Frequently Asked Questions
The Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail will be a 7.5-mile linear park along the shoreline of the Hudson River. It will be designed to offer safe, convenient, and welcoming park access to people of all ages and abilities; connect people to the ecology and rich history of the Hudson Highlands; and inspire appreciation of nature through immersion in the four distinct landscape types of the region.
Beginning approximately fifty miles north of New York City and winding along the eastern shore of the Hudson River across from USMA at West Point and Storm King Mountain, the Fjord Trail will serve as a gateway to some of New York State’s most popular day hikes in the iconic landscape of Hudson Highlands Park Preserve. This new “park within the park” will be managed by Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, Inc., an independently funded nonprofit. Most of the trail will be located on either public land, notably New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and Metro-North Railroad property, or on existing parkland owned by Scenic Hudson.
HHFT will connect two thriving communities, three Metro-North train stations, and eager visitors from the Hudson Valley, New York City, and beyond, to natural beauty, to history, and to each other.
The main trail will join the Village of Cold Spring and the City of Beacon, making it possible for hikers, bikers, and runners to enjoy a safe and scenic route between these two Hudson Valley destinations. The route creates numerous possibilities for recreation, reflection, and celebration along the way, including scenic overlooks to mountain and river views, a forest canopy walk, a waterfront promenade, restored beaches, and a marsh exploration area.
Along the way, HHFT visitors can connect with the rugged hiking trails of Hudson Highlands State Park, smaller, side meandering paths and spaces for gathering, as well as tranquil places of quiet solitude.
Two gateway parks—Long Dock Park, in Beacon, and Dockside, in Cold Spring—along with the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail Visitor Center at the historic Dutchess Manor, will welcome and orient visitors. At the Visitor Center, as well as at various locations along the trail, a range of interactive exhibits, programs, and special events will provide engaging ways to connect people with the history and ecology of the region.
The key concepts for this project were developed in the Village of Cold Spring and Town of Philipstown nearly fifteen years ago – big projects like this take time to pull together! Some of the central planning documents that informed the Fjord Trail route and vision include:
- Route 9D Scenic Byway Corridor Management Plan (2006)
- Town of Philipstown Hudson Fjord Hike/Bike Capital Improvements Feasibility Study (2007)
- Village of Cold Spring Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (2011)
- Village of Cold Spring Comprehensive Plan (2012)
- Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail Master Plan (2015)
- Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail Master Plan (updated; 2020)
The current vision reflects the culmination of years of planning, community input, and technical analysis. As we go from master plan to site plan, there will be additional opportunities to shape how this project materializes on the ground.
The project started as a grassroots effort by Cold Spring/Philipstown residents to improve pedestrian and auto safety along State Route 9D. Large numbers of hikers were walking on the high-speed highway in order to access Breakneck Ridge and the Wilkinson Memorial Trailheads, with no shoulder or pedestrian space to keep people out of the travel lanes. Residents met and began forming a coalition that led the way in concept development for the Fjord Trail, eventually growing to the nineteen-member coalition that exists today.
In addition to addressing the critical safety needs of pedestrians on Route 9D, including those that arrive at the Breakneck Ridge train station, the Fjord Trail is being designed to serve as a visitor management strategy for the region. Visitation has increased annually and currently exceeds the infrastructure and service capacity of the small historic Village of Cold Spring.
The Fjord Trail will ease the burden of Breakneck and Washburn Trailhead visitation on the Village of Cold Spring by: creating an alternate pedestrian access route that channels hikers who arrive by train directly to the trail and away from Main Street; providing additional parking and entry points north of Cold Spring to pull hiker parking away from the Village; and operating a shuttle system to facilitate travel among trailheads, designated parking areas, and the three train stations within the project area. Together, these improvements – along with new restrooms, garbage collection, and wayfinding – will help safeguard quality of life for local residents by reducing the impacts of overcrowding on the community.
HHFT is also working to enhance quality of life for locals by offering a wide array of new recreational and educational opportunities: longer runs and bike rides and, for those who make exercise a part of their regular routine, the ability to vary their route from day to day, as well as outdoor classroom spaces at key locations along the trail designed to foster nature discovery. These will support local health and wellness, aging in place, and youth learning and enrichment.
Both locals and visitors will have a safe way to travel by bicycle between Beacon and Cold Spring, helping to decrease carbon emissions.
