail paralleling 17 to Suffern called Ramapo River Greenway Trail, which would probably be quite pleasant except for all of the smelly, noisy industrial activity on the southern end. OK, so now for the challenges, starting from Airplane Park. Firstly, the trail seems to disappear in the section of land in between Millpond Parkway and Anderson Place. The lumber yard used the abandoned railway as their own storage space for lumber as well as for assorted debris. This section is also quite swampy, and seems to run into more complications with an apartment complex - is this private land? Smooth sailing through downtown and over the Loacher and Spanky bridge, then possibly some privacy issues with residential properties near Smith-Clove Park, and some drainage and mosquito problems as you approach River Road. Nothing that federal stimulus money couldn't fix. Hint hint!
After many returns
I previously gave a very negative review of the Goshan section of this trail. I continue to stand by that review. Nothing has changed and the 5 corner intersection in the middle of town combined with the zig zaggy nature of the roads leads to some confusion. Especially when a local tells you to go th the center of town, near the church (there are several) and take a left. With 5 intersecting roads, there are 2 possible lefts. At least I now know the area from experience--but as others, I AVOID THE HERITAGE SECTION NORTH OF GOSHEN LIKE THE PLAGUE AND ASSERT THAT THE TOWN SHOULD PROVIDE AMPLE ACCESS AND EGRESS AS WELL AS GOOD DIRECTIONS THROUGH THE TOWN TO THE CONTINUATION OF THE TRAIL.
The good part is that from Goshen to Monroe is a beautifull and easy ride which passes the Erie RR museum, open from 11:00 am until 1:00pm every saturday during the warm months. Although I am used to more agressive cycle trips which include actual hills, this is a pleasant ride over rr bridges, through the shade of overhanging trees, a cooling rest at an old cemetary right at trailside, and a stop at the Burger King in Monroe (also soft ice cream) before heading back to Goshen.
On the way back, there is a great ice cream shop in Chester, near the Erie RR museum, and you can end the trip with a great lunch or dinner in any one of a number of nice restaurants in Goshen.
If you are a cyclist with a date who is not, this may be a great choice for their first trip--or for a family outing--or, like me, just for something pleasent to do on a saturday morning which is better than vegging in front of TV.
Have a nice one.
Trail severed at Goshen
"Rode the west end (the unpaved section) and it is now closed at the Route 17 overpass. Prior to this, as others reviews note, it was difficult to get through. However, is was possible to get through -- one needed to open a gate at a small apartment complex. It required following one's nose a little, and a little luck. A resident of these apartments tipped me off after noticing the odd look on my face, I guess). This is obviously not the best trail design.
Hopefully, a simpler, more perminent, and user-friendly solution is in the works. It would be dissapointing to see the train severed perminently. Rather, the trail should be extended into Middletown."
Nice but congested
"This is a nice paved, suburban trail, although the trail is crowded with lots users who never got the ""On your left lesson."" They stop in the middle of the trail without warning. They ride two and three abreast, some on the wrong side of the trail. Joggers move from side to side. There is a trail opening at Chester Station where five women riding together stopped to chat. A gentleman had to go over and literally tell them to clear the opening and to get off the trail so others could pass. They became indignant.
The usual rules of any trail should be posted. It's nice to see a well used trail, but save this one for a day off during the week.
I road this trail again on Sunday, March 21, 2004, starting at 1:15 p.m. I was the only rider for 20 miles. I did see five walkers. I also saw deer, great blue heron, hawks and cows (can't forget them). It was a very pleasant ride for early in the year."
"Excellent Trail, snack bar on trail, emergency call boxes, gentle grade, free air in Chester @ outlet store, plenty of parking, top maintenance, Sheriffs bike patrol, could not find the unpaved mile in Goshen so expect a 9 mile trail. NYC sattelite homeless shelter nearby, do not let it disuade or scare you. NYCHPD provide an additional Patrol and everyone says hello. "
"If you build it, they will come!"
"This is an excellent trail with plenty of free parking at many strategic points. In-line skaters, walkers, runners, joggers, bikers, and (rarely it seems) cross country skiers will enjoy this well maintained, patrolled asphalt trail. The trail is not level, having a number of rolling grades along the route. It features mileage markers, road crossing signs and scattered benches. You will never find this trail devoid of people, almost all of whom are friendly! Chester and Goshen are villages worth exploring along the route. Mid summer can be a bit unpleasant, since large sections are unshaded, but between Chester and Goshen there is even an ice cream stand right on the edge of the trail.
Rates an 8 out of 10!