Like a lot of great ideas, the Saratoga Greenbelt Trail (SGT) started with a sketch on the back of a napkin.
It was 2013, Douglas Meyer recalls, but he starts the story nearly ten years earlier when a work contact at National Public Radio suggested that he do a story as part of a personal trip he was planning to ride alongside the Tour De France. That would become his first moonlighting radio assignment, which led to a few others, including a story in 2006 about the Saratoga Mountain Bike Association. And that's how he met another local cyclist, Jeff Olson, which sets the stage for the fateful lunch the two friends had seven years later at Maestro's, the restaurant on Broadway fondly remembered by many Saratogians.
A strategy consultant for national and international non-profit organizations, Meyer had just delivered a keynote address at the National Bike Summit, while Olson, a principal with Alta Planning + Design and co-founder of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, had just returned from "doing good work in yet another distant place like Dubai," as Meyer remembers.
“We were discussing my recent study and all the work Jeff had done to improve bike and pedestrian accommodations in other cities and we started brainstorming what more we could do here. That's when Jeff started sketching on a napkin."
A Figure-Eight Loop
Their essential idea was to connect existing multi-use paths into a 24-mile figure-eight loop around and through the city that can be used by cyclists, runners, and pedestrians for both transportation and recreation. Then couple this route with a "complete streets" initiative focused on making the city's roadways as friendly to cyclists and pedestrians as they were for cars.
"The geek term is multimodal transportation," Meyer says.
Development of the Greenbelt Trail has truly been a team effort, with Meyer pointing first at Barbara Glaser, who sparked the development of the full plan that the City Council ultimately approved in May, 2014.
Former Saratoga Regional YMCA and current Saratoga Automobile Museum Executive Director Jim Letts was the "critical person who helped assemble all of the players we needed to support the plan," he adds. "Peter Goutos and Cheryl Smith, who, among their many efforts, organize the annual Firecracker 4 race, also played key roles, as did Todd Shimkus with the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and Maria Trabka with Saratoga PLAN."
"We also now have a big group of supporters on Facebook, and of course we wouldn't be where we are today without the strong support of Mayor Yepsen, the bipartisan support from the members of the City Council and our County Supervisors, as well as the unsung efforts of city’s sustainability coordinator Tina Carton, and all of the others- just so many to thank.”
"What pleases me most is the way the community has come together," Meyer continues. "It's no longer a matter of generating support for the concept, but a question of how quickly we complete it."
With the acquisition of the Pitney Farm by Pitney Meadows Community Farm, Inc., last December, the vision for the trail has expanded. Though much planning remains to be done, there may one day be a trail that runs northwest through the farm from the intersection of Congress Street and West Avenue to Grand Avenue.
Improving Quality of Life
As a cyclist who has raced with local team North American Velo (NAV), Meyer is quick to clarify that the Saratoga Greenbelt Trail is not focused on bike racers. "This is much more for families who want their kids to be able to safely ride their bikes to school or around town, for older people who want to be able to safely enjoy walking down to the farmer’s market, visitors to the track who just want to park their car once and have a more relaxed vacation - people who may never call themselves a cyclist or a runner, but are just out having a nice time."
"Around the country, you see big cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle, and smaller cities like Burlington, Vermont making major investments in bike and pedestrian pathways," he says. "They're doing it because of the very real quality of life, economic, environmental and public health benefits, especially as defined by the next generation that doesn't want to have a long commute and where jobs are much less location-driven."
"And that's why I'm doing this. If we want to bring to Saratoga Springs businesses that are attractive to the next generation, and improve the quality-of-life for our residents and visitors alike, this is the type of project we need to be doing."
Meyer also notes that, since losing his younger brother to cancer a few years ago, he's been rearranging his priorities.
"I’ve been finding a lot of personal satisfaction in this project, as you see a family riding their bikes into Spa State Park on a trail that wasn't there before, using the light to safely cross Route 50, and that family's having a really good day because of something you and others have done behind the scenes, and that's kind of nice to know."
By Dan Forbush with Peyton Yourch