HHFT's design team, environmental experts, and state agencies are working to create a trail that will enhance access to the splendors of the Hudson Highlands while minimizing impact and improving resiliency to climate change. Here are just some of the ways that HHFT is working to preserve the landscape and address existing impacts of heavy visitation:
- Inventorying and avoiding rare or sensitive habitats as part of the site planning process
- Repairing habitat infringement by closing unauthorized social trails and keeping people where they are supposed to be
- Including native plantings and invasive species remediation in our management and stewardship plans throughout the project area
- Creating planted shelves at specific spots along the Shoreline Trail to offer migration routes for submerged aquatic vegetation as water levels rise
A coalition of nineteen dedicated and knowledgeable entities, including governmental agencies, local municipalities, and respected nonprofit organizations, has worked together at every stage of planning and design to bring the Fjord Trail to life.
See our Partners page for a listing with links to the coalition members’ websites.
The Fjord Trail capital project is being primarily funded through the generosity of a private family foundation with additional support from other private donors and grants from New York State.
As a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization, HHFT will rely on private contributions, grant funding, and revenue from parking and shuttle fees to fuel our operational budget. As a nonprofit subsidiary of Scenic Hudson, Inc., we are also grateful to have this regional conservation powerhouse behind us. To ensure that our operational budget meets the needs of excellent park stewardship, we are also fortunate to be building an endowment fund that will help support operations annually and provide a safety net to ensure that park maintenance continues seamlessly, should the organization ever experience a difficult revenue year.
One of the goals of the Fjord Trail is to ease visitor congestion by creating destinations along the trail north of Cold Spring and Breakneck.
As a linear park with multiple entry points, the Fjord Trail is carefully designed to manage visitation, including additional parking areas, restrooms, and clear wayfinding that aim to reduce the strain of heavy visitation in small communities.
With regard to Cold Spring, the HHFT will create clear wayfinding at both the Cold Spring train station and at Dockside Park. Hikers will have the option to begin their hike at Dockside Park or Little Stony Point along the Shoreline Trail segment, explore Main Street to shop and dine, or take the Fjord Trail shuttle from the train station to another destination along the trail. These amenities will improve quality of life in Cold Spring in ways that would be financially challenging for the Village to implement on its own.
Determinations about this will be made after we begin operations and in collaboration with OPRHP. Given the permeable nature of the park preserve, limiting hikers – as with a reservation system – could be challenging.
Once the Breakneck Connector is completed, we will begin using hiker counters at the trailhead. These will give us important data to work with and will be part of our ongoing visitor management efforts.
If feasible, we can imagine developing a reservation system for peak days for destinations like Breakneck Ridge trailhead – as well as the Forest Nets that are planned in the northern half of the trail.
The first iteration of the Fjord Trail design by RBA included a plan for hikers to travel through the Village of Cold Spring after disembarking the train or parking, making their way up Main Street and along Fair Street to Little Stony Point, the Cornish Trail, and beyond. This was desired by the Village leadership, businesses and residents at the time the plan was being developed (2014), but by 2016, when the environmental review started, visitation had increased, which changed local perspectives. Feedback from local residents at that time indicated that they considered the route through the village potentially invasive to Cold Spring neighborhoods, as it would add unnecessary congestion to Main Street, where shopkeepers and restaurateurs wanted earnest customers. HHFT took this feedback seriously.
We went back to the drawing board and looked at the Village plans, which highlighted improvements to Dockside Park and a Riverfront Trail that would connect from Dockside Park to Little Stony Point. The mayor at that time helped implement a community survey to ask residents about route preferences, and the route to Dockside was deemed the most acceptable by residents.
The new route will bring hikers from the train station along the waterfront to Dockside Park, which is part of the public Hudson Highlands State Park. Those who choose instead to meander along Main Street to shop and dine will still be able to do so. In this way, visitor flow will be split, further reducing congestion.
The land where HHFT’s Shoreline Trail is planned, starting at Dockside Park, is currently owned by Metro-North Railroad. Both Dockside Park and Little Stony Point are part of the Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve. There will be restrooms and trash receptacles maintained by HHFT staff, and management responsibility and expense will be removed from the Village once Dockside Park is incorporated into the Fjord Trail.
The Breakneck Connector and Bridge have been determined to have independent utility from the larger project. This means, independent of the larger project, the improvements at Breakneck provide value as a stand-alone project that addresses an existing situation in need of a solution. The Breakneck Connector implements safety and infrastructure improvements at the Breakneck Ridge Metro-North Railroad train station (new platforms lighting, wayfinding, connection paths, parking, etc.) and safely connects pedestrians arriving by car or train to their trailhead destination (Breakneck or Wilkinson). The bridge provides the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with a vehicle access point to their drainage chamber, which has been lacking since Route 9D was re-routed from going around Breakneck Point through the tunnel in the 1920s. This vehicle access point was promised to DEP at the time and not delivered. It is critical to their ability to maintain the aqueduct that provides NYC with 40% of its drinking water.
