By boat, it’s 193 miles from Cooperstown to Corning, down the Susquehanna to Bradford County, Pennsylvania, and up the Chemung River.
If Kevin Costello’s vision comes to fruition, there will eventually be a water track to make it happen.
Water trails “are mapped along waterways such as rivers, lakes and canals for recreational purposes,” Costello, chairman of the Steuben County Visitors Bureau, explained in a briefing via Zoom on Tuesday, February 22.
More than two dozen representatives from environmental and watershed groups from New York and Pennsylvania attended the online event, hosted by Costello with Cassandra Harrington, executive director of Destination Marketing Corporation, the group that promotes tourism for Otsego and Schoharie counties.
Costello sees great recreational tourism potential for the rivers on the south shore. “Although you have to paddle really hard upstream to get to Corning,” he said in a phone interview after the meeting. “And that’s not the point.”
The goal of a water trail is “to provide as many different opportunities to get out on the water as possible.
“Because, you know, some of it will be rural, some of it will be through more urban environments, some of it will be remote, 14-mile stretches between hotspots,” he said.
Tourism officials from 11 counties in the Susquehanna watershed have been talking about the idea of a water trail for a year and will launch a series of public information meetings in April to gather feedback. The Otsego County meeting will be held April 27 in Oneonta, although a location has yet to be announced.
“It was an idea I couldn’t refuse and I wanted to be a part of it,” Harrington said.
“The idea of developing a water trail, with the hope of being able to both enhance and preserve our waterways. And then hopefully fostering economic development through tourism, tours and new business,” added Harrington.
Basically, a water trail connects the dots for outdoor recreation, Costello said. “So public waterways, public access.” In his vision, a water trail should include water access points, but it is not about creating bike paths, hiking trails or other “sustainable assets”.
A water trail seemed more feasible than land trails, he said “because of the cost and because a lot of the parts are already there. There are more than 120 access points to the rivers”, but the information must be compiled and made easily available. “We are in the planning and asset inventory phase,” he said.
The long-term goals of the project are to improve quality of life and promote tourism, Costello said during his presentation.
“Several small town centers and even metropolitan areas like Binghamton are crossed by the river, helping to revitalize our downtown areas. Use outdoor recreation as a tool to recruit people to visit, live and work here. COVID-19 has taught us that outdoor recreation is virus-proof tourism,” Costello said.
Corey Ellison, director of the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership, joined the meeting from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. She said Pennsylvania already has hundreds of miles of walking, biking and paddling trails along the Susquehanna. She offered to help get the New York effort off the ground.
“We can compete cooperatively,” Costello later said. “If we don’t do it ourselves, no one else will, so let’s get started.”