With summer just around the corner, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Friday announced the launch of an interactive program designed to help residents and visitors access bikeable and walkable parks, trails and amenities using public transit throughout Suffolk.
And, officials hope, not just during summer — but, year-round.
The announcement of the Transit to Trails program, part of the county’s Connect Long Island initiative, was made at a news conference at Argyle Lake in Babylon, and during the celebration of National Bike Month — one day before Saturday’s National Train Day. That’s important, officials said, because the program features a series of interactive online maps that highlight Long Island Rail Road stations in close to outdoor public space. To start, the launch highlights areas that can be accessed easily from seven LIRR stations in Suffolk — Babylon, Cold Spring Harbor, Deer Park, Great River, Port Jefferson, Sayville and Smithtown — with the promise of more station links to come.
“We’re excited to be connecting more people to the thousands of acres of parks right here in Suffolk County without adding a single car to our roads,” Bellone said in a statement, adding: “We hope that this will entice visitors to stay a little bit longer to explore our local downtowns before heading home.”
For instance, from the Smithtown station visitors can access more than 1,000 acres of public parks, hiking and biking trails, the Nissequogue River, the Long Island Greenbelt Trail — not to mention “an active downtown area,” officials said. From Great River, there’s access to more than 5,000 acres of parks, the Greenbelt Trail, greenway areas and historic Bayard Cutting Arboretum.
New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation spokesman George Gorman said the Transit to Trails program is important because it will increase awareness of car-free links to vast areas of public space some residents don’t even know exist.
Just a short walk or ride south from the Babylon station are Babylon Village and Argyle Lake, Gorman said, while there’s also a trail that runs north from near the station through Southards Pond Park and into Belmont Lake State Park north of the Southern State Parkway.
“The trail is beautiful,” Gorman said. “It’s woodlands. You get on it and you don’t realize you’re in an urban, suburban area — a developed area. It brings you back to nature.”
Kristen Reynolds, president and CEO of tourism marketing group Discover Long Island, said: “This program will be an incredible asset as we promote Long Island as an ideal destination to experience without a car — attracting new visitors to our region, customers to local businesses, while alleviating traffic congestion on our roads.” Nationwide, there is a growing interest in sustainable travel and entertainment, with trail-based tourism one of the fastest growing sectors, she added.
And, officials hope future additions to the interactive system will encourage visitors to access destinations as far east as Montauk and Greenport.
As the Transit to Trails site points out to users, in addition to parks and trails near the stations, there are: museums, theaters, historic sites, boat and bike rental locations, skate parks, ice rinks, bowling alleys, golf courses, playgrounds, vineyards, breweries, distilleries — and, of course, boardwalks and beaches.
For more information, visit: connectli.org/transittotrails.html.