The rest of the Fjord Trail project is advancing through its own environmental review, a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) with a site-specific EIS for the Shoreline Trail. While that process will not document the Breakneck Connector and Bridge (because that’s being reviewed in a separate process), the GEIS will reference it as part of the larger master plan vision, so it is clearly stated for transparency.
First, let’s look at what’s stayed the same. The underlying goals of the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail (addressing traffic and pedestrian safety and protecting quality of life for communities impacted by visitation to hiking trails along Route 9D) remain unchanged since the 2015 Master Plan. We’re also still committed to a sustainably-designed project seeking opportunities for landscape restoration and resilience and protecting natural resources – and, of course, we’re still building a trail connecting Cold Spring and Beacon.
However, the focus of the new Master Plan has been expanded, in five important ways:
- Broadening the scope of improvements beyond a trail, recognizing that visitation in the preserve is not limited to hikers at Breakneck. These improvements either make an existing use safer, like a potential legal swim beach with a lifeguard on Little Stony Point, or more comfortable, like an outdoor classroom for school groups and others with seating and a roof to provide shade and/or rain protection.
- An increased focus on accessibility. The Fjord Trail is being designed to ADA standards to ensure that it is a resource which serves all ages and abilities. It will no longer be just for experienced hikers; it will be for seniors, young families, and everyone in between.
- Management. The original master plan improvements included management and maintenance by OPRHP, but their staff capacity is limited. Now, HHFT, Inc., a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization has been created to build, operate, and maintain the new park improvements.
- Visitor amenities. With a fully staffed entity responsible for operations, HHFT is planning restrooms, garbage collection, parking lots, a shuttle service, and a visitor center to help welcome and orient visitors. Management of these amenities throughout the Fjord Trail linear park will not fall to local communities.
- Family-friendly focus. We’ve added two new recreational opportunities, with a focus on kid- and family-friendly fun: at Little Stony Point, a nature-based play area with zones for different age groups, and at the vacant Dutchess Junction Park, a Forest Net zone, which will provide an opportunity to experience what it’s like in the tree canopy, to reactivate that space as a destination in the northern half of the project.
The Breakneck Connector section has all of the design elements of the 2015 version, plus a few more! The original design, which was developed with a committee that included DOT and local emergency response personnel, was created to make the corridor safer for pedestrians, cars, and cyclists. The design included limited formal parallel parking, an improved off-road parking lot, enhanced 20-foot train platforms, a new structure for the trail stewards to welcome and orient hikers, and a trail. Dedicated emergency responder parking was built into the design both on-road and in the parking area.
All of those design features are still present, with a few modifications and additions:
- A second off-road parking lot
- 40-foot platforms instead of 20-foot platforms at the train station to facilitate faster disembarking
- A “scramble bank” to provide seating and space for those arriving by train to gather and disperse without blocking the trail for other users
- A “stream bank” to help move and catch stormwater working its way down the steep mountain in a way that is better performing than the current condition
- Restrooms – eight composting toilets in two small buildings
- Trailhead relocation – the Breakneck Trailhead has been moved slightly uphill to ensure groups are not gathering near the mouth of the tunnel, where motorist visibility is poor
- Limited lighting for safety, predominantly at the Breakneck Ridge train station
Two of the biggest changes came from feedback provided from 2015 to 2017, which make the Breakneck Connector a more comprehensive project:
- Bridge: In 2015, discussions began with DEP about their need for a vehicular access point to their drainage facility and the Fjord Trail’s need for a bridge over the tracks. We’ve kept the conversation going and have included the bridge in the Breakneck Scope, as the footings are in the Breakneck project area and construction will need to advance at the same time.
- Upper Overlook: The Jolly Rovers had been in discussion with OPRHP about stabilizing the early sections of Breakneck Trail, which were showing significant erosion due to heavy use. Budget and land ownership patterns with Metro-North Railroad would not allow that work to advance at the time. We’ve folded the design into the Fjord Trail scope – stone stairs up to the first overlook just over the tunnel and a stabilized section of the early ascent scramble. We’re also closing several social trails and making some improvements to keep people on established paths at the overlook and the Breakneck Trail. This will also be the location of the new Trail Steward Station at the relocated Breakneck Trailhead.
Traffic is an issue today, as is parking – that’s part of what we’re working to help manage!
