Appalachian Trail, Beekman, New York
In 2020, access to recreational amenities and green space took on a new level of importance for many Dutchess County residents, as the COVID pandemic forced people to stay closer to home and find new recreational outlets. Our county is fortunate to have nearly 200 public parks, ranging from rail trails to ball fields to playgrounds, but access to them is not equal. In this section, we consider barriers to recreational amenities as they relate to walkability, bikeability, bus service, safety, and congestion near our public parks.
Our Barriers to Basic Needs Map shows the level of access at parks included in this analysis.
How walkable are the areas around our parks?
Nearly a third of our population lives within a half mile walk of a park, but the roads those residents would have to walk on to get there aren’t always safe or comfortable. About half of our parks have at least some sidewalk coverage within a half mile of an entrance, but in many cases it’s only fragments. About 20 percent have at least 20 percent sidewalk coverage, which in our analysis reflects decent walkability. Unsurprisingly, all but one of these are in our cities and villages; the other is the Dutchess Rail Trail and its access points in the Overocker/Love Road area in the Town of Poughkeepsie.
How many of our parks have access to a rail trail?
Our rail trails are parks themselves, but they can also provide safe access for people biking and walking to get to playgrounds and other recreation sites. 14 parks (seven percent) are within a half mile of a rail trail. Most of these are in the Poughkeepsie area, with others in Millerton, Amenia, and East Fishkill (Hopewell Junction), as well as the Appalachian Trail in Pawling. Most of these are easily and safely accessible from the trail, but a few – notably the Hopewell Recreation Park in East Fishkill and Overlook Park in LaGrange – need improvements to make the connection feasible.
How many parks have bus access?
Half of our parks have bus access, and half do not. Many of the parks with bus access are along our major highway corridors – Route 9, 9D, 55, 44, and 52 – or in our cities. In most cases, bus service runs Monday through Saturday – only about 17 percent of our parks (mostly in Poughkeepsie and Beacon) have any Sunday bus access, and none have frequent service that day.
How many parks are near high-crash or high-congestion locations?
46 parks (23 percent) are within a half mile of one of our high-crash segments or intersections. That includes most of the parks in the City of Poughkeepsie, as well as other parks in western and southern Dutchess.
11 parks (six percent) are within a half mile of a highly congested area. All but two of these are in the City of Poughkeepsie near the westbound Route 44/55 access to the Mid-Hudson Bridge.
Parking congestion can also be an issue at certain parks. Notably, Scenic Hudson, NYSDOT, and Metro-North have long sought a solution to parking issues at the Breakneck Ridge trailhead along Route 9D. There is also the potential for parking issues at rail trail road crossings. In some cases, parking expansion may be warranted, while in others fencing or signage may be needed to encourage park visitors to leave their car in a more appropriate location. Transit access and improved walking and bicycling connections can also help alleviate parking pressure.
Our analysis found that congestion and traffic safety are not widespread barriers to park access, but that walking, bicycling, and transit access are barriers, especially outside of Poughkeepsie. Based on this analysis, our role could include the following:
- Improve sidewalk access to parks, and consider park access when evaluating priorities for federal, State, and County funding programs.
- Improve links between rail trails and other park sites by connecting rail trails to existing parks and constructing new parks near rail trails.
- Encourage transit connections to parks. When evaluating service changes, include access to parks as a consideration, along with other basic needs.
- Consider access to parks, as well as other basic needs, when evaluating safety and congestion-related improvements. Provide additional weight for projects that improve access to basic needs in our project selection criteria.
A NOTE ON OUR METHODOLOGY...
There are officially 192 public parks in Dutchess County. For this analysis, we removed several very small memorials and monuments that do not serve a recreational purpose. We also divided our linear parks (rail trails and the Appalachian Trail) into several pieces, with each access point (or cluster of access points) considered a separate “park.” See our Methodology document for more information.
COVID & URBAN OPEN SPACE ACCESS
COVID-induced lockdowns drew attention to open space access for urban residents. Advocates like the 10-Minute Walk Project are pushing cities to ensure that every resident has safe and easy access to a park or public open space. In Dutchess, about 76 percent of City of Poughkeepsie residents are within a half mile of a public park, as are about 62 percent of Beacon residents. Many of the remaining residents may have access to a school playground or other outdoor space, but these are not always open to the public.
Frequency as defined in our Bus Access Analysis
NEW PARK & RAIL TRAIL CONNECTIONS
Dutchess County is in the process of developing the Lake Walton Preserve into a fully accessible County Park. The new park will expand recreation access in East Fishkill, and its location adjacent to the Dutchess Rail Trail will allow many county residents to access it without a car – and get some exercise along the way. The new urban trail in Poughkeepsie will also connect the Dutchess Rail Trail to Route 9 shopping and housing, Marist College, and the waterfront, and provide a new way to get to sites like Fairview Park and Quiet Cove Park.