By ÉRIC TICHY
From Bill Ward’s perspective, Chautauqua Rails to Trails has been a kind of lifeline during some of COVID-19’s darker days.
Ward, in an interview on Friday, said it was hard to ignore the impact of the ongoing pandemic on the trail system, which has segments from Sherman to Brocton totaling around 30 miles. He estimates that during the summer of 2020, trail use increased by 60 to 80%.
“I really believe, and maybe this is hyperbole, I believe it maybe even saved lives”, Ward said the trails help people escape their homes and get out.
As the new president, local musician and current legislator of Chautauqua County, he is also an avid runner and cyclist and frequents the trails.
“We have heard this story over and over again. “ he said, “People who said they were out when they had never been before. In a way, making people discover the trail is our raison d’être.
As of September 26, however, the trails haven’t been filled with happy endings. That day, a set of human remains were found near Woleben Road in the city of Portland.
About 24 hours later, a more recent find that turned out to be a missing 50-year-old Buffalo woman was located about 10 meters away.
Coverage of the unusual find made national news while partially casting the aisles in a negative light. But Ward said members of Chautauqua Rails to Trails remain positive, noting a slew of completed, ongoing or planned projects.
“We are really delighted with the energy we have in Rails to Trails”, he said. “The use of trails has increased. … The pandemic has really increased the use of trails.
Among the many goals ahead are the viability of the rail trail between Sherman and Clymer; implement the necessary repairs to the “Esbroufe” culvert on the Ney trail; progress on the town of Carroll Trail to Frewsburg; edit the trail guide; make improvements to the entrance segment of the Webb Trail on Hwy 394 and update on the problematic large culvert near Woleben Road.
Ward highlighted the accomplishments of trail manager and long-time president Jim Fincher, who recently retired. He said that Fincher has “does more for the organization than perhaps any single individual.”
He added on Friday, “Jim Fincher did a fabulous job. He was hired early as a trail manager and he continued to do the lion’s share of the work there. We are so indebted to him.
Chautauqua Rails to Trails plans to honor Fincher by giving its name to a trail segment – a 1 mile stretch between Highway 430 and Honeysette Road in the village of Mayville. Improvements to the surface of this popular trail will take place next year, the organization said in a press release last month.
As the name suggests, Chautauqua Rails to Trails was established in 1991 by converting abandoned railway rights-of-way into multi-use recreational trails ideal for hikers, cyclists, snowmobiles and cross-country skiers.