We have a three-part strategy for this:
- Adding parking capacity – but not too much. We know that most people arriving to hike Breakneck today are arriving by car so, naturally, parking is an issue. We are formalizing and reducing parking at Breakneck to help with traffic safety on Route 9D, but we are adding parking north of Breakneck – remote lots served by a shuttle that can bring people to Breakneck or other signature destinations in the new park. The shuttle system will increase parking capacity in areas outside existing community centers and provide incentives to use it.
- Encouraging train arrival. We have three train stations in the linear park area, which means there are opportunities to explore how to shift people’s travel behavior from car to train, especially if they live in a community with a train station along the Hudson Line. We’ll be working closely with Metro-North to see how we can promote this and perhaps also provide incentives to do so. Does that mean we expect NO people to arrive by car? No. Visitors are coming from all directions – north, east, and west -- as well as points south. Some of those places are not served by train. For example, recent data shows that many visitors come from Carmel and Highland. Arriving to the project via I-84 makes the most sense for those drivers.
- Improving road system function. Much can be done with wayfinding and smart street lights to help move traffic more efficiently. We’ll be working with our Steering Committee to better understand existing issues that might be made worse if traffic increases, and developing some ideas for improvement.
Also, there is a tendency to expect all new visitation to be from NYC to Cold Spring. We do not believe that will be the case. Visitation today is from a broad region and is strongly Breakneck-focused. The Fjord Trail will draw new visitors, but we expect to see more families, seniors, school groups and other non-weekend users making up that new mix. Some of those users will come from different communities, and more locals may wind up using the trail, too. This usage may include more weekday visits than we see today with the young hikers who frequent Breakneck on weekends. This will mean different travel patterns.
In the recent past, the parking behavior on Route 9D increased to new levels of chaos and congestion. What used to be excessive parallel parking on either side of the road became nose-in parking, with people backing into the high-speed highway. This needs to be fixed. However, as visitation at Breakneck is not expected to decrease in the future, removing all parking on 9D would likely just increase congestion in other areas.
HHFT’s new Breakneck Connector will implement a five-point strategy of traffic-calming improvements in the mile area north of the Breakneck tunnel. This includes:
- A new “Welcome to Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve” gateway sign on the hill as drivers descend southbound toward Breakneck, signaling the entry to a recreational area
- Vegetated bump-outs to provide a safe space for pedestrians to gather as they wait to cross the road
- New crosswalks to control and direct street crossing behavior, which is currently chaotic
- Sidewalks to provide a safe walking route to the nearest crosswalk for those exiting their cars
- Formal parallel parking spaces, which will remove the opportunity for unsafe and illegal nose-in parking and constricting the road in a way that alerts drivers to slow down. Whereas 250 cars might have squeezed themselves along the road in the past, the new design will allow for 77 cars in painted, formal parallel parking spaces.
Even with an additional 36 spaces in parking lots, the total number of cars parked in that area will be greatly reduced with people directed to find overflow parking at the former Dutchess Manor and other points north and take the HHFT shuttle.
These measures will eliminate the haphazard parking and congestion that has made for dangerous and stressful conditions for locals and visitors along Route 9D. With this entire package of improvements installed, DOT will lower the speed limit to 40 mph, which will help safety as well.
There will be restrooms at all major entries to the trail.
Restrooms will be ADA accessible and will also be situated near other amenities such as wayfinding, information kiosks, and bicycle tune-up stations.
A revised Master Plan and Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) will be released for public comment in late 2022.
The project’s first major milestone took place in summer 2021 with the partnership between HHFT and OPRHP that created the Nimham Trail, connecting the viewpoint at the flagpoles on Breakneck Ridge to Wilkinson Memorial Trail. This included rerouting part of the Wilkinson Trail to resolve erosion issues. This trail creates a safe and clear path down the mountain to the Wilkinson Trailhead and will reduce the ecological damage of trail spreading and erosion created by hikers getting lost or trying to cut their route short when they return to the Breakneck parking lot.
Work on the Breakneck Connector and Bridge is scheduled to begin in 2023. This 0.7 mile segment of the trail will connect hikers arriving by train at the Metro-North Breakneck Ridge Station or by car at the Breakneck parking area to a relocated trailhead and trail steward’s station for the Breakneck Ridge hike. HHFT anticipates this section of the project opening to the public in 2025.
Improvements at this time will also address the current parking situation, implementing new restrictions that will create a safer environment for trail users and motorists on Route 9D.
Prior to the start of (and during) construction, trail and train closure information and a schedule for completion will be communicated to the public through a coordinated effort among project partners.
Photography: Meredith Heuer
Architectural illustration: SCAPE Landscape Architecture
Illustration: Donna Calcavecchio