This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. And this summer one new feature of Clarkstown will likely get plenty of use as the weather gets warmer.
Clarkstown officials Saturday afternoon dedicated new sections of the lakeside trail and boardwalk that runs around much of Congers Lake. The ceremony took place at the entrance of the path on Lake Road, just before the intersection with Route 303 in Congers.
The path, which has two entrances off of Lake Road, currently only goes around part of the lake, going around the north and south portions of the lake, along Route 303, and through Congers Lake Memorial Park on Gilchrest Road. The path is 1.7 miles long, so visitors can walk up to 3.4 miles if they go back and forth. Saturday’s ceremony was specifically for the portions along the north and south ends of the lake, while the parts along Route 303 and Memorial Park had already been completed over the last 10 years.
“This has been years in the making, and it really is a beautiful addition, not only to the hamlet of Congers but of course to Clarkstown as a whole,” said Clarkstown Town Board member Shirley Lasker, D-Upper Nyack, during the ceremony. "I live right up in Upper Nyack, and I’m here all the time walking and running here, and it does add a lot to the area, and we can’t wait to finish the rest of it off.”
Indeed the trail has been decades in the making, according to JoAnne Pedersen, Clarkstown superintendent of Recreation and Parks. She noted that the idea was already being discussed back in 1981, but it really started taking shape around 15 years ago, when the town was required by the state to replace one of the dams in the lake. It was then that local officials decided to build the walkway at the same time. However, the process took years to complete because of the many permits that had to be acquired beforehand, including wetlands permits, dam safety permits and storm water permits.
“Everybody loves it,” Pedersen said of the new walkway. “It’s a walking path, it’s good for seniors, parents with strollers, bikers. I saw someone on roller blades the other day.”
Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alexander Gromack said the town plans to eventually complete the remaining section of the trail, which is .9 miles long. Thus the completed circular path will be 2.6 miles. Gromack added that he hopes to get the remaining portion of the path completed more quickly, as fewer permits will be required.
Rockland County Legislator Frank Sparaco, R-Valley Cottage, thinks this path is just one example of how the Gromack has helped improved his district, which includes Congers.
“Since Mr. Gromack’s become supervisor, my legislative district has benefited greatly,” Sparaco said after the dedication. “The man has been a countless supporter of Legislative District 11, Valley Cottage and Congers, which in the past has gone, some would say, uncared for and was the stepchild of Clarkstown. Mr. Gromack has treated this community phenomenally. He’s done great, great, achievements: pocket parks, revitalizations, this walkway. He’s cleaned up our fountains, our sidewalks. He’s been one of the greatest assets to this legislative district that I’ve seen in my lifetime, and I’m a lifelong resident of this district, and he needs to be commended for that.”
Gromack added that these improvements included the Valley Cottage Hamlet Green, a park at 10 New Lake Road that was completed last year, and a fishing pier at Twin Ponds, also in Valley Cottage.
The total cost of the completed path was around $3 million, according to Gromack, though nearly half of that money came from grants. When Gromack himself was in the state Assembly he helped the town get a grant of $200,000 to start the project along Route 303, and current U.S. Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowery helped provide $300,000 as well. The Rockland County Sewer District also provided around $800,000 this year in exchange for the town removing a sewer line from the lake. The remaining $1.7 million is coming from taxpayers’ money, but that money was bonded at a low rate and will be paid back over 30 years, Gromack said.
For Valley Cottage resident Barbara Demarest, who has come to the new path twice to walk, it was money well spent.
“I’m very pleased to have this,” she said about the pathway. “It’s spruced up, it looks nice, it feels secure. I don’t feel frightened or anything when I come here for a walk. I was very pleased that my tax money was going for something good.”
And, as Clarkstown Town Board member George Hoehmann, R-Nanuet, pointed out in his brief remarks before the ribbon-cutting, the new walkway will have a great impact on residents in other ways as well.
“It’s wonderful to see that not just people are here exercising and using it […] but to see the non-for-profits and community groups will be able to do wonderful things like walks to help raise money for charity,” he said.
As an example, Hoehmann brought up the Ken Zebrowski Memorial Walk, which will be held in Memorial Park next Saturday at 9 a.m. The walk will raise money for the Ken Zebrowski Memorial Fund, which provides scholarships for Rockland students and also benefits Hepatitis C research. Ken Zebrowski was a member of both the Rockland Legislature and the New York State Assembly before passing away in 2007 from Hepatitis C. He was the father of Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, who today holds his seat the state Assembly.
The officials also believe the trail will have a positive impact on the community as a whole, as residents will walk on the trail and then stop hopefully by some of the restaurants and boost the local economy.
“People are coming with their families, they’re enjoying it, looking at the scenery, and then hopefully people are walking down and are visiting Rick’s [American Café, on Lake Road across from the entrance to the trail] and others of the restaurants nearby, and hopefully it will help be part of our Congers revitalization plan,” said Clarkstown Town Board member Stephanie Hausner, D-New City, during the ceremony.
Indeed two of the visitors to the trail Saturday afternoon were Steve Aaron and his 8-year-old daughter Alison. The two ride their bikes from their neighborhood in Valley Cottage into Congers every weekend, with part of the journey taking them on the pathway. But they always make sure to stop for ice cream at on their way back at Sweet Pete’s on Lake Road.
“There’s a small little parking lot of six spaces that we put in as part of this, so when you go to the very end of the trail right next to it is a pizza place and an ice cream place,” said Hoehmann after the ceremony. “So you can get your exercise and then put the calories back on.”