Trail advocates in Saratoga County say two proposed power line routes could help them achieve some critical connections as they look to expand the region's off-road offerings.
Officials with Saratoga Preserving Land and Nature, also known as Saratoga PLAN, say transmission lines that could be built along the Champlain Canal and through Saratoga County may provide the means to forge new trails.
The Saratoga Springs-based land trust has asked state regulators and the companies behind the proposals to consider whether new recreation opportunities could be pursued along the power line routes, and if so, to what extent.
Proponents acknowledge there are safety and right of way issues that would have to be addressed, but they say there is precedent for using transmission routes as recreation corridors. Trail groups in Long Island, for example, have long coupled power lines and trails.
Trail backers also say they have to at least ask, or they risk missing an opportunity to expand the region's trail system, which would benefit residents and visitors alike.
"These are opportunities that we can't miss," said Julie Stokes, with Saratoga PLAN.
Stokes' group has targeted an application by Transmission Developers Inc., which is hoping to build a power line from Canada to New York City, and National Grid's proposal to add a redundant power line from Moreau to Rotterdam.
The Canadian project, known as the Champlain Hudson Power Express, aims to run a 1,000-megawatt power line beneath Lake Champlain to Whitehall, continuing along a railway corridor before moving southwest through Saratoga County.
Company officials want the line to be "shovel-ready" by September, with the hope that construction could be finished by January 2015.
A section of the proposed route between Whitehall and Fort Ann is being eyed by the trails group as a way to help finish a 58-mile link between Whitehall and Waterford, known as the Champlain Canalway trail.
Sections of the power line route in Saratoga County could also be used to extend the county's Zim Smith trail, which was recently lengthened to 9.5 miles. Officials want to extend the trail north toward Moreau Lake State Park and south toward Mechanicville.
Meanwhile, National Grid's proposed power line route could foster five new trail segments in Greenfield, Charlton, Ballston and Clifton Park, according to documents Saratoga PLAN submitted to the Public Service Commission, which is reviewing the proposals.
National Grid officials recently met with Saratoga PLAN to discuss the ideas, but they said a municipal sponsor willing to maintain the trail will be needed if they are to allow trail construction along the route.
The utility, which wants to have its new line in service by December 2012, would not allow motorized vehicles or horses on the trail and would have to consider all applications for safety reasons.
"It's not something we're opposed to; it's just something that we have to look at very closely to make sure we don't compromise safety or reliability," said Patrick Stella, a National Grid spokesman.
Don Jessome, president and CEO of Transmission Developers, Inc., the company behind the Champlain Hudson Power Express, also said he is receptive to the idea of having a trail run along his firm's proposed power line route.
The cables would be buried three feet down, so there should be few safety concerns, he said.
"We can easily co-exist with a trail," Jessome said. "It's no problem at all."
But the company is not the only one with a say, he said. In Washington and Saratoga counties, the proposed route runs largely through rights of way being sought from railroad companies that would also have to agree to the project.
There could be more of a concern in areas where the railroad and the trails intersect, Jessome said.
"We agree that these are probably great ideas for developing a trail system," he said. "Unfortunately, we don't own the land we're going to be utilizing."
Stokes said she realizes the challenges her group's ambitions pose, but she said the trail work does not have to occur at the same time as the lines' construction.
The projects may be decades in the offing, she said, but planning needs to begin now so support for the trails can be established.
"It could be decades before anything happens, but you have to have foresight," Stokes said, pointing to the Spring Run Trail in Saratoga Springs, which was opened on Nov. 18 after sitting on a planning map for two decades.
Where the money would come for the trails is also unknown, but Stokes said federal grants or developers who like the idea of having trails near homes or businesses could contribute to the effort, too.
"We're in a budget crisis, yes. But that's when you plan and decide what you want your community to look like in 20 or 30 years," she said.