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The Lackawanna Rail Trail traces a short stretch of the old Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad from Lowman to Elmira in southern New York. Much of it follows the meandering Chemung River, meaning “place of the big horn” in the local American Indian language. Originally confined within the city limits of Elmira, the trail now extends along the wooded river shoreline on an additional 5-mile segment completed in 2017.
The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad was completed through Elmira in 1882 as it connected Buffalo, New York, with Hoboken, New Jersey. The popular Phoebe Snow passenger train, advertised as burning cleaner coal than its competitors and having the smoothest ride of any passenger train, traveled this route from 1949 to 1966. The line merged with its rival in 1960 to form the Erie Lackawanna Railroad, which later succumbed to flooding and declining economic conditions.
The first section of trail opened in 2013 in Elmira, a former transportation hub for trains and canalboats and the summer home of writer Mark Twain. City planners are banking on the trail to help revitalize the local economy. The paved trail passes several local destinations, including Eldridge Park, a popular restored amusement park from the early 20th century.
The path starts at a small parking lot in the community of Lowman. It runs close to I-86 for the next 6 miles into Elmira but is screened from the expressway by woods most of the way.
About a mile from the trailhead, you’ll encounter the Chemung River. A tributary of the Susquehanna River, it’s used for canoeing and fishing for bass, trout, rock bass, and smaller sport fish. This section of trail is shaded in the summer and runs atop levees, where you’ll find benches for resting and enjoying the scenery.
The area is rich in Colonial history. The Continental Army battled British forces and their Iroquois allies on a nearby hillside in 1779. The battle is commemorated at the Newtown Battlefield State Park on the other side of I-86, not directly accessible from the trail. After traveling 5.4 miles past the trailhead, you’ll arrive at an old trestle spanning Newtown Creek; this was the location of gristmills in the 1700s.
Entering Elmira, the trail frequently uses old railroad underpasses or overpasses to cross streets. You’ll have to cross four-lane NY 14 on a crosswalk, however, to reach Eldridge Park near the northern end of the trail. The last segment of the Lackawanna Rail Trail goes through the park, which has a vintage carousel, a skate park, a playground, paddleboats, a dog park, and restrooms, as well as the Mark Twain Mini Golf Course & Train Ride. You can also connect to the 1.1-mile Eldridge Park Loop around Eldridge Lake.
A 0.4-mile spur heads east out of the park but is not well marked. A northern extension is planned to bring the Lackawanna Rail Trail closer to the Catharine Valley Trail. The City of Elmira is also working on spur trails to the river for improved fishing access.
To reach the southern endpoint from I-86, take Exit 57, and head south on Lowman Crossover toward Wellsburg. Go 0.1 mile, and look for parking on the right.
To reach the northern endpoint in Elmira from I-86, take Exit 56, and head west on NY 352/E. Church St. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Judson St. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Sullivan St. Go 1.5 miles, and turn left to stay on Sullivan St. Go 0.1 mile, and continue on Clemens Center Pkwy. Ext. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto NY 14 Truck, and then go 0.3 mile and turn left onto Eldridge Park Road. After 0.2 mile, look for parking. Heading south on the Lackawanna Rail Trail, go 0.2 mile, and turn left to follow the trail 0.4 mile to the endpoint on Lake St.
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