ROSENDALE – "Track the Trestle," a grassroots effort by the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT) and Open Space Institute (OSI) to refurbish Rosendale's landmark Rondout Creek crossing, finished its first round of fundraising on June 30th. Roughly $50,000 was collected — half from matching funds.
"The $25,000 is being matched by an anonymous donor, and this is one of a series of fundraisers we're doing to restore the trestle," said Tally Blumberg, vice president for external affairs at OSI. "We hope that we can have the trestle open next year." A specific date was not made available.
WVLT maintains the rail trail from New Paltz to Kingston. The 60-foot wide strip runs parallel to the Shawangunk Ridge, formerly the Wallkill Branch of Consolidated Railroad Corporation (Conrail), which abandoned train service in 1984. Until recently, the trail's northernmost 11 miles were privately held — eventually acquired by OSI/WVLT through tax foreclosure. OSI/WVLT plan to gift the trestle to the town — taking it off future tax rolls.
The previous owner is not happy — in fact, he's making a federal case out of it. John E. Rahl resides in the former Demarest warehouse next to Rosendale trestle's southern approach. He purchased "all rights, title & interest" to the old Wallkill Valley Railroad Corporation from Conrail back in 1986, via quitclaim deed. Since that time, he operated the property as a bona fide utility — charging companies such as Central Hudson and Verizon expensive license fees to string telecom and& power lines across the right-of-way.
Currently, Rahl has a case pending before United States District Court 2nd Circuit of Appeals, contesting the removal of his trail property from "railroad ceiling" tax status. After closing his land deal back in '86, NY state quadrupled property tax rates upon Rahl's trail without offering a fair hearing — by arbitrarily declaring it wasn't a railroad anymore.
Rahl counters that allowing public access along the trail constitutes transportation use, and keeps his railroad status intact. Furthermore, Rahl argues, the land is forever railroad under 19th century eminent domain legal doctrines — long forgotten by modern jurisprudence. Town records reveal that Rosendale treated the trestle as railroad property — therefore an industrial zone — back in the early 1980s.
"You can't buy railroad property without a proper deed — it doesn't transfer that way," remarked Rahl. "Counties can't take railroads — they're not authorized. The only one who could take that railroad from me would be the state legislature." Rahl bristles at the idea of anyone taking his land as ordinary residentially zoned real estate. "They're defrauding the public, by telling them they own something that they have no lawful right to own," he complained.
Robert Anderberg, general counsel for OSI and project manager for the trestle, addressed Rahl's accusations. "If there is any question as to the legality of the tax foreclosure, you would have to talk to the county," he commented. "But we know of no reason why we don't have clear title. We've got title insurance, and are unaware of any problem."